Disclaimer, I’m not reviewing the food, this article is a review of the HHKB Tofu and WKL Tofu, custom keyboard kits made by KBDFans.
When KBDFans first released their original Tofu 60% case, I was… underwhelmed. Its design, which is a blatant copy of the Klippe by Mekanisk, is just plain boring. It is literally just a slanted box. The best compliment I can give the Tofu’s design is that it is inoffensive – another way of saying boring. While I can’t be too harsh on 60% tray-mount case designs, the fact that KBDFans have released more visually interesting and unique 60% cases like the TINA and 5° shows that Wei, the man behind KBDFans, could have done a little more for the Tofu than just copy another already boring board.
What I can’t deny about the Tofu is its value for money. KBDFans has produced an in-stock aluminium 60% case that comes in many beautiful colours and has generally good quality-control, all for $88! For comparison, Mekanisk’s Klippe, the Tofu’s design “inspiration”, cost $169 during its group-buy. While I’m not saying the Tofu is of equal quality to other pricier custom 60% tray-mount cases, the price difference is staggering no matter how you look at it.
So, when KBDFans released the HHKB and WKL variants of the Tofu with integrated plates (which I will refer to as IP Tofus), I figured I should give them another chance. Will a slightly reworked design, new mounting style and hot-swap PCB change my mind about this budget board? Let’s find out.
Both IP Tofu’s retain the original’s Klippe-esque shape, with sharp, boxy corners, flat sides and a 7° typing angle. The main differences between the original Tofu and these new variants are the addition of a thin, bar-shaped brass weight at the back and a seam separating the case-top/integrated plate and case-bottom.
While the brass bar doesn’t add any noticeable weight to the board, it does add some much needed visual interest. The combination of a shiny gold brass weight and black anodisation on my WKL Tofu looks especially classy, definitely a fantastic addition. It also serves to block one of the two USB-C ports on the back.
Normally, I would criticise designs that do not bother trying to hide seams and simply display them as is. I find that they are usually an eyesore, and feel all designers should aim to eliminate or at least attempt to mask them. The new IP Tofus are surprising exceptions to this opinion.
The middle seam on the IP Tofus is unlike most others I’ve seen. While most designers aim for their seams to be as flush as possible, minimising their visual prominence, the seam on the Tofu is bevelled, making it stand out. This adds just enough visual interest to make the board look less boring overall.
Something that has always been good on KBDFans’ boards is their anodisation, and this is no exception. Both my black WKL Tofu and grey HHKB tofu have very even, consistent anodizing that is smooth to the touch. The colour matching of the top and bottom case is perfect, and both units are free from any external scuffs or marks. Very impressive!
Plate, Typing Feel and Acoustics
Wei decided to go with an integrated plate for the new Tofu variants, and I find this their biggest weakness. This board suffers from poor acoustics and wobbly switches, definitely the fault of the integrated plate.
Let’s begin with the sound. In short, it’s bad. The IP Tofus sound hollow and full of reverb when you bottom out on them. Some kind of sound dampening solution like lining it with foam or Sorbothane is necessary if you intend to use this board on a daily basis, or else the sound will drive you insane.
Another thing to note is the switch cutouts are not cut particularly well. They are a little too loose to keep switches firmly in place, and because they are loose, you might have to do some fiddling to get all your switches properly aligned and straight.
Moving on to the feel, the integrated plate makes the bottom out feel harsher than most other keyboards out in the market. If you prefer a harder, harsher feel to your boards, you will probably enjoy typing on the IP Tofus. I also think that the 7° angle is perfect, it matches row 3 cherry profile keycaps and is a comfortable angle to type on for extended periods of time.
Both variants use the KBD6X PCB with Kailh hot-swap sockets pre-soldered on. It uses USB-C and has 2 USB-C ports on either side of the board, making tabletop cable management a lot easier. Sadly, this particular 6X PCB does not support USB-C to USB-C connections. Strange, considering previous revisions did.
Design wise, it seems free from any glaring issues. No screw holes are placed next to any circuits, so you don’t have to worry about shorts; cutouts for switch legs could have been more precise, but that is nitpicking; and it comes in white, which is a cool colour. Of course, as a hot-swap PCB, it only supports a single, fixed layout, so keep that in mind before deciding to buy.
The PCB also supports QMK, meaning you can easily program it to your heart’s desire without having to navigate the hellhole that is proprietary firmware cough o2d cough Jigon cough.
If you intend to buy one as your daily driver, I feel spending a little more money for a higher quality keyboard would be a better decision. As elitist as this sounds, the improvements that more expensive kits offer (better plate mounting systems, customisable layouts, more exotic case and plate materials, weight, etc.) will matter a lot in the long run, especially if you intend to build a board that you will be using daily.
As for myself, I have made my Tofus switch testers. They won’t be replacing any of my boards on my desk, but anytime I want to try or break in new switches, I take it out. To me, this is the best use of the IP Tofus, a well-made board that I can conveniently try out new switches on in a realistic setting rather than as a loose switch.
Though, it must be said that for the large majority of people, the IP Tofus are fantastic boards that are perfectly fine for daily use. If you are looking for an affordable, high-quality 60% with HHKB or WKL-styled blockers, get the IP Tofus. KBDFans are absolutely killing the game and I will be looking forward to the day where they introduce keyboard kits with high-end features for affordable prices. Until then, I will be sticking to my other customs.