Gaze upon our list of the world’s best keyboards right now, and you’ll find the Roccat Vulcan 120 Aimo near the top (as of this writing). Roccat’s latest mechanical keyboard is largely thanks to its new Titan mechanical key switch that makes a powerful impact upon first glance.
Unlike just about any other keyboard in existence, the keys are only capped at the top, thus revealing the intricate inner housing beneath. Not only does that give the Vulcan 120 and its brethren a unique visual edge, but it also allows the vibrant RGB LED lights to shine through the transparent switch in a way that adds a unique, singular glow.
Roccat’s overall aesthetic here is more industrial than in-your-face (although maybe a bit sci-fi, as well), and the end result is one of the best-looking keyboards we’ve ever laid eyes on.
But looks aren’t everything; in fact, if the keys don’t feel and act right, then looks mean nothing at all for a keyboard. Luckily, Roccat’s Vulcan is the complete package featuring the company’s new proprietary mechanical Titan switches. Built to find the middle ground between the two most popular types of Cherry MX switches, albeit, with speedier responsiveness, the end result is a keyboard that’s great for gaming, typing and essentially anything else.
And it all started with those Titan switches. To find out how Roccat designed the tech inside our new favorite keyboard, we spoke with product head and Roccat Studios Taipei general manager Thaddäus Tetzner about building a mechanical switch that looks good, feels right, and delivers a new sweet spot that’s ideal for all types of computing.
When Roccat first began the project about three years ago, they had a multipronged plan of attack. First, they wanted to highlight the Titan switch itself within the keyboard design, and not have that integral part be buried behind a bulky keycap. After all, it’s the defining feature of a mechanical keyboard. Why hide it?
“We didn’t really like that the mechanical keyboard switch is always treated like an internal, mechanical part—not something that you show or that’s visible, so it’s not part of the cosmetics of the products,” said Tetzner. Many internal parts aren’t made to be beautiful simply because they’ll never be seen by consumers. Roccat’s team thought that they could find a better way and highlight the Titan switch without hiding it. “It was not apparent for us why it has to be ugly,” he added.
Visually, there’s nothing quite like the Roccat Vulcan. Mechanically, however, the company didn’t start entirely from scratch with the Titan switch; it’s more refinement than revolution, unlike Razer’s recent Optomechanical hybrid switch.
Instead, Roccat and partner TTC tried to find a middle ground in type feel between two of the most common Cherry switches, Brown and Red. The speedy, linear Red switches are considered best for pure gaming purposes, while the tactile Brown switches allow for more diverse usage, such as typing articles and papers. Roccat saw an opportunity to bridge that gap and create an even better all-around typing experience.
“We felt that between the Red and the Brown types, between linear and tactile, there was still an opportunity to have,” Tetzner explained. “We felt that the gap was too big and the compromises of making a Brown tactile type faster or just making a Red type faster, and not the sweet spot we perceived in the middle of that – between those two. Nobody really went there.”
Feeling it out
That’s a fine goal, but making that happen was no easy feat. The sensation felt when pressing a key is such a subjective thing, especially when you consider the different applications of a keyboard. That’s even true just within gaming, as different games reward different kinds of inputs and reaction speeds. “A hardcore Quake Champions player will have a very different opinion on the best switch than maybe a PUBG player,” said Tetzner.
Extensive user testing was needed to try and quantify the ambiguous concept of type feeling, and ensure that they were getting the kind of result that they wanted. Lengthy reliability testing was also necessary to determine that the new switches could hold up to potentially years of usage and not give up the ghost too soon – something that could derail the entire product line if left unchecked.
When it came to making the keys feel so speedy and responsive, Roccat opted against significantly shortening the distance to actuation – that is, how far the key can be pressed before registering the input. That’s a straightforward way to do so, of course, but Tetzner and his team felt like the end result would be compromised. You’d feel the difference right away, so Roccat stuck with a 1.8mm actuation point. That is shorter than the Cherry standard of 2.0mm, but not dramatically so.
More importantly, Roccat focused on minimizing contact bouncing and tweaking the debounce rate. When the metal plates inside of a switch make contact, they bounce and vibrate – so manufacturers use a brief debounce delay and then check again for contact, ensuring that one key press doesn’t count as two or more. However, that metal can wear down a bit over time, and many manufacturers use a longer debounce rate to ensure that their keyboards remain effective over the longer haul. It’s a trade-off.
But for the Titan switch, Roccat refined its components to trim down the bounce as much as possible and used a faster debounce rate to ensure that keystrokes feel speedy and precise without needing to trim the physical travel distance.
“We wanted to give you the same benefit of speed without touching that part that makes, in our opinion, the switch not feel as good,” said Tetzner. “Basically, the idea is: instead of making it too short, we save the time somewhere else and still keep typing feeling good.”
A true titan
According to Tetzner, development of the Titan Switch proved to be a relatively smooth process, with their core aims holding true all the way through manufacturing. Only the internal makeup of the switches saw any significant overhaul during the testing process, as they had to solve new ways to assemble the key components to ensure both reliability and attractiveness. “The traditional way is something that basically destroys the aesthetics but is easy to manufacture,” he said.
It was clearly worth the effort. As our review and best gaming keyboards list placement both suggest, the Vulcan 120 Aimo – Roccat’s current top-tier keyboard wielding the Titan switch – is one of the best keyboards you can buy today. And that certainly won’t be the last we see of the Titan switch.
The current version is dubbed the Titan switch tactile, and Tetzner suggests that other variants could be coming based on demand, including versions that are more akin to Linear or Clicky switches from other makers. He’s also thinking ahead to second- and third-generation editions of the Titan Switch. There’s still room for improvement and innovation in this market, Tetzner said, both from Roccat and competitors, but he can’t help but hope that the Titan Switch itself ends up influencing followers.
“We do believe that the Titan switch will create a new kind of trend,” he surmised, noting its balance between mechanical and industrial design. “The love and the detail, for even something like the debounce rate, is also something that will hopefully leave its mark on the industry.”
- If you liked this, you’re going to love our look behind Razer’s Optomechanical switches