Customizability is one of the best things about modern keyboards, giving us a wide variety of options to choose from for every single piece of the keyboard.
While choosing between different types of switches is the most known form of customization due to them making the most noticeable difference in terms of experience, keyboard customization has a lot more to offer with keycaps, layouts, mounting styles, and many more.
Today’s topic is one of the lesser talked about customization options, which is keyboard plates.
Keyboard plates can be produced of a few different materials, with aluminum and brass being a few of the most popular options. As you may expect, every material brings some strengths and weaknesses to the table, so it’s down to your personal preference to pick the one you prefer.
So, what are the differences between brass and aluminum plate keyboards?
Brass is one of the densest materials used in keyboard plates, known for its rigid feel, sturdiness, and low-pitched sound. On the other hand, aluminum is the balanced option between dense and light materials, meaning that it has a softer and more flexible feel with a higher-pitched sound.
While often overlooked as a customization option, knowing the strengths and weaknesses of both aluminum and brass keyboard plates can improve the feel of your keyboard and even save you some money due to the cost differences between these two materials.
As the first order of business, let’s talk about aluminum keyboard plates in greater detail.
Aluminum Keyboard Plates
Aluminum is the most commonly used material for keyboard plates, mainly because it’s the cheapest option. That being said, aluminum keyboard plates aren’t inferior to others by any means.
Aluminum plates aren’t too flexible but also not too stiff, making them the middle ground between light plates, such as polycarbonate or carbon fiber, and dense plates, such as brass or steel. Combined with the fact that it’s cheap, it makes a lot of sense that most keyboards utilize aluminum plates.
You can recognize an aluminum keyboard plate by its flexibility and its higher-pitched keypress sound. That being said, identifying your keyboard plate can be difficult if you haven’t experienced the feel of different materials.
As knowing that keyboard plates can be made out of different materials and their effects on keyboard experience are enthusiast-level knowledge, if the material of the keyboard plate is not even mentioned by the manufacturer, you can assume that it’s aluminum.
Brass Keyboard Plates
Brass keyboard plates are quite popular despite being relatively new to the scene, with many manufacturers allowing you to replace the default aluminum plate with a brass one. As you may expect, brass is a more expensive material than aluminum, meaning that the option comes with a price difference.
These keyboard plates belong to the dense category, meaning that they are stiff and produce deeper keypress sounds. While the stiffness can be uncomfortable for heavy typers who like to bottom their keys out, the deep keypress sounds are one of the most commonly enjoyed attributes of a mechanical keyboard.
Even though keyboard plates being broken is not something that you often hear of, it’s also worth mentioning that brass plates are a lot sturdier than the lighter alternatives.
Unfortunately, there is one major disadvantage that comes with brass plates.
If you have frequently used something that is made out of brass, such as a brass lighter, you are most likely familiar with the primary problem that comes with it, which is tarnishing.
Just like anything else made out of brass, brass keyboard plates are also prone to tarnishing over time. Things such as oils from your skin and the oxygen in the air all contribute to the tarnishing process, which can eventually cause you problems in the long run.
Choosing Between Brass and Aluminum Keyboard Plates
Now that we have better knowledge of both brass and aluminum keyboard plates, it’s time to make a choice.
In this section, we will be comparing brass and aluminum keyboard plates in four different categories. As not all factors are equally important for everyone, we feel that this methodology will prove to be helpful when you are making a decision.
Feel & Sound
To start, let’s talk about feel and sound, the main reason we enjoy customizing our keyboards.
In terms of feel, aluminum plates have more flexibility than brass. While the difference isn’t too obvious if you are a touch typer, heavy typers who enjoy bottoming their keys out can easily notice that the feedback is quite stiff after bottoming the key out on a brass plate.
Even though it comes down to personal preference, we feel that heavy typers would enjoy the feel of an aluminum plate more than brass due to the window of flexibility that it provides.
When it comes to sound, keypresses on a brass plate are considered to be more satisfying due to the deep, low-pitched sound they produce compared to the higher-pitched sound of an aluminum plate.
The possibility of a brass plate tarnishing makes it slightly less convenient than an aluminum plate that requires no maintenance at all.
Even though tarnishing of the plate won’t have a large impact on your experience, it requires cleaning and maintaining now and then to ensure that it stays in top shape.
As this could be a dealbreaker for some, we feel that it’s worth mentioning as a key factor for choosing the right keyboard plate for yourself.
Due to its density, brass is much more durable than aluminum.
While the flexibility of aluminum makes it prone to damage, it’s pretty much impossible to damage a brass keyboard plate during regular usage.
If you would like to go with the safest option possible to ensure that your keyboard lasts a very long time, brass is the best choice.
While aluminum is the default choice for most keyboards due to its cheap price, a brass plate often comes with a price difference of $20-30 due to being a more expensive material.
Because of this, the option for a brass plate is often offered as an extra by the manufacturers.
Is Brass or Aluminum Better for Keyboard Plate?
As the choice between aluminum and brass keyboard plates comes down to personal preference, we can’t say that one is better than the other.
While brass being more expensive than aluminum can lead you to believe that it’s better, the reality is that both of these materials have advantages of their own.
The sole reason behind brass plates being more expensive is due to the manufacturing costs, so the price isn’t something that you should relate to quality.
The best way to find out whether aluminum plates or brass plates are better for you is to consider their strengths and weaknesses and see which one suits your style better.
Do Brass Keyboard Plates Oxidize?
Just like anything else that is made out of brass, keyboard plates can also oxidize.
This phenomenon is also known as tarnishing, primarily caused by exposure to the oxygen in the air. Because of this, the tarnishing of brass is often unavoidable. That being said, the amount of oxidation depends on the alloy used to produce the plate, with some alloys being more resistant to it.
Fortunately, tarnish is simply a layer that is formed on top of the brass and not something that directly damages your keyboard plate. When the proper steps are taken, the oxide layer can be cleaned off the plate without any permanent damage.
Despite not being the most known type of customization, experimenting with different keyboard plates can be very enjoyable and take your typing experience to new heights.
As the keyboard plate directly impacts both the feel and the sound of a keypress (which can be considered to be the most noticed features of a mechanical keyboard), we feel that plate customization is something every enthusiast should try at some point.
When it comes to picking between brass and aluminum, here is a quick recap:
- Brass – One of the densest keyboard plates, which makes it stiff and sturdy. As a result, keypresses with a brass plate produce a deep sound. Heavy typers may not enjoy the stiff feeling with no flexibility.
- Aluminum – The middle ground between dense and light plates, and also the most commonly used one. While the flexibility is appreciated, especially by heavy typers, the higher-pitched sound is often not the most satisfying.