Building a Keyboard 8: Akko Acrylic Gasket Mount Kit, ASA Low Profile Keycaps, CS Sponge Switches 4

Building a Keyboard 8: Akko Acrylic Gasket Mount Kit, ASA Low Profile Keycaps, CS Sponge Switches



Akko Logo

Akko has been featured prominently in the first half of this year on TechPowerUp, especially as I got accustomed to the brand's more custom designs and offerings. There have been multiple Akko keyboard reviews thus, and several Akko keycap sets have been used in different Building a Keyboard articles to date, too. Akko had recently branched out into the more DIY scene with its Akko Designer Studios MOD series, and I had originally planned to do an article using one of those new DIY kits paired with all the Akko CS switches. Of course, this was before the company decided to put out far more CS switches than I could reasonably cover, and the even more DIY kits came out, too. I have three kit, switch, and keycap combinations in the works thus, but decided to start with the new Akko acrylic DIY keyboard kit, which is the latest to have come out as this is written.

The Akko DIY kits can be split into two categories at this time, with the MOD series using an aluminium case and the new ACR series using acrylic stacks. The ACR series has three members as I write this—the ACR 64 (60% form factor), ACR 67 (65%), and ACR 75 (75%) being used here. It is named differently from the others since it should have been the ACR 81 based on the number of keys, and the ACR 75 naming might indeed be an extremely recent change, too. It is available in four colors, and I chose pink as it is different from the norm and works well with the hot-off-the-presses Akko Prunus Lannesiana keycap set, which is the first ASA-Low Profile set from the brand. This combination is being paired with the new Akko CS Sponge tactile switches to make for an all Akko build.

Akko ACR 75 Kit: Packaging

Remember what I said about the Akko ACR 75 being named differently from the other two in the new Akko acrylic DIY kit series? It would have been ACR 81 based on the number of keys, which appears to have been the case based on my sample. Look at the packaging where it says as much; however, I will refer to this as the ACR 75 as that is the product name on the Akko website. It's certainly a colorful box, with splashes of colors leaving no doubt about the supported RGB lighting effects here. The company logo is on the front too, as is a clear indication of this being a gasket mount kit. The design continues on the back and sides, with a minimalist render of the key layout on the back, along with contact information and more specific notes about the exact SKU on the sides. A single seal and two side flaps keep the contents inside in place as it makes its way to you, and UK customs clearly was "kind enough" to cut the seal and inspect the contents for me.

Opening the box, we see thick foam all around the keyboard kit, which itself comes inside a wax paper wrap to keep it clean and free of dust. A user manual greets us above, and there is a cutout in the foam on the right to more easily remove the kit itself, which in turn shows where the other accessories are placed.

The Akko ACR 75 may be somewhat short on the accessory front relative to other Akko offerings, but I was not expecting a color-matched, coiled USB cable! That's a pretty neat touch, one that was not necessary at all, and it goes from USB Type-A on the source to Type-C on the keyboard. The user manual comes in English and Mandarin and goes over the setup and use of the kit. There is also a somewhat reassuring QC card, although I would have liked to see a switch remover, and preferably also a keycap puller.

Akko ACR 75 Kit: Closer Examination

The Akko ACR 75 DIY keyboard kit may surprise you if you are new to acrylic kits, especially with its lower profile and weight. At this time, this is the largest of the three Akko ACR kits and adopts an 81-key, 75% form factor compliant with the US ANSI layout. It comes in either white, black, blue, or the pink seen above. No matter which color you go with, it is a stack of multiple acrylic panels screwed together, which allows Akko to precisely CNC-cut to shape the panels that fit around and over the other components making up the ACR 75. The finish is quite good otherwise, with a smooth finish given to the translucent acrylic that also gets rounded corners. I will mention that the kit will come with two random Akko switches pre-installed in the top-left and bottom-right corner, and for those new to DIY keyboard kits, these are there to indicate switch alignment.

Flipping the kit around, we see more of the translucent acrylic in play. This will no doubt make for a bright light show, especially with what appear to be several additional side-mounted RGB LEDs. There are six rubber pads, with three larger ones at the top for keyboard elevation in the absence of feet and three smaller circular pads at the bottom. The middle pad at the top is far more substantial than any on keyboards in general; this kit isn't moving around anytime soon. Also notice the screws used to hold the keyboard together, which we will remove soon enough to examine the individual parts. On the bottom right is the Akko logo along with the ACR 81 name, so if this isn't soon changed to ACR 75, early adopters may get a one-off production run unit.

A look from the side reveals the four acrylic panels making up the stack, and the small amount of play keeping the stacks from lining up perfectly throughout. It's not necessarily a deal breaker, just something to be aware of when going for the more budget-friendly acrylic case option to get a gasket mount kit in place. A cutout on the front facing away from the user provides access to the Type-C port on the keyboard PCB, with the cutout too small to accommodate many aftermarket cables. Good thing then that Akko provides a color-matched, coiled cable out of the box even if it's otherwise basic, using standard PU insulation rather than something sleeved and braided, if not also with a split section in the middle as with some replacement cables. I personally think this combination looks cute, and the other three colors should have matching cables as well.

A closer look at the kit confirms the use of hot-swap switch sockets, and a 5-pin one at that, so you don't have to clip plastic pins off 5-pin mechanical switches. There is an SMD 6028 RGB LED for backlighting in each switch socket as well. The ACR 75, as with the other Akko acrylic kits, uses plate-mounted stabilizers with purple stems, and the bar itself is lubed manually to assist with the up and down movement. Further inspection is best done by disassembling the kit, which is easily done by removing nine screws on the back. At this point, you can completely disassemble the kit layer by layer.

The acrylic panels are relatively thick, especially compared to the other items they support. This includes the white fiberglass FR4 plate that will no doubt reflect lighting further, and it is a durable plate that is still flexible to aid in modding. The ACR 75 is a gasket mount kit, and we see the use of high-density EVA (ethyl vinyl acetate) foam strips on either side of the plate and at seven locations all around. The gaskets are 3 mm thick and dampen pressure on the plate from typing, which in turn supports the typing experience and reduces switch "pinging" off the plate. I also removed one of the stabilizers for a closer examination, which confirms the greased steel rod you can no doubt re-lube yourself easily at this point if you so desire.

Under the plate is a similar 3.5 mm-thick high-density EVA foam sheet, this time for downstroke noise-absorption while also minimizing reverberations in the case. It is also no doubt CNC-cut to fit around the individual switch sockets, and this is where you can remove the PCB from the bottom panel to examine both separately. There is no foam sheet under the PCB, but this is mostly because there is no space to add one practically.

The PCB is white, as the plate, and chock-full of components, while also marked "HongShi Design." I couldn't find any useful information with a cursory Google search, and there is no way of directly telling whether this PCB is made for the ACR 75 only or not. Solder quality is exceptional; this is clearly a machine-assembled product. We see the use of TTC hot-swap sockets, and notice all the edge-mounted RGB LEDs for side lighting through the acrylic case. Powering the functionality of the PCB is a combination of an EVision VS12L17A and the VS11K28A USB microcontroller, both of which were used on other such keyboards to middling performance in terms of customization and feature set. Don't expect much in the way of programming then, and perhaps only some preset lighting effects. As per usual, all the soldered components are on a multi-layer PCB.
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May 27th, 2022 14:34 EDT change timezone

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