How to Measure Mechanical Keyboard Sound Levels

May 1, 2024

How loud or silent is your mechanical keyboard? Is it okay in your present environment? Or do you need to quiet down because you're working in a shared space?

It's easier to come up with a decision by gauging the level of your keyboard's sound. You can do this using a sound level meter (SLM).

In this article, we'll teach you how to use an SLM. We will also discover what makes a mechanical keyboard literally click and how to mod your device's sound. 

What Makes the Sound of Mechanical Keyboards

There are many sources of that distinctive sound that mechanical keyboards produce. Let's list down some of them.

  1. Switch Type: Different switch types produce different sounds. Clicky switches such as Cherry MX Blue produce a distinct clicking sound when pressed. Tactile switches like Cherry MX Brown provide tactile feedback with minimal clicking sounds. Linear switches such as Cherry MX Red have smooth keystrokes with whisper-like sounds.
  2. Switch Mechanism: The design of the stem, spring, and housing are significant factors. For example, clicky switches have components called leaves that produce their distinctive audible clicks when actuated.
  3. Keycap Material: ABS keycaps are generally louder and have a higher-pitched sound while PBT keycaps produce a deeper and softer sound.
  4. Keyboard Chassis Material: The material of the keyboard chassis can affect resonance. Metal chassis keyboards may produce a louder sound because they can easily conduct vibrations from key presses.
  5. Plate Material and Design: A mechanical keyboard has a plate that holds the switches in place. A metal plate may produce a different sound compared to a plastic one. A keyboard with an integrated plate may sound different from one with a separate plate.
  6. Typing Technique: Your typing technique can also influence a mechanical keyboard's sound. Factors such as typing speed, force applied to the keys, and typing style (e.g., touch typing vs. bottoming out) can affect the sound profile.

Measuring the Sound Levels of Mechanical Keyboards

an image of a mechanical keyboard

The right tool for measuring the sound of a mechanical keyboard is a sound level meter (SLM), an instrument designed to accurately measure sound intensity in decibels (dB). Choose a sound level meter with an appropriate frequency range for capturing keyboard sounds accurately.

  1. Choose a quiet environment for conducting measurements to minimize background noise interference. A closed room or an isolated place is ideal.
  2. Place the mechanical keyboard on a stable surface in the center of the measurement area. Ensure that the keyboard is positioned as it would be during normal use. Put the microphone of the SLM close to the keyboard but not touching it.
  3. Take a baseline measurement with the keyboard inactive to establish the ambient noise level of the environment. This reading will serve as a reference point for subtracting background noise from the measurements taken with the keyboard in use.
  4. Begin typing the keys on the mechanical keyboard while simultaneously recording sound levels with the SLM. Press each key individually and in combination with other keys to capture a range of sound levels produced during typing.
  5. Conduct multiple measurements to ensure the consistency of the results. Repeat the process with different typing techniques (e.g., light typing, heavy typing, fast typing) to determine variations in sound levels.
  6.  Compare the SLM readings with the baseline measurement to quantify the sound generated specifically by the keyboard.
  7. Document the SLM's measurement readings including details such as the keyboard model, measurement environment, and any relevant variables. 

The sound range of a mechanical keyboard can vary depending on several factors. As a general guideline:

  • Quiet Mechanical Keyboards: With silent switches and sound-dampening modifications, a quiet mechanical keyboard may produce sound levels ranging from around 30 to 50 decibels (dB) during normal typing.
  • Standard Mechanical Keyboards: Mechanical keyboards with standard switches (e.g., linear, tactile, or clicky) and no additional sound-dampening measures produce sound levels ranging from around 50 to 70 decibels (dB) during normal typing.
  • Clicky Mechanical Keyboards: Clicky mechanical keyboards tend to produce higher sound levels ranging from 60 to 80 decibels (dB) or even higher.

Quietest to Noisiest Mechanical Switches

The mechanical switches that make up your keyboard are among the main sources of noise (or silence) of your mechanical keyboard. Different mechanical switches have different sound profiles---from the softest switches that make barely a whisper, to the loudest ones that announce each keystroke with a resounding clatter.

Quietest Switches

  1. Silent Switches: These switches have dampening mechanisms such as rubber pads or silicone inserts to reduce the sound of both the keypress and the key bottoming out. Examples include Cherry MX Silent Red and Silent Black switches.
  2. Linear Switches: Linear switches have mechanisms that provide a smooth keystroke without tactile feedback or audible clicks. They still produce noise when they bottom out. Examples include Cherry MX Red, Cherry MX Black, and Gateron Red switches.

Tactile Switches (Moderate Noise)

  1. Tactile Switches: These switches provide tactile feedback without a loud click. They produce a slight bump and, in some cases, a soft thud when actuated, which can help confirm that the keypresses are registered. Examples include Cherry MX Brown, Cherry MX Clear, and Zealios switches.

Noisiest Switches

  1. Clicky Switches: Clicky switches offer tactile feedback along with a loud click sound when actuated. The click is generated by an in-switch mechanism called a leaf. This is usually a metal or plastic component that snaps against another component of the switch housing. Examples include Cherry MX Blue, Razer Green, and Kailh Box White switches.

Reduce the Sound of Your Mechanical Keyboard

an image of a mechanical keyboard

You may enjoy the tactile response of your mechanical keyboard, but the noise it produces could be bothersome. Don't fret, there are numerous ways to lessen the sound.

  1. Choose quieter switches: Look for silent switches or linear switches. These switches produce less noise compared to tactile and clicky switches.
  2. Use dampening O-rings: Install O-rings on the keycaps to soften the sound of keys bottoming out. O-rings act as cushions, lessening the impact noise when keys hit the keyboard plate or PCB. 
  3. Apply sound-dampening material: Line the inside of the keyboard case with sound-absorbing materials such as foam or rubber. These materials can help dampen vibrations and sound waves.
  4. Choose keycap materials wisely: Thicker keycaps such as PBT keycaps tend to produce a deeper and quieter sound compared to ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) keycaps.
  5. Use a keyboard mat or pad: Put your keyboard on a desk mat to absorb sound and vibrations. A neoprene mat is perfect.
  6. Type lightly: Type lightly to minimize the sound of keys bottoming out. 
  7. Position the keyboard properly: Position the keyboard on a stable surface. Make sure it's not in direct contact with resonant materials that could amplify sound such as glass or metal surfaces.

Conclusion

How loud or quiet your mechanical keyboard is dependent on several factors---your keycaps, key switches, or even your typing style. You can even modify your keyboard sound with some simple techniques. Now, you can continue your rhythmic typing, but now with an improved understanding of your keyboard's audio!

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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