Duck Raven: The poor man’s (k)ustom.

This is a review of the Duck Raven (and by extension the Duck Sidewinder), an in-stock custom keyboard kit by Korean designer, Duck.

Entering the realm of Korean custom keyboards no longer needs a minimum of $500+, your arm and leg, right kidney, and half your natural lifespan spent waiting. Legendary keyboard maker Duck has decided to stock a $260 tray-mount 60% kit on primekb.com, the Duck Raven (and Sidewinder). While the thought of spending that much money on a tray-mount keyboard might put some people off, make no mistake, the Raven is a fantastic product well worth its price-tag. In fact, I liked it so much I decided to get two of them.

Background

Tray-mounting is the most basic and common plate mounting style for 60% keyboards. Unsurprisingly, it is also the cheapest to manufacture and arguably the worst feeling and sounding out of all the mounting styles. The two most common issues are uneven plate / PCB flex, resulting in a wildly inconsistent typing feel, and large amounts of ping when bottoming out. The Raven attempts to remedy these problems by using non-standard mounting posts, at the cost of requiring a proprietary PCB.

Case

Design-wise, the Raven is no slouch. It flaunts a rather complex side profile, with lots of angles and edges. From the top-down the board has a lip that runs its entire circumference, creating a case within a case effect. On the back, there are four rectangular rubber feet, which I feel is a nice touch, and cutouts at the side to make way for holes for the PCB’s RGB underglow. Duck has chosen to use a more common 7° angle for this case instead of his usual RSI-inducing 11°, making this board a lot more accessible to those new to Duck keyboard kits. I quite like the design, the aggressive side profile makes the board feel like a tool instead of a toy or a display piece. However, the dimensions of the port cutout seems to have been an oversight, the Mini-B port is not centered properly and this makes some cables with fatter connectors fit improperly.

Duck’s signature grainy anodising

The Raven comes in dark grey and silver, and posses Duck’s signature grainy anodisation. The surface is fairly rough to the touch, and large grains from the sandblasting process are clearly visible on the surface of the case. This unique style of anodising gives all of Duck’s boards a more “industrial” and unpolished feel. Some people like it, some don’t. Personally I would have preferred to see some smoother anodising but that is just personal preference.

Something that I can give the Raven massive praise for is its quality control. I am pleased to report that my dark grey Raven arrived absoulutely perfect, there were no defects whatsoever. The case was free of marks and scratches, and the anodising was completley even and consistent without any patches, streaking, or faded areas. The aluminium plate included in the kit also came without flaws. It is great to see that Duck maintains his high standards of quality control despite this kit being his most affordable to date.

Plate, Typing Feel and Acoustics

As mentioned before, the Duck raven is a tray-mount board. This means that the case has a few standoffs on the bottom where we screw the PCB and plate into. This simple mounting style is the simplest and cheapest to manufacture out of all the current plate mounting systems available. Duck likely chose this mounting style for the Raven in order to bring down the cost price and in-turn pass the savings down to us (or maybe, pad his profit margin).

The difference between the Raven and other tray mount boards are the standoff positions. While standard tray-mounts have a standoff right in the middle of the case, Duck has placed the standoffs along the top and sides of the board. The result of this change is the PCB and plate are allowed to flex in the centre, so in theory you get a gentler bottom out feel. Though, this comes at the cost of the Raven requiring a proprietary PCB.

I built my dark grey Raven plateless with Zealio V2 switches, resulting in a noticeable amount of PCB flex when typing. Since there is no standoff right in the middle, the flex is a lot more consistent across the PCB. The bottom-out feel is gentler and less harsh on your fingers than if you were to use a plate, making it more comfortable for extended typing sessions.

Acoustics wise, the plateless Raven does not fare too well. Keys directly above the standoffs ping like crazy, and the lack of a plate contributed to the Zealios V2 sounding even more rattly and high-pitched than usual. On the other hand, my silver Raven built with an aluminium plate and retooled MX Blacks has a wonderful sound, full and thick without any rattling or pinging.

My silver Duck Raven’s typing sound.
My grey Duck Raven’s typing sound.

PCB

The PCB is possibly the greatest source of frustration in the Duck Raven kit. The first issue is that it uses the notorious O2D firmware, otherwise known as “The biggest pain in the ass”. Programming the Raven was a frustratingly complicated and inconvienient experience that involved me having to change my system locale, manually find the correct Atmel driver and navigate a confusing keymapping GUI. If not for this fantastic guide by some helpful members of the community, I would probably have thrown the PCB into the bin.

The actual physical PCB isn’t too bad though, the switch leg cut-outs are perfectly sized for Cherry and Zeal switches, and it comes in a dark red colour which looks good. Though, you should beware of poor trace placement next to the stabiliser screw threads. If you are using screw-in stabs, I would highly recommend getting a set of rubber washers to go with them.

Another thing to take note of is that the PCB for the Raven is NOT the same PCB used in the Duck Viper or Duck Eagle, even though O2D lists it as “02D Viper/Eagle Custom v1.x“. This is extremely misleading and should be changed as soon as possible, the Raven PCB will not fit into your Viper or Eagle case, and vice versa.

Conclusion

Despite the trouble I initially faced setting up the Duck Raven, once it was all up and running I greatly enjoyed using it! My plateless Zealio V2 build had just the right amount of flex to cushion the harsh bottom out after the sharp bump of the Zealios. My aluminium plate MX Black build had the nice and stiff bottom out feel I liked, and an amazing sound profile.

At $260, the Duck Raven is the most affordable custom keyboard kit outside of KBDFans’ offerings. For that price you get most of the features of a higher end Duck board, and a little of the clout of using a Korean keyboard kit. Aftermarket prices for this board are also usually very affordable, I personally bought my silver Raven for only $145! If you are newer to this hobby, or would just like to own a solid 60% that won’t make too big a dent in your wallet, get the Duck Raven, its a fantastic board.

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