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Article: MZ Y1 Linear: Review by Vere

MZ Y1 Linear: Review by Vere

MZ Y1 Linear: Review by Vere

Opening Words:

Hello friends, as always, I am constantly on the look for new switches that are of high quality or have interesting traits to them. The MZ Y1 is a switch that marks both of those off the checklist for a switch that would interest me, especially since I heard that their manufacturer may be one of my favorites. There's a lot to unpack with this one so let's get to it.

 

Switch Introduction:

The MZ Y1s are long-pole linear switches with a standard PA66 top housing, PBT bottom housing, as well as an unknown stem material called Y1. Apparently, Y1 is an imported material from South Korea, though no other details were given.

It has a 20mm KOS extended single-stage spring with an operating force of 49g and bottoming out at 57g. There is a variance of 5g among them.

They have a shorter long-pole travel at 3.8mm.

These switches were designed by MZ Studio who has also produced another budget option: The MZ Z1 Linear.

 

(Get ready for their next switch, the X1?)

Short Summary

Volume

High volume for a long-pole, among some of the louder switches I have tried.

Pitch

Medium to Medium-High pitch, the tone isn't too sharp but is higher because of the materials and stem shape.

Sound Profile

Bright and resonant sound profile due to the use of a PBT bottom housing. Has a clean travel with no scratchiness or unnecessary noise, I can describe it as full.

Stock

Low amounts of lubricant on the stem, but still has a great stock form. The lubricant seems to be focused on more uncommon areas but it gets the job done. Most of the lube is on the leaf, legs, bottom housing pole, and stem pole. This results in low leaf noise, spring noise, and smooth travel. There is incredibly small amounts of wobble.

Design

Simple visual design, but excellent use of the PBT bottom housing as well as an interesting stem material that seems to defy what I would expect from normal switch plastics. This switch also holds a few secrets in terms of mold and structure.

Other

A budget switch option that offers a powerful sound profile.

 

Stock Experience:

The MZ Y1 seems to use a thicker grease which looks like Krytox 205g0 on the leaf as well on the ends of the spring. There is a generous amount of this on the leaf. The rest of the switch seems to have a thinner oil based lubricant which is barely noticeable on the stem faces and legs. Regardless, this stock form is able to produce great results as I couldn't find much issue with these switches when I had first used them.

The only downside to such low amounts of lubricant is the slight plasticky sound profile that can be heard while using these switches. I can barely hear some sort of pinging when I use them next to my ear, but in actual typing, the switch itself is loud enough to cover those sounds.

Would I re-lube them? Yes, but only for the sake of adjusting the sound profile of these switches, if you like the stock sound then you can use them without touching them at all.

(Only some lube on the stem pole and barely on legs)

 

PBT in switches:

As many of those in the hobby may know, PBT is a plastic that you will often see when talking about keycaps. PBT or Polybutylene terephthalate is a thermoplastic that is generally used as an insulator for industrial purposes. It is very resistant to wear and is less vulnerable to degradation or discoloration than ABS plastic.

PBT keycaps are preferred by some due to its smooth texture, and ability to be used for longer without being affected by shine. Some also just prefer the resonant and deeper sound that results from the weightier keycaps.

Going more into the details of PBT when used for switches, it actually has potential to be an incredible material... if handled correctly. PBT is a thermoplastic just like POM, it has fantastic traits for stability and dimensional integrity, very low coefficient of friction similar to POM and LY, and sounds fantastic in switches thanks to its firmness and impact resistance.

So what's the problem with PBT? One word, shrinkage.

PBT is very susceptible to shrinkage which can cause the plastic itself to shrink during the mold process which can lead to a lot of unnecessary costs due to failures in the molding process. Not to mention that while PBT isn't that expensive, it is still a waste of resources if there are any failures in the molding process, which is going to happen when you experiment with new materials.

When you think about the fact that switches do need to be made perfectly according to a specific shape which will let them be installed into a plate and PCB, then there's a lot of extra work involved when using PBT. That being said, these switches are a success when it comes to the performance of the PBT bottom housing in my opinion.

 

My hypothesis on the manufacturer:

The manufacturer for these switches was kept undisclosed, but it isn't difficult to figure out who produced these switches.

First going over all the large clues, we can scratch off a majority of manufacturers thanks to the PBT bottom housing. To my knowledge, there are only four manufacturers that have used PBT in their switches before, and to varying degrees of success.

Secondly, Dashan was kind enough to leave some hints regarding this manufacturer's history with switches. Namely, their switches have never gone below $0.50 per switch. This automatically takes JWK and Meirun out of the picture as they have produced budget switches before. The last hint is that this manufacturer has finally found out how to make a "MX style linear switch".

This ultimately locks in Keygeek as opposed to Aflion for me, as almost every switch they have released on the market uses a Dustproof box stem instead of the standard MX stem.

(Top housings completely different, bottom housing also lacks B5 AF imprint which is Aflion branding)

The molds themselves also contradict with Aflion's most recent PBT switch: The Invokeys Red Bean, and instead are very similar to Keygeek's most recent PBT switch attempt: The Keygeek Avalons. 

(Top Housing nearly identical, stems also very similar)

 

Who is Keygeek?

Keygeek first made an appearance with one of Geon's Raw series switches called the Keygeek Raw. Apparently they are a subsidiary of a micro-switch manufacturer based in China, and another name they go by is Weipeng

As a newer manufacturer to the switch market, they have not produced a large number of switches, but I can definitely say that many of their releases are unique. They tend to use quite a lot of proprietary blends and/or uncommon materials to try and customize their switches. This also comes at a caveat of their switches all being at $0.55 or $0.50, which isn't exactly cheap.

Having tried many of their switches myself, one thing I can say about them is they always fall just short of greatness. A lot of their switches sound great and feel great, but many have issues due to the molds or stock form. This is an important detail to keep in mind for later as I will discuss the ingenuity behind the design of this switch.

 

Deep dive on Y1 stem:

Since there was almost no information given on the Y1 material besides being imported, I tried to do some deep diving into possible plastic results from the codename itself. 

The only real result I was able to receive is a type of HDPE plastic that South Korea exports from some of their chemical companies. This is something that I kept in mind as South Korea is also one of the main producers for Polyketone (POK) which is made by Hyosung Chemical.

HDPE or High-Density Polyethylene shares many traits with UHMWPE (Ultra-High-Molecular-Weight Polyethylene) but most notably it has a very low coefficient of friction. This adds up with my testing with the stem being incredibly smooth despite the lack of lubricant. 

HDPE is less commonly used in switch plastics because it is actually worse than UHMWPE when it comes to durability and resistance to impact and wear. An advantage that HDPE has is that it is easier to work with and is less expensive than UHMWPE. HDPE is lighter in weight and mass than UHMWPE and is also more rigid, but it pales in comparison to the rigidity of the likes of POM. It is definitely still on the softer side of plastics, comparable to LY.

With this knowledge in mind, I went out of my way to "damage" my Y1 stem and put the rigidity to the test against other stem materials on hand.

With just my finger strength and nails, I was able to somewhat damage a small amount of the Y1 stem. I compared this to POM, LY, PTFE, and a UPE based stem.

POM: No effect
Y1: Minor carve
UPE Mix: Slight bend
LY: Nearly no effect
PTFE Mix: Minor Carve

So what effect does this have on the sound? I found it to be softer than LY, but still rigid enough to not fall apart in my hands. Does that mean it will be more muted? Not exactly, as HDPE has less density than POM and UHMWPE (which make up LY), you can also calculate this in reverse to find that it has less mass overall meaning that it would produce frequencies higher than those two. Then if we go into the rigidity, POM is overall way more rigid than HDPE/UHMWPE, which explains why POM stems can produce louder and fuller sounds without being as muted as UHMWPE or even Polycarbonate.

In short: HDPE "should" produce frequencies higher than UHMWPE, but also produce sounds at a volume slightly louder and less muted than UHMWPE. (This is assuming that it is based on HDPE, which doesn't seem far from the mark)

Ultimately this is all guesswork and based on everything I know so far about switches and mechanical keyboard sounds, I could easily be wrong! Take this portion with a grain of salt, its merely the result of another small plastics study session. 

 

Why I think this switch is well designed:

First, let us break down the design in terms of material.

The key points of this switch are the PBT bottom and Y1 stem, if we're assuming that this is Keygeek, then their strengths lie in strong and deeper sound profiles with very smooth switches despite having less lubricant.

The PBT bottom has shown us again that it has a powerful effect on the sound of switches, something that is worth noting is that a lot of PBT out there is also used with 30% fiberglass similarly to PA30. It isn't disclosed what kind of PBT they used for this switch but it is a possibility that its full and bright tone is a result of it.

Next, the Y1 stem, since this stem is so soft and smooth it can be compared to the likes of UPE, LY, etc. Based on the breakdown earlier, it should produce a sound slightly fuller than UHMWPE, however this switch has a truly resonant sound profile that exceeds expectations.

This is most likely due to the unique stem pole design they have gone for: a double elongated stem pole. 

(The only other manufacturer that I've seen this type of stem is in SWK)

The stem pole itself has two different elongations which adjusts the thickness of the tip that would strike the bottom. Normally rounder tips have a more balanced and controlled sound, flat tips are fuller in volume, and elongated tips add some brightness or sharpness. My guess is that this additional sharpened tip is what helps produce the bright sound that comes out of these switches. 

(Various stem poles)

I tested this against the Invokeys Red Bean which also has a PBT bottom and HDPE stem, but a rounded pole. The difference between the two is staggering as the Red Bean sounded dull in comparison. I also tried testing against the Keygeek Avalon with a UPE based stem with PBT bottom and the result is that the volume is similar, but the Y1 sounded higher pitched.

The end result for sound is a bright resonance that makes use of PBT's stiffness and combines it with a softer stem to balance it out, whilst said stem also has a special shape in order to improve upon the clackier sound profile.

 

Next, let's go over the minor details when it comes to why this switch sounds good in stock form. 

In an ideal world, factory lube is perfected and switch materials made of only high quality materials, but there is still a long way to go before we can reach this goal.

What MZ Studio did with these switches is very clever and honestly shouldn't be high effort. If a problem exists, you can always solve the problem by removing it in the first place.

The MZ Y1 leaf happens to be incredibly thin compared to your standard leaf. By doing so, they have effectively reduced the total contact surface area of the leaf considerably, whether it is the top housing or stem. With this reduced size, it is less likely for pinging or ticking to occur one way or the other, and even if it did occur, it would be less loud due to the overall smaller size of the leaf. 

(Y1 Leaf vs Hyacinth v2 Leaf)

On top of that, Keygeek has a very generous helping of lubricant over the leaf legs where the stem legs would contact to absolutely minimize noise.

Another detail is that the stem edges have a unique shape to better fit the top housing. I found that this is likely to tighten the tolerance for the top housing without prevent any issue with the stem so that the switch won't have much wobble. 

Why do I bring this all up? The reason is that Keygeek has made efforts to fix the glaring issues of their previous work. I mentioned that most of Keygeek's older switches had issues in the molds, leaves, wobble, and pre-lube. 
To be more specific:
Keygeek Raw: Top Housing mold flaw would create unwanted contact sound
Keygeek Muguet Rose: Wobbly stem and poor pre-lube
Keygeek Avalon: Brittle stems and unfixable leaf noise (Also poor pre-lube)

Not to mention these are all not budget switches. I found the Y1s to be an exponential improvement over their old switches, it's almost like they finally found the perfect formula after so much trial and error. 

So how are they so cheap? MZ Studio happened to place an order of 300k switches for their first batch in order to lower costs (Lowest MOQ is usually 50k for switches). They must have been incredibly confident in this switch and they probably wanted to make it more accessible in order to compete with the likes of BSUN and HMX.

 

Smoothness (Phenomenal)

The MZ Y1 have fantastic smoothness, even whilst having almost no lubricant on the stem sliders or bottom housing rails. The combination of PBT and Y1 is incredible and produces no unwanted noise.

For this price, they are very great stock options for smoothness, I also re-lubed some but didn't feel any major difference in smoothness.

Perhaps some of HMX's extremely smooth switches can defeat this, but I would say it doesn't matter in the long run. Winning in smoothness is no longer a deciding factor these days in my opinion.

 

Sound Profile:

The MZ Y1 have a full and resonant tone that is honestly at odds with what I was expecting for this sound profile. The Keygeek Avalon also had a sound that was much stronger than expected despite having a UPE stem. It must be something to do with the PBT bottom as the sound is close to some of the loudest long poles I have used previously.

In stock form, this bright sound is slightly plasticky, but that goes away with minimal lubing over the stem. I would say that these switches have mostly mid tones with some slight brightness underneath, but I think the main reason why this sound is so balanced is thanks to the Y1 stem.

 

Direct Comparison to other linears:

Gateron Raw (PC/PA66/POM Stem) 3.7mm Travel

  • These switches share nothing in common besides being long pole.
  • These switches are nearly identical in volume
  • The Y1 has a much better stock form (Smoother and less tick)
  • The Gateron Raw is slightly higher pitched.
  • The Gateron Raw has slightly more N/S wobble (Not much)
  • The Y1 is much smoother stock

HMX Hyacinth v2 (PC/Mod. Nylon/POM Stem) 3.5mm Travel

  • These switches share nothing in common besides being long pole.
  • The Y1 is slightly louder than the Hyacinth v2
  • The Y1 has a better stock experience (less tick)
  • The Hyacinth v2 is higher pitched
  • The Y1 has slightly more N/S wobble (Not much)
  • They have similar smoothness stock

SWK Catmint (Nylon/Nylon/POK Stem) 3.5mm Travel

  • With only similar top housings and travel, these switches share very few traits.
  • The Y1 is louder than the Catmint
  • They have similar stock experiences
  • The Catmint is slightly higher pitched
  • The Y1 has slightly more N/S wobble (Not much)
  • The Catmint is slightly smoother stock.

Flaws:

There was only one minor flaw that I found with this switch.

That flaw is that the bottom housing of this switch is slightly thicker than normal switches (likely to combat the shrinkage of PBT) and can be difficult to fit into certain plates.

This was not an issue at all on my Cycle7's FR4 plate, but when I tested my Derivative's Polycarbonate plate, it was slightly tricky to fit them all in.

This could be a non-issue for you since it honestly depends on your plate and board, but it is still a possible flaw for some people out there. You can probably fix it by using a filer to scrape down some of the edges.

After typing on them for a week, so far no major issues have appeared besides the one mentioned above.

 

Personal Build Recommendations: (This is purely opinion/preference based)

At first, I tested them on my Cycle7's FR4 gasket mount with no foam which still had a decent volume, after adding case foam they sounded quite poppy and marble-y so I felt like that was quite nice.

I tested them again on my Derivative with a PC plate on O-ring configuration and they were truly loud and bright. I would not have expected the Derivative's deeper sound profile and PC plate to be one of the loudest configurations I currently have.

The first recommendation I would say is to use them on any board that you wish to revitalize in terms of sound profile. Whether that is a quiet board, or an older board that happens to have many flex cuts, I think this switch will still sound great.

When it comes to plate, I would not recommend stiffer plates unless you truly want an incredibly loud experience, I felt like PC and FR4 were good at taming some of the sound, perhaps POM would also be good for a deeper sound profile. 

For mounting system, I would actually avoid going gasket for once since I think that would mask some of the character in the sound, I would say O-Ring or Top Mount would be the way to bring out the full reverberations in this switch.

These switches also work well with foam since they have a balanced tone and are loud enough to not get muted, I would take plate foam if these are too loud for you, or case foam if you want to retain the volume but deepen the tone.

 

Closing Summary:

Looking back on this review, maybe I cooked too hard on this one, I had a hard time holding back since I really fell in love with this switch.

For only $0.27 per switch, this budget option that contains the uncommon PBT material as well as a proprietary stem that results in a fantastic product that is the culmination of previous trial and errors from Keygeek.

If this kind of quality is what we can look forward to from Keygeek, then I wouldn't mind buying more of their future switches. I have always been looking forward to their new improvements and they didn't disappoint.

MZ Studio has produced another wonderful switch after their first budget entry in the Z1, but I feel like this switch goes further in leaps and bounds whether it's in smoothness or sounds.

Although they have a slightly boring name, these switches are anything but boring, so why not give the Y1 a try? If you're looking for a heavy hitter in the sound department, you won't be disappointed.

 

FINAL SCORING: 9.2/10

Design: 10/10 

[From incredible design choices in mold, stem, and leaf, to the usage of PBT and Y1 to create a balanced sound, pulling it off and even making it a budget switch? MZ Studio truly put in a lot of creative thought into this one.]

Sound Profile: 10/10 

[Full and bright resonant tone, a linear that produces a volume that competes with some of the loudest long poles out there. No scratch at all, nothing but a clean clack that is sure to be enjoyed by many.]

Stock Experience: 8/10

[Excellent stock experience, no crap sounds or major issues in smoothness, though I have to dock points for the lack of overall lube which may still cause some transient noise for others. (Though my batch had no problems)]

Uniqueness: 9/10

[Considering there are only a handful of switches that even use PBT in the first place, this switch is one of few in that regard. Plus the imported proprietary stem with a special pole design, it helped produce a sound that I hadn't expected. Then there's the unique thin leaf used in this switch to reduce contact sound.]

Flaws: 1/10 

[The only flaw is that you may have trouble putting this switch into your plate, but that might be a non-issue if you use a filer to grind down the edges.]

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