Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional

Ah, computer keyboards. Once expensive, heavy, and loud contraptions, they’ve slowly turned into cheap commodity items. A basic Logitech keyboard will set you back less than $10 nowadays, and you might never give it much thought. As for users with more ample budgets, they’ll usually splurge on devices with rows of media keys, split “ergonomic” layouts, built-in LCD displays, or wireless laptop-style designs.

For a small number of enthusiasts and veteran typists, however, the perfect keyboard isn’t the cheapest or flashiest you can pick up at Best Buy. Those people believe keyboard designs peaked some time in the 1980s, when IBM started offering the 1391401—or Model M—with its computers. “Everything that’s come out since then is garbage,” they might tell you while adjusting their glasses and brushing crumbs from their beards. And if you’ve tried a Model M, you might just nod your head in agreement.

What does this have to do with Metadot’s Das Keyboard Professional? Simply put, the Das Keyboard and Model M share a similar design philosophy: emphasizing tactile and auditory feedback over other attributes. They both produce loud, mechanical clicks after each key press, and they both have bare layouts with no media keys or other frills. There’s one big difference, though. While eBay brims with vintage Model M keyboards priced as low as $30, the Das Keyboard carries a $129 price tag. Is it really worth that much, and can it compare with IBM’s cult keyboard?

Buckling springs

What makes the Model M “click” is the so-called buckling-spring design. An actual metal spring lies waiting under each key. When depressed, that spring buckles and activates the key switch, which in turn produces the trademark clicking sound—so you really feel and hear the successful key press. Or, in the words of U.S. patent 4118611, “The sudden snap action provides a tactile feedback to a human operator due to the sudden decrease in force as will be described more specifically later, and also produces an audible feedback since the sudden pivoting of the rocker member 4 produces a clicking noise.”

The Das Keyboard feels similar, although it uses a different mechanical switch design engineered by Cherry. There’s still a metallic (stainless steel) spring inside each key, and keys still click, but the Cherry key switch has a shorter travel time and requires slightly less pressure. According to the diagrams I collected below, the Das Keyboard’s keys should depress when subject to around 56 g of force after 1.2 mm of travel, while the Model M will need approximately 70 g and a 2.3 mm displacement. If you ever used one of the old Apple Extended II keyboards in the 1990s, the Das Keyboard may feel familiar—both units have similar enclosed key switches.

Left: Cherry’s MX key switch. Right: IBM’s buckling spring design. Sources: Cherry, U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

By contrast, most consumer keyboards out there are based on the dome-switch design, where a rubber membrane with “bubbles” replicates the feel of springs. If you’re in front of a regular desktop keyboard right now, go ahead: pop out one of the keys and look under it. You’ll probably see a grimy rubber dome staring up at you. That dome doesn’t cost much to manufacture, and it generates very little noise when it collapses, but it also has a gummy feel that produces far less tactile feedback.

So, because dome-switch keyboards don’t let you hear or feel exactly how much force you need to depress a key, you might find yourself pushing too hard or too softly. That can mean either more fatigue or more typos. Some users try to alleviate those shortcomings with split ergonomic keyboards, which place your hands in a more natural position, but those don’t really solve the feedback problem—although they can feel comfy enough to type on.

I don’t have any statistics handy, but I can throw some anecdotal evidence at you. (Take that however you please.) I’ve been typing 2,000 words a day five days a week for around three years on a 1989 Model M, and my fingers, hands, or wrists never get tired. When I was using a Microsoft Natural Keyboard Pro and typing less each day, I suffered from finger pain and annoying wrist tingling on a regular basis. I actually type faster on the Model M, as well, even though my touch-typing technique hasn’t changed.

I therefore believe the spring-based mechanical design provides a more comfortable typing experience, although I can’t deny the shortcomings. Shoving springs inside each key increases cost and weight, and it makes the keyboard loud. You probably won’t care if you’re a recluse rattling away in your basement, but other people probably will care if you try that around them. Then again, folks got by just fine in the typewriter days—it may just be a matter of habit.

Before we move on, I should mention one last upside for the mechanical switch camp: longevity. I wasn’t kidding when I said my Model M is almost 20 years old now. Despite its age, it still works perfectly. Keys never stick, get gummed up, or fail to register, even if I sometimes have to oil up the space bar mechanism to prevent it from squeaking. I challenge you to find a dome-switch keyboard that continues to feel great after two decades (or even one). That’s an especially important consideration for the Das Keyboard, since it’s so much more expensive than regular wired keyboards.

Taking a closer look at the animal

Now that the boring part is out of the way, let’s have a look at the Das Keyboard Professional. The first two keyboards to bear the Das Keyboard name catered to an exclusive niche, since they had completely blank key caps. That made them inaccessible to all but experienced touch-typists.

By contrast, the third-gen Das Keyboard is available both with and without marked key caps. Metadot dubs the blank version Das Keyboard Ultimate, but we’re looking at the version with marked key caps today—the Das Keyboard Professional.

Without the blank keys gimmick going for it, this keyboard really needs to stand out because of its tactile comfort alone. That’s apparently what Metadot had in mind, because the Das Keyboard Professional really doesn’t have many frills. You get 104 normally placed keys (including Windows keys), three LEDs, a dual-port USB 2.0 hub, and that’s pretty much it. Much of the company’s attention seems to have gone into the details, like the glossy finish, stylish lock indicators, 6.6-foot USB cable, support for up to 12 simultaneous key presses, lack of “F-lock” nonsense, and of course, the clicky key switches.

Incidentally, prying off key caps needn’t involve a screwdriver or very much brute force. The caps simply slide off the little cross-shaped key switch nubs, although they stay securely in place unless you actively try to tamper with them.

I can’t say I approve of the glossiness, since this device is after all designed to come in contact with human hands on an day-to-day basis. Even Metadot apparently expects the keyboard to collect smudges quickly, because it throws a little wiping cloth in the box. Nevertheless, the Das Keyboard looks good. That’s a welcome change from the Model M and its more recent copycats, which are about as retro as New Coke and Rick Astley music videos. Unless you’re still using a CRT monitor and an old-fashioned ball mouse, the Das Keyboard should look more at home on your desk than other clicky offerings.

The Das Keyboard is a good deal lighter and more compact than the Model M, as well. (Metadot quotes a weight of 2.6 lbs, while the Model M weighs more than double that according to my bathroom scale.) Those are nice pluses for folks with small desks and LAN party addicts. On the flip side, you can’t use the flat area at the top to store pens and other knick-knacks, and the Das Keyboard probably doesn’t make a good weapon. Keep that in mind next time you get into a fight over code formatting rules or Joss Whedon shows.

Typing on a $130 keyboard

So, what does typing on the Das Keyboard Professional actually feel like? I compared it to Apple’s Extended Keyboard II earlier in this review, and that’s not entirely inaccurate: both units have flatter keys than the Model M, and they both have less travel time and softer springs. That means you don’t have to push as hard, which (in theory) should minimize fatigue.

Surprisingly, however, I found the Das Keyboard a little cramped. That’s not because it’s any smaller than the Model M. On the contrary, the home row is actually slightly wider overall. However, Metadot opted for slightly narrower key caps with larger gaps between them. This difference amounts to something like half a millimeter per key, but it still caused me to make more typos at first. (Though perhaps the Das Keyboard’s shorter overall height also played a part in that.) Take that impression with a grain of salt: I’ve been using a Model M on my desktop for about six years, so I’m a bit like a grouchy old man asked to part with his favorite chair.

Softer feel or not, the Das Keyboard Professional’s keys are very clicky. The clicks have a somewhat higher pitch and a less plasticky sound than those on the Model M, so they actually sound a little more like an old typewriter. If you’re hoping paying $130 will get you the same feel as the Model M without the deafening noise, prepare to be disappointed. For the reasons I explained eariler, however, auditory feedback is a good thing for typists.

I expect some may want to actually see and hear the device in action, so I’ve filmed myself typing away on both the Das Keyboard and the Model M. Enjoy:

While we’re on the topic of noise, I noticed a strange issue with my review unit: the keys hum. You can’t hear it in the video, but hitting a key or slapping the underside of the keyboard produces a resonating musical sound not unlike a faint A3 note. After further tinkering, I think the noise comes from the springs inside each key. While you may not hear anything if you’re listening to music or wearing headphones, it’s definitely unsettling. I was even more unsettled when I plugged my Model M back in, because as it turns out, it also produces a sort of ringing sound—just on a higher pitch. I must’ve gotten used to it over the years, because I think it’s fainter and easier to tune out, a bit like a subdued wind chime.

All things considered, though, I think the Das Keyboard Professional feels just great to type on. It doesn’t really replicate the touch and feel of the Model M, but after about a day of use, I’d be tempted to say it’s actually a little more comfortable. Keys require little pressure to hit, and at certain moments, I feel like my fingers are simply gliding over the keyboard instead of painstakingly pressing down on each key. Coupled with the clickiness, that makes for some very satisfying typing.

Some readers may wonder why I’m comparing the Das Keyboard to the Model M and not a more recent dome-switch keyboard. That’s essentially because the two designs are like apples and oranges: clicky keyboards are in a league of their own in terms of tactile feel, and you can’t really replicate that without mechanical key switches. The Das Keyboard and Model M both feel crisp, responsive, accurate, and satisfying to use, whereas every dome switch keyboard I’ve typed on has felt mushy and spongy. If you’ve tried both keyboard types and prefer the dome-switch variety, then the Das Keyboard isn’t for you. Simple as that.


The question, then, is whether the Das Keyboard Professional is worth the $129 price tag, since you can get a brand new Unicomp buckling spring keyboard for $69 and a vintage Model M for as little as ~$30 on eBay.

Frankly, I’m a little torn. The Das Keyboard has a lot going for it: the looks, the compact footprint, the USB hub, the Windows keys, and the more comfortable action. However, I may well switch back to the Model M once I’m done writing this review. Perhaps I’m just too used to the IBM keyboard, but I’m not convinced the Das Keyboard is a hands-down superior choice. And somehow, the ringing bothers me more than on the Model M.

This is a bit like trying to pick between two slightly different flavors of delicious ice cream, though, and I think anyone turned off by the Model M’s size, looks, and clunky action definitely should consider the Das Keyboard Professional. Yes, it’s expensive, but mechanical keyboards typically last longer than their dome-switch brethren. (Cherry rates its MX switches for a “minimum” of 20 million strokes each.) Divide $129 by, say, ten years, factor in the extra comfort and possible health benefits, and the pricing suddenly doesn’t sound so crazy. Besides, Metadot offers a 30-day money back guarantee in case you’re not completely happy with your purchase.

There’s a case to be made for the blank Das Keyboard Ultimate, too. If you want to learn to touch-type, then a very comfortable keyboard without key markings seems like a great option. It’s the same price as the Professional, and it’ll let you impress your friends with your elite typing skills (not to mention annoy anyone who tries to use your computer).

I give Metadot kudos for producing a keyboard that differentiates itself from the Model M while being just as compelling—if not more so in some ways. Should Metadot produce a fourth-generation Das Keyboard, I would suggest the following changes: get the price tag under $100, make the key caps just a tad bigger and taller, lose the glossy finish, and try to dial down the ringing a little. Oh, and offer more than a one-year warranty. I think that’s a little short in light of the price tag and durable key switches.

Comments closed
    • Ihmemies
    • 11 years ago

    Thanks, bought an PS2-> USB adapter to connect my 20 year old keyboard to my pc. Found a DIN-> PS2 adapter too, and it seems to work fine. Now if I could find model M with SWE/FIN layout to try it out how it compares to my cheap taiwanese copy :–)

    Edit: I don’t know if it counts, but this BTC Model 5349 seems to have a backplate made of metal, and inside the keyboard is a huge brown circuity with switches… no two plastic films pressing togheter like on newer keyboards.

    • Lane
    • 11 years ago

    While buckling spring and mechanical switch keyboards are somewhat similar in terms of audible feedback, the tactile feedback is quite different. I went through several buckling spring keyboards before I realized that wasn’t what I was looking for.

    • A_Pickle
    • 11 years ago

    Really, though? I type just fine on the keyboard built-in to my Toshiba hard drive…?

      • Forge
      • 11 years ago

      I use an MS Comfort Curve 2000, which is the newest short-throw (laptop style) ergonomic from MS. Nice and cheap, very very quiet, and decent feel.

      If I could get one of the Das Ultimates, I’d do it in a minute. Blank keycaps bothers me not at all, and I’m nostalgic for some Model M, yet dependent on USB peripherals.

        • Usacomp2k3
        • 11 years ago

        One of the best keyboards around, IMHO. That’s one of the few things that IT does right here at work.

      • MadManOriginal
      • 11 years ago

      Half-size backspace key 🙁

      What are the six silver buttons above the function keys?

        • Delphis
        • 11 years ago

        The small silver keys are ‘media’ keys. The volume mute toggle is very useful and works without drivers. I don’t use the others. They’re not in the way at all. I never had a problem typing on it with the backspace key the way it is, to be honest.

      • Cyril
      • 11 years ago

      I saw that and tried to reproduce it, but I couldn’t. The Das Keyboard I have seems to behave just like my Model M when I hit keys in very rapid succession.

      • just brew it!
      • 11 years ago

      That’s very interesting (and a rather odd coincidence for me personally). The keyboard I’d been using at work for the past couple of weeks (standard rubber dome style keyboard that came with an HP workstation) was driving me nuts due to exactly this issue. It seemed like the keyboard was just randomly transposing pairs of keystrokes every so often, if the keys were pressed in rapid succession.

      When I read the post about the key transposition issue, I had just minutes before gone and searched the lab area of our facility for a keyboard I could swap mine with. I ended up swapping my keyboard with a workstation that people mostly use remotely via VNC (so having a keyboard that goes slightly wonky when people type really fast should be a non-issue).

      • Voldenuit
      • 11 years ago

      Very interesting. My thinkplus keyboard exhibits the same behaviour as the das, always outputting ‘asdf’ even when all 4 keys are hit at the same time.

      It also suffers from the input lag that alpslover described for the das in his foum post.

      Overall, I’m quite disappointed with the thinkplus after using it for a couple of days. This is not what I expect from a $100 keyboard, and I’m seriously considering sending it back.

    • UberGerbil
    • 11 years ago

    “Keyboards” has joined the list of threads I no longer bother posting in because it’s so subjective and personal.

    “I love X. I can’t stand Y and can’t understand how anyone could possible like it.”

    “I love Y. I hate X. People who like X are crazy.”

    There’s nothing but personal taste here, and no use arguing about it.

    I have to say though, Unicomp seems to offer most of what Das does, at a much lower price (especially if you want PS/2; on the other hand, if you want USB, having a hub in the keyboard is nice).

    • TheBob!
    • 11 years ago

    Good lord that thing weighs as much as my netbook.

    • BenBasson
    • 11 years ago

    I don’t understand the weird obsession with large clicky keys on keyboards, especially at a ridiculous premium. I hate key noise and low-profile laptop style keys have given me far less wrist pain than anything else I’ve used. I’d even say that I type more now than ever before, and my Enermax Aurora and Cherry keyboards haven’t caused me the slightest difficulty and are quiet.

    Why is there a market for this product? What are people getting out of this that is beyond me?

      • bthylafh
      • 11 years ago

      The feel. These keyboards give you definite tactile feedback that you’ve successfully struck a key. Also, the durability — they last a few times longer than ordinary keyboards.

      The noise is a downside.

        • bhtooefr
        • 11 years ago

        Not for everyone – in a properly designed keyswitch (buckling spring and Cherry MX blue qualify, Alps does not,) the sound provides a third confirmation of the keystroke being sent.

        In buckling spring and Cherry MX blue, the click and the tactile “give” are both at the point at which the keystroke is transmitted. So, on a clicky keyboard like the Model M or the Das III, you get three forms of confirmation that the keystroke was sent, and you can lift off the key – visual (the character appearing on the screen,) tactile (the key giving,) and aural (the click sound.)

          • bthylafh
          • 11 years ago

          I mean, the noise is a downside if you are wanting to be quiet, e.g. if the wife’s in the next room taking a nap.

      • computron9000
      • 11 years ago

      Main market is coders/programmers.

        • BenBasson
        • 11 years ago

        I’m sure it is, but that’s me, and I don’t get it.

          • shaq_mobile
          • 11 years ago

          i think the main market is actually teenagers who have too much of their parents money to burn. i know alot of programmers, and none of them use these. i dont think you can legitimately disguise this product. its a 130 dollar computer status symbol. you dont need three confirmations that you hit a key. you need 1. the transcriptionists here at the hospital i work at type insanely fast and use either ergonomic or standard keyboards that implement the bubble pad.

          the only people ive ever seen use these keyboards have been kids at lan parties. they are pretty sweet keyboards though! if they had an ergonomic one, i wouldnt mind getting one for $30 or for free. if something is a status symbol, just admit it. it actually makes purchasing the item more legit and makes the purchaser look less silly and more richerer.

            • Meadows
            • 11 years ago

            Come on, you can’t be serious. It’s still a matter of opinion, but I do agree with Cyril when it comes to this, I could type faster with less mistakes on a keyboard like this. Not to mention it’s hip in certain crowds.

    • Synchromesh
    • 11 years ago

    Yeah yeah, I tried the Model M and still have the ’89 model in my closet somewhere as I said before. It was very well made, heavy and bulletproof but typing on it sucked compared to my MS Natural Multimedia keyboard. I suffered with the typing machine sound and awkward wrist position for a day and then reverted back to the MS keyboard and never looked back. Recently got a free MS Natural 4000 and it’s been awesome. Definitely NOT planning to pull that Model M out of the closet any time soon. Maybe just keep it long enough to sell as collectible in a while. Ergonomic MS keyboards FTW!

      • jackaroon
      • 11 years ago

      I LOVE the ms natural 4000, also, but if there were a buckling spring or mechanical switch version, I would definitely shell out for that.

    • CheetoPet
    • 11 years ago

    Only keyboard that ever topped the model M was the the Northgate Omnikey Ultra. Left and top rows of F keys, dips switch to convert the keyboard layout to dvorak (came with a tool to help you pull off the keys), and heavy enough to sink a houseboat.

    Regardless, I still use a model M to this day.

    • Forge
    • 11 years ago

    Your use of ‘let alone’ in the last sentence on the first page is somewhat non-standard, Cyril.

    Typically, the usage is ‘X does Y, let alone Z!’ where Z is a bigger/more difficult goal.

    In other words, the more standard usage would be ‘find a rubber keyboard that feels good after 10 years, let alone 20!’

    • DukeNukem
    • 11 years ago

    I personally prefer laptop style quiet scissor keys. They don’t distract me and I just plain like them.

      • calyth
      • 11 years ago

      Laptop scissor keys are more tolerable than membrane keyboards, but those who want key switches wants tactile feedback.

      I don’t know whether you’d understand this example, but say, you’re on an acoustic keyboard all your life, and am very used to how the mechanism works. Switching between a mechanical switch to a scissor switch feels like switching between an upright and grand piano. They have similar key feel.

      Switching from either mechanical switch or the laptop scissor to a membrane keyboard is like switching from an acoustic to an electric keyboard. You’ll hate it.

      • prtzlboy
      • 11 years ago

      I concur. I’ve been using an old ps/2 interface Logitech Ultra-X for about 5 years now and I love it. I actually own a Model M myself, but I find the keystrokes too long and the orientation of the keyboard too “vertical”.

      I don’t need the audible feedback, either. Once you get a feel for your keyboard, you’ll know when you missed a stroke; you don’t need to hear it. Unless your keyboard is a pos anyway, that is 😉

      • Kaleid
      • 11 years ago

      Me too. Really like my fractal design keyboard.

    • LoneWolf15
    • 11 years ago

    Unicomp still makes model-M style keyboards. Their Customizer 104 comes in USB or PS/2, and in beige or black, with Windows keys (for those of you frustrated by what your Model M lacks) for a far more reasonable $69. They bought the buckling-spring technology, so you can expect it to behave just like your favorite Model M.

    As for the Das Keyboard, you can’t HomeRow someone with it (well, more than once anyway), the cord isn’t detachable (for easy cleaning of the keyboard or cord replacement, and it probably can’t be dropped off a 3-story building and still work. 😉

      • Krogoth
      • 11 years ago

      I got one here that is black/gray scheme with unmarked keys as I requested. Touch-typing FTW. 😀

    • Pachyuromys
    • 11 years ago

    Posting videos is becoming somewhat of a liability. You never know what’s going to show up in that filmstrip of “related” videos after it’s done. (I particularly enjoyed the guy typing in the nude.) I wonder what your, um, exposure might be.

      • ludi
      • 11 years ago

      That, and the use of male hands with hairy male arms in the video. Come on, 90% of the demographic here is young and male! We demand svelte, femenine hands!

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        I bet you do. Where would you like those hands to be?

    • fpsduck
    • 11 years ago

    The actual name should be :

    Das (ist zu teuer) Keyboard
    (translation: too expensive)

    • Meadows
    • 11 years ago

    “I sometimes have to oil up the space bar mechanism to prevent it from squeaking”

    I laf’d. That just sounds wrong.

      • Mourmain
      • 11 years ago

      I remember I put silvery thermal grease on the stem of the large “0” numpad key once, to stop it from sticking. Many years later when I was cleaning the keyboard and found the grease I thought to myself “how in the world did this get here?!!”… I had completely forgotten about it, but it had been doing its job for all those years… Took me a few minutes to remember I’d done it.

      EDIT: this wasn’t a Model M, just some Chicony cheapie.

        • Meadows
        • 11 years ago

        Good idea if I ever get one of these. Das Keyboard Ultimate looks appealing.

      • shassard
      • 11 years ago

      I’m pretty sure the Copperhead mouse has a firmware upgrade to make it work in non-powered USB hubs. You might want to look into that.

    • DrDillyBar
    • 11 years ago

    Hmm. I really like my Model M but there’s no way I could pound away on it at work. Far too many people would be irritated.

    • SecretMaster
    • 11 years ago

    Damn Cyril you got some rockets for wrists. Maybe I just never realized how much finger movement goes on when one types, but you seemed to be typing at a blazing speed.

    I really hope I get the opportunity to try out a buckling spring keyboard like the model M at some point. Just to see if I like the feel. In my house we have used the standard ergonomic microsoft keyboards for maybe a decade now (two keyboards of the same model that are reaching the 10 year mark with no problem… other than finger grime). To me those things are blessings on the wrists. I use the defacto keyboards here are school for typing papers and my wrists are aching when I’m typing. To me that slow slope to the keys makes a huge difference.

    • ssidbroadcast
    • 11 years ago

    The Model M is still superior in the sense that it lacks the now ubiquitous windows key and the even more hated windows-menu key. I can begrudgingly admit a use for the Windows key but that Menu key can eat a ____!

    • imtheunknown176
    • 11 years ago

    Do some people really try to avoid having media keys on their keyboards? I know that goes against the nature of the Das kb so its a little off topic. Personally I would love to find a kb that has this same design with basic media keys+volume control (and a lower price tag lol).

      • derFunkenstein
      • 11 years ago

      “build quality concerns” in an $80 keyboard? No thanks.

        • bhtooefr
        • 11 years ago

        $50, not $80, and IIRC, that’s about how much 104 Cherry MX blue switches cost on the market.

        So, if nothing else, you can use it as a keyswitch donor for a better keyboard (that uses something like black Cherry MX switches, which many people dislike.)

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