All keyboards make noise when you type on them. Some people appreciate a louder, clicky-sounding board, while others prefer their keyboard to be as quiet as possible. The volume of your keyboard is an important aspect to consider when buying a keyboard, not only for your preferences but for those around you, too.
Everyone has their own preferences for how loud they'd like their keyboard to be. However, the louder a keyboard is, the more likely it is to disturb those around you. For example, your keyboard's volume can be of critical importance if you work in a shared office environment or at home with small children.
We measure the noise a keyboard makes in two different ways, and the results can help you determine if a keyboard is right for your needs.
Our typing noise test evaluates the level of noise that the entire keyboard makes while you're using it. There are lots of factors that can determine a keyboard's volume and overall sound profile. Some examples of elements that can affect how much sound a keyboard makes are the switches, stabilizers, keycaps, case material, plate material, mounting system, and whether the keyboard has any layers of sound-dampening material. As a result, two keyboards may have the same switches, for instance, but one can be significantly louder to type on. Our test setup is fairly straightforward and includes two tests, detailed below.
We measure the average volume with a decibel meter while we perform a standard typing test. Note that we express our results using dBA, a weighted scale that adjusts dB (decibel) readings to account for the sensitivity of the human ear. We also include a video of this test in each review. We express how loud a keyboard is using an average dBA value to provide a figure that you can use to objectively compare different keyboards. If you want to learn more about the difference between dB and dBA measurements, we recommend checking out this article from SoftdB.com.
During our test development, we found that the Average Loudness result alone doesn't paint a complete picture of the sound characteristics of a keyboard in real-world usage. We noted that when comparing keyboards with the same average dBA results, one could still give the impression of being louder and more distracting. To account for this, we include a test that subjectively evaluates whether a keyboard makes high-pitch clicks while using it. Keyboards with 'clicky' mechanical switches typically exhibit this characteristic, making a keyboard seem louder than its average dBA result alone would suggest. These high pitch clicks can be particularly distracting for others around you while typing in environments like shared office spaces.
When calculating the final score for the Typing Noise test, louder keyboards score lower, and quieter keyboards score higher. Keyboards that make high-pitched clicking noises score lower than those that don't because they produce a higher perceived volume and can be distracting, especially for others around you.
Our tests provide a good indicator of how a keyboard sounds out of the box. For most office or gaming keyboards, there isn't much you can do to adjust the volume of your keyboard, as they typically aren't designed to be easily deconstructed or modified.
That said, in the case of more customizable mechanical keyboards, there may be numerous ways that you can adjust the volume and overall sound profile of your keyboard. One of the most common ways to change the sound of a mechanical keyboard is by changing the switches. Many mechanical keyboards now have hot-swappable PCBs that allow you to quickly pop out and exchange the stock switches that come with your keyboard with those of your choosing. Different types of switches produce very different noise levels. Linear switches tend to be the quietest, while tactile switches make moderate noise, and clicky switches are the loudest. If you're interested in learning more, we have a dedicated article on choosing the right mechanical switches for your needs.
Besides changing the switches, nearly all components in a custom mechanical keyboard affect how much noise it makes—different case or plate materials, keycaps or mounting hardware, stabilizers, and more. We won't dive into all the ways you can customize your keyboard to affect how loud it is in this article, but there are a wealth of great online resources and communities online that would be a great place to start if you're interested in learning more.
Each person has preferences when it comes to keyboard volume. Knowing how loud a keyboard is on average and how it can be perceived by others is an important consideration when buying a keyboard, especially when using it around other people.