Custom Keyboard Spotlight: The Zephyr 65% Keyboard

By Ryan Whitwam

An expensive but amazing custom keyboard.

You're probably used to hearing about some pretty eye-watering prices in the custom mechanical keyboard scene. Something non-enthusiasts take for granted like keycaps can cost $200 when you want the best. The boards themselves can be even costlier. There are some entry level custom keyboards that don't break the bank, but the Zephyr is definitely not one of those. The most recent group buy round has started shipping, and it's a thing to behold. This keyboard spares no expense, which makes it a fantastic piece of equipment.

The Zephyr is a 65% keyboard kit. That means you just get the PCB, switch plate, stabilizers, and a case. You can use any MX-compatible switches of your choice, and at the end you'll have a 65% keyboard. A 65% keyboard has all the usual alphas and modifiers. However, there's no dedicated F-row or a number pad. You get arrows on the lower right, along with an extra column of keys above that. This layout is, in my opinion, the perfect balance of functionality and compactness.

This is one of the most expensive keyboard kits currently in production with a price tag in the neighborhood of $600. Suffice it to say, this is only for the most committed and picky enthusiasts. The Zephyr justifies that price in several ways, starting with the build quality. The Zephyr is without a doubt the most solid, impressive mechanical keyboard I've ever used.

Most of the case is milled aluminum, consisting of top and bottom sections that connect with a dozen hex screws. The anodizing on the aluminum is perfect, and it's got some serious heft. The plate is PVD-coated brass, and it's a whopping 5mm thick. Look in the above pic—those switches are all the way into the plate. This gives the Zephyr and incredibly solid feeling, like typing on a solid block of metal. There's also a brass weight that screws into the bottom. With all that aluminum and brass, the Zephyr weighs about six pounds.

My Zephyr is midnight blue with the GMK Nautilus keycap set, which is sold separately. These keys just happen to match the anodizing perfectly.

The Zephyr also has one of the most advanced PCBs available right now. It has USB Type-C, per-switch RGB LEDs, and the powerful QMK firmware. Unlike some other popular boards in recent years, it's not hot-swappable. Thus, you need to solder your switches to the PCB. Because of the thick plate, the PCB nestles up right below to contribute to the solid feeling.

With QMK, you can program the keys on the Zephyr to do anything you want, and function layers give you access to even more features. QMK also controls the LEDs, and they don't require any additional soldering—they're SMD components on the PCB. That means you'll need switches with at least partially transparent housings to see the light shine through.

With the current round of Zephyrs going out, a new round could be around the corner. There will also be unbuilt kits for sale on forums like /r/mechmarket if you can't wait.