Hardware
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Hardware Info:

ROCCAT Vulcan Pro Optical RGB Gaming Keyboard
Specifications:
Mechanical Keyboard with ROCCAT's custom Titan Switch Optical (Tactile)
Tactile and Linear variants available; Tactile reviewed
1.8mm actuation depth (1.4mm on Linear version)
1000Hz Polling Rate
32-bit ARM Cortex-M0 based processor
RGB LED backlit keys, fully customizable with ROCCAT Swarm software
512kb integrated macro & settings memory - software not required once configured!
Dedicate Volume knob and mute button, along with lighting customization
Media and custom application keys available via Fn key
Game mode enabled macro keys and disables the Windows key
ROCCAT Easy-Shift technology
Magnetically removable ergonomic palm rest
USB 2.0 connector with braided cable
MSRP: $199.99
(Amazon Affiliate Link)

Thank you Turtle Beach/ROCCAT for sending this to us for review!

We have mechanical keyboards of many types, brands, and switches in my house; we've kind of collected them over the years, partly through reviews, and partly through purchases. We have several with Cherry's switches, some with Kailh, others with Gateron, and a Bluetooth portable one with Outemu switches. My wife and daughters seem to prefer louder blue-type switches, while my son uses a brown low-profile keyboard I reviewed several years ago. Before this point, I was using a brown, and more recently a keyboard with red-style switches.

My only exposure to optical mechanical switches was to a blue switched keyboard my wife reviewed and loved, but I greatly prefer quieter, softer-touch keyboards, and those usually use brown or red-style switches. I've used both, and prefer brown, but I ended up settling on a red-based keyboard for the last several years because the keyboard itself was otherwise excellent, and was better than any brown-style keyboards in my house. However, there were many times I wished I had a brown-style switch again, as reds are so easy to typo on, or I occasionally got a double-bounce more often than I'd like. So, when I was given a chance to review ROCCAT's latest keyboard with brown-style optical switches, it was like a dream come true!

Thinking back, I've been typing for quite a long time now. It's actually been close to thirty years! As such, I've used quite a few keyboards over the decades, with a few that have been with me for an extended time. My earliest keyboards were Keytronic, which was one of the better membrane keyboard makers, and I used those through the 90s and early 2000s, even returning to them after using a Logitech gaming keyboard for a while, as I found Logitech's rubber domes to be stiffer, with less satisfying feedback. I then started to use those funny-looking ergonomic keyboards, as I started to experience hand and wrist pain in the late 2000s/early 2010s. I was never thrilled with the curvy keyboards, but they did help with pain, so I learned to deal with it.

After dealing with the ergonomic keyboards for a while, I discovered mechanicals, and Cherry MX specifically. I found info about them online, but never had a chance to test them. I had tried some IBM Model M buckling spring keyboards, and while they felt (and sounded) great, they still required a fair amount of force, which still made my hands hurt. So, I then realized that lower-force keyboards were what I needed, which means brown or red keys for me.

If you've read my other keyboard reviews, this is somewhat old news; while hand pain isn't totally gone, it is vastly improved. To bring things up to the current day, I used my old Logitech G710+ for a few years, which uses Cherry MX brown switches, and I really like that keyboard, but it's bulky, and the spacebar for some reason isn't reliable. Then I was sent the Cherry MX Board 6.0 to review, and I've used it almost non-stop since I got it - it's a work of art in many ways, but it's seen a ton of use, and is starting to show it. It occasionally double-bounces key presses, several keycaps are quite worn out (enough to shine light through), and the wrist rest (a thing of beauty, I must say) is coming apart. It's a great keyboard, but it's nearing the end of its useful life; it doesn't help that the keycaps are not standard in form.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Titan Optical Tactile switches feel excellent; the ABS keycaps are much better than I expected looking at them; lighting, media, and macro keys are saved to onboard memory, so you don't need the software running once configured, and they work in Linux/macOS once you've configured it in Windows; aluminum top means the keyboard is super stable; extra rubber strips means it doesn't slide unexpectedly at all; lower profile is quite ergonomic; volume wheel feels great to use; with the switches mounted on top of the aluminum plate, cleaning dust is very easy to do
Weak Points: Palm rest really needs some kind of padding to make it softer on the wrist; I wish the FX lighting key could be replaced with a play/pause button

So here we are: I have a strong desire to upgrade my keyboard, and my standards are high - that Cherry was truly excellent. The good news is that despite some flaws, this ROCCAT is quite impressive - I can honestly say that the build quality, and typing feel - which is to say the strength and rigidity of the typing experience - is in the ballpark of the Cherry, and certainly up to my high standards. I am so incredibly pleased with this thing! So let's drill down into why.

Probably the three most important things for the feel of a keyboard are the stability of the mount, the key switches, and the key caps. Let's drill down to see why each of these is very well done.

First, let's start with the way these are mounted. They are mounted flush with an aluminum plate, and the back of the keyboard has excellent anti-slip strips that keeps it solidly in place. As odd as this may sound, those are some of the best anti-slip strips I've seen, because they are so large! Normally, they are just rubber stoppers on the corners. The actual switches themselves aren't mounted any more solidly than other mechanical keyboards, but the board itself is very stiff with no flex or give to speak of.

Next is the switches. These are ROCCAT's custom optical mechanical tactile switches, and I have to say... I love them. I mean sure they could be a bit lighter to the touch, but then typos might be easier. On almost all of my keyboards, I install O-rings to make the impact hitting the bottom as soft as possible - but I might not need to do that here. I'm still not sure. But they are easy to activate, and have a bit more resistance before hitting the bottom - which is just fantastic. Another thing about them is that rather than just having the Cherry-style '+' key cap connector, they also put a 'box' (kinda like [+]) around the post, which makes the key cap's connection to the switch much more solid. This, along with the generally stable key switch, makes them feel rooted in place - which is fantastic, especially when typing. The keys feel strong and predictable.

The final piece is the key cap itself. While I have to admit I was a bit skeptical about a key cap that has no sides at first, now that I've spent some time with them, any concerns were completely unfounded. Rather than using thin material all around, they made a notably thick top - well over 1mm, perhaps approaching 2mm - and forgo the sides entirely, using all ABS plastic. What this really means is that the part your fingers actually touch, the top of the caps, are really thick and super stiff. It helps that ABS, despite all of the positive press that PBT has been getting in the keyboard world lately, feels great on the fingers, as long as they are strong enough. So, being thicker than your average key cap, and with a hard, strong, shiny finish, they are great to use. Other keys I've tested on there do seem to fit, and based on a cursory glance, I'm reasonably confident that the keys are in standard size/positions, so if you don't like them, order replacements!

Outside of just the great typing experience, we also have the extras. Media keys are something I use constantly - I listen to music quite often when I work (including now!). Having keys right there to play/pause, or switch tracks is invaluable. The real star is the great volume knob though; if you haven't had a keyboard with a volume wheel right there and easy to access, you're in for a treat. It also helps that the knob itself feels great, with solid notches that are a joy to twist through. I will say that I do prefer the type where you can mute it by pressing in on the knob itself, rather than needing a dedicated mute button like this keyboard has, but what can you do. I also wish that the lighting FX key wasn't dedicated, but that spot could be used instead for a more important feature; some keyboards have play/pause or track controls closer to their volume wheels, but you can't always have everything. Fn+F9-F12 is hardly a big problem.

Another thing I noticed is that all of the hot keys (the F1-F12 functions) all work, even if ROCCAT Swarm isn't running, or even if you are in a different operating system. I dual boot my PCs, and I'll switch from Windows to Linux if the mood strikes. I was extremely pleased to see that, as long as you assign your keys and color settings to an onboard profile, you can easily switch to them. So, in my case, if I'm in the mood for green, I press Fn+F2 (my green profile). If I want Blue, it's Fn+F1. I could easily setup Fn+F3 to be Red, or some other color if I so desire. Out of the box, those profiles are some combination of rainbow colors, but I configured them in ROCCAT Swarm, their control software for Windows. There is also AIMO support, which is a protocol all ROCCAT products use so you can synchronize the colors of multiple ROCCAT devices together if you wish, all within Swarm.

ROCCAT Vulcan Pro Optical RGB Gaming Keyboard

Swarm is decent, but not great software. I love that I don't have to keep it running to get the most out of my keyboard *glares at two different mice I own from different manufactures that immediately come to mind*. But when I want those features, like adjusting repeat rates, changing colors, setting macros, and more - you can do it all from Swarm. While trying to change my colors, I had to do a bit more fussing with it than I'd prefer; sometimes it would change my first profile when I thought I was working with my second, or it would set my keys to the wrong color, or use a color 'theme' instead of the solid color I was trying to setup. But once it works, it works.

And it's not just the color profiles that work in Linux, but the media keys, too. For example, I was quickly playing/pausing and switching tracks, not to mention that volume knob, in my Linux KDE desktop. I also found that the Home, Browser, and Mail icons work - and the calculator one does too, if you spend a few minutes configuring it to launch 'kcalc' (in my case) from KDE. It's not mapped by default to an app, but it is mapped to a custom scan code - and this is what matters, because you can always tell the software what to do when that code is read. It's very nice. I love it when devices get this really critical component, onboard memory, working properly.

Overall, the keyboard is quite customizable. Once in 'Game Mode' (Fn+Scroll Lock), nearly half of the keyboard, basically the first five keys on the left side from 1-5/Q-T/A-G/Z-B on all four rows, can be customized to do almost any single keypress. If that wasn't enough, you can also do full-on macros with the M1-M6 keys that replace the Ins/Home/PgUp/Del/End/PgDn cluster. I am not one to customize keys in this way, but the feature being there for those who do is great. You can also auto-load key profiles for certain games if you wish (Swarm needs to be running for this).

The one area, outside of the software bugs that I would change is the wrist rest. I love that it's magnetically attached - my favorite wrist rest ever, the one that works with my Cherry keyboard, works the same way. But, it's really a bit too thin, and has no padding on top, making it a bit too hard to use long term. I've seriously considered ordering some kind of sticky rubber foam to go on top, and I believe the soft touch could go a long way towards making this keyboard perfect. For now, I'm on a search for the perfect wrist rest, and since I use my keyboards on a negative incline, having it be both firm and soft to the touch is important. It may take a bit of time as I experiment to get it just right, but it'll be worth it - my hands and wrists know this from experience!

The ROCCAT Vulcan Pro Optical RGB Gaming Keyboard with Tactile Switches is nothing short of a fantastic keyboard. I do hope I find the perfect wrist rest to go with this, as it's the only glaring flaw in an otherwise excellent design. I absolutely love the confident keystrokes that these optical brown tactile switches offer, and the super-sturdy key caps and keyboard that stays put makes me ever grateful that I get to use this keyboard that's just a joy to type on. And the 1000Hz polling rate makes sure that my games are as responsive as ever. While I certainly hope they improve the wrist rest, and I'd prefer the media keys where the light FX buttons are (adjusting the lighting brightness is nice, but not essential to do often), these are hardly big deals when they got the fundamentals so, so right. And with excellent onboard memory, that stores profiles, lighting, and macros, it's guaranteed to always be there. I give this keyboard my highest recommendation.

About the Author

Jason Gress

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