The Best 96% Mechanical Keyboards in 2023

October 21, 2023

Gamers, mechanical keyboard enthusiasts, and professionals perenially seek the perfect fusion of performance, visual appeal, and space efficiency. As such, the demand for 96% keyboards is on the upswing. These streamlined keyboards offer a compact design without compromising on functionality. 

If you're a dedicated typist, an avid gamer, or someone who values an uncluttered workspace while retaining full efficiency, the 96% keyboard layout may be precisely what you're looking for.

In this article, we'll guide you to the best 96% keyboards we tested; we believe these are the finest 96% mechanical keyboards in 2023. Each one is characterized by precision engineering, customizable features, and captivating aesthetics. Any of these top contenders is an ideal companion for your typing or gaming endeavors.

Top 10 96% Keyboards

Even though you're familiar with the world of compact keyboards, you might be surprised at the diversity and quality among the top 10 96% keyboards in 2023.

1. Leopold FC980M

Mechanical keyboard enthusiasts love the Leopold FC980M for its minimalist design, high-quality Cherry MX switches, and sturdy construction.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Cherry MX (various options)
    • PBT keycaps with dye-sublimated legends
    • Detachable USB-C cable
    • N-key rollover and anti-ghosting
    • Multiple switch options
  • Pros
    • Minimalist and clean design
    • High-quality Cherry MX switches
    • Durable PBT keycaps
    • Detachable cable for portability
  • Cons
    • Limited RGB or backlighting options
    • Slightly higher price for some switch types
  • Price Range: Approximately $150 - $180

2. Ducky One 2 SF

The Ducky One 2 SF is a compact 96% keyboard known for its high-quality build, Cherry MX mechanical switches, and customizable RGB lighting.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Cherry MX (various options)
    • RGB Backlighting with customization
    • Detachable USB-C cable
    • PBT double-shot keycaps for durability
    • Ducky Macro 2.0 support for custom macros
  • Pros
    • Excellent build quality
    • High-quality key switches
    • Customizable RGB lighting
    • Detachable cable for portability
    • Ducky Macro for customization
  • Cons
    • Higher price point
    • Limited availability of some switch types
  • Price Range: Approximately $140 - $170

3. Varmilo VA109M

It's not difficult to understand why mechanical keyboard enthusiasts highly recommend the Varmilo VA109M. The keyboard offers a mix of elegance and functionality with its 96% layout, premium build quality, and customizable keycap designs.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Cherry MX (various options)
    • Customizable keycap designs
    • Detachable USB-C cable
    • N-key rollover and anti-ghosting
    • Multiple switch options
  • Pros
    • Customizable keycap designs
    • High-quality key switches
    • Detachable cable for portability
    • Solid build quality
  • Cons
    • Limited RGB or backlighting options
    • Some designs may have longer lead times
  • Price Range: Approximately $150 - $200

4. Keychron K6

There's no need to drain your savings and live on biscuits. The Keychron K6 is a budget-friendly 96% wireless mechanical keyboard designed for versatility, with Bluetooth compatibility, hot-swappable switches, and a compact layout.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Gateron or Keychron hot-swappable switches
    • Wireless connectivity (Bluetooth 5.1)
    • RGB backlighting with customization
    • Compact layout with arrow keys
    • Aluminum frame option
  • Pros
    • Hot-swappable switches for customization
    • Wireless connectivity for versatility
    • Compact and portable design
    • Affordable price point
    • Variety of switch options
  • Cons
    • Build quality may not be as premium as higher-end options
    • Some users may prefer a wired connection for gaming
  • Price Range: Approximately $70 - $120

5. Akko 3068

For a compact and 96% mechanical keyboard, check out the Akko 3068. Its unique keycap designs, various switch options, and build quality are winners in every mechanical keyboard enthusiasts

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Various switch options (Cherry MX, Akko, etc.)
    • Unique and artistic keycap designs
    • Bluetooth wireless connectivity
    • RGB backlighting with customization
    • PBT keycaps
  • Pros
    • Artistic and unique keycap designs
    • Wireless Bluetooth connectivity
    • Wide range of switch options
    • Competitive pricing
    • Good build quality
  • Cons
    • Some designs may be polarizing
    • Limited availability of certain switch types
  • Price Range: Approximately $90 - $120

6. Akko 3061

The sister to the Akko 3068, the Akko 3061 is a compact 96% mechanical keyboard known for its retro and vintage design aesthetics. However, underneath its chassis is a wealth of technological advancements including wireless Bluetooth connectivity, top switches, and unique keycap sets.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Various switch options (Cherry MX, Akko, etc.)
    • Bluetooth wireless connectivity
    • Unique keycap sets inspired by retro themes
    • RGB backlighting with customization
    • PBT keycaps
  • Pros
    • Retro and visually appealing keycap designs
    • Wireless Bluetooth connectivity for flexibility
    • Choice of various switch options
    • Durable PBT keycaps
    • Competitive pricing
  • Cons
    • Some users may prefer a wired connection for gaming
    • Limited availability of certain switch types
  • Price Range: Approximately $90 - $130

7. Keychron K8

Some of the most popular and best wireless keyboards include the Keychron K8 wireless 96% mechanical keyboard. With a tenkeyless layout and hot-swappable switches, it's a versatile and compact 96 keyboard for both office and gaming use.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Gateron or Keychron hot-swappable switches
    • Bluetooth wireless connectivity (Bluetooth 5.1)
    • Tenkeyless layout with arrow keys
    • RGB backlighting with customization
    • Aluminum frame option
  • Pros
    • Hot-swappable switches for customization
    • Wireless Bluetooth connectivity for versatility
    • Tenkeyless design offers a compact form factor
    • Affordable price point
    • Variety of switch options
  • Cons
    • May not be a true 96% layout due to the omission of function row
    • Build quality may not be as premium as higher-end options
  • Price Range: Approximately $75 - $130

8. KeyMove Luna 96

Another one of those high-quality but cheaper keyboards, the KeyMove Luna 96 is a budget-friendly 96% mechanical keyboard designed for typists and programmers. It features a clean, compact layout and Gateron mechanical switches.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Key Switches: Gateron mechanical switches (various options)
    • PBT keycaps with dye-sublimated legends
    • USB-C connectivity
    • N-key rollover and anti-ghosting
    • White backlighting
  • Pros
    • Budget-friendly price point
    • High-quality PBT keycaps
    • Clean and minimalist design
    • Available in various switch options
    • Compact and portable
  • Cons
    • Limited RGB or advanced backlighting features
    • Build quality may not be as premium as higher-end options
  • Price Range: Approximately $60 - $90

9. Tofu96 by KBDfans

Let's go to more high-end keyboards. The Tofu96 by KBDfans is a premium custom mechanical keyboard kit that offers a fully programmable experience, high-quality aluminum case options, and a 96% layout for enthusiasts.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Customizable choice of key switches
    • Aluminum case with various finishes
    • QMK and VIA firmware support for programming
    • PCB-mount stabilizers for improved key stability
    • Multiple layout and plate options
  • Pros
    • Fully customizable and programmable
    • Premium aluminum case options
    • Supports a wide range of key switches
    • PCB-mount stabilizers for smooth typing
    • Ideal for keyboard enthusiasts and modders
  • Cons
    • Kit assembly required, not a prebuilt keyboard
    • Premium components may lead to a higher price point
  • Price Range: Approximately $200 - $300 (depending on customization)

10. Keycult No.2/65 Rev. 1

If you want the best mechanical keyboards available, and money is no object, then this on is for you. The Keycult No.2/65 Rev. 1 is a high-end custom mechanical keyboard and one of the most expensive keyboards in the mechanical keyboard market. You get your money's worth: it's renowned for its exceptional build quality, premium materials, and precise engineering.

  • Technical Specifications and Features
    • Customizable choice of key switches
    • Premium aluminum or stainless steel case options
    • Custom-machined parts for precise fit and finish
    • Supports various layout and plate options
    • QMK firmware support for programming
  • Pros
    • Exceptional build quality and materials
    • Fully customizable and programmable
    • Precise engineering and attention to detail
    • Ideal for keyboard enthusiasts seeking the highest quality
  • Cons
    • Extremely high price point, not budget-friendly
    • Limited availability due to custom nature and demand
  • Price Range: Approximately $600 - $1,000 (or higher, depending on customization)

What is a 96% Mechanical Keyboard?

A 96% keyboard is a compact mechanical keyboard that typically includes 96 keys in its layout. It falls somewhere between a full-sized keyboard and a tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard in terms of size and functionality. The name "96%" comes from the fact that it retains about 96% of the keys found on a full-sized traditional keyboard, which includes the alphanumeric keys, function row, and navigation cluster but omits the numeric keypad.

96% keyboards offer a balance between space-saving and functionality, making them popular choices for those who want a compact keyboard without sacrificing essential keys for typing and gaming.

Common Features and Characteristics of 96% Keyboards

In the world of compact, yet fully functional keyboards, you'll find that a 96% keyboard is a unique blend of efficiency and customization. It retains almost all the keys of a full-sized keyboard while achieving a smaller footprint. While there are many brands and models of 96% keyboards, they typically share common features and characteristics.

  1. Compact Design: 96% keyboards are designed to be smaller and more space-efficient than full-size keyboards. They are often chosen by users who want a compact and minimalist desk setup.
  2. Key Layout: They typically have a compact layout that omits the numeric keypad and other less commonly used keys like the Insert, Delete, and Home keys. The main alphanumeric keys, function keys (F1-F12), and navigation keys (arrows, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down) are retained.
  3. Mechanical Key Switches: Many 96% keyboards feature mechanical key switches, which provide a tactile and audible response when pressed. These switches are favored by many for their durability and typing feel.
  4. Customization: Some 96% keyboards offer customizable keycap options, allowing users to change the keycap material, color, or design to suit their preferences.
  5. RGB Lighting: They often come with RGB backlighting, allowing users to customize the keyboard's lighting effects and colors.
  6. Connectivity Options: 96% keyboards can be available in both wired and wireless (Bluetooth) versions, giving users flexibility in how they connect the keyboard to their devices.

96% keyboards offer a balance between space-saving and functionality, making them popular choices for those who want a compact keyboard without sacrificing essential keys for typing and gaming.

Pros of Using a 96% Keyboard

Using a 96% keyboard comes with several advantages. The advantages listed below make these popular computer peripherals for many people.

  1. Compact Design: The compact design of a 96% keyboard allows for a more efficient and space-saving desk setup. It takes up less room on your desk, leaving more space for other peripherals or for a cleaner and more organized workspace.
  2. Portability: Due to its smaller size, 96% keyboards are more portable than full-sized keyboards. This makes them an excellent choice for those who need a keyboard they can easily carry around, such as gamers or professionals on the go.
  3. Ergonomics: The reduced width of a 96% keyboard can promote a more ergonomic typing experience. It can help prevent strain and discomfort by keeping the mouse closer to the keyboard, reducing the need to reach to the side.
  4. Aesthetic Appeal: Many users find the minimalist and compact design of 96% keyboards visually appealing. They can complement modern and minimalist desk setups.
  5. Mechanical Key Switches: Most 96% keyboards, especially those designed for gaming or enthusiasts, come with mechanical key switches. Mechanical switches offer tactile feedback, faster response times, and increased durability, providing a better typing or gaming experience.
  6. Customization: Some 96% keyboards offer customization options for keycaps, allowing users to personalize the look and feel of their keyboard. This customization can be a fun way to express your style.
  7. Versatility: While more compact, 96% keyboards retain essential keys such as the function row and navigation keys, making them suitable for a wide range of tasks, from typing and programming to gaming and content creation.
  8. Lower Price Point: Compared to some high-end full-sized keyboards, 96% keyboards can often be more budget-friendly while still offering excellent performance and features.
  9. Reduced Clutter: The absence of a numeric keypad and extra function keys can reduce keyboard clutter, making it easier to reach and use your mouse without bumping into your keyboard.
  10. Trendy Layout: As compact keyboard layouts gain popularity, using a 96% keyboard can be seen as a trendy choice among tech enthusiasts and gamers.

Cons of Using a 96% Keyboard

Why, then, might you experience drawbacks when using a 96% keyboard? Well, despite their space-saving design, it's not all sunshine and roses. 

  1. Lack of Numeric Keypad: The most significant drawback of a 96% keyboard is the omission of the numeric keypad. If you frequently work with numbers, accounting, data entry, or even for tasks like navigating spreadsheets, the absence of a numeric keypad can be inconvenient and slow you down.
  2. Learning Curve: Switching from a full-sized keyboard to a 96% keyboard may require some adjustment, especially if you're used to having a numeric keypad and additional function keys readily available.
  3. Reduced Functionality: Some 96% keyboards may omit other keys, such as the dedicated media control keys, dedicated macro keys, or additional navigation keys (e.g., Insert, Delete, Home, End). This reduced functionality can be a drawback if you rely on these keys for specific tasks.
  4. Typing Comfort: Depending on the specific keyboard and layout, the reduced size of a 96% keyboard can lead to a slightly cramped typing experience, which may not be as comfortable for extended typing sessions.
  5. Customization Limitations: While many 96% keyboards allow for keycap customization, the layout itself is less flexible compared to more standard layouts. Finding replacement keycaps for less common key sizes can be challenging.
  6. Limited Options: As 96% keyboards are less common than full-sized or tenkeyless options, there may be fewer models and choices available in the market. This limited selection can make it more challenging to find a keyboard that matches your preferences and requirements.
  7. Niche Market: 96% keyboards cater to a niche market, which means they may not be as readily available or accessible as more mainstream keyboard layouts. This can affect their pricing and availability.
  8. Gaming Considerations: While 96% keyboards are suitable for gaming, some gamers prefer the additional macro keys and function keys found on larger gaming keyboards for more complex in-game commands.

Difference Between a 96% and 1800 Compact Mechanical Keyboard

Many people think that a 96% keyboard is the same as a 1800 keyboard; it's just that the terms are different. However, there is a difference, albeit slight, of the two keyboard types.

A 96% keyboard and an 1800 compact layout keyboard are both compact keyboard layouts, but they differ in the number of keys and their specific layouts. 

  1. Number of Keys
    • 96% Keyboard: As its name implies and mentioned earlier, a 96% keyboard typically retains about 96% of the keys found on a standard full-sized keyboard. It includes the alphanumeric keys, function row (F1-F12), and navigation cluster (arrows, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down) but omits the numeric keypad, some function keys, and additional control keys.
    • 1800 Keyboard: An 1800 layout keyboard, on the other hand, retains a numeric keypad, which is one of its defining features. It includes the alphanumeric keys, function row, navigation cluster, and a full numeric keypad. This layout is often referred to as the "1800" because it typically has around 180 keys.
  2. Compactness
    • 96% Keyboard: A 96% keyboard is more compact than a full-sized keyboard due to the omission of the numeric keypad and some additional keys. It is favored by users who want a smaller keyboard while still having access to most of the essential keys.
    • 1800 Keyboard: An 1800 compact keyboard is larger than a 96% keyboard because it includes the numeric keypad. While it's more compact than a full-sized keyboard, it is larger and wider than a 96% keyboard due to the additional keys.
  3. Use Cases
    • 96% Keyboard: 96% keyboards are popular among users who want a compact and minimalist keyboard layout without sacrificing essential keys. They are suitable for general typing and gaming tasks.
    • 1800 Keyboard: 1800 keyboards are preferred by users who need the convenience of a numeric keypad for tasks that involve a lot of numeric input, such as data entry, accounting, and spreadsheet work. The numeric keypad is a significant advantage in these scenarios.

Buying Guide for 96% Keyboard

You're about to embark on the exciting journey of buying a 96% keyboard. Hold on a bit before whipping out that card. When seeking a mechanical keyboard, there's a myriad of factors you'll need to consider before making your final decision.

  1. Key Switch Type
    • Mechanical: Mechanical switches are popular for their tactile feedback and durability. Different switch types offer distinct typing experiences (e.g., Cherry MX, Gateron, or proprietary switches). Choose a switch type that will give you a better typing experience.
  2. Keycap Material and Design
    • Keycap Material: Look for keycaps made of durable materials like PBT plastic, which resists wear and shine over time.
    • Keycap Design: Consider keycap legends, fonts, and layouts. Some 96% keyboards offer unique keycap designs that can enhance aesthetics.
  3. Build Quality
    • Material: Evaluate the keyboard's build material, which can vary from plastic to aluminum or steel. Premium materials can enhance durability and aesthetics.
    • Stabilizers: Check if the keyboard uses quality stabilizers for consistent and smooth keypresses.
  4. Layout and Functionality
    • Function Row: Ensure that the keyboard retains the function row (F1-F12) and navigation keys (arrows, Home, End, Page Up, Page Down) since these are essential for various tasks.
    • Additional Keys: Some 96% keyboards may include extra buttons for multimedia control or customizable macro keys. Consider whether these features align with your needs.
  5. Customization Options
    • Keycap Compatibility: Check if the keyboard supports custom keycap sets, allowing you to personalize the look and feel of your keyboard.
    • RGB Lighting: If you want customizable lighting effects, ensure the keyboard offers RGB backlighting with user-friendly software for customization.
  6. Connectivity
    • Wired vs. Wireless: Decide whether you prefer a wired or wireless keyboard. Wireless options offer greater flexibility but may have a slight input lag for gaming.
    • Bluetooth: If you choose a wireless keyboard, ensure it has Bluetooth connectivity and supports pairing with multiple devices.
  7. Price and Budget
    • Determine your budget range and consider how much you're willing to invest in a 96% keyboard. Prices can vary significantly based on brand, features, and build quality.
  8. Brand Reputation and Reviews
    • Research reputable keyboard brands known for quality and customer support. Read user reviews and expert recommendations to get insights into real-world performance and reliability.
  9. Additional Features
    • Software Customization: Some 96% keyboards come with user-friendly software for remapping keys, creating macros, and customizing RGB lighting, all of which improves your mechanical keyboard experience.
    • Hot-Swappable Switches: If you want the ability to change switches without soldering, look for keyboards with hot-swappable switch sockets.
  10. Ergonomics and Comfort
    • Consider whether the keyboard offers an ergonomic design or features like an adjustable tilt or wrist rest for comfortable typing over extended periods.
  11. Availability and Warranty
    • Ensure the keyboard is available in your region and check the manufacturer's warranty and return policy for added peace of mind.

Customizing Options for 96% Keyboards

One of the best things about mechanical keyboards is that they're highly customizable. In fact, mechanical keyboards are becoming canvasses of art and personalization. Let's dive into the myriad of customization options available for 96% keyboards, which can transform your gaming or typing experience into something truly unique. Here are some common customizing ideas for 96% keyboards:

  1. Keycaps
    • Keycap Material: Swap out stock keycaps for ones made of different materials like PBT, ABS, or POM, each offering unique texture and durability.
    • Keycap Profile: Choose keycaps with different profiles (e.g., SA, DSA, Cherry, OEM) for a specific look and feel.
    • Keycap Colors and Designs: Personalize your keyboard with keycaps in various colors, legends, and designs, including custom or artisan keycaps.
  2. Key Switches
    • Hot-Swappable Switches: Opt for a keyboard with hot-swappable switches, allowing you to change switches without soldering. This offers flexibility in choosing different switch types such as clicky, linear, and tactile switches.
    • Switch Lubing: Lubricate mechanical switches to reduce friction and create a smoother typing experience.
  3. Key Layout and Keymap
    • Key Layout Customization: Remap keys or modify the key layout to suit your typing habits or specific tasks.
    • Custom Macros: Program custom macros for repetitive tasks or gaming commands using keyboard firmware or software.
  4. RGB Lighting
    • Lighting Effects: Customize RGB lighting effects, colors, and patterns to match your preferred aesthetics or create a unique look.
    • Underglow Lighting: Some keyboards offer underglow RGB lighting for an ambient glow beneath the keyboard.
  5. Cables
    • Custom Cables: Replace the stock USB cable with a custom-designed cable in various colors and materials (e.g., paracord, coiled cables).
  6. Case and Frame
    • Custom Case: Some keyboards allow you to swap the case or frame for a different material, color, or design.
    • Case Foam and Dampening: Add foam or dampening material to the keyboard case to reduce vibrations and noise.
  7. Stabilizers
    • Custom Stabilizers: Upgrade stabilizers for a more refined and quieter typing experience. Lubed and clipped stabilizers are popular choices.
  8. Sound Dampening
    • Acoustic Foam: Install acoustic foam or dampening materials inside the keyboard case to reduce noise and vibrations.
  9. Wrist Rests
    • Custom Wrist Rest: Add a custom-made wrist rest for ergonomic support and aesthetics. Materials can range from wood to foam.
  10. Artisan Keycaps
    • Artisan Keycap Collections: Decorate your keyboard with artisan keycaps, often handcrafted and featuring unique designs and themes.
  11. Firmware and Software:
    • Keyboard Firmware: Update or flash custom firmware to unlock advanced customization options, key mapping, and macro support.
  12. Switch Sound Dampening
    • Silicone Dampeners: Place silicone dampeners between keycaps and switches to dampen the sound of keypresses.
  13. Switch Films
    • Switch Films: Apply switch films between the switch housing and PCB to enhance switch consistency and feel.
  14. Switch Springs
    • Switch Springs: Customize your switches' actuation force and feel by replacing stock springs with aftermarket options.

When customizing your 96% keyboard, research and gather the necessary tools and components for each customization task. Note that modifications may void warranties, so proceed with caution and ensure you have the appropriate skills and knowledge.


With the innovative 96% keyboards, you're all set to upgrade your gaming or typing experience in 2023.

From exclusive group buys to prebuilt options, these compact marvels offer you faster response times, comfort, and reduced mouse reach.

If you have the spirit of adventure, then customize your keyboard to make it uniquely yours.

Take the leap, choose your 96% keyboard, and embark on an exciting journey to seamless typing and gaming.

Chris Greiner, a Mechanical Keyboard specialist, boasts a solid educational background with dual bachelor's degrees in Computer Science and Business Management from Lewis University. His additional certification in Mechanical Keyboard Design showcases his dedication to staying on the forefront of keyboard technology. Chris primarily writes for keyboard enthusiasts and has been featured on platforms like Jestik, solidifying his reputation as a thought leader in the mechanical keyboard community.
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