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DaringRun DR-70F review

The DR-70F by DaringRun is a great and affordable 70+5% keyboard at the same time – with an XT-style F column and clever two-in-one layout configuration à la TENET70.

KBD.news
Published January 15, 2024
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TLDR;

Update 2024/01/23: Available at Divinikey (US) or DaringRun (CN).

The DR-70F, brought to you by DaringRun (a sub-brand of Wind Studio), is a splendid 70+5% keyboard with clever two-in-one layout configuration (via rearrangeable PCB and plate parts). The board, inspired by the TENET70, looks classy, is very well built and relatively affordable at the same time: you can get the barebone kit for $139 (wired) or $159 (Bluetooth). Its main feature is the F column on the left side – or on the right, if you choose the southpawish configuration.

Pic: DR-70F colors

DR-70F colors

Disclaimer

I received this sample from the DaringRun team with the help of Divinikey's Carl. (Thank you guys!) Divinikey has been selected by Wind Studio to run the DR-70F and they were looking for reviewers for this project.

Pic: DR-70F on a zuiver.one handyman deskmat

DR-70F on a zuiver.one handyman deskmat

To make it clear, I'm not paid to write about this product, but as always, receiving a free sample may introduce all kind of bias (both negative and positive in my experience) – keep this in mind while reading this review!

Hello everyone, we are DaringRun, a sub-brand from wind studio, aiming to provide you with high-quality and affordable customized keyboards. Today, we bring you a new keyboard: DR-70F.

Content

I received the black wired version, with an extra full plate, which is not part of the bundle. Other than that, the foam pack coming with this sample is not the final set.

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First impressions

I don't even deserve this board. Instant classic.

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The unique footprint of the board (aspect ratio – is that the proper word in case of a keyboard layout?) makes this board stand out, and reminds me of famous predecessors from my vintage collection – but in a much more modern and clean design language.

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I haven't expected such a nice carry case with a sturdy grip.

Pic: Carry case with DaringRun logo

Carry case with DaringRun logo

Layout

Well, 70% is ambiguous, FRL 70% is more specific, but let's call this one FRL TKL XT: No top F-row, no numpad, but (moveable) arrow and navigation cluster – plus 5 function keys on the flank.

Since the plate/PCB is designed in a way to allow the three areas (main, arrow and function area) to be moved around, you can build the DR-70F in two layout configurations.

Pic: DR-70F layout

DR-70F layout

The arrow area and function area can be swapped, resulting in a more classic or southpawish arrangement – one keyboard, two layouts.

Apparently, the design team behind the DR-70F appreciated the TENET70 by Metakey. By their own account, they have "been lucky to have it for a while", but since they usually need to use the F area, the studio's first keyboard reflects this combination of practicality. The result: the first such 70%+5% keyboard on the market. (Sort of.)

Pic: DR-70F vs its grandparents

DR-70F vs its grandparents

While the hallmark F-column may seem to be pretty unique and original among contemporary models, the arrangement is similar to that of some early pre-standard keyboards of the '80s, e.g. the IBM Model F XT keyboards, Siemens T4000, my Datacoops and other terminal keyboards – a dozen old bones in my collection.

Specifications

  • Layout: 70%+5% (No F area, no numpad, full arrow and navigation cluster, 5 function keys on the other side)
  • Switches: MX, hotswap, south facing
  • Size: 401.9 x 116.2 x 32.4 mm
  • Weight: 1,171 g (case), 1,591 g (my fully build setup)
  • Typing angle: 7°
  • Material: 6063 alu
  • Color: anodized black, creamy white, silver, red
  • Structure: PCB gasket mount or sandwich mount (extra sandwich mount plate)
  • Gasket mount plate: 1.5mm PC, three split parts
  • Sandwich mount plate: 1.5 mm alu, anodized gold
  • PCB: 1.6 mm (bluetooth version includes 6400 mAh battery)
  • Split main area, arrow area, function area
  • Protrusion TYPE C design
  • Price: $139 (wired), $159 (Bluetooth)

Other features

One apparent feature, breaking the clean top surface, is the LED decoration part above the arrows – illuminated by LEDs on the PCB, easily customizable, and serving also as Caps Lock indicator light.

Pic: DR-70F LED strip, Zuiver.one Coral deskmat

DR-70F LED strip, Zuiver.one Coral deskmat

In the original announcement there was another exciting feature, a rarely seen material on keyboards: leather. The uniquely shaped center weight had a classy calf leather cover, making the board pretty unique, however, it has been replaced due to some concerns and initial user feedback. (I personally would have loved it.) Some tiny leather parts with the DaringRun logo made it to the carry case.

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Nevertheless, the final weight is not less impressive:

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Appearance

As already mentioned, compared with traditional 70% layouts, the additional offset column with the five function keys makes the keyboard more slender and balanced in my opinion. If you're a numbers person: 401.9 mm width, 116.2 mm depth, front height 19.5 mm and back height 32.4 mm.

Visually, the case is very clean, there's only the light-transmitting decoration piece, designed in the center of the upper area of the arrow keys, which breaks the simplicity.

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Compared with the flat visual sense of the front, the layering can be seen through the side. "The contrasting color waistline design highlights the sense of layering while avoiding bloat."

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The TYPE C interface is hidden in the weight, and the protruding shape is convenient for plugging and unplugging the USB-C cable, which not only takes into account the aesthetics, but also improves the practicality.

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There are three slots cut in the bottom case to help with the sound profile. Of course, you may have different sound preferences so this part can be blocked with foam. All in all, you have one more customization option.

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Build quality

Impeccable. I can't discover any visible flaws (sorry for my fingerprints).

Slightly related to quality, the case (with the vanity plate and screws) weighs about 1,171 g. The weight of my fully built DR-70F is 1,591 g (gasket, PC plate, double-shot Tai-Haos, Gat Luciolas).

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Structure

I got both plate sets so was able to test both the sandwich mount and PCB gasket mount versions. (You can purchase the sandwich full plate separately.)

Gasket mount

The PCB gasket mount version makes use of silicone gaskets put on the PCB, making installation and removal easy and convenient.

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In this case you use a separate (alu, anodized gold) middle frame part and a three-piece PC plate – this, and the snap-off PCB, allows for the arrow and F cluster to be moved around if you prefer the southpaw arrangement.

Sandwich mount

For the sandwich mount build there's a whole plate (alu, anodized gold) sandwiched between the top and bottom case to better suppress vibration.

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There's also some silicone (4 small pieces) in the middle frame part in this case (both gasket and sandwich mount version) in four holes, basically making it easier to position the plate.

PCB

The 1.6 mm PCB, without any flex cuts, comes in nice matte black color with some white silk screen here and there.

Pic: Mousebites and snap-off PCB part

Mousebites and snap-off PCB part

There are two PCBs available: wired and bluetooth. ANSI and ISO, stepped capslock support, MX hotswap sockets, south facing switches.

2 mm space from hot-swap sockets to bottom. The interior space is quite compact, reducing the cavity to avoid unwanted sound. I wasn't able to test the final foam set.

Wireless

I have the wired version, but based on the documentation, the battery connector is connected to the TYPE C daughterboard (in the center weight) ensuring easy installation and removal.

Two battery compartments allowing for a capacity of 6400mAh.

Firmware

The wired PCB supports VIA and VIAL, you can use VIAL without downloading any firmware (tested).

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The color, animation, etc. of the LED decoration piece can be easily set up here too.

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Building process

I received the wired version and went with building the more standard orientation (first).

The building process is pretty straightforward. I started when there was no build guide available yet, and it shouldn't be a problem for you either. I had to stop to check one thing though: the orientation of the gaskets. At the time of writing this, the illustrations of the build guide don't really help with this, so here are some close-ups with the proper gasket orientation for you:

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That said, this build ended up as a real community effort. :D Realizing I've been into small 40% all-1u splits since 2018, and I don't even have a proper keycap set which would fit this layout or switches of the same kind which would be enough for a 75% keyboard, was embarrassing to say the least. ;) More on this in my editorial.

Pic: Dryfitting parts

Dryfitting parts

Pic: Thanks for helping me out zuiver.one and Coffeekeys

Thanks for helping me out zuiver.one and Coffeekeys

Pic: Featuring my last kbd.news alu cap (metalkeyboards.no)

Featuring my last kbd.news alu cap (metalkeyboards.no)

Changing layouts

Thanks to the split PCB/plate structure, you can easily change between the two layouts. The three PCB parts are connected with ribbon cables, so all you need to do is: unscrewing and rotating the top case, rearranging the plate parts, snapping off, rearranging and replugging the PCB areas, and… That's it. You can select the appropriate layout in VIAL.

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LED strip

The LED indicator looks like it's some kind of feedback indicating a value around 40-45%. Well, no. This is a design element: while the 13 LEDs on the PCB stretch across the full span, there's this top cover piece which masks it at this fixed width.

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You can customize the color and animation of the LEDs in VIAL.

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You could try to remove the mask piece for full-width effects, below it there's an opal PC diffuser.

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Possible issues

No problem with the board itself whatsoever. If I want to nitpicking here, some minor issues with this sample package and documentation at the time of writing this post:

  • Guide: illustrations could be larger. You will skip a lot of steps of the assembly process simply because many parts come preassembled – this can be confusing for inexperienced builders who try to follow the guide step by step.
  • Offset sewing of the leather pieces inside the carry case. One small imperfection of an otherwise perfect keyboard.
  • Keycap compatibility? Well, not incompatibility, but obviously, choosing the appropriate profile for the F column may be not straightforward. If you use vanilla F-row caps, the profile will be inconsistent compared to the rest of the keyboard.
  • If dust particles and fingerprints drive you crazy, don't choose the black one. :D

Conclusion

The DR-70F is by far the highest-end board in my collection. If you prefer these more classic layouts (I mean standard staggering) and can live without a full function row, I can only recommend it to your attention: especially for the unbelievable price.

Availability

If you like the DR-70F, check out the DaringRun store or regional vendors. While it's not available at the time of posting this review, I was told the release is expected at the end of January:

Resources

Products in the photos

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Published on Mon 15th Jan 2024. Featured in KBD #151.


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