Tech

Review: Leopold FC660M-PD Mechanical Keyboard

April 1, 2020


This review of the Leopold FC660M-PD keyboard (with Cherry MX Silent Red switches) is split into two parts. The first part is for the people not yet familiar with the concept of mechanical keyboards. The sections after go into the details of this particular keyboard. Feel free to skip ahead to the parts that you’re mostly interested in.

Contents

  1. Welcome to the rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards
  2. The Leopold FC660M-PD Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Silent Red switches.
  3. Design and features
  4. My experiences
  5. Conclusion
  6. Pictures

1. Welcome to the rabbit hole of mechanical keyboards


An unwritten law exists that almost every hobby has a level of depth that you would not expect when first looking at it. When you look at people spending hundreds, or even thousands of euros on new equipment to get something that might not look or feel any different to an outsider, it almost certainly looks questionable at best. Think of anything, any hobby or collectable you know of. There are people on this planet willing to spend a monthly salary or more to get the exact item that they would like to own. A list of examples could include watches, hi-fi audio, stamp collection, fountain pens, cars, coins, photography and, yes, computer keyboards.

A good example of a very specific hobby that can get very expensive. Credit: The New Yorker

If you take a look on the mechanical keyboard subreddit (/r/MechanicalKeyboards) you’ll note that there are keyboards of varying shapes, sizes and colors. You’ll see people that have exchanged normal keys for brightly colored ones, or for keys without any text on them at all. You might see that some people have keyboards with keys that light up when you press them. Or you could see people with keyboards that look too small or large to be practical at all. Though they’d be the first to tell you that you’re wrong.

What you won’t immediately see are the things under the hood (or keycaps in this case). Different types of key mechanisms change how the keys feel and sound when you press them. Many different mechanisms, typically referred to as switches, exist. And I’ll go into the four main ones below. Then there are also people who treat each key with special lubricating oil, so that the keys feel smoother, become quieter and more consistent. Similarly, there are people who add sound dampening rings to the keys or mats. The perfect keyboard for these people is different for each and every one of them. And what does it take to find them that perfect keyboard? It likely requires several iterations before you even know what you like in a keyboard, as it did for me and then you’ll discover that your perfect keyboard does not exist (yet). You could build it yourself (this is another whole community by itself), but you’ll quickly discover that those keyboards turn out to be even more expensive. At least for me it was. For now…
The Leopold FC660M-PD keyboard that I’m currently typing this on, is my third mechanical keyboard and my second one to be over €100,-. Will this be my perfect keyboard? I’m not sure yet, but it’s certainly the best I’ve tried so far.

This video from The Verge gives a good impression on the Mechanical Keyboard community and what it takes to build a high end custom keyboard. Original article here.

The different switch mechanisms

There are many reasons why you’d want to spend more than the absolute minimum on a keyboard. The primary reason is the typing experience, how comfortable it is to type on. At most offices and schools you’ll find the typical cheap Dell or HP keyboards and while they technically work just fine, I’m not very fond off typing on them for any longer than strictly necessary. Furthermore, I notice that I’m not nearly as accurate or quick on them as I’m on this keyboard. Why is that? That has to do with the way the keys work. There are several common ways of registering a key stroke. Below we’ll go through the main switch types, that are used regularly.

Rubber dome switches – The most common type of switch, due to the low costs of manufacturing, is used in most inexpensive keyboards. They feature a flexible rubber layer, with bubbles at the location of each key. When you press the key this rubber dome is also pressed down and a current is allowed to flow, telling the computer that the key is being activated. When you let loose of the key, the elasticity of the rubber returns the dome back to its original shape and the key comes back up. The main advantage of this type of switch is that it is very cheap to manufacture. However, you need to press the key all the way down before it is registered and there is little mechanical feedback to tell you that it did. This can increase the strain on your fingers, compared to the other switches.


Cherry MX Blues
Credit: Cherry

Blue switches – Keyboards with the Blue type switches do give feedback when it is activated in the form of a tactile bump and an audible click. The figure shows that a spring pushes against the plastic of the key switch. Once the switch is pushed down far enough the spring is released and is allowed to complete the circuit, signalling the computer that the key is being actuated. The blue switches are often preferred by typists.


Cherry MX Brows
Credit: Cherry

Brown switches – Brown switches are very similar to the blue switches we just described, except that they feature less of an audible click. They are also slightly easier to press, needing about 45-55 grams before they activate, compared to 50-60 grams for the blue switches. Most people like these switches best. They offer the tactility of blue switches, offering a better typing experience, but are not so loud that they can’t be used for gaming (especially when you’re trying to communicate with friends via skype).


Cherry MX Blacks
Credit: Cherry

Black switches – Black switches are linear switches. They do not provide any audible or tactile feedback when the key is activated. Nonetheless, they do register about halfway down. This makes them preferred by many people for playing games, such as first person shooters, where quickly pressing the keys may be required. The black variant of the linear switches is quite heavy to press.


Cherry MX Reds
Credit: Cherry

Red switches – Like the black key switches, these are of a linear type. They main difference is that they are lighter in use, requiring only 45 grams to activate, compared to the 60 grams for the black switches. These switches are also commonly used for gaming and are also less straining on the fingers when used for typing, compared to the black variant.


Many different variations on these four main switch types exist, but these are the main varieties. Take a look at this page, for example, to get a feel for all the different incarnations.

So, why buy an expensive keyboard?

Some people don’t care at all about this and that’s fine. Just like there are many people buying cheap cars, because they occasionally have need of a car, there are people that only occasionally use keyboards. But just as there are people that want a more luxurious car, because it drives more comfortable, or because it has better performance or perhaps so they can brag about it to their friends and colleagues, some people like to buy more luxurious keyboards. And instead of several tens of thousands of euros, luxurious keyboards are only a couple hundred euros at most. That doesn’t sound so bad, when you look at it like this, does it?

Alright, let’s continue to the actual review.


2. The Leopold FC660M-PD Mechanical Keyboard with Cherry MX Silent Red switches


I do my most of my research work on a 2018 MacBook Pro. If you’ve heard anything about the last few generations of MacBooks, then you probably know that the reliability of the keyboards on those laptops is questionable at best. For me this was no different. While most of the keys worked most of the time, it was very frustrating to frequently notice typing errors due to no fault of my own. At some point I got frustrated enoug by this and I started looking for alternatives. My other keyboards that I had at home, a Steelseries 6GV2 (Black switches) and a Filco Majestouch 2 Ninja TKL (Blue switches), were either too large or too loud to take to the office. I needed something new.

I knew from the experience with my previous keyboards that I liked the linear black switches better than the clicky blues. Therefore, I decided I would look for something with linear switches, something that I could take to the office, and most of all something that I would enjoy using. Several searches on the internet later I knew that I was looking for a keyboard with Cherry MX Silent Red switches. These switches are similar to the Red switches described above, except that they come with small rubber cushions at the bottom of the switch itself, so that the sound of bottoming out the keys is lessened. The key mechanism is still linear and requires the same amount of force and distance before being activated as the normal red switches.

After some more research and a comparison of many different keyboards, including the Vortex Pok3r, Ducky One 2 SF and Anne Pro 2, I decided that the Leopold FC660M-PD came closest to what I was looking for in this new keyboard; silence and portability.

Unless you’re already a keyboard enthusiast, you have probably never heard of Leopold as a keyboard brand. Leopold is a Korean keyboard company making several different mechanical keyboard models, mostly differing in form factor and many people consider their keyboards as the best mass manufactured keyboards.

Unfortunately, it is often difficult to actually get your hand on one of these boards, due to the low production numbers and comparatively high demand. The particular model that I originally ordered at Alternate was not going to be in stock anymore, so I had to cancel that order. Instead I got this white/gray model for about €125,- by ordering it from CandyKeys, a German keyboard shop that had just received a new shipment, and it arrived several days later.

The unboxing experience is nothing special. It comes in a fairly standard box, showing some of the name and branding of the keyboard and explaining some of the features of the board. In the box are the keyboard itself (first presenting itself behind a plastic cover), a USB-A to mini-USB cable, two extra keys for switching the CapsLock and Ctrl keys, a Korean manual and an utterly garbage keycap remover (Really! Don’t use it, as it will damage your keycaps).


3. Design and features


At first glance, the Leopold FC660M-PD does not have any outstanding features. It tries to be understated and minimal. The black version of this keyboard would not stand out in an office environment. Full RGB lighting or extra macro keys are not found here. The only two LEDs on this board are sitting below the CapsLock key and the insert key. The first indicates whether or not CapsLock is turned on and the second doesn’t seem to indicate anything, at least under MacOS, Windows 10 or iPadOS. Fortunately, it can be toggled on or off using Fn+Q.

A major feature in the design of the Leopold FC660M comes in its form factor. Many of the very minimalistic 60% keyboards, like the Vortex Pok3r and Anne Pro 2, do not include the arrow keys. With a slightly larger 65% form factor and a total of 66 keys, the FC660M pertains most of the portability of a 60% keyboard, but does not compromise on usability by omitting the arrow keys. In addition to the arrow keys, the keyboard also comes with an insert and delete key at the top right. The usefulness of an insert key compared to something like a home or PageUp/PageDown key is arguable, but it is there nonetheless.

This particular model of the keyboard comes in a white and grey color scheme. The white keys feature dark grey printing, while the grey keys come with blue lettering. The front of some keys show the alternate function of the respective key, accessible by pressing the key in combination with the Fn-key.

The main casing is made out of a textured plastic, that feels durable and flexes very little. The Leopold logo is shown at the front of the casing in white. It is a bit hard to notice, though and I would have preferred it if they presented the Leopold logo like Filco does on their keyboards.

At the back we find the USB connector to connect the keyboard with the computer. Unfortunately it is a mini-USB connector, instead of USB-C. Finally, at the bottom of the board we find a DIP switch that can be used to switch the functionality of the CapsLock, Windows/CMD/Super, Ctrl and Alt/Option keys, which comes in handy if you like to switch to a different operating system or prefer to use CapsLock+c for copying a file.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes apparent how the FC660M is able to stand out in the crowd. Take for example the double-shot PBT keycaps. This means that the keys are made out of polybutylene terephthalate (PBT), a plastic considered to be more durable and less prone to wear and tear than the cheaper acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS). A property of PBT keycaps is that they have a nice rough texture to them. The keycaps here definitely feel nice. The double-shot part of double-shot PBT keycaps refers to that the lettering is not printed on the keys or etched in with a laser, but rather that it is a part of the keycap itself. The keycap consists of two different layers of plastic molded together, creating a single strong and durable keycap. This can clearly be seen when you look at the inside.

Another thing I’ve not noticed on other keyboards before is that the space bar is ever so slightly raised compared to the functional keys on the left and right. I’m not entirely sure if this has any advantages or that it is purely an aesthetic design choice, but it is notable when the keyboard is in front of you.

Speaking about the space bar, the larger keys are firmly stabilized by Cherry stabilizers, resulting in very little skew of the keys when pressed on one side. I tend to use the space bar by pressing my thumb on the left side, so this is something I appreciate.

If we remove the keycaps, we find a clean white bottom plate under the keys. Many Leopold keyboards, including this one, include a noise dampening cloth inside the board. I have not checked if it’s indeed there, but noise has certainly not been a problem on this board. It can be found on the inside of the space bar as well. Some quiet keyboards suffer from a very loud space bar, as the sound is able to reverberate inside. Leopold has taken care to make sure that is not the case here.

Overall, the high reputation of Leopold boards shows in the very good build quality and attention to detail. The design is very good as well, although it could have been improved by adding a USB-C connector instead of the dated mini-USB.


4. My experiences


In the few weeks that I’ve been using the Leopold FC660M-PD it has been a joy to use.

The typing noise is limited by the rubber cushions on the bottom of the red key switches and by the noise dampening mat that is inside the board. It is the quietest mechanical keyboard that I’ve had the pleasure of typing on and I feel little need to force myself not to bottom out to keep other people from looking at me. However, not everyone will enjoy the slightly mushy feeling that the rubber cushions provide. There is no well defined clack when bottoming out the keys. I personally don’t mind, but it might not be everybody’s cup of tea.
Every once in a while I did notice a slight pinging sound when I bottomed out very quickly and forcefully. This likely originated from the springs that are inside the switch mechanisms. It hasn’t annoyed me, but it was audible in some cases. In general, though, I am very happy with the performance of this keyboard in the audio department.

Next, the keys feel very stable in part due to the good stabilizers on the larger keys. Add to this a very good typing experience and you get a keyboard that’s just a joy to type on. I’ve noticed that I quickly improved my typing speed by at least several words per minute, when playing typeracer and I’m often looking forward to being able to type some more when I’m behind the desk.

The small size of the keyboard has been great as well. It does indeed take up very little room on the desk, leaving space for books and notes. It’s easy to detach the keyboard and take it with me to the office or back home if I like. I’ve also attached it to my iPad a couple of times, where it worked wonderfully too. Any difficulties I had with the iPad could always be traced back to the limitations of the OS and not to the hardware. For example, most of the function keys like insert, PageUp and PageDown did not work.

In the last few weeks, I’ve not made much use of the extra functions on some of the keys that can be accessed in combination with the Fn key, but it’s nice to know they’re there. It means that functionally you’re making almost no compromises with respect to larger keyboards. You might have to get used to the key combinations, but if you use some the combinations often, they will quickly become second nature.


5. Conclusion


I was looking for portable and quiet keyboard and the Leopold FC660M-PD delivers for sure. As they also offer this keyboard in various other switches, there may be a model that’s more to your personal taste if that is not exactly what you’re looking for.

The FC660M-PD offers a beautiful trade-off between features and portability. If you’re looking for a keyboard that looks professional and has amazing build quality, this is the one to look for. The only possible downside is found in the lack of USB-C and, subjectively, the color scheme. There is simply little to dislike here.

At close to €130, the Leopold FC660M-PD is far from a cheap mechanical keyboard, especially as the market has grown massively in the last few years. However, the attention to detail in making sure that noise levels stay acceptable and the enjoyable typing experience have convinced me that it is worth the asking price and I’ll be sure to keep using it for many months to come.


6. Pictures


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.