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Varmilo MA104C CMYK Electrostatic Capactive Keyboard - A New Kind of EC

By Christopher Coke on January 19, 2018 | Hardware Reviews | Comments

Varmilo MA104C CMYK Electrostatic Capactive Keyboard - A New Kind of EC

Varmilo is one of the most creative companies in the keyboard business. Their models are some of the most distinctive and eye-catching you’ll find, often featuring high-end custom keycap sets with an artistic bent. Earlier this month, we took a look at their custom PUBG keyboard and were impressed. Today, we’re lucky enough to be looking at the company’s first electrostatic capacitive keyboard, the MA104C CMYK. If you want the benefits of a Topre without the feel of a rubber dome, this is a keyboard you won’t want to miss.

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Specifications

  • MSRP: Approximately $175 (no firm price yet)
  • Model: MA104C
  • Size: Full Size
  • Switch: Sakura Pink EC (linear, 45g actuation force)
  • Keycap Material: PBT
  • Keycap Color: CMYK
  • Keycap Print Method: Dye Sub
  • Keycap Print Position: Top
  • Illumination: White (solid, breathing)
  • USB Key Rollover: Full
  • Multimedia Keys: Yes
  • Switch Mount Type: Plate
  • Built in Audio Port: No
  • Built in Mic Port: No
  • Interface: Mini USB
  • Cord Length: 60 inches

As we’ve begun exploring the wider world of mechanical keyboards, I’ve sunk into the community that loves them. I’ve lurked on the forums at Geek Hack, explored the annals of Deskthority, and made checking in with r/mechanicalkeyboards part of my nightly routine. Varmilo is a name that just keeps coming up. They’re a keyboard maker that embraces the creativity in their keysets and, as we’re seeing with the MA104C, how they build their keyboards.

The defining feature of the MA104C, apart from its colorful corners, is Varmilo’s new electrostatic capacitive switch technology. The last time we saw that switch type was on the Topre REALFORCE RGB we looked at last week, but these two keyboards couldn’t be more different. Where the Topre uses a rubber dome and spring under each key, Varmilo’s EC switches are much closer to a traditional switches. They’re so close that unless someone told you first, you’d be hard pressed to notice that you weren’t typing on a traditional Cherry.

This makes up one of Varmilo’s biggest selling points on the MA104C: all the benefits of electrostatic capacitive switches without the sacrificing the feeling of typing on a normal mechanical keyboard. Or, I suspect more importantly, the dramatic price hike that usually comes with a Topre. Varmilo’s EC keyboards will cost only slightly more (we’re told in the neighborhood of $15) than their Cherry versions, and considering that these switches are theoretically far more durable, that makes sense.

But if they feel so similar to a normal switch - and make no mistake, many EC fans buy Topre precisely because they feel different - why should you buy in? Well, electrostatic capacitive switches operate without the metal contacts ever actually touching; instead, they sense proximity. If nothing ever touches, wear and tear on those contacts is reduced to zero. As a result, the impact of oxidation (rust) is dramatically reduced. Chattering all but disappears, improving the keyboard’s accuracy. Response time is also greatly improved.

In short, contactless switches solve many of the major problems currently facing mechanical keyboards without actually feeling much different. Because of the lack of contact, they also have a theoretically limitless lifespan.

The switch used in the MA104C is the Sakura Pink EC switch. It feels very similar to a Cherry Red and is linear with no tactile feedback. It features the same 45g of actuation force as a Red but has a slightly shorter travel distance of 1.8mm, down from the usual 2.0mm. This has the effect of making it feel slightly lighter, leading to naturally lighter typing and less clacking to bother your roommates. If clicky keys are more up your alley, Varmilo does have other versions planned for the future - take that, roomies!

Typing on the Sakura Pink EC switches is excellent. I love light switches and the MA104C makes typing feel almost effortless. They’re a great fit for gaming too, offering such light resistance and extra responsiveness. This side of so-called “speed switches,” Varmilo’s Sakura Pinks will give you a competitive edge.

I’m a big fan of Varmilo’s construction. These boards are well made, top to bottom. The MA104C features a high density plastic body. There’s no flex to be found, and the steel plate under the frame gives it a nice heft to keep it still on the desk. There are two fold-out feet in the back, but the keyboard has a nice angle to it, so many people may not find them necessary. The cable is detachable and uses a mini-USB header, so replacing it will be a cinch. It’s not braided, which I’m always sad not to see, but realistically offers little actual benefit to a keyboard.

Varmilo’s keycaps are often the star of the show. Here we find an excellent set of thick-walled PBT ‘caps with a slightly textured surface. Unlike the ABS found on most “gaming” keyboards (which is a whole lot of marketing, but that’s a topic for another day), these keycaps will never shine and because they legends are dye sublimated, they’ll never fade. Since the keys are both denser and heavier, they feel different to type on, too. It’s a subtle difference that’s hard to describe in text, but ask anyone who has tried both and they’ll tell you: once you go PBT, it’s hard to go back. 

High-end, dye-sub keycaps are also expensive all by themselves. It’s not uncommon to see custom sets going for $50 or more and sometimes well over $100. When you factor that in, the cost of the keyboard actually becomes quite a bit more reasonable.

Varmilo is known for giving their keyboards unique, artistic looks. Here we find that with the faux wood grain texture on the body and the uncommon color palette of the corner keys. If you’re not a fan of CMYK, however, you’ll be pleased to know they include a set of standard grey keycaps right in the box.

The MA104C also features white backlighting to give your keys a nice white underglow. It can be turned on and off or made to breathe at different speeds. It won’t offer much help for typing in the dark, though, as the legends aren’t see through. It might be more aesthetic than functional but, let’s face it, one of the reasons you buy Varmilo is for their looks, and the whole package here looks great.

Final Thoughts

The MA104C is both my second keyboard from Varmilo and my second ever with electrostatic capacitive switches. While Topre’s can be divisive, Varmilo’s EC switch is a crowd pleaser. It offers all the benefits of a contactless switch without sacrificing the feel mechanical keyboard fans have grown to love. Whether you’re a gamer who demands that extra level of responsiveness and reliability or just a keyboard fan looking for a unique new slate to add to your collection, the MA104C won’t disappoint.

Pros

  • Great looks, great build
  • Contactless switches promise greater reliability
  • Much cheaper than Topre EC switches
  • Feels great to use and gives an edge in games

Cons

  • Backlight is more for looks than function
  • LEDs causes some keycaps to become transluscent

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

Christopher Coke / Chris has been a fan of MMOs since the mid-1990s when he cut his teeth on MUDs. These days he scours the internet for the latest and greatest multiplayer gaming experiences.