The “Nixie” Switch
So one of the most popular “retro” switches I remember hearing about in the past was the Nixdorf, or “Nixie” switch. These switches were only produced for a short time in the 1980s and they used to sell for waaaaayyy too much on the second hand market. Apparently they were a really nice sounding, smooth feeling switch. I wonder if the smoothness came from years of use before the keyboard community got their hands on them. But they were selling for like, $7 a switch. So I added it to the list of switches I’d never get to try. But recently Cherry decided to remake the switch using the equipment and techniques they have developed over the years, and thus the Cherry MX Black Clear-Top was born. Admittedly it’s not as catchy a name as the original but will it live up to the hype?
I bought 3 boxes of “Cherry MX Black Clear-Top” switches from NovelKeys_ a few weeks ago but had them sitting on a shelf until my switch break-in machine arrived. I’ve always been a bit curious about switch break in and if it really makes switches feel better and according to this ThereminGoat article the “New Nixies” needed a few hours of break-in time to improve the feeling of the switch. So once my machine arrived it was time to get to work. I ordered 3 boxes of 36 switches and my machine can only hold 36 switches at a time, so I was going to have to do this in 3 shifts. “No big deal” I thought. I’ll use a smart plug to make sure the machine only runs for 5 hours at a time per the aforementioned article. Welp, the plug decided that it didn’t want to listen to my timers so I think the first batch ran for 5 hours, the second for 13. For the third batch I was able to actually get the switch to work and I believe I ran it for 9 hours total. Thinking about it now, I should have just ran the third batch for 13 hours and re-run the fist batch for the extra 8. Oh well.
Needless to say, my switches are kind of all over the place when it comes to how long I broke them in. I could definitely tell the difference between the first batch and the second/third batches. I think I was just really excited to get them in a build with all the hype built up around them; that I just went straight to lubing and filming them. I regret that now, but it is what it is. I lightly lubed them with Krytox 205g0 and filmed them with Deskeys films. I’m gonna be real. I’m not a big fan of lubing switches so if they are linears, I just throw all the stems in a jar and lube them that way. Regardless, these switches still have that classic Cherry scratch to them. I’m not sure if using “off center actuation” kit would have helped with the scratch or not. The stems looked pretty smooth after the break in so maybe it has to do with the bottom housings? I don’t know. Just a guess.
After lubing up (almost) enough to fill a 60% board I threw them in my Ciel60’s hotswap PCB that I have pretty much neglected since I replaced the stock PCB with one from 4pplet. I had the original polycarb plate from the Ciel so I was ready to go. After using this setup for a few hours I realized that I didn’t love how it sounded. There was just something about it that I didn’t love. So I decided to try it with a brass plate instead and I have to say. I like it way more with the brass plate. I’m not normally a fan of brass plates because they often feel very stiff but in this o-ring mount case that’s not really a problem. It’s obviously not as bouncy as it is with the 4pplet PCB and a half plate, but it’s still very pleasant. I also like the sound a lot better with the brass plate.
Though they are still a bit scratchy, you can’t really tell during normal use, at least for feel. If you are typing fast enough it doesn’t feel too scratchy but if you slow down you can definitely feel it. I hear the scratch more than I actually feel it though. Especially on larger mod keys like backspace and shift. I’m wondering if I didn’t give them enough time to break in. If I hadn’t gone through and lubed these already, I’d give them a few more hours of break in.
So what do I think? So far, I like them. I’m going to give myself a bit more time with them before I draw a final conclusion, but I like them. I will say, if the original Nixies feel/sound the same as these, then they are absolutely not worth $7 a switch. To be fair, I don’t think any switch should be more than $1 a switch and even that’s pushing it. But this isn’t about the cost of vintage switches. Cherry’s New Nixies are a pretty good switch. I’ve tried better, but I’ve also tried worse. I think out of the box they are better than Cherry Blacks which are scratchy and sooooo heavy. I used to think that Cherry Black was the best switch, but that was back in 2014 so my choices were limited. Sorry, I’m rambling again. ADHD and all that. That’s all for now. Please enjoy this sound test:
So I’ve been using these switches for about a week now and I have to say, I really like them. They feel really smooth to type on. I’m still not the biggest fan of the way they sound. It’s not bad by any means but it’s just not my favorite. It could also very well be the board they are currently in. It’s an aluminum case with a brass plate and in this configuration they sound a bit hollow. I never really considered the sound of my original Ciel build as hollow so I have to think it’s the brass plate that I’m using with the Nixies. I’m sure I’ll try these in another board at some point soon.
Okay. So I’ve spent most of the month with these switches and I really really like them now. I feel like any bit of scratch is almost gone at this point. They feel really smooth and they sound nice too. I was going to throw an FR4 plate in this board but I don’t really see the need now. I like this setup as it is and I haven’t really wanted to use any other keyboards for most of the month. I’d say these are a good switch. I like everything about them at this point. I still spend most of my time at my computer with headphones on but these switches really do sound good. At least to me. I’d recommend them at this point. I’ve heard that Cherry springs are kind of garbage so I do have some TX springs laying around but I think I’m going to throw them into the batch of Cherry Black Hyperglides I have coming in soon.
I have now thrown these switches into a polycarb case and an FR4 half plate. I think I like the sound of these better without the plate. It sounds a bit deeper and fuller in this setup. At least that’s what I think. I could be wrong. But I like them quite a bit better in this setup. I have both a full and half aluminum plate on the way to do even more testing of switches. But for now I have a setup I really like. Sound test coming soontm.