Roccat’s Vulcan 120 Aimo gaming keyboard reviewed

Roccat’s Leadr gaming mouse recently became my daily driver after reviewing it along with Roccat’s Sova lapboard. Since then, my Leadr has spent most of its time alongside Roccat’s Vulcan 120 Aimo gaming keyboard. Now that I’ve spent considerable time with the Vulcan 120, I’m back to report my findings.

The Vulcan’s chassis is composed of black plastic topped by an anodized aluminum plate. The top plate on this particular model is a silver-ish color, but the cheaper Vulcan 80 comes with a black top plate. Regardless of color, the top right of the aluminum plate is decorated with a fairly subtle Roccat logo. Of course, the Vulcan 120 wouldn’t be a gaming keyboard without the obligatory RGB LEDs embedded into the switches and accompanied by key caps with shine-through legends. All of these elements are put together into a pretty sturdy package. The board doesn’t bend or creak when picked up or used. The center of the board will flex inward slightly if you put significant pressure on it, but this behavior doesn’t arise during normal use.

Three rubber buttons sit below the Roccat logo. The first of these is a mute button. The other two buttons modify the function of the adjacent knob protruding from the board. The knob can be used to adjust LED brightness or system volume. The knob has a well-weighted feel punctuated by detents that correspond to individual changes in volume or brightness. This knob provides the tactile feedback that recent smooth-scrolling Corsair volume wheels lack.

If I can draw your attention away from the knob, I’d like to direct it toward the scroll lock key. You can put the keyboard into Game Mode by pressing the function and scroll lock keys simultaneously. As you might suspect, Game Mode deactivates the Windows key, but it can also be customized in Roccat’s Swarm software to change the function of keys of your choosing. This means you can set up macros that are active only when Game Mode is active. Roccat has put numbered macro labels on the six keys underneath scroll lock to encourage people to these keys for custom macros. More on that later.

The F1-F12 keys have alternate functions that can be accessed by pressing them in conjunction with the function key.  The first four keys switch the keyboard between four configurable profiles. The F5-F8 keys open This PC in File Explorer, a new webpage, the system mail app, and the system calculator app in that order. The final four act as media keys. Roccat may have the superior volume knob, but Corsair keyboards still have dedicated media keys going for them.

The Vulcan 120 comes with a wrist rest that attaches to the keyboard magnetically. Thick rubber pads running along the bottom of the wrist rest also help hold it in place. Besides the rubber pads and the magnets, the rest is made of sturdy black plastic. The top isn’t padded, but the plastic is smooth and feels nice to the touch. I’ve found it to be quite comfortable, even over extended sessions at my desk. However, if you don’t think you’ll use the wrist rest, you can save $10 by getting the otherwise identical Vulcan 100.

The bottom of the keyboard, like the wrist rest, has long, beefy rubber pads to hold it in place. Even the flip-up stands have rubber pads. The stands smoothly flip up and down and reliably prop up the keyboard. This board isn’t going anywhere during use.

A single braided cable terminated with the obligatory USB connector comes out the back of the Vulcan. It’s just flexible enough to be bent into and retain whatever shape is needed for cable management. Unfortunately, the cable is not detachable.

 

Making contact

The Vulcan sports the popular “floating keys” look. However, the switches are even more exposed than normal. Roccat uses extremely low-profile key caps that do away with the lengthy sloped edges of standard key caps. You can see exactly where where the key stem meets the key-cap mount.

While the Vulcan’s key caps have a smaller overall width compared to standard key caps, the tops of the caps are actually slightly taller overall than usual. Unlike many low-profile key caps, the tops of the Vulcan’s caps aren’t completely flat. Instead, the key caps are bowed inward slightly—just like standard key caps with the skirts cut off.

Strangely, though, the bottom row of key caps in the main section of the keyboard are latitudinally convex rather than longitudinally concave like the rest of the keys on the board. The bottom row of the arrow keys and numpad, meanwhile, are still concave like the rest of the key caps. I’m not sure what the reasoning behind this design decision is. Perhaps Roccat wanted the main bottom row to match the space bar, which is usually latitudinally concave in standard key cap sets.

For all that, the design of the bottom row has never bothered me in all my time with the Vulcan, but I think it’s a bit odd nonetheless. My only real complaint with the key caps is that I wish they were double-shot ABS or PBT plastic instead of the standard single-shot ABS plastic. I can’t say I enjoy the chintzy and greasy feel of this plastic.

Where the Vulcan 120’s design does get weird is in the center-to-center spacing of its switches. Switches topped with standard key caps are usually crammed together just close enough so that the edges of the key caps won’t rub against each other. Since the Vulcan’s caps don’t have skirts, Roccat has, for some reason, decided to position the switches slightly closer together than normal. This change isn’t really noticeable just by eyeballing it, but if you hold another keyboard up to the Vulcan, you’ll notice that the positioning of the switches is that little bit different.

I didn’t know about this oddity when I began using the Vulcan, but I did notice that I was missing keys a little more often than usual while typing. I first chalked that experience up to the board’s key caps, but I now think that the primary culprit was the bizarre switch spacing. Since then, I’ve grown used to the spacing, and I don’t think it causes me any problems. If you plan to use this keyboard long term, I don’t think the spacing should be any kind of deal breaker, since you should get used to it. Nevertheless, I can’t wrap my head around why Roccat would break from standard switch spacing when it doesn’t improve the keyboard in any discernable way. The keyboard isn’t even smaller than other full-sized boards as a result of this change, and it’s actually even wider than Corsair’s recent keyboards.

Let’s finally get to talking about the switches themselves. You may notice that the Vulcan’s switches look a little odd. Roccat has again gone with something unique, but I’m glad for it in this case. The Vulcan is equipped with a full set of Roccat’s new Titan switches. Like many recently developed switches, Titans have less total travel and a higher actuation distance compared to most Cherry switches. Versus the average Cherry MX, Titans have a total travel distance of 3.6 mm as opposed to 4 mm and an actuation distance of 1.8 mm instead of 2 mm. That doesn’t sound like much of a difference, but it is noticeable, particularly the shortened actuation distance.

Titans are tactile switches, and the tactile bump is almost right at the top of the travel, unlike the closer-to-the-middle tactile bump of Cherry Browns. The shortened actuation distance goes hand-in-hand with the raised tactile bump, ensuring that the bump still closely corresponds to the actuation of the switch. The tactile bump feels like a more noticeable version of what you get from Cherry MX Browns, but it’s not as strong as that of Blues.

I’ve been a fan of Cherry MX Browns for a while, and as far as I’m concerned, the Titan switches are improved Browns. Titans are slightly snappier thanks to their shortened actuation distance and have a little bit of extra oomph in the tactile bump that feels just right for a light tactile switch. The travel of the Titan slider is just a smidge smoother, as well. Sadly, the wobble present in Browns is present in Titans. Even so, I may keep using the Vulcan for a little while simply because it is currently the only keyboard available with Titan switches.

The Vulcan is advertised to have N-key rollover (NKRO), but the keyboard’s behavior in AquaKeyTest doesn’t corroborate that claim. The number of keys that can be active at once isn’t entirely consistent, which is often the case for keyboards without NKRO. The board’s controller seems to max out at thirty-one keys, but depending on which keys are pressed, I’ve found that it will reach a max of 29, 30, or 31 registered presses. When maxed out, a few of the keys sometimes rapidly flicker between active and inactive. That said, the Vulcan has no problem going above twenty active keys at once, which is more than enough for gaming and typing, so the lack of true NKRO isn’t a real problem. 

Software

Roccat’s Swarm peripheral software isn’t the prettiest software out there, but Roccat has done a good job laying out the options. All the settings have clearly marked labels and aren’t hidden away in an excessive number of tabs and sub-menus. I appreciate the ability to pin particular settings to the tab that greets you, making it possible to have all the settings you care about immediately presented, and the rest out of the way. One setting in particular that I’m glad can be ignored is sound feedback. When this option is active, the software will make a designated sound when any key is pressed. All the available sounds make me feel foolish while using the keyboard.

Another setting I’m somewhat confused by is part of this keyboards namesake: Aimo. According to Roccat, Aimo purports to be a “state-of-the-art intelligent lighting system that reacts organically to your behaviour without the need for extensive configuration. It is enriched by the apps and devices you use, presenting fluid, nature-inspired scenarios.”

The problem is, I have no idea what exactly that means or what it does. With a mind of its own, Aimo seems to cycle through colors, briefly change the color of keys and the surrounding keys when actuated, change the lighting in a rubber-banding motion when system volume is muted, reset the color cycle when the default playback device is changed… and that’s all I’ve been able to determine. There may be a few other actions it responds to, but I haven’t encountered any in the months I’ve spent using the Vulcan 120 Aimo. This feature seems to be a strange one to tack right onto a product’s name. The marketing mumbo-jumbo is also incredibly goofy. Also, the Vulcan’s knob can’t adjust the lighting brightness when Aimo is active. The knob instead moves the lighting effects around a little. Thankfully, Aimo is entirely optional on what is otherwise a fine keyboard.

 

Conclusions

Roccat’s Vulcan 120 Aimo tries to stand out in a crowded gaming keyboard market with some unique design elements and dubious extra features. These efforts largely come off as an attempt to be different just for the sake of being different, rather than improving the typing experience. I have no problem with the low-profile key caps on this board, but why change the shape of the caps on the bottom row? More importantly, why change the center-to-center switch spacing from what most typists will expect? The funky spacing threw off my muscle memory slightly and made it difficult to get up to speed on this keyboard right away. Finally, the company’s Aimo lighting just seems silly to me. It doesn’t do nearly enough to be part of this keyboard’s namesake.

If Roccat really wants to stand out, the path is quite clear. The company has something great on its hands with its Titan switches. Instead of spending time developing frivolous lighting and messing with switch spacing, the company could give the Titan switches what they need to really make the typing experience superior to that of other gaming boards on the market. First, Roccat could work to reduce the wobble of the switches as much as possible. Secondly, the company could manufacture double-shot ABS or PBT key caps to complement its switches. These simple changes would make the Vulcan a total standout among gaming keyboards.

Even without those changes, I think the basics for greatness are already there in the Vulcan 120. The chassis is solid, and the aluminum base plate both looks and feels better than common plastic coverings. The magnetic wrist rest feels superior to Corsair’s flimsy wrist rests of late, if you care, and I think the detented volume knob also feels significantly better than Corsair’s free-spinning volume roller. As I’ve mentioned, Roccat’s Titan switches are the special sauce that really make this keyboard notable.

I would love to see Roccat give this existing formula the boost it needs to be an absolute knockout winner in the gaming keyboard market. That said, I still recommend this keyboard as it stands today if you’re looking at a tactile gaming keyboard, especially if you’re a fan of Cherry MX Brown switches. If you want a wrist rest, you’ll have to go for the Best Buy-exclusive Vulcan 120 at $160. However, you can get the same keyboard without the wrist rest in the form of the Vulcan 100 for $140 on Amazon at the time of this writing. Either way, you can’t go wrong.

Comments closed
    • astrotech66
    • 11 months ago

    I have this keyboard and I like it a lot. I think the review pretty much nails it. The switches and key caps are great. Typing is a pleasure. I never would have noticed the convex keys on the bottom row if it hadn’t been pointed out, along with the different spacing between keys. However, I wish the keyboard had dedicated media keys like the Corsair keyboards. I also don’t care for the three rubber media keys … they seem out of place on an otherwise nice keyboard. And the keyboard is advertised as having “per key” illumination, but it’s not quite true. Unless I’m missing something, you can only assign illumination in groups of keys … i.e. WASD, num keys, F Keys, etc.

    • Nestea_Zen
    • 11 months ago

    Supposedly this company’s a german company but I can’t get used to its name. The name and the presentation appears really cheap to me.

      • Voldenuit
      • 11 months ago

      Roccat makes good mice.

      I haven’t tried any of their other products, though.

        • squeeb
        • 10 months ago

        Can confirm, their mice are fantastic.

    • BillyBuerger
    • 11 months ago

    The convex keys on all of the bottom row isn’t a new thing. Some of the [url=https://deskthority.net/wiki/File:Dell_AT102W_UK_2000.jpg<]Dell AT101 "Bigfoot"[/url<] models have this.

      • derFunkenstein
      • 10 months ago

      I like it because the convex key feels “right” on my thumb. The way my thumbnail is shaped, the end of my thumb is somewhat concave.

      Every non-Apple keyboard in my house (which is flat) has a convex space bar. They’re a mix of Logitech membrane and Cooler Master Cherry MX-based boards.

      • Ronald Jacobs
      • 10 months ago

      Nice comment. It could be that his machine is unable to take away all of these contaminants out of your faucet water. NSF certification tells you what precisely the machine is able to eradicating.
      [url<]https://knowallthe.com/best-wireless-earbuds/[/url<]

    • derFunkenstein
    • 11 months ago

    There was a gamer, had a ‘board, and Aimo was its name-oh

    • Voldenuit
    • 11 months ago

    What’s the deal with keyboard manufacturers putting M1-6 on the PgUp/PgDn block? My Ozone Strike does this too.

    If I want to trigger a macro, the last thing I want to do is take my left hand off WASD or my right hand off my mouse.

      • DragonDaddyBear
      • 11 months ago

      Having an easy-to-find macro key on my Razer keyboard has made typing by touch a tad more difficult for me because rather than find ‘Ctrl’ I often find M1. I don’t have it bound to anything at the moment, but in the days when I gamed more it would be a programmed for building something in an RTS, which would more than just a little annoying.

      So, it’s not “gamer-y” but I don’t mind it. What I do HATE is “Fn+FXX” keys on a desktop keyboard. Uhhhg. It’s not like you’re short on space on a desktop board. What’s even more annoying is having Fn+F5 open an Explorer window when Super (Windows key)+E does the same damn thing.

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