Solenoid Keyboard Sounds Very Much Like A Typewriter

Mechanical keyboards are muchly adored things. For many of us, they take us back to that loud clickity-clack that was so common before consumer keyboards went to membrane switches. For others, it’s just for the pure joy of the finger-powered symphony. The solenoid edition of the Red Herring keyboard from [Ming-Gih Lam] understands the beauty of this sound intimately. It can be nearly silent if you so desire, or it can clack away with the best of them (via

It all comes down to the switches used in the design. [Lam] selected the Silent Alpacas from Durock, noted for their quiet operation, particularly when lubricated. You get just a faint slide-and-click noise from the keyboard under regular use.

The joy of the solenoid edition is in, you guessed it, the solenoid. It fires away with every keypress when enabled, creating a sound more akin to a real typewriter than any mechanical keyboard we’ve ever heard. Click-clack fans will love it, while those with sensitive ears will scream at any cube neighbours that dare to buy one and switch it on.

Files are available on Github for the curious. We’ve seen some other great keyboards over the years, like this nifty split-board design. Video after the break.

29 thoughts on “Solenoid Keyboard Sounds Very Much Like A Typewriter

  1. Been there, done that. the VT-52 terminal had a little relay inside that it would kick when you hit a key and kick several times when the terminal received a BEL.

    1. That being said, the awesomest I ever used as an IBM OS/6 word processor. It had some sort of thumper inside it. Using it felt and sounded like a Selectric typewriter.

        1. There survived one at hack42 for a while. It resides now at the Bonami Game Computer museum in Zwolle, The Netherlands. It only needed a new belt for the 8″ floppy drive.

  2. Makes me think of the IBM 3270 (or possibly earlier) physical terminals that I used in 1990. There was a button/key combination that activated a solenoid that almost made the entire keyboard jump with every key. And if you are familiar with the IBM Model M keyboard’s construction, this is no easy feat! The 3270 keyboard in question probably weighed 2-3 times what the Model M did.
    Crapped myself the first time I accidentally activated it, and spent ages trying to figure out how to turn it off!

  3. The noise is IMO not what to love about mechanical keyboards, it is the key feel! That you don’t have to mash the key right into the deck for it register, that tactile bump at the actuation point that lets you know the key is pressed while there is still travel for your fingers to decelerate comfortably and the spacing and shape of the keys helps too – you know you hit exactly one key, and only the one you wanted much more easily than on many other types of keyboard.

    The sound is more a byproduct that can be nostalgic to those that used old tech in their formative years rather than the real reason to love that style of keyboard.

  4. I don’t really get the love affair with long travel clacky keyboards. I’m not super attached to the butterfly keyboard in my Mac but the newer ones aren’t bad. I find typing on a mechanical keyboard akin to clomping around in snow. Feels deeper than it needs to. What am I missing?

  5. I remember the old block-mode terminals IBM had for the System/34 system I used at school. With the power off, the keyboard was terrible. But when powered up, the character of the keyboard changed completely and it was wonderful. Very much like the Selectrics I first learned to type on.

  6. Why not build a clicky keyboard? Is this about some kind of emulation fetish? Are you stuck in the (keyboard) matrix? Back in the fall of 2001 there was a Reader’s Digest article about a sinkhole that swallowed an office building due to the cacophony of clickies reverberating throughout. Then the US invaded Iraq and Afghanistan because everybody knows that the loudest clicky keyboards were manufactured there, and that it was a conspiracy to usher in the new era of mushy Apple keyboards which are manufactured in non-glorious Xinjiang.

    Now pinch the tip of your tongue and try to say “apple”.

  7. I can see the charm of the old, but faking it is too fake, the noise has no function and such things irk me.
    I once used a typewriter that had a constant whir and then clacked when you pressed the key, and it just seemed so alive and you felt you were doing something active and interesting. But as I said, just a fake sound would totally not do it for me.

    1. But is it a fake sound? Could you tell if you didn’t already know?
      I don’t mind the idea of making it play pretend at being the clakiest of clicking spring mechanical typewriter for the simulation value. Not something I’d want always active on my daily driver keyboard of course, but there are times when a good bit of fakery is better than anything else for creating the correct immersive feel. (The original old ones will always be noisy, are probably rather badly worn in places so need expensive rebuild etc – lots of potential reasons some fakery to set the correct tone is the best choice).

      1. I dont think the click is meant to emulate some other method of function. I think the click is literally the intended result, as it signifies a key was pressed fully.

      2. I use the word fake because it isn’t the sound that is the result of a process other than the process of intentionally making the sound.
        Now yes you can argue that if that is the purpose then that is the function, the problem though is that if you see the video it’s obvious nobody would enable it for more than a minute because it gets annoying very fast and isn’t needed really, you would have to ‘fake’ a need :) Which brings us back to square one.

        I’m also annoyed by things that look like buttons on devices but are just decorative.
        And in fact they make ‘fidget’ thingies that have various buttons on them that click but do nothing, and I’m really confused by them since we all like to pointlessly click, but then I’d get simultaneously annoyed that it does nothing. I would be better served by a ballpoint pen that you can also click pointlessly but at least moves the tip of the pen with a (theoretical) purpose.

    2. Clicky keyboard switches are already fake. I’m familiar with four different types of clicky switch mechanisms currently in production, and none of them utilize the electrical contacts to generate the noise. (Cherry click jacket, Kailh click bar, Gateron click staple, Zeal click leaf.)

      This means you can encounter false positives and false negatives while typing away. Wrong feedback is worse than no feedback.

      A solenoid is more accurate and has the bonus of being mutable when you need to accommodate others.

        1. Exactly what happens. My Kailh speed copper switches will send characters to screen without clicking if I rest enough of my hand’s weight on them, a false positive.

          My low profile Kailh whites and full-size box pinks will make clicky noises if I press far enough, but need another mm of travel beyond the click to make electrical contact.

          Most of the time it isn’t noticeable for normal typing, but both are confusing if you’re resting on switches too hard between sentences or if you’re trying to be precise with timing or rapid repetition while gaming.

      1. I was under the impression that the Cherry clicky types don’t give the tactile bump feedback until the switch will trigger – no more actual key travel is required at that point though much more is possible. But I can’t swear to that, as I still use the good ol buckeling spring IBM keyboard by choice and the only other ‘mechanical’ keyboard I’ve got isn’t cherry switches, came with some cheap ‘cherry like’ ones so I could one day try the varied collection of compatible footprint switches to find some to have a keyboard I really like that isn’t older than me… But it isn’t bad on the feedback feel, technically just about possible to feel the bump and not actuate the key but it isn’t enough early to really give you bad feedback – you won’t be able to react fast enough to prevent activating the key in normal use.

        1. I think you’re right.

          Pulled out my meter and half a dozen jacket-style switches from Cherry, Gateron and Kailh and they all worked perfect. Even the Razor green.

          Probably Due to the jacket itself interacting with the leaf contacts instead of a plunger pushing on the leaf on one side and a click baron the other.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.