Topre

Topre is a controversial switch in the mechanical keyboard world. Topre keyboards tend to be the most expensive mechanical keyboards on the market; although Topre keyboards are more affordable than they used to be, most are still in the $200+ range. Proponents say it’s the smoothest, most refined switch that money can buy. Opponents say Topre is just a glorified rubber dome, and people only like their Topre keyboards because they want internal psychological justification for spending so much money on a keyboard. Where does the truth lie?

First, let’s look at the technology itself.

What is Topre?

TopreSwitchTopre switches are the namesake product of Topre Corporation, a Japanese company. They work based on the principle of capacitance, which means that keypresses are sensed electrically, without any physical circuit closure. This design helps eliminate key bounce and is often considered more reliable than other mechanical switch designs from an engineering standpoint. (In addition to consumer keyboards, Topre switches are used in military and commercial applications where failure would be catastrophic.)

Physically, a Topre switch contains a spring that sits atop the keyboard’s PCB, enclosed by a rubber cup. The rubber provides the vast majority of the resistance in the switch; the spring is very light and serves mainly to trigger the capacitive event. This design is why some people say Topre is really a rubber dome keyboard — a rubber dome is, in fact, responsible for the keys’ response.

Topre keyboards are produced by a handful of companies, including Topre itself under the Realforce brand, Leopold, and PFU (the maker of the Happy Hacking Keyboard).

What does Topre feel and sound like?

The feel and sound of Topre is as unique as its construction. It is famous for its downstroke “thock”, a deep and hollow sound produced by the rubber domes in combination with the keyboard’s plate and casing. Most of the keys’ resistance is concentrated at the top of the stroke, and about 1/4 of the way down, they lose most of their resistance and bottom out easily. You really need to try it for yourself, but the best way I can summarize Topre is to say it feels like the most refined rubber dome keyboard you will ever type on, with a very unique and pleasing sound.

Here is a good demonstration of Topre in action:

Is Topre Worth It?

In my view, Topre is a great switch. It is denigrated far too often for incorporating rubber domes in its switch design, but as I mentioned earlier, rubber dome technology is not inherently bad — it is usually the incidentally poor build quality that condemns rubber dome keyboards. Plus, make no mistake — Topre is not rubber dome over membrane — the capacitive switch action means that keypresses are registered much more consistently and precisely than on mass-produced dome-over-membrane keyboards. Furthermore, Topre has a solid, satisfying bottom-out. Every keypress is crisp and solid, particularly on models that feature a metal plate.

Of course, the real question is whether Topre is worth it to YOU. Ultimately, I think it hinges on how much you like the sound of Topre. The sound is indicative of the feel, and I think the sound is why most people first become interested in Topre. For all the variety that Cherry MX switches offer, none of them have the same “thock” and smooth tactility of Topre.

Unfortunately, you won’t find a Topre keyboard to try at Best Buy. Instead, you’ll have to find a friend with one, or simply shell out the money if you want to try one, because Topre isn’t a mainstream switch. Fortunately, the resale value of Topre boards tends to be high, allowing you to try Topre without much of a financial loss. For purchasing guidance, check out the Buyer’s Guide.