Varmilo MA104C review - by Quakemz
Disclaimer: Varmilo reached out to me asking if I’d like to review one of their new boards, using their new Electro-Capacitive switch. Being the switch lover I am, I said yes. Top Clack was not paid for this review. As always, these are my/our honest thoughts about the product, because anything else would be a disservice to the community.
When Varmilo asked me to check out a new product, I was a little hesitant. Not to diminish Varmilo or any other OEM keyboard brand, but I’ve been in the community for a while now, and I can only get so excited for a full-sized, non-custom, stock board with plastic construction. That’s just not what I have my sights on these days. However, when they told me the board would feature their brand new electro-capacitive switch, I was much more interested. I’ve always loved switches more than anything else in this community, so it made the decision much easier for me.
There are a few notable things about this board, but we’ll start with the Sakura Pink switches, which are arguably the most interesting. Historically, when we see the term “electro-capacitive” used on keyboards, we immediately default to something like Topre domes, which use a conical metal spring and rubber dome system that makes contact with the PCB when plunged down via an overhead slider and keycap. The dome collapses and pushes the spring onto the PCB, which in turn, creates capacitance and registers the key press. The switches Varmilo is employing here are not quite the same. They use the same format as MX switches, just with slightly-altered insides.
At first, Varmilo had told me these switches are “contactless”. Me being me, I thought “wow, that is incredible! A switch that makes no real contact to the housing!” Unfortunately, I misunderstood what they meant. Like any other MX switch, the slider still slides along guided rails down the housing and presses up against a metal leaf to create actuation. The only real difference here is that the leaf doesn’t make physical contact with itself, like it normally would in an MX switch to create the registration. Instead, it’s “sensed” when it gets close enough creating capacitance. From a technical standpoint, this is really neat! However, in a practical standpoint, it’s really not terribly interesting for our community. The primary benefit here is longevity. It’ll last a very long time, which is always good, but our community is still desoldering vintage Cherry MX switches from 30+ years ago that work just fine, so I don’t really think our community cares very much about longevity, or has had a major problem with it, concerning MX-style switches.
With that said, these switches are still quite smooth and very nice, though a little inconsistent in terms of raw feel. Some of my switches have noticeable “scratch”, while others are just about as smooth as an MX switch can be. They’re the kind of switch that I’d love to explore more with some lubing or other modifications. They have definite potential, and I do hope we’ll see them sold standalone, at some point, as I feel the community would like to fiddle around with them.
Moving on to the rest of the keyboard, we find the keycaps, which are some of the nicer stock keycaps I’ve used in a while. They’re PBT and...what’s this? Cherry profile! Praise the keyboard gods! It’s about time we find Cherry profile on OEM boards. The PBT feel is fairly nice, as well. It’s more of a “fuzzy” PBT, as opposed to some cheaper PBT caps, which can tend to feel more “grainy”, something I’m not at all a fan of. You of course get the full set of caps to cover the board, as well as some colored modifiers to give a little accent to the otherwise fairly minimalistic and standard look.
The housing itself isn’t terribly special, just the typical plastic casing with some Varmilo branding in the top right. It’s sturdy enough and the finished texture features a wood grain aesthetic. On the bottom, you’re greeted by the standard array of branding, information, and flip-out rubber feet to provide a steeper typing angle. When I asked Varmilo what material the switch-plate was made out of, I expected to be told steel or aluminum, but iron is what they told me, which made me question if I had ever used an iron switch-plate before, which I can’t say that I have. At any rate, the plate feels very sturdy and the switches sound quite delightful when clacking away.
The stabilizers are also worth noting. When I asked where they were manufactured, I was told Varmilo makes them themselves, which I thought was neat. Though they’re plate-mounted Cherry-style, this is the first OEM board I’ve ever used where I’ve been happy with the stabilizers right out of the box. They’re smooth and make no noise at all. Upon closer examination, they’re lubed, generously and in several places, even! I’ve never seen this on a stock keyboard before, and I REALLY hope this is a trend that continues, because everyone deserves good-feeling stabilizers on their keyboards. It’s sad that so many manufacturers have them be such an afterthought, when often small decisions like that can make or break a keyboard experience, in my opinion. Definite bonus points to Varmilo here!
All things considered, this board provides a respectable typing experience, if you’re a fan of linears, like I am. It’s quite nice to type on, but it’s not really a new experience. It’s a very familiar feel, which was their intention: Keeping that Cherry MX style that has sold and been received so well by the masses. Personally, I was hoping for a more unique feel, but I still enjoyed typing on this keyboard. I’ve been told this switch will be offered on their entire product lineup, starting very soon. There is no confirmed retail price yet, but I’ve been told it will be just a little more expensive than their Cherry MX offerings.
Special thanks to Varmilo for letting us check out this keyboard!