Choosing the right mechanical keyboard can be difficult, especially if it is your first. One of the most vital parts of picking a board is picking the right Cherry MX mechanical switch.
Before I started collecting mechanical keyboards I had no idea that there were different ‘kinds’ of switches.
Let me tell you why I am making this Cherry MX mechanical switch guide. My friend has recently decided he is interested in picking up a mechanical keyboard.
So the other day he asked me about my mechanical keyboards since I had just bought a new Ducky One 2, the board you see above.
He asked a few questions such as, what’s the difference between a red switch and a brown switch? If I want to buy one how do I know what switch is right for me?
So I have created this guide to try and help anyone else out there looking to get started on picking up a new keyboard with Cherry MX mechanical switches.
By the end of this guide you will know exactly what kind of switch you want to try or buy.
I am not guaranteeing the mechanical switch you choose will be right for you. Sometimes you just have to try them to find the one that fits.
But this guide should give you a head start towards picking the correct one for your needs.
Cherry MX Mechanical Switches Chart
Quick Cheat Sheet Guide:For those of you wanting a quick answer, check out my Cherry MX mechanical switches chart below. This is a rough guide towards narrowing down what kind of switch might be best for you. For more information on the switches keep reading!
Types of Cherry MX Mechanical Switches
Let us have a look at some of the switches in more detail to help you decide. The three main types of Cherry switches are linear, tactile non-clicky and tactile clicky.
Linear Cherry MX Mechanical Switches
Linear Cherry mechanical switches are the ‘softest’ of the switches you can choose. By softest I mean the easiest to press or that they take the least amount of actuation force (cN).
Technically speaking, linear switches have no ‘bump’ during the mechanical switch travel time, hence why they are called ‘linear’ (think straight down).
What do I mean by bump?
You can see this clearly in the black and red Cherry MX Switches below
So what are the options for linear mechanical switches?
Cherry MX Black Mechanical Switch
The Cherry MX black switches were actually one of the very first Cherry switches, introduced way back in 1984 but have since been updated.
They have an actuation force of 60 cN which is considered quite high. In fact they are the stiffest switch out of the four standard cherry mx mechanical switches.
The blacks are suited more towards gaming rather than typing due to their linear nature. Generally, having a large tactile bump provides no benefit since you are going to be bottoming out the switch anyway.
Games that require a lot of double tapping or quick key successions will be suited towards the black switches.
Cherry Black Sounds
The heavy actuation force actually comes in handy if you find yourself accidentally key pressing. This was something I did a lot with my first board that had Cherry MX reds.
Typing on the black switches is not recommend for the typists out there due to the high actuation force and linear design.
Cherry MX Red Mechanical Switch
Cherry red switches have grown in popularity significantly due to their versatility. They are actually one of the newest switches The reds have an actuation force of 45 cN which is the lightest out of the switches.
To make the cherry switches feel even lighter there is no notch or hump on the actuation of the switch. They are basically a lighter version of the cherry blacks.
You should try both to decide whether you prefer a higher actuation force (blacks) or lighter (reds).
They are ideal for gaming because of how easy it is to double tap them and great for typing too. It primarily comes down to personal preference as to which one you will like most.
Cherry Red Sounds
Tactile Non-Clicky Cherry MX Mechanical Switches
Tactile non-clicky switches, what does that mean?
Tactile switches are exactly as they sound, they give you a tactile feedback as you press the switch.
This can be described as a small hump / notch as I talked about earlier. The hump gives you a feel for when the key has been registered and provides a little feedback to you.
Cherry MX Brown Mechanical Switch
The most popular tactile switch is the Cherry MX Brown which is probably the most popular switch altogether amongst mechanical keyboard fans. It has ranked number 1 in /r/MechanicalKeyboards polls on numerous occasions.
The Cherry MX Browns are an ‘in between’ switch as I like to describe them. They have a subtle bump for tactile feedback and are light with an actuation force of 45 cN the same as the reds.
My second board had Cherry reds and although I did love them I felt there was something missing. I decided to try browns and I can comfortably say this is my favourite switch.
I like the additional feedback compared to the reds and the light actuation force. They are also quiet which is an added benefit.
Cherry Brown Sounds
Cherry MX Clear Mechanical Switch
The Cherry MX Clear switches are very similar to the browns except they have a higher actuation force (65 cN) and a more prominent bump.
If you like a heavier key and want strong feedback from your keys then you should have a look at the Cherry MX Clears.
In recent years they have actually grown in popularity significantly and manufacturers are starting to notice this.
It is a lot easier to obtain boards with these switches now so I would recommend giving both the brown and clear a try if you are unsure whether you want lighter or heavier switches.
Cherry Clear Sounds
Cherry MX Grey Mechanical Switch
The Cherry MX grey is less used and a little harder to find. It is basically a variant of the Cherry browns just a little firmer. They are often used as spacebars in Cherry black keyboard layouts.
Sometimes they can be used by those that find Cherry blacks to be too light so they opt for the greys which are a little heavier.
There are two variants you can often find for the Cherry greys. The ‘grey-brown’ and the ‘grey-black’. The former is a linear 60g cN actuation force switch with a slight tactile bump.
The latter is a 80 cN actuation force switch with a firm tactile bump.
Cherry Grey Sounds
Tactile Clicky Cherry MX Mechanical Switches
Tactile clicky Cherry MX switches are the switches you want to buy to annoy your neighbours.
They have an audible ‘click’ noise which provides great typing satisfaction. They are often the most popular choice if you are looking for a keyboard primarily for typing.
Cherry MX Blue Mechanical Switch
Cherry MX Blue switches are easily this most used tactile clicky mechanical switch. They have an actuation force of 50 cN and as discussed, an audible click.
They are great for typing but it is a mixed opinion when it comes to gaming on blue switches.
Some people enjoy the tactile click but others don’t like the fact that the release point is above the actuation point. This can cause double registering of keys which can become annoying.
Be mindful of others if you are using the keyboard in an office surrounding. I used blues in my office and it started to become distracting for others around me so I brought in a Cherry red board instead to the delight of my co-workers.
Cherry Blue Sounds
Cherry MX Green Mechanical Switch
The Cherry MX Green switches are identical to the blue switches. The only difference is that the greens have a harder spring so have a much higher actuation force (80 cN).
This is similar to the brown/clear dilemma in that if you prefer a heavier switch then go with the Cherry MX Greens, otherwise just stick with the blues.
This is primarily personal preference but I would advise the blues unless you are sure that you prefer heavier switches.
Cherry Green Sounds
Cherry MX White Mechanical Switch
The Cherry MX White are not as common but they are very similar to green switches. They have an actuation force of 80 cN but the click is a little quieter than the greens.
So if noise is a deal breaker for you then maybe consider the Cherry MX Whites.
It is often a wonder why whites are not more popular. Many have commented on the fact that they preferred whites after they gave them a try.
Cherry White Sounds
Other Less Common Cherry MX Switches
There are a few other variants of Cherry MX switches that are a little rarer but still available. There are silent versions of the red and blacks. These have rubber inside them that quieten the sound of the switch when it is returning to its default position. The actuation force for both are the same.
There are also Speed Silvers which are a shortened version of the Cherry reds. They have an actuation range of 1.2mm instead of the 2mm. They also have a smaller overall travel distance of 3.4mm in comparison to 4mm.
These are a good solution if you like short travel time switches but they are a little unusual and may not suit everyone.
The Topre Switch
There is one other type of switch I would recommend that you consider. The topre switch is a tactile capacitive switch, not technically a mechanical switch. They have a travel distance of around 4mm and can range in actuation force from 35 cN – 55 cN.
They are older switches yet still prove to be very popular, although they are slightly harder to acquire. The topre switch feels in some ways, similar to Cherry MX browns, except with the tactile bump being near the top of the actuation.
After the bump there is no more resistance and the key continues flat and smooth. When the switch bottoms out, it has a unique tock sound that makes the switch unique. Most users of topre switches find the sound pleasant and that they are one of the quietest switches.
The lightest of topre switches can be too light for some. This may cause accidental key presses, something to consider if you are familiar with Cherry MX reds.
Choosing the right Cherry MX mechanical switch is very difficult. I have gone through Cherry blues and cherry reds before I found the Cherry MX browns which are now my favourite.
The best advice I can give is to try and narrow down your choice to two. Then, if you can, buy both and try them.
That is the best way to know for sure what Cherry MX mechanical switch is your favourite.
Another option is to buy a Cherry MX mechanical switch tester. These are a great way to get a feel for each switch and are relatively affordable.