The best mechanical keyboards tend to come in one of a few standard layouts: full-size, tenkeyless (TKL), and 65 or 60 percent. But now that the mechanical keyboard hobby is growing, companies are starting to experiment with different sizes.
Epomaker’s new TH96, for example, is a 96 percent keyboard – 96 percent keyboards omit some of the side navigation keys and group keys that are closer together to give you something that’s more space efficient than, but has most of the features ( and keys) retains ) a full-size keyboard. Just launched on Kickstarter, the TH96 is a gasket-mounted mechanical keyboard with a media button, hot-swappable circuit board, PBT keycaps, and other enthusiast features.
The Epomaker TH96 is available in both wired and wireless (Bluetooth, 2.4GHz wireless) versions, but – disappointingly – the wired version supports QMK/VIA firmware/software, while the wireless version doesn’t, relying instead on the Epomaker’s own driver that… doesn’t work.
We tested the wireless version, which will retail for $149, while the wired version will retail for $179. The TH96 just launched on Kickstarter with limited super early bird prices of $119 (wireless) and $159 (wired) and limited early bird prices of $129 (wireless) and $169 (wired), and once those are out, so will the wireless Version sells a special Kickstarter price of $139 – but I’m not sure if it’s worth the price.
Epomaker TH96 specifications
|Switch||Epomaker Flamingo or Epomaker Budgie|
|lighting||Adjustable up to 19 settings|
|media keys||yes, with button|
|connectivity||USB Type-C to Type-A|
|Cable||5 feet, braided|
|Additional ports||N / A|
|keycaps||Thermally sublimated PBT|
Design by Epomaker TH96
The Epomaker TH96 is a 96 percent seal-mounted mechanical keyboard, but — unlike most boards in this form factor — it has a media button. Media buttons, or knobs, have appeared on almost all recent mechanical keyboard versions.
I usually love having a media button on my keyboard, but on the TH96 it feels kind of uncreative. It’s also just way too big – especially considering the slightly unusual 96 percent layout is essentially a squashed full-size keyboard (lacking a few navigation keys) and can always use a little more real estate.
The board’s exterior lacks creativity overall – it looks like a stretched version of the 65 percent Epomaker TM680. It is not uglybut the big media button kinda ruins the aesthetic.
In terms of construction, the Epomaker TH96 is pretty solid. The case is made of thick plastic and the switch plate is made of steel. I’m a big fan of the plastic case – it offers a deeper sound profile and less ping. I didn’t like the steel plate, on the other hand; it’s just too heavy for a gasket mounted board.
Speaking of gasket mounts, this board uses a much better gasket mount implementation than the Epomaker Lite (which was essentially just a modified tray mount). The TH96 uses poron foam, which is great because the poron is easy to compress and squeeze. However, due to the amount of sound deadening materials Epomaker put into this board, there was no compression.
The Epomaker TH96 is stuffed with a sound absorbing “cookie pad” between the board and the board and also has a thick silicon pad under the board. Oh, there’s also more sound-absorbing material under the spacebar’s keycap – which is weird, but at least it’s easy to remove. It’s worth noting that the board features south-facing RGB LEDs, so you won’t have spacing issues with Cherry profile keycaps.
This board does have RGB, but like most of the Epomaker boards we’ve tested, there’s no easy way to customize it on a button basis due to the buggy software. However, if you choose to purchase the wired-only version of this board, you will have access to the open source QMK/VIA firmware/software, which is great for customizing and remapping your keyboard. If you want to customize your keyboard, don’t get the wireless version – that’s the test model I received – as the wireless version doesn’t support QMK/VIA, even when connected via USB-C.
On a positive note, the switches on the Epomaker TH96 are awesome. Called the Epomaker Flamingo (not to be confused with Momoka Flamingo), the switches feature a POM stem and polycarbonate body, and are featherweight at 35g. Personally, I found the springs to be too light for my liking, but the switches feel incredibly smooth with the standard factory lube. If you don’t like linear switches, you can also order the TH96 with Epomaker’s tactile budgie switches.
Epomaker boards have always impressed me with their stabilizers and how they lack rattling after greasing – most stabilizers require extensive modding, but for best performance Epomaker stabilizers usually require dipping the wires in dielectric grease. Unfortunately, that was not the case with the TH96. Despite its translucent yellow casing, the engravings on this keyboard weren’t impressive at all – and they arrived bone dry. I heard a lot of rattling even after lubricating them.
The Epomaker TH96 has “heat sublimated” PBT keycaps with MDA profile and I really enjoyed them a lot. I had never heard of the MDA profile prior to this review, but the keycaps look similar to the XDA profile: flat but slightly concave. Unfortunately, the colors Epomaker used for this set are atrocious. I don’t mind white and gray, but adding mustard yellow into the mix made this keyboard look – let’s just say it’s definitely not the aesthetic for me. Additionally, the arrow keys are gray with gray-blue alphas, which is so random and out of place.
Below the TH96 you’ll find its 2.4GHz wireless dongle (if it’s wireless) as well as flip-up feet.
Writing experience on the Epomaker TH96
Many mechanical keyboard lovers laugh at full-size keyboards because — if you’re not typing data, who needs a number pad? Well, I love number pads – they come in handy for any kind of numeric input, and using the number array is awkward to input more than a few numbers.
The Epomaker TH96 is a 96 percent keyboard, so it makes some sacrifices to cram a number pad into a smaller than full-size form factor. The zero on the number pad is only one unit (1u), which takes some getting used to. I took the keyboard to work one day and actually do a lot of data entry – and I often found myself missing the zero key and hitting the right arrow key instead. I eventually got used to the 1u zero button, but it took a while.
As I mentioned earlier, the switches on this board are impressive. While I would prefer heavier springs, I’m happy to report that the lighter springs on the Flamingo switches haven’t resulted in many typos.
The switches are top-notch, but the stabilizers aren’t – again, I usually love Epomaker’s stabilizers, so I was definitely surprised. Despite the stabilizers’ pretty translucent yellow cases, because of the ticking, I wish Epomaker had just used his regular black and white stabs. There’s a lot you can do to tune your stabilizers, but it’s nice when you don’t have to.
Typing on the TH96 felt pretty good overall, but it wasn’t as good as it could be. The amount of cushioning material inside the board eliminated any bounce when I hit the ground and the stabilizers looked better than they performed. However, I felt the opposite with the keycaps – while I didn’t like the way they looked, I enjoyed typing on them. And you already know how I feel about the switches, but it’s worth repeating: these switches rock. They are stock smooth and require no greasing, which is a nice thing since greasing switches is a hassle. The only change I would make is swapping out the spring because I like a bit more actuation.
Gaming experience on the Epomaker TH96
Most PC gamers swear by either Cherry MX Red switches or Cherry MX Brown switches. Both switches are lightweight at 45g, but the red switches are linear and the brown switches are tactile. If you like Cherry MX Red switches, the TH96’s Flamingo switches have a similar feel – but are 10g lighter and much smoother.
My brother has been talking about how much fun Doom Eternal is – I’ve never been a huge fan, but the game has a lot of quick weapon swaps and grappling so I figured it would be good for testing switches. I actually enjoyed the game a lot more thanks to the light weight of the Flamingo switches (previously I’d only played Doom Eternal once or twice with a keyboard that had tactile switches). Doom Eternal also notoriously has a gnarly soundtrack, and the TH96’s oversized media knob allowed me to make quick volume adjustments.
Software for Epomaker TH96
The TH96 comes in both wired and wireless versions, and my review unit was the wireless version. The wireless version only supports Epomaker’s software/drivers, which I couldn’t get to work no matter what I tried. Every time I booted up the software, it gave me a message that said “searching for device”… indefinitely – at no time was it able to recognize the keyboard. That was definitely disappointing – I just don’t understand why Epomaker can’t figure out their software issues at this point.
The wired version of the TH96 supports QMK/VIA, open source firmware/software programs that work very well. But the wireless version doesn’t do this even when plugged in. Why bother going wireless when you can’t remap anything?
The Epomaker TH96 is a nice mechanical keyboard in one of the rarer form factors, but other than that it’s not particularly notable. I appreciate Epomaker’s efforts to implement a south facing RGB PCB that supports QMK/VIA, but this needs to be present in the wireless version as well. The switches are phenomenal and could be the perfect linear switch for someone who wants ultra-light actuation force.
Ultimately, Epomaker needs some serious work on its software – the wired version of the TH96 gets QMK/VIA support, and it makes the wireless version feel like chopped liver. The wired version is worth a look if you like smooth linear switches and the layout appeals to you, but you can find better wireless options on our list of the best gaming keyboards.