No matter how deep into the keyboard hobby you are, you have most likely seen videos titled “Does your spacebar sound like this?” or something similar. In the same vein, typing test videos you might have seen have a large emphasis on repeatedly pressing the modifier keys. This is mostly to showcase how well the builders modded stabilizers on large keys.
Modding stabilizers play a large part in the keyboard’s overall sound and typing experience. Whether you use stock or aftermarket stabilizers, plate mount, or PCB mount, eliminating rattle and securing a better fit for the modifier keys is the way to go.
This article aims to help explain the role of stabilizers, the benefits of modding stabilizers, and provide information regarding popular aftermarket stabilizers. The different mods applicable to stabilizers will also be expounded on.
- What are Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
- What are the Different Kinds of Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
- What is the Problem With Stock Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
- The Importance of Keyboard Stabilizer Mods
- Different Kinds of Keyboard Stabilizer Mods
- Why Buy Aftermarket Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
- Recommended Keyboard Stabilizer Brands
What are Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
In a mechanical keyboard, a switch alone will not be able to hold the long keys properly in place. It will be too unstable and rattly, with some keys even having the possibility of popping out when pressed. This is where stabilizers come in.
The most commonly found stabilizer is the Cherry style stabilizer. It uses a Cherry MX switch stem in its housings, allowing ease of use with most keycap sets. The metal part, called the wire, ensures that the two stems move alongside each other with the keycap during an actuation.
Another type of stabilizer is the Costar stabilizer. It requires the stabilizer wire to be hooked into an attachment inside the keycap. This is very much similar to the way many laptop keys are assembled, specifically a chiclet keyboard. It is much more common in older keyboards though some keyboards still use this type of stabilizer.
What are the Different Kinds of Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
It is worth mentioning that not every stabilizer is mounted the same way. Some boards and plates may not support a certain type of stabilizer. There are two main mounting types: Plate Mount and PCB Mount .
This is the most common mounting type and the cheaper option between the two main types. It is typically seen on pre-built keyboards and budget kits. A board popular for using plate mount is the Novelkeys NK65 Entry Edition (though its popularity may be for different reasons).
Plate Mount stabilizers are, well, mounted on the plate of a keyboard. Problems associated with this mounting type stem from, ironically, stability. Plate mounted stabilizers do not have the most secure fit, causing rattling and wobble. This isn’t the end for Plate mounted stabilizers, though, as mods can be done to alleviate said issues.
PCB Mounted stabilizers are stabilizers that are attached directly to the PCB. This mounting system is regarded to be much more secure and stable. Plate mount stabilizers are most frequently seen in mid-range and high-end boards. Over the past year, more budget-friendly options have been released with support for PCB mounts like the KBD67 Lite. There are two types of PCB mounting: screw-in and clip-in
This stabilizer is screwed into the PCB, allowing a very secure and tight fit meaning much less wobble and instability. Screw-in stabilizers are much more popular between the two PCB Mounts and thus, are more commercially available.
This stabilizer mounts into the PCB through a slot, a bit similar to plate mount stabilizers. This makes it much easier to remove than screw-in stabilizers at the cost of a more secure fit. This is still a tighter fit than Plate mount stabilizers, though, being a PCB mount. Support for clip-in stabilizers pretty much depends on the board as it isn’t as widely regarded as screw-in mounting.
What is the Problem With Stock Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
Stock stabilizers are usually as-is out of the box, but some may come pre-lubed. Regardless, a problem that plagues a lot of stock stabilizers is being rattly. You can have the best, most consistent lube application on your switches, but if you have rattly stabs, the sound (and feel) will stick out like a sore thumb.
The Importance of Keyboard Stabilizer Mods
While the idea of getting “upgrade” stabilizers sounds very enticing, some people may not have the budget for a brand new set of aftermarket stabilizers. Regardless, both stock and aftermarket stabilizers benefit greatly from modding. The different mods, to be briefly discussed in a bit, aim to improve the sound from the stabilizer and provide a better fit for the stabilizers. The following mods, when executed properly, will make even stock stabilizers sound great.
Different Kinds of Keyboard Stabilizer Mods
As with lubing switches, lube is applied to the contact points of a stabilizer. These contact points are the stabilizer stem, housing, and the wire. Generally, a generous amount of lube (or dielectric grease) is applied to the wire. Pre-lubed stabilizers usually come in less than ideal amounts.
Stabilizer stems usually come with 4 legs, 2 of which are protruded. You will want to remove these legs with a nail clipper or a flush cutter. These protruded legs may cause contact with the PCB, and clipping them will give the stabilizer stem a more even bottom surface.
Band-Aid Mod/Stabilizer Pads
The band-aid mod involves cutting a small section of fabric adhesive bandages, about the size of a stabilizer housing, and sticking it to where the stabilizer stems would contact the PCB.
Stabilizer pads offer the same function without the need to sacrifice a first aid essential. These can be more expensive than bandages because of their specific function. KBDfans is a vendor that sells stabilizer pads/stickers.
For plate-mounted stabilizers, you can put small band-aid strips or tape on the part of the plate that the stabilizer attaches to. Doing this provides a more secure fit, alleviating the loose-fit issue with Plate mount stabilizers. Not all stabilizers and plates will give a snug fit with this mod, though, as the tighter fit may affect the travel of the stem. If that is ever the case, adjust the amount or placement of tape/band-aid as necessary.
Wire balancing involves making the stabilizer wires as straight as possible. You can check on the evenness by pressing down on one end then lightly tapping the other with the wire on top of a flat surface. The unevenness can be discerned when the end you tap seems to lift off quite a bit. Twist, turn, and pull on the wire until you get the desired evenness. Exercise caution when balancing wires as you may damage the wires. Popular Korean keyboard content creator: 3ildcat (wildcat) often includes wire balancing in his build videos (link)
This is a mod whose popularity has risen much more recently. It involves putting a thin strip of adhesive tape or band-aid into the second hole of the stabilizer stem. This makes a dampened contact point between the wire and the stabilizer stem, minimizing any rattling noise that may come from the wire and stem.
Why Buy Aftermarket Mechanical Keyboard Stabilizers?
A good set of stabilizers can go a long way. Good modding of stock stabilizers can set you up with a decent experience with your board. However, aftermarket stabilizers have proven how much more worth they are in the long run.
For one, when using a soldered board, it is much much more tedious to remove stabilizers to make little adjustments to its mods. Stock stabilizers have a tendency to require re-modding every once in a while. For example, when the band-aids used on the plate have shifted a bit from wear.
The reputation that aftermarket stabilizers have built is not without basis. Despite Plate mounted stabilizers’ reputation, aftermarket plate mount stabilizers are actually so much better than stock stabilizers (Durock Plate Mount vs. GK61X stock). Aftermarket stabilizers have better QA therefore, more consistent tolerances, smoothness, and form.
Recommended Keyboard Stabilizer Brands
The following brands are recommended either for their reputation alone, having great quality, being budget-friendly, or any combination thereof.
The Cherry brand may cause some reservations nowadays, especially with switches, but there’s no denying the influence they have on the industry. As mentioned earlier, Cherry’s stabilizers have set the standard in the stabilizer market.
Most, if not all, stock stabilizers are essentially cloned versions of Cherry stabilizers. Despite this, how does the Cherry brand hold up today? Compared to clones, Cherry stabilizers are proven to be of much higher quality. Better fit, less tendency to rattle, and smoother components are among what Cherry brand offers.
Cherry offers both screw-in and plate-mounted stabilizers.
If you’ve been in the keycap market, the GMK name is one you’ve most likely heard of time and time again. You’ve probably also seen stabilizers being sold as “GMK stabilizers.” While it is true that these stabilizers are made in the GMK factory, they are still essentially Cherry brand stabilizers. Not too big of a deal though, as was mentioned earlier, Cherry brand stabilizers are still a very good choice to no-name stock stabilizers.
Durock is a name usually associated with switches, and for a good reason. Being the factory that JWK uses, you already know that their QA does not slack. Expect the molds, especially the stems on these stabilizers, to be of good quality.
Typically seen in either transparent or smokey black with gold screws and/or wires, Durock stabilizers have a reputation for being inexpensive while performing excellently even with just a little bit of modding, like simply lubing and clipping. Durock stabilizers have quite the reputation, with many custom builds rocking this brand of stabilizers, even much higher-end builds.
Durock offers mainly screw-in stabilizers but also offers plate mount stabilizers.
Another name that pops up often in the aftermarket stabilizer conversation is Everglide. It is worth noting that Everglide is a vendor, with their manufacturing being facilitated by JWK/Durock. This is similar to the Cherry and GMK situation. Some retailers may sell Everglide cheaper than Durock or vice versa. It will be entirely up to you and your choice.
Known for their very fruity Kiwi and Tangerine switches, C3 Equalz stabilizers are known for being the “thematic” stabilizer sets. They offer sets that you can mix and match with an entire keyboard theme like Olivia, Tangerine, Panda, etc.
Equalz stabs also have a reputation for costing less than the average price. The consequence of these theme-matching and lower price stabilizer sets is availability. While C3 regularly stocks up with vendors, there is quite a demand, especially with the recent stabilizer fit issue with the GMMK Pro. C3 Equalz stabilizers were deemed the most fitting with the initial batches of the GMMK Pro, with other aftermarket stabilizers not fitting with the plate cut-outs.
This brand’s reputation is still apparent with the Zealios line of switches. ZealPC stabilizers are the basis of the Durock/Everglide stabilizers. It is argued that Zeal stabilizers were the best until Durock and Everglide came along. With cheaper alternatives offering similar performance, the popularity of Zeal stabilizers fell off, but the quality is still noteworthy.
Stephen is the head content creator of Keyboardsexpert. His mechanical keyboard journey began in 2014 when he got his Razer Blackwidow. Since then, he has been fascinated with all things mechanical keyboard-related. He later discovered the custom keyboard hobby and fell in love with the vast customization options. He is currently searching for his endgame and is very excited to share his journey and educate other keyboard enthusiasts.