Birth of a keyboard

Posted by Peter Ibbotson on November 29, 2020 · 5 mins read
Categories: Hardware , Keyboards
Tags: Ymdk , Keyboards , Keyboard-build

Birth of a new keyboard

So after the death of my Model M keyboard while looking around for a new keyboard I had a look at various forums (see links1) to decided which model to buy and what layouts were available. After some browsing around I found out about the Melody 96

Melody 96
Melody 96 sample

The Melody seems to be available also under the name of NYM96 but that might be a slightly older PCB variation. It also comes optionally with “Hot Swap” sockets so you can swap out the key switches you’re using. I found this posting on Reddit which handily lists a few manufacturers. Personally I didn’t like any of the Melody hot swap variations as I’d like my keyboard to be a bit more like a classic AT keyboard from my youth so I have gone for the one that requires soldering so I can pick my nearly perfect layout. There also seems to a clone of the VictSeng keyboard I bought available on AliExpress (search for “Ajazz FirstBlood B16 96 Key”) which I think I’ve also seen on Amazon.

A lot of these keyboards offer LED illumination of one sort or another:

  • Per key ARGB (usually a SK6812 or APA102 protocol) I suspect most of these come from the Shenzhen LED Color Opto Electronic Co.,Ltd who make these in 2mm square option, (normally PC case lighting comes in 5mm square packaging)
  • Under glow lighting usually combined with an partial Acrylic case often ARGB.
  • Per switch led lighting might be available with a tri color led one pin per color where the LEDs have to be multiplexed (I haven’t seen these myself).
  • Per switch LED but without individual control (maybe caps lock, num lock etc) but you can turn them off and on with brightness control.

So the Melody offers ARGB under glow lighting and per switch LEDs but basically these per switch LEDs are controlled as one set across the whole keyboard. I suspect that the big reason for doing under glow lighting is you can put it on one side of the board and don’t have to avoid key switches when laying out the components and the board can go through a SMT oven easily (double sided SMT is tricky). The per switch LEDs are through hole and the customer adds them afterwards when they add switches.

I have seen switches being described as being RGB but as far as I can tell this usually means they’re clear and have space underneath to mount an ARGB led. One final thought on ARGB LEDs is that they really are a pain to work with, if you look at the specification sheet, you’re supposed dry them in an oven before soldering and the clear silicon rubber lens seems prone to damage not a part I particularly want to work with.

So what did I end up buying… The parts list looks like this:

All from YMDK, I had a fairly high confidence level in this AliExpress purchase as they’ve done group buys for the initial Melody design and customers got the keyboards in the end. So far I haven’t been burnt by a bad AliExpress purchase but it always pays to be wary and it’s usually best only to buy from sellers that have high numbers of orders. The parcel got stuck somewhere inside of FedEx for a week or so but after a fortnight has finally got to me.

The key caps look like this in their plastic packaging, I quite like the retro rounded look. I’m not certain if I’m going to put the LEDs on the board yet, I may well do so just to get some back lighting.

Key caps 9009
Key caps 9009 colours

Coming up next - deciding on a layout and building my first keyboard.