Corsair's Vengeance K70 keyboard reviewed

Back with a vengeance

Corsair's original Vengeance K60 keyboard is one of the most frustrating products I've ever encountered. On one hand, it's brilliant. The K60 combines Cherry MX mechanical switches with sensible extras, sturdy build quality, and a stunning industrial design. But it doesn't use MX switches throughout. The function row and paging block are backed by the sort of rubber-dome switches most folks are trying to avoid when purchasing, you know, mechanical keyboards.

The semi-mechanical approach might have worked in an accountant's spreadsheet—rubber domes are much cheaper than premium Cherry switches—but it completely ruined the K60 for me. Every so often while using the thing, I'd have to hit one of those cheaper switches. Their vague, mushy feedback paled in comparison to the smooth, precise response of the Cherry MX units, serving as a painful reminder that the K60 just wasn't as good as it should have been.

Fortunately, the Vengeance K70 is much better. This second effort has Cherry MX switches throughout, rectifying its predecessor's fatal flaw. All the highlights of the original remain, and Corsair has added programmable backlighting and a blacked-out color scheme. Those changes transform the K70 into more than just a fully mechanical version of the K60. Simply put, I think the K70 is the best keyboard around.

Mechanical keyboards are everywhere these days, but the K70 easily stands out in the crowd. I mean, just look at the thing. They keys are laid out on a single sheet of brushed aluminum that's anodized to match the stealthy aesthetic. There's no top plate, which makes the caps appear to float above the surface of the tray.

This beautiful form is functional, too. On all the mechanical keyboards I've used, dust and crumbs can easily slip between the keys and accumulate in the tray below. Since the K70's tray is exposed, clearing the build-up requires little more than blowing down on the tops of the keys, which shoots the particulate out the top and sides of the board. My lungs aren't powerful enough to blast out all the dust, but shots of compressed air should be more effective. Obsessive-compulsive types can also remove the caps for more thorough scrubbing. (A key puller is included in the box.)

The K70 feels every bit as beefy as its metal foundation looks. Keystrokes bottom out with satisfying sharpness, and there's no hint of flex or creakiness in the frame. It really does feel like you're typing on a solid aluminum slab.

All the key caps sit atop Cherry MX mechanical switches, and the overall feel is consistent across the board. Our sample is equipped MX red switches that have a light response and a completely linear stroke. Corsair also makes a K70 variant with MX brown switches, which offer a tactile "bump" at the actuation point, and one with MX blue switches, which combine tactile feedback with stiffer springs and an audible click.

Linear switches are prized by gamers who need to repeat keystrokes in rapid succession, while tactile ones are better suited to more conventional typists. Switch preferences tend to be personal, though. I recommend trying a few different options before picking your favorite color. The MX blues are relatively loud, which is something to keep in mind if you have roommates, co-workers, or significant others in close proximity. More details on the main MX switch types are available in Cyril's Rosewill RK-9000 round-up.

The K70 sticks to the standard U.S. layout, so the keys are all the right shapes and in the right places. On top of the usual selection, you also get a handful of volume and media controls, including a knurled metal volume roller that's especially slick. I'm not as enthusiastic about the extra buttons, whose response is on the limp, mushy side, but I suppose that's OK for auxiliary controls.

A second cluster of additional buttons sits to the left of the media corner. One of these buttons disables the Windows key, while the others control the programmable backlighting.

The backlighting can be set to one of three brightness levels, or it can be disabled completely. There are also full and partial lighting profiles. The full profile activates all the LEDs, while the partial one can be customized on a per-key basis. Programming the backlight is incredibly simple: just hold the profile-selection button to enter the customization mode, toggle the individual backlights by tapping the associated keys, and then hold the button again to save the configuration.

There's also a "reactive" backlight mode that illuminates keys as they're pressed. The LEDs only light up momentarily, and the effect is kind of cool, but it's hard to picture a practical application outside of "hey, check this out" demos. I dunno, maybe helpless hunt-and-peck types who stare at their keyboards compulsively will appreciate visual confirmation of successful keystrokes.

The K70's open design has interesting implications for the backlighting, which reflects off the metal base to create a glowing ground effect that wouldn't look out of place in a street race. I like how the glow highlights the subtle texture of the brushed aluminum even in a darkened room.

Corsair is prepping a version of the K70 with multi-colored RGB lighting that can replicate millions of different hues, complete with complex animation effects. Those RGB switches are supposed to light the key cap more evenly, which brings me to the K70's only real visual quirk. Because it uses conventional backlighting, which places an LED on the north edge of each switch, the characters are brighter at the north end of the cap than they are down south. The difference is noticeable, though it's limited to keys with secondary functions. We've observed similarly uneven illumination on other backlit keyboards, so the K70 isn't alone in this regard.

As one might expect from a gaming-focused product, the K70 supports n-key rollover and wicked-fast polling rates. The keyboard is set to update at 1000Hz by default, and there's a switch on the edge to dial things back. Some motherboard firmware apparently can't keep up with faster polling rates.

The K70 connects via a 6.5' USB cable wrapped in a thick, braided housing. There are two plugs at the other end: one for the keyboard and another to feed the integrated USB port. The extra port is handy for thumb drives, but don't expect SuperSpeed transfer rates. I did a quick transfer test with a USB 3.0 SSD, which managed 160MB/s when connected directly to the system but only 33MB/s via the pass-through port.

Flipping the K70 reveals two sets of adjustable feet. The keyboard can be tilted toward the user, away, or propped up evenly on all fours. With its feet folded flat, the K70 has roughly the same height and slope as the other mechanical keyboards we've encountered.

Additional support is provided by the included wrist wrest. This plastic piece snaps onto the front edge of the keyboard, and it's covered with a soft-touch finish that feels quite nice. Unfortunately, the rest bows up in the middle slightly, causing it to sag just a smidgen under the weight of my right wrist. We've noticed similar bowing on the wrist rests included with some other mechanical keyboards, so again, the quirk isn't unique to the K70.

The final items in the box are textured caps for the WASD and 1-6 keys. Since several of the caps have raised edges, they're not ideal for everyday typing. It doesn't take long to swap them in for gaming sessions, though.

The K70 is relatively straightforward, so that's it. There are no dedicated macro keys to discuss, no accompanying apps to explore, and no integrated LCDs to watch. No cup holder, either. But the K70 doesn't need all that, because Corsair has done an excellent job of implementing the essentials.

Premium experiences don't come cheap, and neither does the K70. That said, the $129.99 asking price seems reasonable given the build quality, features, and overall feel. You can certainly pay less for a mechanical keyboard, but you'll be getting something lesser in return.

Corsair Vengeance K70
June 2014

After weeks of using our MX red review sample as my daily driver, I've been itching to get back to tactile switches. I even have a few appropriate candidates floating around the lab. The thing is, they all feel like a step down from the level of luxury to which I've apparently grown accustomed. They're not as easy to clean, their backlighting isn't as configurable, and their industrial designs aren't in the same league.

The Vengeance K70 made me even more of a keyboard snob, and now, nothing else will do. So I ordered the MX brown version for myself. Both deservedly and by definition, the K70 is a TR Editor's Choice.TR

Tags: Input devices

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