There’s an air of mechanical keyboard snobbiness when the term gaming mechanical keyboard comes up. Have a look on r/mechanicalkeyboards and you’ll never see a Razer product make the front page. Same goes for Logitech, and Corsair.
None of this is to say that those manufacturers make bad keyboards. It’s just that history has shown previous products were not up to snuff when compared to enthusiast manufacturers at the same and lower prices.
However, one gaming manufacturer does make the front page and continues to get recommendations from the community. That manufacturer is Cooler Master and the keyboard was the Quick Fire Rapid. Now, it’s the Masterkeys Pro that grace the front page from time to time.
Today, however, I’m reviewing the next in succession to the Quick Fire Rapid, and that’s the Masterkeys Pro S RGB as well as the Masterkeys Pro L RGB. Building on an already solid base, Cooler Master has managed to release another TKL (Tenkeyless) mechanical keyboard that’s as refined as the Quick Fire Rapid. And, there’s improvements and added features as well.
A TKL mechanical keyboard has less keys than the conventional full size keyboard. The Masterkeys Pro S is a TKL keyboard and that means it’s missing the numpad. It’s the Masterkeys Pro L that is the full size keyboard.
This review combines the Masterkeys Pro L and the Masterkeys Pro S RGB models and will mention the few differences between the two.
|Heavy - 1090g (2.4lb)||Keys aren't programmable|
|Steel plate||Cable channeling only available on the Pro L|
|Rubberised plastic shell||Finger-print magnets|
|Painted ABS keycaps||ABS keycaps highlight any blemishes|
|Flip-out feet||ABS shining happens quite quickly|
|Rubber pads help prevent desk movement||No extra keycaps|
|Media keys||Software isn't Mac compatible|
|4 profiles to record macros and backlighting settings|
|1000Hz polling rate|
|1x/2x/3x/4x repeat rate|
|Standard bottom row|
|Braided 1.5m (4.9ft) USB cable|
|Software to program lighting|
So, why the praise for Cooler Master mechanical keyboards?
The Quick Fire Rapid was released years ago. It was a cheap TKL keyboard that was no frills but a solid mechanical keyboard offering. There were downsides, like a non-standard bottom row and average keycaps but it was the offering of genuine Cherry MX switches, as well as Costar stabilisers, that made the Quick Fire Rapid appealing.
At the time TKL options weren’t as vast as they are today. Ducky, Filco, WASD were some examples of manufacturers making numpadless mechanical keyboards. This meant the Quick Fire Rapid was a cheap TKL alternative.
It was only a matter of time for the Quick Fire series to eventually be succeeded by the Masterkeys Pro line of keyboards. The Range of Masterkeys Pro keyboards span backlit models, RGB models, and even PBT plastic models. There’s three sizes, the S (TKL), the M (no navigation cluster or arrow keys), and the L (full size), each catering to different needs.
Which Masterkeys Pro size is best for you depends on what your needs are. Full size keyboards are my least recommended option as I think they are a little over kill. The Masterkey Pro M and S models offer what a full size keyboard offers but require less desk space and help improve your ergonomic setup.
Consider the Masterkeys Pro S if you don’t need to crunch numbers that often or if you are heavily reliant on arrow keys. Sometimes toggling to gain access to arrow keys is not the right solution and that’s when the Pro M may fall short. The Pro M has the numpad that switches to a navigation cluster when Caps Lock is enabled.
The added benefit of the full size Masterkeys Pro L is the full functionality. On the underside of the keyboard is cable channeling, which does allow the cable to exit the keyboard from either the sides or the back of the keyboard. I wish this feature was on both of the smaller Masterkeys Pro M and Pro S keyboards.
Not just a gaming keyboard
Despite being bunched into the gaming mechanical keyboard category, the Masterkeys Pro line are very capable every day drivers. They’re not loud, with terrible font and over the top gaming features. Sure, the RGB LEDs can be a bit distracting but they can simply be turned off or set to a single backlit colour, (white is the most professional).
Cooler Master markets these keyboards to gamers and there’s nothing wrong with that. The Masterkeys Pro line has all the necessary gaming features like NKRO, 1ms response rate, and adjustable repeat rates. Keys can be backlit with different colours to correspond with your game of choice’s hotkeys, and that’s about the extent of the gaming aesthetic.
In fact, besides the Cooler Master Windows keys there’s not much about this keyboard that screams gaming mechanical keyboard. And that’s a good thing. This is a keyboard that will fit right in a professional setting but will also allow you to make those clutch plays when necessary.
Refined switches and more
I’ve been paired up with the Masterkeys Pro S for a week now. Having written a few thousand words on it as my daily driver I’ve been really impressed. There’s a few things in play that make the Masterkeys Pro keyboards excellent typing instrument.
Cooler Master have been using Cherry MX switches for years. Switches available range from reds -linear, browns – tactile, and blues – tactile, clicky. For interested first time mechanical keyboard purchasers I suggest getting brown switches. Me personally, I’m a fan of clicky switches, so blue and green switches are my preference.
Cherry MX switches are pretty much the mechanical keyboard standard. Sure there are other manufacturers in the same space, some being smoother and cheaper than Cherry MX but that doesn’t mean these are bad switches. Cherry MX switches don’t have the same amount of key wobble as other manufacturers due to their German manufacturing and quality control.
Solid build quality makes typing great
Switches aren’t the only contributor to what makes this such an enjoyable typing experience. While the outer shell is black, matte, plastic, underneath sits a heavy steel plate. This helps to add weight to the keyboard and ensures a stable, sturdy experience. Having a steel plate means the switches are mounted to it causing a solid typing sense.
The matte black rubberised case looks amazing and thanks to that steel plate there’s no flex to the keyboard. Flipping the Masterkeys Pro S reveals the rubber pads and flip-out feet. Connecting to the micro USB port is a lengthy 1.5m (4.9ft) braided USB cable.
Surprisingly the keycaps also help improve the typing experience. ABS keycaps are generally considered smooth. So, I found it surprising that my fingers were able to grip the keycaps more than usual ABS keycaps. They’re not the thickest nor are they textured as well as a GMK set but in comparison to my SA Ice Caps, they have a little bit more grip.
Plenty of RGB options
When a keyboard is released with an RGB model I expect there to be quite the range of RGB options. With more than a handful of modes readily available or at least a way to add or make more lighting modes. The Masterkeys Pro does not disappoint in this regard.
Out of the box toggling between modes will cycle between 11 lighting modes. Any mode that comes up white can have the colour changed by cycling through the RGB hues with Fn + F1 for Red saturation, F2 for Green, and F3 for blue. For example the Raindrop mode I have set to blue.
Visually the colours are beautiful with vibrant colour combinations. The brightness does illuminate your keyboard but isn’t too bright to hurt your eyes. Using the stock painted laser-etched keycaps lets the light shine through to give you front row seats to the desktop light show.
Those of you who grew up with Nokia mobile phones might be impressed with a throwback to mobile phone gaming. One of the stock lighting modes on the Masterkeys Pro is the game Snake. The green keys are the LEDs with the Red being the head and blue being the body.
Simple companion software
Installing the Masterkeys companion software opens up more RGB possibilities. Enabling different lighting options (eg the wave can go from top to bottom rather than the stock setting of left to right), changing lighting colours, changing profiles, and even adds more lighting modes. My favourite mode is the equalizer mode that reacts to the audio coming out of your audio device.
If that’s not enough, you can even create your own lighting modes with the SDK. Unleash your creativity by creating customised lighting modes for your keyboard. To install you these onto the Masterkeys Pro you will need the software.
When I first received the Masterkeys Pro S and L keyboards I tested them out first. I typed a few words before running a speed test. I do this with every keyboard I review just to ensure I will enjoy the next week of typing. Let’s say I added a few hours of usage before considering taking pictures. Then I looked down at the keyboard and noticed the matte black finish was covered in finger prints. Inspecting the keycaps I could see the oils from my fingers had caused the keycaps to shine as well.
Though these kinds of blemishes can be wiped off, it’ll only be a matter of time until the nice pristine finish will be covered again. Similarly with the keycaps, I was able to wipe off any trace of oils for me to take pictures but it’s something I don’t want to be doing every time I use my keyboard.
This also highlights the wear that the ABS keycaps will experience over time. ABS is known to soak the natural oils from your fingers and will begin to shine with use. Better quality ABS keycaps will wear at a slower pace but it’s evident that the Masterkeys Pro will shine relatively quickly.
It’s a good thing the layout follows standard key sizes as replacement keysets will be required if keycap shining doesn’t appeal to you. Similarly goes for the Cooler Master branded Windows keys, the only aesthetically bad part of this keyboard.
Wish programming was included
With a slogan like make it yours you’d expect the ability to change key assignment. That is to program a key to act like another key when pressed. Not all mechanical keyboards offer this feature but even a limited version can make the difference. Being able to program how each key interacts can make a keyboard.
Personally I like having Caps Lock swapped with Fn and then assigning WASD to be Fn shortcuts for the arrow keys. I like having volume keys on ZXC as everything is then operable with my left hand. Changing key assignment is a feature I like in my mechanical keyboards but it’s not something everyone will need.
What’s different when compared to the Quick Fire keyboards?
Comparing the Masterkeys Pro line of keyboards with the Quick Fire is like comparing the iPhone 8 with the iPhone 4. Sure, there’s plenty of improvements but these are all built on top of an already solid foundation. Some features have been omitted though.
Only the Masterkeys Pro L has cable routing while all the Quick Fire keyboards had this included. There was also the inclusion of extra keycaps and PS2 interface. Laser-etched keycaps were used and these weren’t great and neither was the branding all over the keyboard.
The Masterkeys Pro line is quite the improvement. Painted laser-etched ABS keycaps, RGB LEDs as well as software to customise, NKRO over USB, and an overall better looking aesthetic.
So, which keyboard to choose, the Quick Fire or Masterkeys? The Quick Fire line of keyboards have seen their days. Masterkeys are the way forward unless you’re still reliant on PS2 connectivity. A range of options exist in the Masterkey line. If you want to spend more for lighting you can have white LEDs which will cost you less than $100 USD. RGB LED models vary between $140 USD. If LEDs aren’t your thing then the PBT models, which replace the keycaps with PBT (the better keycap plastic), and cost less than $80 USD.
Should you buy the Masterkeys Pro RGB keyboards?
Those of you looking for your first mechanical keyboards should consider Cooler Master’s Masterkeys Pro keyboards. Even people just looking for a keyboard that isn’t a compact 60% should put serious thought into the Masterkeys Pro RGB keyboards.
Masterkeys Pros are great full size keyboards but even better smaller TKL and hybrid TKL keyboards. They’re without complexity and achieve their target of being a gaming keyboard that’s great for typing.
Price wise they’re competitive with other RGB manufacturers and most of the time will be easier to source due to distribution. And, depending on the season the Masterkeys Pro keyboards are sale inclusions from time to time.
My biggest concern would be the Cooler Master Windows keys but these can be swapped with the addition of a better keyset. A new keyset changes my major gripe with this keyboard and the fingerprints on the shell can easily be wiped.
Personally I recommend the Masterkeys Pro S over the Pro L with a caveat that the Pro M is good middle ground.
What’s next for my Masterkeys Pro S RGB?
I’m going to do some mods to the shell. Maybe hyrdo-dipping or a paint job. Stay tuned for that!
Last update on 2020-09-24 at 00:03 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API