Sound tests are commonly used by those shopping for switches. But, it is frequently repeated that sound tests are not representative of real-life results.
Our relationship between sound tests should be the same as Odysseus' with the Sirens: one of caution, lest the sound tests deceive us...
That is the Island of the Sirens. Circe warned me to steer clear of it, for the Sirens are beautiful but deadly.
Below, we explore 7 possible reasons why sound tests may be leading you astray. In the conclusion, we’ll discuss a better way to find a switch whose sound you’ll love.
The keyboard the switches are installed in greatly affects the sound. Switches express themselves differently on different keyboards.
For example, heavier boards will absorb more sound and give switches a deeper sound. If you have a lighter keyboard, you might be disappointed with the same switches’ sound profile when used in your board.
How hard or how soft you type affects switches’ sound signature.
This one is pretty easy to test yourself. Type as soft as you can and type as hard as you can on a keyboard. Sounds different, right?
Taking this into account, what a switch sounds like in different sound tests is closer to a spectrum as opposed to a single point.
The setting where the sound test was recorded similarly affects sound signature and acoustics.
Some settings are more suited for sound tests. A room that has acoustic treatment will sound more neutral than one done elsewhere.
Microphone choice is a particularly powerful example of the sound variation that sound tests can have, even when everything else is kept constant.
Just changing the microphone used to record sound tests can make a world of difference.
Below is a timestamped demonstration of how just changing the microphone can yield totally different results.
Everything about the video is kept the same—except for the microphones. 3ildcat alternates between a Rode microphone and a Shure microphone. And what a difference in sound that makes!
The audio in sound tests is usually edited to make it sound more desirable.
This is the equivalent is applying an Instagram filter to photos. Editing creates a more desirable video at the cost of being realistic.
What you listen to sound tests with will affect what you hear.
We find that this point is most mitigable. You’re best off listening to sound tests with headphones than through your phone speakers, for example.
This final point is more psychological. The production quality of a video, how expensive a keyboard is, or the fame of the specific YouTuber can make a huge difference in what you hear.
Let’s take these Cherry MX Browns as an example. When they are put into a premium board in a well-produced video, they sound sublime—fantastic for just “stock MX Browns.”
On the other hand, if the sound test was taken using an AliExpress keyboard—also with “stock MX Browns”—you’d be thinking quite differently of the same switches.
Such biases make sound tests sneakily pernicious.
Ultimately, the disparity between sound tests and reality is not dissimilar the difference between seeing what models wear and what they look on you. Caveat emptor.
For these reasons, we suggest moving away from sound tests after getting a basic sense of what a switch sounds like.
Unfortunately, the technology is not there to make sound tests “realistic.” If that were the case, we’d be on our way to filming “objective” sound tests. (We still film sound tests and feature them on our switch pages because we think they’re helpful to a first approximation)
Instead, when researching switches, we think you should type on and listen to switches in person. This way, you get the most realistic idea of what a switch sounds like. Letting users truly get to know switches before buying them is one reason we created our try at-home program for switches.
To try switches before buying them, take Milktooth’s switch quiz and discover the best ones for you.