It’s hard for a keyboard be surprising in 2018. With so many new models flooding the market, they start to blend together, making it the rare set of keys that stands out in our memory. Today, we have a pair of keyboards that do exactly that: the MK Retro Classic from Azio, a line of keyboards so flashy and elegant that they’d be just as at home in a display case as a desk. We have two models on hand, the Artisan and Elwood, and believe me, these are keyboards you won’t want to miss.
Before we go on, be sure to check out the video review down below the specifications. Once we got our hands on these keyboards, we knew a written review wasn’t going to be good enough. They demand to be shown off, so take a look.
- MSRP: $189.99 (USB), $219.99 (BT)
- Model: Retro Classic
- Interface: USB
Switch type: AZIO Typelit Mechanical Switch (by Kailh - tactile & clicky feedback)
- Actuation force: 50gf (85gf peak)
- Actuation Distance: 1.6mm (total travel: 3.6mm)
- Operating Life: 50M cycles
- NKRO: N-Key Rollover
- Backlight: Onyx/Artisan/Elwood: WHITE, Posh: ORANGE
- Cable: 6 ft., braided
- Dimensions: 17.9 x 1.6 x 5.8 in
- Weight: 3.5 lbs/1587 g
Right from the get-go, Azio is out to impress. Each keyboard has a nice sleeve on the outside but the inner box feels high end with the embossed name on the outside. We received the Elwood in its bluetooth version and it includes a nicely braided cable as well as some extra keycaps. The Artisan, in my opinion, the showier of the two models, oddly doesn’t include the extra ‘caps but definitely feels high-end in its own right.
The MK Retro Classic line of keyboards is Azio’s take on the “luxury” keyboard. It’s the successor to the standard MK Retro, which was very well regarded for its elegant take on the typewriter-style keyboard. To take things to the next level, Azio turned to IndieGoGo. With the help of the community, they’ve been able to elevate the MK Retro Classic line to showpiece quality with beautiful genuine leather faceplates (real wood on the Elwood), plated zinc aluminum alloy trim, in-house designed key switches produced by Kailh, and gorgeous shine-through keycaps that showcase the backlighting.
Azio succeeded: these keyboards are luxurious. Just about anyone I’ve shown them too has said “wow,” but they’re each eye-catching in their own way. The Artisan, for example, looks ripped straight from Bioshock. The contrast between the black leather face and the copper trim looks gorgeous. Light sparkles off the Artisan, but since the copper is on the rings of the keycaps and a thin on the frame’s border, fingerprints aren’t really an issue. The result is a keyboard that’s so unabashedly shiny, that so well melds the classic and modern, it seems like something you’d put on display rather than actually use.
It’s a similar situation with the Elwood. If the Artisan is from Bioshock, the Elwood is from Westworld. If people in the wild west used keyboards, this is the one you’d find behind the bar of a saloon. Instead of black and copper, the Elwood swaps the leather for real wood and a anodized gray alloy frame. Interestingly, they feel substantially different to type on because of these different finishes. Even though I like the look of the Artisan, I like the feel of the Elwood. They both feel fine, mind you, but it’s a subtle but noticeable difference.
The MK Retro Classic line features your choice of USB connectivity or bluetooth. Flipping a switch on the back of the board lets you choose your platform, PC or Mac, and whether you’re connecting with USB or bluetooth. The bluetooth model retails for about $30 more ($219 versus $189), but it’s worth it for the flexibility to go wireless. The cable on the USB version is also non-detachable, which is another big selling point for bluetooth. If your cable breaks, you don’t want to be stuck buying a whole new keyboard.
There are also a pair of other styles to choose from. If you love the classic, black typewriter look, Onyx will fit the bill. Then there’s Posh, a white and copper keyboard with an orange backlight that looks ripped from a royal castle. It’s gorgeous, if you’re down for the color scheme.
All of these keyboards use in-house switches from Azio. They’re clicky, as you would expect from a typewriter style keyboard, but I found them to be slightly quieter than standard Cherry MX Blues. You’ll still want to be aware of your surroundings if you take these into work (and, come on, you’ll want to take them to work), but they definitely standard apart from their Cherry counterparts.
Part of this is likely because the switches are designed to be flush with the keyboard’s body. Since typewriter style keys have much longer stems than normal keycaps, you’re engaging the switch from a higher position, which probably accounts for most of the “key feel” difference here.
Speaking of keycaps, there are plusses and minuses here. As a plus, they both feel and look good with nice, clean isolated backlighting thanks to the center-mounted LED. The way they fit into the switch also makes is less likely that they’ll break over time the way ABS ‘caps tend to. As a minus, even though they look metal trimmed, they’re actually plastic. There’s a moment of disappointment when you realize this, but at the same time, metal typewriter-style keys are extremely expensive (here’s a set that’s $35 per four keycaps) and are probably not realistic anytime soon.
With the MK Retro Classic series, Azio has delivered a set of keyboards that absolutely become the centerpiece of your desktop. If you’ve ever considered a typewriter-style keyboard, it doesn’t come better than this for under a thousand dollars. They cost a bit more than the standard MK Retro line, but what you get is worth every penny.
- Beautifully designed
- Truly showpiece keyboards
- Feel great to type on
- Performance matches the look
- Color schemes other than Onyx may not fit every desktop
The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.