Update #2 (12/29/18): I was told after my last update that Massdrop would be scrambling to get me the real samples, with the updating tooling, BEFORE the group buy period had ended. They succeeded. I now have the updated samples in hand. Long story short, they’re the same. They feel like a Holy Panda. From what I’ve been told, the part of the original mold that was damaged was a part of the mold that had nothing to do with the actual casting/molding of the switch itself. Which was reassuring to hear, but of course, we all still wanted proper samples from the “new” run. Well, we got them, and in time. So, kudos to Massdrop for delivering. Now I can CONFIDENTLY say “buy confidently, knowing these will indeed be Holy Pandas".
Update #1 (12/19/18): This is very important, so please continue to read. I won’t edit the original post, as so many people have already read through it. Anyways, I just got done talking with Massdrop about the Holy Pandas some more, and new information has been presented. The Holy Panda switch samples I received from Massdrop ARE NOT the final production units. They WERE NOT made from the new/repaired BSUN molds. They are, in fact, original Invyr Pandas using the Halo stems. So, with this new information, we are back to a place where we technically do not have proper samples from Massdrop yet. I apologize for this mix up, as I was not aware these samples were not using the updated molds. Massdrop has told me that I will be receiving the real samples, at some point. They hope towards the end of January, but due to Chinese holidays, might be as late as the beginning of March. I will keep this posted updated with more edits, if need be.
EDIT: Let me be clear, though. I don't believe it was Massdrop's intention to fool me or deceive me. I do still believe they can, and probably will deliver a product that is very close or exactly like a Holy Panda. I'm just a little bit confused as to why the samples I had received were originals. Though, I never actually asked if they were the new mold or not, so I guess I'm partially at fault. I should never assume anything. I think this was more Massdrop saying "this is what they should feel like."
If you’ve been active in the community in the last year or so, you’ve probably heard the term “Holy Panda”. This refers to a particular combination of switch parts from existing switches. The Holy Panda is as follows:
Housing (and often spring) from an Invyr Panda switch
Stem/slider from a Halo switch
The Invyr Panda switch was launched October of 2016. The community members behind this project were Zisb (Invyr) and 27, and the manufacturer was BSUN. The idea behind this switch was to hit the market with a fully tuned linear switch that required no work from the end-consumer; fully lubed and with a 67g spring.
When initially launched, the community feedback was “meh”, at best. The lubing was incomplete and inconsistent, the switch was not very smooth at all, and there was even a very mild and awkward bump at the bottom of the press; very awkward for a switch costing $0.64-$1 USD/each, depending on quantity and vendor. This was all during a time when Gateron was really shining in value, Kailh hadn’t yet revamped their factory, and the market didn’t have retooled Cherry MX Blacks or Tealios, etc. The common go-to linears were the ever-popular and often inconsistent vintage Cherry MX Black and any of the Gateron linears, primarily due to accessibility and price, as the average Gateron switch costed around $0.18-$0.24 USD/each, which was incredibly attractive for how much smoother they were than other offerings at the time, which was mostly still Cherry.
However, the Invyr Panda had other interesting qualities. It featured a very stable housing, a decent spring, deep sound, holtites on the switch pins, and in my opinion, a pretty nice aesthetic. Unfortunately, despite these, the weren’t exactly flying off the shelf. Many people were hesitant to spend that much money on a linear switch that just wasn’t that great, overall. Now, this started to change several months later, when [insert proper community member’s name here] decided to use the stem/slider from a Zealio v1 switch in the Invyr Panda housing. This resulted in a more prominent tactile experience, which some people really enjoyed, and thus was born the “Zanda”. I first heard about this mod from community member PerniciousPony and, after trying out his board with the Zandas, I decided I would make some for myself, as they were quite nice. It was essentially as if, due to the housing and leaf of the Panda, tactility was enhanced, as if to feel like a stronger version of the stem installed.
The Halo switch launched in late 2017 and was designed by Input:Club member, HaaTa, as a switch that would be completely different and support more ergonomic typing. The idea was simple: “bottoming out” switches, i.e pressing them down all the way during typing, is technically not proper and can lead to issues in the hands and wrists over time, due to the impact. Anyways, he thought to correct this by using a very different kind of tactility than normal MX-style switches, and a spring that helped deter people from bottoming out during typing. The idea was sound, and the execution was not bad, as well. Though, due to the rather new feel of these switches, a lot of people didn’t understand them or use them properly, and felt that they weren’t “tactile enough”, which is not technically correct, but also a story for another time.
Now, at this time, I had just gotten back from the most recent Seattle mechanical keyboard meetup, where HaaTa was in attendance and happened to have pre-production samples of the “Halo” switches, manufactured by Kailh. HaaTa was kind enough to send me and my now former Top Clack co-host home with these Halo switches. While building the Zandas one day, I noticed the Halo switches sitting on my desk, after forgetting to put them away. I figured “If it can enhance the tactility on a Zealio stem, the Halo stem might be worth a try?”, and so, the Holy Panda was born: a tactile switch with a long round bump that starts very early in the press, which was unlike anything else, at the time. I lubed mine up, and built up a nice custom keyboard using them, my Noxary X60. After that experience, I told community member Manofinterests about it and that he absolutely needed to try it, as he had the only other pre-production samples of the Halo switches. He did and agreed it was truly something special. From there, we each started taking our Holy Panda boards to keyboard meetups, and people were stunned by how good they felt and sounded. I’ve had MANY people at meetups ask me how to replicate them or if they could just buy my keyboard outright, some of them even offering ridiculously high dollar amounts. Clearly it’s a switch that people were interested in, due to the sheer unique experience.
What’s going on right now?
Until very recently, Holy Pandas were basically unobtainable. The original run of Invyr Panda switches was quite limited and for some time, the only way to get your hands on Halo switches was to buy a K-Type from Massdrop (or secondhand) that already had them installed. Once the Holy Panda popularity started, aftermarket Panda prices easily reached $4+/per switch, and aftermarket Halo prices were upwards of $2/each, until Massdrop ran a dedicated drop for Halo switches at $0.50/each, which helped bring the secondhand Halo prices down.
Roughly a month ago, we got some very interesting news: Geekhack user, SuperVan, announced that he would be working with the original Panda manufacturer, BSUN, to help bring Panda switches back to the market, so people could actually get them. Quickly renamed “Gsus” switches, the aim was to basically clone the Panda switch and release them to the market. Both the Interest Check and the Group Buy threads were met with mixed feelings and reactions, mainly due to non-believers, who rapidly went silent after multiple reviewers, including myself, tested them, and price-point, which was anywhere from $1-$1.50 USD/per switch, depending on MOQ. Not long after this Gsus group buy started (with an updated uniform $1 price), Massdrop announced they would be running a group buy for completed Panda switches, and the price would be $1/switch or less, depending on quantity purchased.
I’m no mathematician, but a $1 completed Holy Panda switch is stronger value than a $1 Gsus (Panda) switch (without the Halo stem already installed), because the vast majority of consumers would be using the Gsus switches for Holy Pandas anyways. SuperVan saw this and, after several days, decided to lower his uniform Panda pricing down from $1/switch to $0.60/switch. As of this time, the Gsus group buy is scheduled to close today, 12/19/18, and ship immediately, starting tomorrow. Massdrop’s completed Holy Panda group buy is still currently open until the end of December, with an estimated ship date of May 2019.
What you’re probably all here for: The Comparison and Conclusion
I’ll make this short and sweet for all of you, since you basically just read a novel on backstory and info you probably don’t even care about.
Here are my credentials:
I am the first person in the community to make and use Holy Pandas
I built and still have the original Holy Panda keyboard
User SuperVan sent me 300x Gsus switches for testing (I already had some Halo switches)
Massdrop sent me 15x Holy Panda samples for testing (with more on the way, I’m told)
They walk like a Holy Panda, they talk like a Holy Panda, they are all Holy Pandas. That’s right, the differences are so miniscule that even between a blind test, I’m not at all confident that I could pick between them during real-world use. If I’m REALLY trying to pick out differences and pressing very slowly, the Holy Pandas involving the Gsus switches (Holy Gsus?) have a slightly sharper bump on the upstroke, which can impede the return of heavier stabilized keys, particularly if using lighter springs than the stock 67g. For me, this was the case if I pressed the key slowly. During actual typing, this was a non-issue and, furthermore, actually corrected itself after just a few hours of use and I cannot get them to stick anymore.
Anyways, long story short, they are all effectively Holy Pandas. Buy confidently knowing that, if my Massdrop samples are the final versions (which they should be), both their Holy Pandas and SuperVan’s Panda alternative, Gsus switches, will both work just fine for Holy Pandas.