Matias Quiet Pro review
Review date: Saturday 13th April 2013
Almost exactly two years ago, I reviewed Matias Corporation’s Tactile Pro 3 mechanical keyboard. In mid-May, I finally received my pre-ordered UK layout Quiet Pro, the tactile companion model to the Tactile Pro series (US models were available since late last year). Unlike the Tactile Pro, Matias sell the Quiet Pro for both PC and Macintosh computers, and I selected the PC version, which is what this review covers. The Macintosh version differs in terms of colour and in keycap legends, having the extended ASCII legends common to Matias’s product ranges; the two versions are otherwise the same.
- Matias Quiet Switch damped tactile mechanical keyswitches
- Media key functionality (three dedicated keys, three shared keys)
- 10-key rollover
- Three port USB 2.0 hub (host power only)
- Laser etched keycap legends
Matias claim that the Quiet Pro is the “world’s quietest mechanical keyboard”. This is a dubious claim, on the basis that “mechanical keyboard” is not an officially defined term. The term “mechanical” arose from the need to differentiate classic, high-grade switching technology from cheap, essentially disposable modern keyboards. The term has proved thus far impossible to define, with some keyboard enthusiasts preferring to use it to refer to quality keyboards of any kind, not simply those with metal contact switches or helical return springs. As such, they consider Topre keyboards to be mechanical, and silenced Topre switches may be quieter than Matias dampened keyboards. This is not something I have personally verified.
With that said, the keyboard is exceptionally quiet. All the keys are around the same audible intensity level as the non-stabilised keys of a conventional full-travel membrane rubber dome keyboard, such as you would find on your desk at work. This in itself is significant when you consider that Alps-style switches are among the loudest non-click switches in the world. Matias have gone one step further, in that they have also damped the stabilised keys. Where some keyboards emit a substantial clang when the space bar is struck, all you hear from the Matias space bar is a soft thud. Your typing is not punctuated by the loud report of the space bar.
The switches are not perfectly silent, however, and off-centre presses can be significantly loud, but the board is perfectly suitable for use in the modern workplace. While Matias’s claim is arguable, the keyboard does exactly what it set out to achieve, performing admirably so in terms of noise level. The Quiet Pro is much quieter than the Cherry G80-3000LCQDE (PCB-mounted MX clear switches), Dell AT102W (plate-mounted tactile Alps switches) and first-generation Filco Majestouch keyboards (plate-mounted MX Cherry switches), which I have used for comparison in the same environment. The most noticeable difference when compared to a Topre Realforce is that Realforce stabilisers are fairly loud and emit a distinct metallic clang.
Forward Electronics, who manufactured the switches used in most previous Matias mechanical keyboards, ceased production of their switches early last year. Fortunately, Matias were already well underway in developing their own switches. The Matias switches are based heavily on the original simplified Alps design used by Forward Electronics, with—according to Matias—a lot of refinement.
In reality, the switches are acceptable, but not great. The force curve and weighting is spot on, but even after a solid month of office use, the switches retain a gritty, scratchy feel. The nearest comparable Cherry switch is the MX clear; MX clear switches are perfectly smooth, but they are essentially very stiff linear switches with a bump in the travel. Instead of dropping after actuation, MX clear switches feel like there is a near-asymptotic rise in force, making bottoming out particularly fatiguing. You are forced to learn to type without bottoming out in order to use them comfortably, but this leads to somewhat hesitant and strained typing, and keys struck with an outstretched finger feel very stiff and spongy.
Matias Quiet Switches on the other hand have a feel very similar to older Dell rubberdome keyboards (specifically the “midnight grey” boards such as the L100, not the later, mushier jet black models such as SK-8115); the tactile feel is more precise, but the switches are not as smooth. The advantage of Matias Quiet Switches over Cherry MX clear or brown is that you can acclimatise to the switches in a couple of days: there is no steep learning curve from excessively high or surprisingly low force curves.
Personally I find the keyboard to be too quiet — lacking even the clatter and rattle of a cheap membrane keyboard, it feels utilitarian and soulless, and I miss the distinct metallic sound of my Cherry MX brown Filco. Of course, this is by design; hopefully one day, Matias will supply one of the missing models in the range: the Matias Actually Tactile Pro, with undamped tactile switches! (The Tactile Pro should have been the Click Pro from the outset, but it would be too confusing to rebrand it now.)
Comparison with the Tactile Pro 3
It is not possible to directly compare this new keyboard with the Tactile Pro, due to this not being a clicky keyboard. However, a few observations can be made:
- The new switches have resolved the issue that required linear switches for integrated lock indication in earlier models; this is achieved by having transparent switches and LEDs mounted in the PCB below the switch (this design limitation of Alps switches led to many returns of earlier models due to customers not understanding why the lock keys were necessarily linear)
- The Quiet Pro keyboard appears not to have slippery feet; I find that the keyboard does not slide about on my desk (this may just be manufacturing variance)
- The Quiet Pro and Tactile Pro 4 now offer 10-key rollover instead of the 6-key rollover provided by the Tactile Pro 3. Both models are wired for N-key rollover (every switch has an accompanying diode), but the design of USB itself led to a self-imposed industry limit of 6-key rollover; the Quiet Pro sends larger HID reports to allow for 10-key rollover, which covers all digits across the hands of an average person (those with supernumerary digits will need to contact Matias to request increased rollover in the Quiet Pro 2 and Tactile Pro 5)
- The keycap texture does not start out with the same “cat’s tongue” feel as the Quiet Pro’s keycaps did
The Quiet Pro has a non-standard layout. Matias have moved num lock up one row, and put a second tab key in its place. Above the numeric keypad, adjacent to the displaced num lock key, are three media keys for volume control and mute. The remaining media keys (play/pause, fast forward and rewind) share the escape, F1 and F2 keys, requiring the presence of a Fn key. Bizarrely, they are placed on the opposite side of the keyboard to both Fn and the dedicated media keys!
For plate and PCB compatibility between the Macintosh and PC versions, both Quiet Pro variants have an identical physical layout. This means that there are only three modifier keys to the right of the space bar, instead of the four on a normal western PC keyboard. The menu (application) key is replaced by Fn (which only exists for the shared media keys), and the right Windows logo key is physically missing from the keyboard. It turns out that I use both keys routinely; I now have the hassle of typing shift+F10 any time I want a context menu, and the lack of these two keys is disruptive to my workflow.
In many office environments, media keys are completely worthless, and I lose out on a useful key as a result. The physically missing key is a nuisance, but it is perfectly understandable that Matias chose not to manufacture separate PCBs and plates for the PC and Mac variants of the keyboard.
The keyboard has a rather odd finish. The exterior surface is gloss, but it appears that the keyboard is a transparent shell with crackle-finish black paint on the inside of the plastic, which looks strange. Product photos of the keyboard don’t show this characteristic, making the finish a little disappointing.
The podgy shape of the case remains unchanged from previous Matias mechanical keyboards, and the black gloss style still cannot make up for the weak styling; instead, it’s more of a pig-meets-lipstick approach to aesthetics. While the black finish beats the cheap silver finish of the Mac model, I bought the keyboard to review the switches, not for its looks. Matias are selling the switches separately, with the objective that other companies sell keyboards featuring them, so the aesthetics of the Matias product range is of far less concern than the feel and audio characteristics of the switches.
- Exceptionally quiet — every key is quiet, including the space bar
- Conventional force curve — the force curve is very close to that of an office keyboard: not too heavy, not too light, and highly tactile
- Integrated USB 2.0 hub — side ports for ease of access, along with a third port at the rear
- Laser-etched legends — the legends should not wear off
- Dedicated volume keys — easy access to volume control through dedicated keys
- Tab key on the numeric keypad — some people will find that this aids with data entry
- Custom layout — Depending on your usage, you may be inconvenienced by the non-standard layout
- Gloss black case — The case has a combination of very dated aesthetics, and a faux gloss black finish, that has something of a love-or-hate feel to it
- Scratchy tactile feel — the switch weighting is very good, but the switches feel a little rough and scratchy, and the feel doesn’t live up to the hype; salmon Alps switches for example are stiffer, but far smoother, and Forward Electronics clicky switches are perfectly smooth
One of the limitations of typical membrane keyboards is that there is very little interest in product quality. The current Dell KB1421 basic keyboard shipped with OptiPlex keyboards is soft and smooth, while the multimedia equivalent, the KB522, has stiff, spongy domes. Even within the same manufacturer’s product range, there is no guarantee of feel or sound between models or revisions.
The fundamental advantage of reputable keyswitches is that the switch feel is paramount, meaning that you can recommend any keyboard using a particular switch, and you will get the same feel, switch mounting notwithstanding.
The Matias Quiet Pro feels similar to an older Dell rubberdome keyboard: less smooth, but more tactile. The problem is that you have to buy that specific model of Dell keyboard to guarantee the same feel, and this will become increasingly difficult as stocks of old models deplete. Once the legends all wear off, or the domes fade, replacing the keyboard will prove difficult. A keyboard with discrete mechanical switches which are sold separately is an improvement, so long as the switches, or keyboards using them, remain on sale indefinitely in the way that Cherry MX switches have been sold since the mid 1980s.
Of course, ideally the keyboard itself should far outlast any rubber dome keyboard, in terms of both the switches and the legends, and the keyboard has a good solid weight. The keyboard feels strong and sturdy, although it does flex more than a Filco.
Personally, as a non-gamer, I don’t see any benefit to n-key rollover compared to basic 2-key rollover, and media control is always a simple keybinding away, regardless of media player. Winamp and foobar2000 both support global hotkeys, for example, so you can use the actual pause key to pause music, instead of needing to press the awkward combination of Fn+esc.
The Quiet Pro does come across as subjectively better than the Tactile Pro. It is certainly not a bad keyboard, but I do feel that the switches do not live up to expectations in terms of feel, even if the keyboard definitely delivers in terms of sound. This is a pity, as it means that a discrete smooth, medium weight switch still does not exist.