Quick Look: Kono Midnight Switches 14

Quick Look: Kono Midnight Switches



Kono Store Logo

Anyone remotely interested in the custom keyboard world has heard of Kono Store. Based out of California, it caters to a lot of DIY keyboard needs, including running group buys for switches and keycaps, working with artists on desk mat designs, and even selling pre-built keyboards from brands, including Hexgears and Input Club. There is also a very handy blog going over different topics in the field, which can be helpful to newbies and even helps experienced users stay up to date on the latest and greatest. I was working on an article going over a few such products from the Input Club in particular, including the brand's Hako switches, but was then informed that Kono Store is bringing out its own switches and has a group buy running for them as this is written!

Given there was not much time left since the group buy ends on July 30, I dropped everything else and worked on putting this quick look up as soon as possible. These are the Kono Midnight switches, named after a custom Kono Midnight colorway, and a dark blue housing is being used here. Tactile switches manufactured by JWK to Kono Store's specifications, these are intended to have a "satisfying and distinct tactility" and target speed typists and gamers alike. Let's see how they work out as we cover them in detail now.

I received some early samples from the factory—five of them, in fact. These are ever so slightly different from the final version, including for the absent Kono Store logo etched into the top, which is why I used default images in the thumbnail, as that is how the retail switches will look. However, note that the Kono Store images have the contrast dial turned up to 11, and the images above are far more how they appear in person with a black stem and translucent "midnight blue" top and bottom casing.

Taking a closer look at one of the Kono Midnight switches, we see ample room for the eventual logo at the top, which would be the bottom with PCBs employing north-facing LEDs. The render on the group buy page also confirms as much, with the logo facing the right way up in that configuration. These samples are 5-pin mechanical switches in that there are two metal prongs for the actuation mechanism and three plastic pins for switch stability in the socket. The switch is compatible with switch-mounted RGB LEDs, and we see two small holes in the bottom housing to aid in this. An integrated diffuser in the top also helps spread the light more uniformly. These are also hot-swap compatible thus, and depending on the switch socket, you may or may not have to clip off the two plastic pins on either side on the bottom. This isn't the most user-friendly, and I am happy to report that the production switch will be 3-pin itself.

Disassembly of the switches is no different from most Cherry MX-style switches, and the internal structure will be quite familiar to many who have read our keyboard reviews in the past. The top is made out of polycarbonate, with an injection mold that is detailed enough to allow for the fine translucent finish while retaining the higher structural integrity of polycarbonate.

The stem is an opaque black and made out of POM (acetal) for low-friction travel. The design confirms that this will be a tactile switch with a fairly pronounced bump on the slider surface. The stem is also lubed out of the box, and quite well at that with just enough to help glide through the downstroke and back up. Kono Store says the lube is a custom synthetic grease put together in the factory and designed to reduce noise and friction in mechanical keyboard switches. As expected, we see the use of a typical cross-point stem design for Cherry MX keycap compatibility. Given the relationship Hexgears and Input Club have with Kailh, I was surprised not to see a Kailh BOX switch design, but they perhaps had to switch things up for the higher tactility the Kono Midnight is targeting.

The springs are fairly unique too, with the gold plating already kicking things off here. They are also quite long at ~20 mm or just under, but of course buckle if you compress with the calipers, making it hard to tell exactly. These are 69 g springs, so cue the comments already. More importantly, they are progressive springs as opposed to regular coiled ones that have a packed cluster at either end and wider gaps between the coils in the middle. This should result in linear resistance from the spring as you press down, making for a smoother experience in the linear segments of switch travel.

The bottom housing is also made out of polycarbonate in the same fashion as the top, and has the metal leaf contact embedded in the casing. As with a typical tactile MX-style switch, the tactile bump is produced through the slider touching the front end of the copper leaf, and you then push the two ends together for the contact that triggers actuation through the two pins going to the PCB itself.

Here's a look at the force-travel diagram provided on the group buy page, and I have to say my own experiences were spot on with what it illustrates. As with a few other switches I've examined recently, including the Akko CS Ocean Blue, the tactile bump on the Kono Midnight switches comes up almost instantly, or at least within the first 0.5 mm of travel. I personally don't like it and rather have the tactile feedback as close to the actuation point as possible for functionality, but also know there are many others who simply treat tactile switches as a refined linear switch and bottom out either way. For the Kono Midnight, the tactile bump just enhances the typing experience—if you like that thought, you will probably adore these switches. This is also where the 69 g spring comes into play with the peak force at the pressure point itself, followed by two very smooth linear segments. Note also how short actual travel is, with actuation just past 1 mm and total travel ~3 mm. This is where these switches being rated for fast typists and gamers alike makes sense, as there is a large enough gap between the tactile bump, actuation point, and bottoming out for multiple quick strokes without it interfering with the typing experience. Think of this as a mixture between the Akko CS Ocean Blue and Kailh Speed Bronze. Unfortunately, I do not have enough samples for a confident statistical measurement of consistency, but qualitatively, they all felt quite similar in use.

Unfortunately, I do not have an available 5-pin hot-swap keyboard with backlighting support, and there aren't enough samples to make clipping off the pins worth it to put on a keyboard anyway. So all I can say is that they will allow light through, but the casing will absorb some given its dark blue color. This is also why I am using a switch tester here, which is in turn made out of acrylic and has no PCB under its thick plate. I have three of the Kono Midnight switches in the top row and three Input Club Hako tactile switches underneath (Violet, Royal True, and Royal Clear). In the bottom row are three tactile switches from the big three—Cherry, Kailh, and Gateron. Even visually, the Kono Midnight stands out a lot, once again reminding me of the Akko CS Ocean Blue and Gateron Ink Blue switches thanks to the colored housing. I have a mix of tactile switches here. While some are barely tactile (you know which one I am talking about), others have pronounced tactility. Going from top-left to bottom-right in the sound recording above, I press each switch as-is thrice. There is deliberate tactility with the Kono Midnight switches, and they do sound deeper than the others, too. To their credit, the tactile feedback is intended more as a gate than a marker, which does help with multiple strokes.

To wrap things up, I installed a set of cheap ABS plastic keycaps on top, and this time around, the Hako Royal Clear had the most "thock" to it. Regardless, these are evidently quite bassy for high-tactility switches, and the speedy nature of the switches also makes comparison much harder. All five switches also sounded near-identical, which bodes well for consistency. If you are interested in the Kono Midnight switches, head over to the group buy page before it ends on July 30. Production is slated for the subsequent five weeks before shipping commences from the factory. Expect to see these in your hands closer to September or October thus. The group buy price with a discount is $7.49 for a set of 10 switches as opposed to the $8.49 MSRP for a set of 10. This makes the Kono Midnight among the more expensive switches out there, albeit the sample size of 10 does skew things against it.
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May 26th, 2022 08:24 EDT change timezone

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