Mechanical keyboard obsessives — those people who think nothing of spending a hundred dollars on a set of keycaps or individually taking apart dozens of switches to apply just the right amount of their favorite kind of lube — have historically looked down on keyboards from big gaming brands. Gaming keyboards are seen as a perfectly reasonable gateway drug, but there are plenty who’ll have you believe that they can’t hold a candle to enthusiast-focused “custom” keyboards.
Much of this snobbery is tongue in cheek, and thankfully, most people in the community are far more welcoming. But there’s also a grain of truth to it. Put a typical mass-market gaming keyboard next to the kind of DIY keyboards sold in limited runs or even something like Keychron’s Q-series, and the difference in feel is night and day. Enthusiast keyboard manufacturers place a bigger emphasis on reducing unpleasant sounds like rattling and metallic pinging, and their keyboards often feel crisper and smoother to type on.
But this year, a pair of keyboards from Asus and Razer are attempting to buck this trend. Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been trying out Razer’s $189.99 BlackWidow V4 75% and the $249.99 Asus ROG Azoth, two keyboards that incorporate construction techniques and modifications favored by enthusiasts without losing the features that make gaming keyboards appealing.
Their pricing might be premium, but it’s not far off what we’ve previously seen gaming brands charge for their flagship keyboards. The new 75 percent BlackWidow is priced between Razer’s previous BlackWidow V4 ($169.99) and BlackWidow V4 Pro ($229.99) and is competing against Keychron’s Q1, which currently retails for $170.10 with a volume knob. Even the more expensive ROG Azoth isn’t the most expensive keyboard that Asus has ever released — the ROG Claymore II launched with a $269.99 price tag two years ago.
Despite their enthusiast focus, both the ROG Azoth and BlackWidow V4 75% still look like traditional gaming keyboards. There are no tall retro-looking multicolored keycaps here or the kinds of super chunky cases popular among posters on r/MechanicalKeyboards. Instead, you get monochrome color schemes, angular fonts, and plenty of RGB lighting.
But there are also some visible influences from the keyboard community. Both models come with 75 percent layouts, for example, which have a more compact laptop-style design with no numpad. It’s an unusual layout by traditional keyboard standards but has quickly become one of the most popular layouts for enthusiasts. They both also have their own takes on the increasingly widespread volume knob on the top right — the BlackWidow has…