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Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro L RGB: For Pros and Joes

By Randy Liden on October 16, 2017 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Cooler Master MasterKeys Pro L RGB: For Pros and Joes

Cooler Master advertises the MasterKeys Pro L RGB as being for “Pros, Not Joes”. After using this keyboard and exploring its power for the last two weeks, I can understand why they made that their slogan. The Pro L is a powerhouse. Even with all the portability and power it offers, I have a different opinion: the MasterKeys Pro L RGB is for “Pros and Joes,” and here’s why.

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Technical Specifications

  • MSRP: $169.99 at release
  • Switch Type: Cherry MX RGB (red, brown, blue)
  • LED Color: RGB (16.7 million colors)
  • Polling Rate: 1000Hz
  • Repeat Rate: 1x / 2x / 4x / 8x
  • Response Rate: 1ms
  • MCU: 32bit ARM Cortex M3
  • Onboard Memory: 512KB
  • Cable Length: 4.9 ft (1.5 m)
  • LED and Macro Programmability: Built-in onboard and MKP software compatible

The MasterKeys Pro L RGB is an incredible keyboard wrapped in a stylishly sleek, functional, and understated case. It offers the kind of features a serious or professional gamer would want, such as on-board memory for saving profiles, macro programmability, and freedom from mandatory software installations. Even though this keyboard is very powerful, it is also simple and easy to use for we “Joes.” You can control a good deal right on the board, but Cooler Master also provides software to update the firmware and design and manage your own LED color profiles.

Cooler Master made a great first impression with the care they took packaging the retail box safely for shipping. I found the packaging wrapped in a thin papery cloth like material to shield it from scratches and marring. The included braided USB cable was tied and wrapped separately along with a keycap puller. The latter is a classy touch that is incredibly handy when you need to pull a key cap off.

The one thing I didn’t like about the cord is how hard it is to keep in its channel. At work this isn’t a problem for me because my keyboard stays in one position. At home this is a big problem because I use my keyboard in my lap and move it a lot. I kept having to fiddle with it and tuck it back into its channel.

The case is made of heavy duty plastic that feels sturdy and rigid. It’s coated in a protective UV matte finish that is good at absorbing fingerprint smudges. I tried twisting the deck and it didn’t budge like many of the cheaper keyboards I’ve seen. There is a metal plate inside that adds to the stability and the 2.4 pound weight of the board. That heaviness coupled with four rubber pads on the bottom makes the Pro L feel stable and rooted on the desktop even when furiously typing.

The keycaps themselves are laser etched ABS with the smooth matte feel the case has. The base material of the cap is opaque white plastic with a black coating. The key legends are crisp and clear with the backlight showing through brightly on the primary legend and dimly on the secondary. The keyboard layout is standard ANSI, except for the four profile buttons, so if you do want to replace the keycaps with a custom set that option is available too. Many keycap manufacturers have options that include ANSI plus extras for programmability.

The switches themselves are set below the deck with the keys resting right on top in classic style. This gives the keyboard surface a slightly lower looking profile compared to the floating key style found in other models. It also tightens up the already clean no-nonsense appearance. There are no extra media or macro keys cluttering it up either, but it does have a function key providing access to media keys and other meta features like building macros.

The bottom of the Pro L has four rubber pads for the feet and a USB connector with channels for the cord. The braided cord is thin and flexible. I have another keyboard with a thick cord that occasionally fights me because it’s stiffer and less pliable. The braiding on the Pro L’s cord also gives it strength and an extra layer of protection. The micro USB connector plugs into the keyboard and the cable can be routed directly out the back or down through a small channel leading out each side.

After plugging it in, Windows 10 instantly recognized it. The backlighting defaults to a static soft white with no flashy patterns. Those are quickly and easily available but are not the default, which I appreciate.

The biggest change for me was the experience of the Cherry MX Red switches. Both my work and home keyboards feature brown switches; I’m used to the tactile bump and that infinitesimal wiggle they have at the top right as they’re actuated. Cherry Reds are a real treat. They have the exact same actuation force and operating point as browns but there is no resistive pressure leading up to a bump. It’s smooth travel all the way down. I have been using brown switches so long that I didn’t realize what I’ve been missing. The MasterKeys Pro L is available in blue and brown switches as well, but the even actuation of the reds seems to match the smooth aesthetic this board projects.

Next up, I went to Cooler Master’s site and downloaded the support software. This was a little confusing as there are a few different options. I chose the Cooler Master Portal which updated my firmware and installed the LED configurator so I didn’t need to download that separately. Initially I had some issues getting the software to connect and do updates, but after a couple attempts things started working properly.

The LED configurator lets you manipulate the four profiles, save them to the library, and import/export them for sharing or backup. The software has many prebuilt lighting effects. The colors and repeat rate can be adjusted with sliders or you can enter the RGB values for a color. The custom key mode allows you to customize the colors and brightness of keys individually. I made a few profiles to try out. You can download them here.

The configurator is easy to use but isn’t required if you don’t want the extra install. One of the most powerful features of this keyboard is that it doesn’t need software to be programmed. Macros and LED colors can be manipulated and changed without using certain key combinations. Cooler Master provides a short tutorial for onboard programming on their support site, and if that answer doesn’t answer your particular question, there are also the community forums.

The Pro L RGB also has four onboard memory profiles, 512KB of memory, and a powerful ARM controller that allows the player to easily transport the keyboard and its configuration to another system. The downside to this that it has a learning curve and is something only power users might feel comfortable tackling. Cooler Master does provide great support and documentation for this, along with the aforementioned forums, so you’re not alone in mastering macros.

Another power feature is the 104-key rollover with no ghosting. There are a lot of nuances to rollover but, at its simplest, is the ability of a keyboard to correctly register more than one key at a time. The MasterKeys Pro L offers full 104-key rollover via USB. Other companies often refer to this as “N-key rollover,” but since that can be ambiguous, CM’s specificity in “104-key” is stating clearly that all the keys work, period. That’s about as good as it gets.

Ghosting is the anomaly when multiple keys are pressed, and an additional erroneous character is added to the string. Rollover limitations and ghosting aren’t the same thing but are symptoms of a related design issue. I ran through some simple ghosting checks which the keyboard passed. I also downloaded AquaKeyTest to put it through it’s rollover paces where it passed with flying colors. Note, I couldn’t do all 104 keys at once (it’s quite a challenge, try it yourself), but I got a lot in and am very happy with the results.

Final Thoughts

Cooler Master has been making quality mechanical keyboards for a long time now. They’re known for using quality switches and hardware and MasterKeys Pro L lives up to that reputation. It’s a classically styled keyboard built for function over flare by default and it delivers on that, but can also look great with the RGB customization. The smoothness of the switches, ease of use, and solidly constructed body make this keyboard a joy to use.

This keyboard gets my recommendation especially if you’re the kind of gamer that likes classy, powerful, understated peripherals with a lot of customization.

Pros

  • Solid construction
  • Good programmability
  • Clean minimalistic design

Cons

  • On-board macro and LED programming have a learning curve
  • Cable can come loose from runner when moved
  • Software could be improved

The product discussed in this article was provided by the manufacturer for the purposes of review.