The RGB tax is real. If you’ve caught yourself contemplating the latest in light up peripherals, you’ve for sure noticed the $20-30 premium those fancy lights can add. As enthusiasts, the first thing we look for is performance, but if we can look good and have customization options too, that’s just icing on the cake. Today, Cooler Master is opening up the world of RGB to a budget audience with its new MasterSet MS120 keyboard and mouse set. With an MSRP of $89.99, it’s a clear value but one that makes a handful of sacrifices to hit its asking price.
The MasterSet MS120 gained a lot of buzz at Computex this year and after spending some time with it, it’s clear why. The keyboard alone, though not mechanical, is one of the best membrane keyboards I’ve used due to the new mem-chanical switch design. It also features exceptionally bright per-key backlighting, making it immediately eye catching, that’s all customizable without software. That you also get an RGB mouse just adds value to something that would already be approaching or exceeding that MSRP.
Upon taking the MS120’s keyboard out of the box, what’s immediately striking is how heavy it is. Cooler Master opted to mount the PCB to a weighty metal plate, a practice common in high end mechanical keyboards. In fact, by all appearances, it looks like a high end mechanical keyboard. The MS120 here has adopted the “floating key” style, which removes the top plate to reveal the illuminated switch body underneath.
Cooler Master’s “mem-chanical” switches do a good job of mimicking the clickiness of MX Blues, but with the actuation and responsiveness of MX Speed switches. In essence, these hybrid switches marry the housing and tactile feedback of mechanical switches with the membrane design of traditional keyboards to keep costs down. It also allows them to design these keyboards with features much closer to actual mechanicals, such as that top plate-less design or featuring MX stems to allows custom keycaps - a feature usually not seen in this category.
Here, CM’s hybrids aim to produce a “like mechanical feeling.” The switches are clicky and lighter to the touch than a traditional membrane keyboard. They also feature a reduced 3.6mm travel distance and a 1.2mm actuation point, making them faster than a standard Cherry switch. While critics sometimes deride hybrid switches as “membrane keyboards with a clicker inside,” that misses the mark here. Compared side by side with my Logitech G110, the MS120 is smoother, lighter, and noticeably more responsive.
The lighting is also flat out gorgeous. Every key features its own extra bright LED, making the MS120’s keyboard easily the most vibrant I’ve ever used, even more than keyboards nearly double the price of the whole set. Since there’s no software, you’re not able to independently assign these LEDs, which feels almost tragic given how nicely the illumination comes together. Instead you have 9 preset effects to choose from, including the usual rainbows and waves, but also color streaks and rains, reactive typing, and a pair of neat fire and plasma effects. You can also set a static color of your choice using onboard Red, Blue, and Green levelers.
The other side to having such vibrant LEDs is that there is a healthy amount of color bleed when lighting single keys. Have a look:
When they’re all illuminated, single keys don’t stand out at all and actually work to create an excellent bed of color. On their own, there is virtually no key isolation, so you can count on your lock indicators illuminating more than their own corner of the board.
The mouse is slightly less impressive, but is still a great value at this price. It features six buttons, including two on the left for quick thumb access. Like the keyboard, it’s color customizable but more limited. The inner mouse ring, Cooler Master logo on the palm, and a light bar on the heel all illuminate. The ring and palm rest act as DPI indicators, changing color at the four presets from 500 to 3500 DPI which somewhat forces you to match the heel to your DPI or face a mismatch. It uses genuine Omron switches rated up to 10M clicks and a PixArt 3050 optical sensor for precise tracking. The DPI is a little on the low side when compared to its stand-alone peers, but since most users don’t use beyond 3.5K sensitivities, the DPI overhead is a good place to start chopping to save money.
Cooler Master also sent over an ambidextrous version of the mouse that will be sold in the MS121 set. While the MS120’s mouse features a ring finger rest on the right side, the MS121’s drops this. Otherwise they are identical.
At the end of the day, the MS120 is a budget desk set and there are trade-offs to that exceptional price. There is no braided cable on either peripheral and no USB passthrough on the keyboard. The mouse also feels less considered than the keyboard. It feels exceptionally light in the hand and there is the light disparity I mention above. There are also no dedicated media keys, so you’re looking at FN modifiers to adjust volume and the like.
The bigger omission, however, is the lack of programmability. Neither peripheral is able to record or deliver macros. The keyboard does feature several “gamer” features like 26 key anti-ghosting, windows lock, and 8x turbo, but the lack of programmability feels like the keyboard is missing part of what makes a gaming keyboard what it is. If you’re someone who relies on macros to carry his team, their absence is going to be limiting.
Macros aside, the MasterSet MS120 is an impressive package. The keyboard clearly carries the weight of that MSRP, but when you look at the whole set, it really begins to feel like a bargain. The mem-chanical switches are a great middle ground for users who don’t want to buy into an expensive mechanical keyboard. I’m holding out hope for a software package to better customize the LEDs, but when they’re lit, there’s no arguing that they are best in class at this price range. If you can live without macros, the MS120 is a great way to begin your own custom setup.
The product discussed in this article was provided by public relations for the purposes of review.