HHKBs compared (Pro 2 vs. Classic vs. Hybrid Type-S)
August 26, 2021
[ review , HHKB ]

This is a comparison of three different Happy Hacking Keyboard models.

TL;DR

  • I like the feel of HHKB Classic the best. It is the bubbliest.
  • Anything other than the Type-S could be too loud for the office.
  • Vibration mat is overpriced but no regrets on splurging on it.

Motivation

A few months ago, I had unwittingly managed to acquire three different HHKBs. The Pro 2 that I used to adore in my undergrad years, a Hybrid Type-S for the office, and a Classic for home. Since then I’ve sold the Pro 2 due to its lack of keymapping support – but not before fanning all three out on my desk and conducting a sound comparison.

hkkbs

Hybrid Type-S, Pro 2, and Classic

A significant motivation for me in taking up blogging was the pretext to type away in these wonderful keyboards. I am a huge, huge fan of HHKBs and their zesty1 feel. These boards do not come cheap, however, and I hope this post helps fellow HHKB addicts out there stuck in indecision while carefully pondering which HHKB they should order next.

Experiment

I recorded typing sounds twice for each keyboard: first with them directly atop a wooden desk, and then with them on a towel… on a wooden desk. Sound on desk is more akin to what we actually hear in real life, while sound on towel is more “manufacturer intended”.

Keyboard sitting on desk => key clicks + keyboard body echo.

Keyboard sitting on towel => just key clicks.

If you buy or DIY a vibration mat to stick under your keyboard, you can (almost) enjoy the towel sound without the towel. More on that later.

Sound comparison

Model (setting) Sound
Hybrid Type-S
Classic
Pro 2
Hybrid Type-S (Towel)
Classic (Towel)
Pro 2 (Towel)

Typed, of course, with the intention of same intensity and speed. We are people of science after all.

Typing dynamics

But sound is less than half the story. The real meat is in how a keyboard feels under your fingers. And that feel is what HHKB is known for. Koreans describe the feel of each stroke as being similar to breaking chocolate. Which I completely agree with. Here are some brief, biased reviews for each HHKB model.

Hybrid Type-S

Typing on the Type-S is a wonderful experience. Fortunate, because all other models seem too loud for a quiet office setting.

However it must be mentioned that, after a number of people tried out my Type-S, they commented that the typing experience does not completely live up to the hype of HHKBs. While the Type-S does provide some good chocolate breaking experience, keypresses on it are somewhat less fun than those on, say, the Classic. Key resistence in Type-S models was significantly decreased for reduced key noise. As a result, the keys are less springy compared to other models.

The resistence is so light that several seconds of resting your fingers on the Type-S will often trigger the keys. At least once a day, I accidcently press the d button in burst mode with my perched middle finger.

And in vim dd is delete line, so I have to uuuuuuuuuuuu to get my lines back.

Still, the keyboard provides a wonderful, soothing experience that’s worth every penny.

Classic

For me, the magic of HHKBs is in how bubbly the keys are – a feat achieved by meticulously balancing key weight and firmness of the domes underneath. You know that feeling when something is so adorable you just want to bite it? But you can’t? Or when Juicy Fruit2 absolutely nails that fruity taste but you frustratingly cannot swallow it because it’s a gum and you’re afraid the gum will live forever in your stomach if you do? Typing on HHKB keyboards lends us the same kind of sensation that I can only describe as mesmerizing pleasantness. Only with these keyboards, you can indulge on it without aforementioned frustrations.

Feel of the Classic is the experience I expect when I pick up an HHKB. I imagine the same goes for non-Type-S Hybrid models as well.

Pro 2

Of the three models, the HHKB Pro 2 is the only model that sports a metallic keyboard chasis. If we were talking about other gadgets this would be a plus (“premeium build quality, yada yada”), but in this case the metallic body is actually a con. The keyboard feels more solid because of the material, but the metallic chasis increases the dulled echos when keys bottom out.

A factor to note about Pro 2 is that its layout cannot be remapped with the official HHKB keyboard remapping tool. There are ways to remap with custom firmware, but like iOS jailbreaking.. I no longer have the energy for it.

And finally about the notoriously overpriced foam vibration mat (40 bucks!!!):

The vibration mat softens the downward impact when the keys bottom out as you are typing. As you might hear from the sound comparison table above, the echo within the keyboard body is greatly reduced, resulting in a much more soothing typing sound.

Is it a $40 worth of reduction in chasis tremble? I don’t think so. You’ll enjoy the boards even without the mat.

But is it a noticeable improvement? Yes.

I recommend you order a foam pad, cut it into the shape of the keyboard, and stick it at the bottom. That way your vibration mat is customizable and cheaper.

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  1. For the lack of a better word. Am I allowed to say orgasmic? Because that’s the best description of these Topres. 

  2. Or its shameless ripoff, Jiucy Fresh