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A quieter Cherry

The Strafe MK.2 comes equipped with either Cherry MX Red or Silent Red switches. The $140 base price includes plain Reds, while Silent Red switches will run you an extra $10. I've never used Silent Reds before and wanted to have an informed opinion on them, so I asked Corsair to send over the Silents.

Cherry MX Silent Reds, like standard Reds, are linear switches, but Silent Reds have dampeners built into the sliding stems.  These dampeners slightly shorten the travel distance of the switches. Silent Reds have an actuation distance of 1.9 mm and a total travel distance of 3.7 mm, whereas Reds have an actuation distance of 2 mm and a total travel distance of 4 mm.

My complaint with Cherry MX Reds has always been that they feel mushy because they have too long a travel distance for switches without tactile bumps. Cherry MX Speeds solve this problem by significantly shortening the travel distance. Unfortunately, the shortened travel distance of Silent Reds is not significant enough to alleviate the mushiness. In fact, the built-in dampeners make the feedback problem even worse. Silent Reds are without a doubt my least-favorite Cherry switch yet. They make standard Reds feel good by comparison. 

However, Silent Reds are definitely quiet. When I first unboxed the Strafe MK.2, I hit a key and thought I had somehow not actually pressed it down. If you press down on Silent Reds softly, they make barely any noise. They get a little bit louder if you really pound on them while typing, but they're still incredibly quiet compared to any other Cherry switch. I'm quite impressed with how quiet Cherry was able to make them. 

That said, there are other alternatives if you want a relatively quiet keyboard. I might be called a heretic for saying this, but rubber dome switches are an option. Most rubber domes are absolutely awful, but there are some high quality rubber domes out there. I pulled out Cooler Master's Devastator II keyboard and used it for a little while. You may have to keycap me to death for admitting that I honestly prefer those rubber domes to Silent Reds. Those aren't even high-end rubber domes, but they have tactile bumps and don't feel mushy. They're also quieter than Cherry MX Reds, which are already pretty quiet as Cherry switches go. If you're concerned with noise first and foremost, though, Silent Reds are the winner. Once again, switches come down to personal preference, so try them out yourself if you can.

The Strafe MK.2 passes the N-key rollover test with flying colors.

Corsair recently released a new version of its CUE software called iCUE. It seems as though every time I review a Corsair keyboard, the CUE software gets a little bit more cluttered, and this time is no different. By default, CUE now shows "demo" devices that crowd the user interface and make identifying connected devices more difficult. One can shut off these demo devices in the software's settings, but that's an extra step I'm not pleased to take.

The key to good gaming peripheral software is a clean aesthetic that clearly displays all the options on one page without a ton of sub-menus. iCUE is still a better piece of software than many others out there, but other companies are finally beginning to clean up their designs. Corsair needs to work on making iCUE more user-friendly if it wants to stay ahead of the curve. 

Even with its complexity, CUE has powerful lighting and macro-programming controls, and the Strafe MK.2 can store those customizations on board in one of three macro profiles. That's a handy new feature, as older Corsair keyboards in the TR labs lose their lighting modes and macro customizations as soon as CUE stops running. As I noted earlier, the board has a dedicated button to cycle through those profiles. That convenience alone could make the Strafe worth it compared to past Corsair boards.

Conclusions

It's always good to see companies improve their products, and that's certainly the case with Corsair's Strafe keyboard. The top of the keyboard has been reinforced with aluminum. It offers direct access to media and profile-switching controls. The lighting and Windows-lock buttons have been updated, and there is a snazzy, new illuminated logo to cap off the package.

However, there is still room for improvement. The rubber pads on the bottom of the keyboard have shrunken enough that they are lacking in grip. Switch options other than just Cherry MX Red and Red Silent are a must. There are versions of the K70 MK.2 and even the previous Strafe in almost the entire Cherry color spectrum. I would also like the company's tactile volume wheel to come back, but I could be in the minority on that. It would be good to see a version with a standard bottom row layout as well.

Lastly, single-shot ABS keycaps are not ideal for a keyboard that starts at $140. You can get Cooler Master's Masterkeys L with PBT keycaps for only $90 on Amazon. It doesn't have LEDs, a wrist rest, or dedicated media controls, but I don't see those additional features as being worth $50 more—and that's before we consider the cost of an extra set of PBT keycaps. To be fair, a more similarly-specced boutique board with PBT caps and RGB LEDs will sell for a price closer to that of the Strafe's, and there's no guarantee that such a board will have Corsair's software support or on-board profiles.

In any case, those are all somewhat nit-picky complaints. Corsair has long had the basics down, and the Strafe is a fine example of that continued competence. The company's RGB LEDs are the best in the business. The Strafe MK.2 comes with a good wrist rest, and it has a braided cable and onboard profile storage. Most importantly, the chassis is high-quality and well-proportioned.

Nevertheless, gaming peripherals are all about the little details, and the gaming keyboard market is becoming ever more crowded. Competition is ramping up, and Corsair needs to think about upping its game as well if it is going to keep charging $140 or more for its keyboards. That said, you certainly won't be disappointed with the Strafe MK.2 if you don't mind its price tag, and it's worthy of being called TR Recommended.

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