One year after launching the try-at-home service, Milktooth's Kevin talks about experiences and trends in the mechanical switch scene.
Published August 27, 2023
Quick recap: what’s Milktooth?
Milktooth is a store that focuses on mechanical keyboard switches. In particular, we offer a try-before-you-buy service for switches, where you can try 10 at home for 5 days to find the best one for you.
What’s new over the course of a year
We’ve expanded product selection, lowered prices, and offer the best service.
To be more concrete, we’ve 10x’d product selection since last year. We have fan favorites like the Gazzew U4Ts, classics like the Cherry MX Blacks, glow in the dark switches like the Gateron Luciolas, and sleeper hits like the Sarokeys Strawberry Wines.
Moreover, we now have the best prices in the market and we offer free shipping on orders over $49. This leads to substantial savings for our customers when you shop for switches at Milktooth.
On the service front, our try-before-you-buy service is better than ever: you can try double the amount of switches during your try-at-home period than before. We offer free returns and exchanges because we want you to be happy with what you get. And we’ve improved the website UI. For example, we have a switch comparison page so you can easily compare and contrast a switch’s stats to see which one might be the best for you. We also have filters for things like sound signature and weight so you don’t have to sift through all the options on our site.
I think one surprise we had around winter of last year was people ordering multiple try-at-home kits simultaneously. While I knew trying 5 types of switches at home for $10 is a pretty good value prop, but ordering 2, 3, sometimes even 4 kits? In other words, 40 dollars just to try stuff…
Eventually, I realized that 5 switches to try really wasn’t enough. So we went back to the drawing board. We redesigned switch testers: instead of rows of 8 switches, we made them rows of 4 switches, since 4 was enough to get a good sense of how switches felt (you can run 4 fingers each row). And then we were able to double the variety of each try-at-home box to 10 switches.
And while a few people today still order two kits at once, this number is much less than before. So we were happy to make the program more efficient and bring more cost savings to our end users.
Awesome postcards from our customers who are endowed with great artistic ability:
Getting started with switches
Let’s say you’re not really familiar with switches. With so many switches on the market today, where should you begin?
I’d go on Milktooth and check the “Bestsellers” filter. These switches are try-at-home favorites. Examining those options is a good place to start your research.
Of course, we have more filters on the site. So if you want a really heavy switch, just tick the box for that. If you want a lower-pitched switch, check off the descriptor boxes for “Bassy” or “Low-pitched”.
In terms of more resources, the Milktooth Discord can be a good place to start. I’m always happy to give personalized recommendations and so are the others in the group. But with so many people in the hobby nowadays, I’m sure you can find other communities to consult as well.
Try-at-home model: does it work?
The try-at-home model has been successful both for our customers and for us at Milktooth. After people have tried out the program and have purchased switches from us, whenever they are looking to buy another set of switches, they almost always do another try-at-home. So we have healthy repeat usage.
In fact, we’re seeing another vendor, CannonKeys, offer something like our program for their keycap sets.
Keyboards are a super tactile hobby and things like our try-at-home program make the typing experience tangible in a way sound tests or text posts can’t.
“rj” from our Discord community puts it this way:
Another way of concretizing the usefulness of the try-at-home program for users is that many users come in with ideas of what they might like and dislike. Frequently, they are influenced by hype.
But sometimes, after they try switches themselves, they do a complete 180. Customers might come in expecting to find their perfect, intensely tactile switch and end up purchasing an ultra-smooth linear switch instead.
At Milktooth, the choice of tested switches may be influenced by hype, but then the switches people actually choose to buy is much more of a conscious and objective decision.
Changes in the switches market
Most recently we’re seeing a revival in tactile switches. It seemed for the last year and a half we’ve been really really bullish on linear switches but that has calmed down a little bit. Options like the Gateron Baby Kangaroos, which are resonant, marbly, and high-pitched with a snappy tactility, have been fan favorites.
We’re also seeing switches experimenting with more materials. The best example I have of these are the Durock Sea Glass switches: they’re these multicolored switches with light poles for enhanced RGB. They have this really wispy feel to them due to their polymer nylon and UHMWPE blend (what a mouthful) housings and P3+ stem.
I also think we’re getting to a point where people don’t really have to mod switches anymore. I personally no longer lube and film switches. The responsibility should be up to the manufacturer to create great products out of the box. But information is always going to lag. Posts and videos from years ago describing the necessity of lubing and filming switches will continue to have sway on people. (Hint hint: the try-at-home program will get you up to speed in no time.)
But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The keyboard hobby should retain its DIY roots. I still want manufacturers to create products that we can open up and tinker with. Hobbyists really push the frontier in terms of what could be done with switches. Factory lubing is mainstream today – all manufacturers do it now. But it wasn’t always this commonplace. Factory lubing only trickled down from the community who found it to be a game-changer. This is why modders of the community are so important!
One thing we ended up doing which wasn’t planned was starting a YouTube channel.
One video in particular I’m pretty happy with is “The Problem with Keyboard Switches,” which outlined how switches were in my opinion much less technological than most would think.
I think the hallmark of a successful YouTube video is not likes or views, but rather productive discussions in the comments. In this regard, this video has been my most successful.
I’ll also take the chance here to respond to the most common rebuttal, which is that switches are a technology, it’s just one that doesn’t progress at much.
I certainly can’t disagree with the dictionary definition of technology. Certainly, a wheel is a piece of technology just as an Nvidia GPU is. It’s true, but it’s like saying water is wet. Rather, my point is switches are much less technological than we think.
As an example, vinyl is certainly a piece of technology. The existence of MP3s and Spotify certainly doesn’t make vinyl not a technology. But it would be strange to justify being a vinyl enthusiast on technological grounds.
Similarly, what makes a switch better is certainly not a given material nor a spring weight. I’ve seen people use friction coefficients to justify how certain linear switches are so much better than others. Or for tactile switches, many think that the bigger the bump, the better.
These assertions could be true. If smoothness is what you care about first and foremost, great. If hypertactility is what you care about first and foremost, great. But we can’t assume they’re true for everybody.
When something’s a pure technology you can expect a one-size-fits-all answer. A faster computer chip, all things equal, is always better than a slower one. A more tactile keyboard switch, all things equal, is not always better than a less tactile one. Basically, my argument is just rephrasing of the oft-repeated adage in the keyboard hobby: preference is king.
I encourage you guys to watch the video and read the comments. Of course, I’m biased towards my view, but I think everybody should at least think about the question a bit because it should impact how you make your purchasing decisions.
To be clear there’s still a lot to do. But we’ll continue to have selection, prices, and service as our North Stars.
For example, on the service front, we’re trying to get user reviews for switches up on our site. You might think: customer reviews are a no-brainer feature. Indeed, reviews can really help drive the most informed purchase decisions possible for our customers.
That said, since switches are so subjective, it ends up being a little more tricky. As an example, high tactility for some may be a great thing, for others not so much. It really depends on your preferences. So we’re trying to figure out the best way to design our reviews system and that requires more deliberation.
Running Milktooth has been very rewarding. I feel a little bit like a gardener.
Growing my store reminds me of planting a small seed and watching it grow. Just like watering and caring for a plant, I'm putting in the effort now, hoping it'll stand strong on its own in the future. My goal is simple: as it grows, I want it to be known for great service, a wide product selection, and the best prices.
Published on Sun 27th Aug 2023. Featured in KBD #202308.