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Keymacs: Modern Symbolics-Style Keyboard (keymacs.com)
79 points by coldblues 57 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 66 comments

I see a lot of red flags here. They claim it’s “over-engineered”, but it looks like the opposite.

The cheaping out:

1) 2 layer board with two modules (one of them a DIY arduino board). Given the price tag they could have spent $2 in going 4 layers and add some ground planes.

2) Charging extra for N-key rollover? Seriously? Who though that would look good?

3) No cable?

The overspending:

1) Fully machined two part case. There’s a LOT of excess everywhere. More weight doesn’t make thins stronger. There were easier ways to build a case like that.

2) Every single piece aside from the switches seems to be fully custom made. “Custom” is only good if it brings value, for a lot of the pieces involved there seems to be little if any improvement.

3) from the pictures it looks like they surface finished the insides of they case, and even the support plate. Why would I care to add a brushed look to an internal part?

Basically, this is “Juicero: The Keyboard.”

Juicero was cheaper. This is "Starting at €1,262".

"Custom" meant to me that the item was customized for the user.

Here it's being used to mean that the item was customized for the manufacturer, which is completely different. Any color of keycaps you want as long as they're black, no printing available on the non-querty keys, but six types of switches.

Also bad if I need any spare parts, because they're nonstandard, and would be hard to source and expensive.

These are more like exotic cars than working tools.

> Why would I care to add a brushed look to an internal part?

The custom keyboard community includes people who indeed care about such details. Also it's not unusual to get no cable with such kits; Custom cables are popular too.

I'm not sure how this compares to known brands in that price range as I'm not exactly an expert in case manufacturing, but I've seen designs that I find more appealing.

> The custom keyboard community

I like to consider myself part of that community. I don’t have the cash to spend into a collection of keyboards, but mine still cost me around $300, which I think is fair given the customizations.

This is the fist time I see a brushed support plate.

A ground plane would be pointless. The only high speed portion would be the USB data lines and they're on the controller board.

Ground planes are not only for high speed, the EMI performance of going 4-layers is easily one of the cheapest gains to be made in modern electronics. The other gain in this scenario is that you could tighten up the rebound times, which reduces input latency.

Can you pull it of with two layers? Yes, of course, but if you are charging $1000 for the thing I expect you to go 4 layers.

I mess around with a lot of custom modern and vintage alps keyboard stuff. I'm pretty familiar with the Keymacs project although I don't own one yet because its pretty expensive. I'm going to be attempting a very similar build modelled after the same Symbolics board in the near future using wood for a case and most likely MX switches due to the difficulty of sourcing keycaps for Alps.

>I see a lot of red flags here. They claim it’s “over-engineered”, but it looks like the opposite.

Fair criticisms for some of it, but parts of it are over-engineered and the term over-engineered is usually a marketing gimmick anyways. This keyboard was a labor of love for the creator. He wanted a thing to exist and he went about learning, making, testing, and tweaking for many years. He makes everything by himself besides the PCB (which would be foolish to do).

The majority of the cost of this keyboard is in the keycaps, which are the part that is over-engineered IMO. They are possibly the best keycaps on the market by a long shot. Each key is hand-poured by this one guy (at least when it was first on the market) and it takes a very long time to make a set. People begged him to sell just the caps but he said given the labor intensive process he thinks a lot of people would laugh at the price he would have to charge.

This case was specifically designed for Alps switches. Vintage alps switches are considered by many people to be the best mechanical switches ever created. The case here might not be milled from a giant, solid block of metal, but with Alps switches you don't necessarily want that. Most people are looking for something with acoustic properties that make Alps sound as good as the vintage boards from which they came. The Keymacs case isn't the most expensively manufactured case in the world, but it has great acoustics and sounds better than most modern Alps cases, which in turn means it sounds better than almost all modern keyboards period to those who like the clicky/clacky keyboard noises. I happen to think it still looks very nice though.

There's a lot of people that are obsessed with old Lisp machine keyboards, specifically Symbolics keyboards. This isn't an exact replica, but it is more a reimagining of a specific model of Symbolics keyboard, only with the added benefit of it being compatible with a much better mechanical switch than the original (although some of the old ones had very good switches too).

The creator is well aware that at the price he's not going to sell these to anyone aside from die hard alps/Symbolics fans. Last I heard he was looking into options to manufacture things in a less labor-intensive way but the cost is pretty justified given the amount of work he puts into it.

>No cable?

Fair point but the people buying a board like this are probably using a $100 custom cable with aviator connectors.

>Every single piece aside from the switches seems to be fully custom made.

For this keyboard layout the PCB and keycaps pretty much had to be custom made. The whole point of the board is using the Symbolics layout. My understanding is that if you try to get a set made by GMK/EPBT/ the other big keycap manufacturers they are limited by the molds they have for specific sizes/profile and the price being reasonable is based on being able to move a large number of sets. The switches are basically the only thing that didn't have to be custom made as a matter of necessity.

While this is intriguing, it takes quite a lot out of the original charm of the spacecadet keyboard. All the mathematical symbols, the roman numberals, the thumbs up/down keys are what make the spacecadet so much fun. If you just want to throw a lot of modifier keys on a keyboard, you could come up with a better layout than this.

Its not based on the Space Cadet keyboard at all. Its based on a different Symbolics board which is also a very nice looking and highly desired keyboard among collectors (although not as famous as the Space Cadet).

IMO its fairly faithful to the one its actually based on:


I hopped into this thread praying for a spacecadet remake I could buy now that I have some spare money. I was sad and confused to see that this keyboard did not have all the fun symbols on the caps.

Quick edit: FWIW, I'm not knocking the keyboard, I just have no attachment to the Symbolics board and was hoping this was a poorly labeled post talking about the spacecadet instead.

If you just want custom keycaps for a modern MX board KAT Space Cadet was a group buy from over a year ago and it finally just started shipping. There are likely lots of people in /r/mechmarket that are going to be selling sets.

It has the sublegends on the top like the original but not the ones on the front side of the keycap (I don't think modern manufacturers are even willing to try that).

If you don't want to go with KAT Space Cadet, GMK has a similar set that should be shipping soon, if not now. Once again there will be people selling them on the aftermarket.

I really want to like this, but there's several negatives in my opinion.

  * No arrow key cluster
  * Alps rather than Cherry switches, which in my opinion means much less choice of switch and keycap.
  * No QMK firmware (I think?)
But all those extra keys could be really nice to customize.

I'm really looking forward to getting my Keyboardio Model 100. Going to have fun customizing the keys and getting used to a split keyboard. I'm definitely going to get another small macro pad so I can have arrow keys.

* The keyboard is a recreation of classic keyboards from Symbolics that had this layout. [1][2]

* It does support QMK.

1. https://deskthority.net/wiki/Symbolics_364000

2. https://deskthority.net/wiki/Symbolics_365407

I love QMK, but IMO it's not so vital to have it now that there's a good alternative at the OS level: https://github.com/kmonad/kmonad#features

For the original keyboard layout of a Symbolics Lisp Machine keyboard see:


This kind of products bothers me. At >$1400, they are clearly a money-grab on the back of the very innovative and vibrant diy keyboards community.

It bothers you? Then don’t buy it. I doubt they’re making very much money on something like this - at these prices the volumes are obviously going to be small and the custom keycaps and machining for a short run are not cheap.

If someone is trying to get rich quick there are far more effective ways then selling a handful of keyboards to a few nerds with disposable income.

Normally I would agree with this sentiment, but then look at the prices of artisans which hover between $50-$150 each, then consider the fact that every key on this keyboard was individually custom made. At ~87 keys in a $1400 kit, this is already a steal for resin-cast Alps keycaps.



You can get 2u modifiers key for 2$ a piece on PMK [1] Sure they're not alps but if you're buying in any capacity i'm 100% sure you would pay maybe 1/10 to 1/100 of the price, case in point [2], even if you had to buy a set of 24$ you could extract 5 2u each for ~5$ a piece,given 16 modifiers that's 80$ in keycaps while being extremely generous about the price they would actually pay about them. Even if you're paying 5$ a piece for every single key that's ~450$ in keycaps, which is not even half of the price. And i just discovered that they are making you pay 150€ for the privilege of having a qwerty layout, which can be found in [2] for 24$, it's a nice keyboard but unless the case itself is worth 800€+ it's a ripoff

[1] https://pimpmykeyboard.com/sa-2-space-pack-of-4/ [2] https://mechanicalkeyboards.com/shop/index.php?l=product_det...

I think you're missing the point here. Each link you posted are for keycaps that are made using injection molding. The process used by Keymacs is resin casting. The costs and customization involved aren't the same. It is an apples to oranges comparison.

Does the process matter if the result is the same?

The result is the same if you don't give a shit about the quality of the keycaps you are using. Most people don't care at all and that's fine. For those of us who do care even a little, the result is obviously not the same. Even if you don't want to pay for the more expensive option the difference in quality would be apparent.

Also, custom keyboards are basically fashion accessories (and I'm typing this on a $1200 fashion accessory so that's not a criticism of people who like fancy keyboards). After you get above a few hundred dollars the diminishing returns hit hard and fast and at that points 99% of what you are getting is aesthetics unless you're talking about some kind of rare vintage board. Luxury items are frequently priced different from practical items. Lots of people will pay 10-100x the price of an item because it was "made by hand" just because they want to enjoy the expertise of the person who made it rather than just have an object that was produced by a machine.

Generally speaking, thicker keycaps are considered by most enthusiasts to be superior to thinner ones. Pimpmykeyboard's quality is good but not amazing. Also, this is a keyboard for people that like ALPS. There's a million custom boards for people that want MX.

In my mind, this is the pinnacle of keyboard craftsmanship.

It hits a lot of checkboxes for high-end custom keyboards, but combined with Alps-type switches and totally custom-made keycaps, this really sets a new precedent.

Personally, I'd rather use something with ortholinear or column-staggered keys. If I was a row-staggered person however, then this would be it.

Marketing gripe: “Over-engineering” is a negative thing for me. That means that the engineers didn’t think through the boundary conditions and requirements. They couldn’t produce optimal solution. They couldn’t bother with perfection. Instead they just slapped things together without calculation and hope it will hold up.

The price tag is ridiculous

The bulk of it is the custom keycaps (a keycap run is seriously expensive, especially if you're using weird key sizes), the enclosure, and the switches. They're probably being hosed by their suppliers too, since I can't imagine they have the money to invest in serious volume.

That said the board looks seriously under-engineered. It's a bit ridiculous to invest so much in high quality switches and an enclosure built like a tank without spending any time on designing the board to withstand any forces, passing the buck onto their customers to make sure everything is soldered correctly...

I'd be confident the enclosure survives a fall and lasts a lifetime but certainly not anything inside it.

>They're probably being hosed by their suppliers too, since I can't imagine they have the money to invest in serious volume.

There are no suppliers IIRC. He spends like 2 weeks making a set of keycaps by hand and that's why its so expensive.

He also manufactures the cases himself.

If that's what he's doing it sounds awfully cheap!

I’m not that sure. Nowadays you can get runs on the cheap, that’s why group buys are even possible in the DIY community.

The fully machined aluminum case probably plays a part in there too.

The fact you need group buys at all is evidence to how expensive it is. There really aren't that many places you can go for quality either.

I think you and I have different bars for what “expensive” means.

Manufacturing things is expensive because of the fixed costs. To make it cheaper you need to make enough sets to dilute the fixed cost among N buyers. If at N=20 the price is already something people will pay, that’s not expensive IMO.

The problem is that the case doesn’t work that way, because the costs of machined aluminium are pretty much linear with N.

It's one of those things I'd like to have but I'd be too embarrassed to own it even if I was a billionaire.

Seconded, I had to double check if it was really the euro symbol because I couldn't believe my eyes.

Me too. I watched that symbol for about 1 min.

Apparently they didn't lie about the "Seriously Over-Engineered" part.

I wonder if you could pay for it in NFTs

/me ducks

Wow; finally a keyboard with enough modifiers and no false assumptions about their names. Does this use the same kind of switch as the Space Cadet? How does it compare to the buckling springs of the IBM Model F? Can one flash QMK onto it, or another free firmware that allows one to do all configurations in plain text (for those of us who hate graphical interfaces)?

While I like the layout and the keys and the legends, I don't love the case; this, I think, has more character:


I think the original looks best, especially connected to a real color Symbolics Lisp Machine like this:


It uses Alps switches. They are considered to be the best of the best. https://keymacs.com/keymap.html can be used to reprogram the keyboard.

Restored genuine vintage Alps or Matias Click.

Whether the Alps are "best of the best" is a matter of personal preference.

Matias' switches are modern clones of the vintage Alps switches. They have a poor reputation for reliability though, sadly.

The creator sells boards with either matias or vintage alps. There's a limited supply of the vintage ones though. You can also buy a kit and provide your own switches of IIRC when I emailed him he said you can also send him the switches if you wanted a variant of the Alps that he doesn't have.

I've tried modern and vintage and even modern ones modded to feel like vintage in various boards and the real vintage ones are far superior.

I love my keyboard with Matias quiet click switches but they absolutely did have a bad batch that die super quickly. Had to buy a bag of spares to swap a few switches out.

These appear to not be Matias though based on the stems https://deskthority.net/wiki/Matias_switch

The Keymacs uses Alps-derivatives, while the original used Hall Effect switches: https://youtu.be/oDozftThFMw

The specific model that Keymacs recreates rarely, if ever, used Hall Effect switches - 365407 used mostly "gundam" aka "space invaders" linear switches that operate somewhat similarly to SKCM used by Keymacs, though some units had ITW mag-valve switches.

36000 keyboard were all Hall-Effect like their predecessor Space Cadet and Knight keyboards.

All of them (Knight, Space Cadet, Symbolics) used linear switches.

This uses Alps keyswitches which many people think are the best ever, me included.

I think some of the space cadet keyboards used hall effect switches which were supposed to be pretty good too.

This board is modelled after a non-space cadet keyboard which I don't think used either hall effect or Alps.

Not sure why "some assembly required" is so popular in higher end keyboard circles. I'd rather buy something that was repairable. I'm not a skilled electronics worker - my skills are elsewhere. I'd probably introduce my own defects into the keyboard...

These days I'm using a Kinesis Edge with lifters: comfortable, ergonomic, and, likly, reliable.

Anyway I would probably get a Kinesis Advantage or Maltron 3D keyboard for these prices. Fully assembled, with a warranty. :)

I look forward to another iteration of a symbolics keyboard...

> Not sure why "some assembly required" is so popular in higher end keyboard circles.

I have heard that Betty Crocker cake mix initially wasn't very popular. Housewives didn't like it. They reformulated it so that it wasn't "just add water" - you had to add an egg as well. That made it a lot more popular, because people could still feel like "I made that cake".

I wonder if this isn't the same. "I built that" gives more pride of ownership than "I took it out of a box.".

You could get (in US dollars) 3 Kinesis Advantage 2s for the price of the basic kit here. As an Advantage user (I also built a couple of Maltrons from scratch at one point) I'm not giving up symmetry to fulfill what I suspect is a fundamentally hauntological desire.

For comparison there is the Hyper-7 r3 which is a very large keyboard, but has some similarities in layout [0].



It's excessive in every single aspect. I'd prefer it to have a plastic shell around all that aluminum, but, even as it is, I want it.

I don't even have the desk space to put it, but, still, I want it.

I’ve been looking for a modern space cadet keyboard, but this isn’t it. For one the space bar is way bigger than it ought to be and that reclaimed space should have at a bare minimum comfortably thumb accessible control and meta keys. Or whatever you want to progr As it is my thumb has to travel all the way to my pinky just to hit the first modifier key.

If you’re calling your board keymacs it should have exceptional ergonomics for default emacs style binds. They did get the parentheses right though which is nice.

I want to see this small family business succeed and I would consider low four figures for the perfect emacs board so I hope they iterate on this.

It's not a space cadet keyboard. It's a 'copy' of the Symbolics Lisp Machine keyboard from the mid 80s.


It's a newer version of the early 80s keyboard from Symbolics:


The Symbolics computers used an editor called Zmacs.

Uh, Unicomp offers Symbolics-Style key caps for their (mini) Model-M. Not quite the same, but saves you some $800 or so.

Do they? I saw they have an APL version, but I don't think there is anything like a Symbolics (such as the "Squid Game" keys)

No, not those exquisite keys, unfortunately just the more mundane super, hyper, meta modifier keys from the space cadet keyboard: https://www.pckeyboard.com/page/product/HSM.

€965 if you solder it yourself, not including the Teensy MCU or cable.

I think that the worst thing is that the Teensy 2.0 microcontroller board is scheduled to be discontinued during next year.

Usually when stuff like that happens the community is quick to fill in the gaps by making software compatible with other controllers. The market for this one is so small though that it might take a while.

Perhaps the company will come up with a resolution though.

Is anyone else making Alps keyboards for about $1k less?

Matias themselves makes both Mac and PC keyboards using their Alps-clone switches, so, yes. :)

Personally I'm using the Mini Tactile Pro for the Mac; I don't love the look, but the feel is fine and I haven't had any reliability problems. (Others have reported Matias switches and/or keyboards as being a bit flaky, but personally my MTP has been fine.)

There are other keyboards which use Matias switches occasionally, but they're few and far between. KB Paradise is the other big user, I think.

This website randomly scrolls one line at some interval. It makes reading quite an unpleasant experience.

WTF?! More than $1400 for a unknown brand keyboard made of plastic?

The case is made of aluminium.

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