With hot-swap sockets and custom-tuned switches becoming common in custom keyboards, it was only logical that keyboards with multiple mounting methods would start to appear. Mode's SixtyFive beautifully integrates two distinct ways of assembling the keyboard — along with permutations — into one precision-engineered package.
The SixtyFive is a 65%, hot-swappable mechanical keyboard that is highly customizable. The keyboard can be assembled with a regular top mount, an isolated top mount, or Mode’s signature “stack mount” system.
The keyboard also has multiple options for materials. The keyboard’s main case comes in either aluminum or polycarbonate, and the bottom of the case can be configured for copper, brass, aluminum, or polycarbonate. In addition, the keyboard’s main plate can be a full or half-plate made from copper, brass, aluminum, FR4, pom, and carbon fiber, and the back piece can be chosen from multiple colors of anodized aluminum, brass, and copper along with mirrored and multicolored finishes.
Unlike pre-built mechanical keyboards like Razer’s $180 BlackWidow V3 Mini HyperSpeed or the Keychron Q2 ($150+), the SixtyFive is a boutique mechanical keyboard that starts around $300, and can be upwards of $550 when fitted with all the highest-end options (although almost all of the most expensive upgrades are entirely cosmetic).
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Art of typing
The SixtyFive feels fantastic to type on. When I first assembled the SixtyFive, I did so with a full aluminum body, a brass plate, and Mode’s stack mount system. This made the keyboard’s typing experience consistent and full of pop.
“One of the overarching themes that you’ll see in the SixtyFive, that I think sets it apart as an evolution from what we’ve done previously, is customization,” says co-founder Brad Mello. “We took everything we could to a whole new level. Everything from the different color options in the case, the plate material, even down to the mounting systems.”
The SixtyFive feels fantastic to type on.
When talking to Mode about this keyboard, Mello described how the stack mount system is meant to create a typing experience with a consistent feeling across every key. This is done by letting the PCB and plate rest on top of a custom-molded silicone base as opposed to attaching it to the top or bottom case. As a result, the typing force put onto the SixtyFive is absorbed by the soft silicone instead of pulling down on the PCB and plate construction. This creates a typing feel that is consistent across each key and extremely comfortable overall — similar to a gasket-mount system, but more uniform across keys and less flexible overall. In addition, the typing feels soft even on bottom-out and has springy feedback.
For comparison, a SixtyFive built using a half-plate that is assembled with an isolated top mount system feels incredibly flexible. With the isolated top-mounting method, the plate and PCB are screwed into the upper case with silicone caps being placed on top of each tab of the plates, creating space for flexibility between the plate and the case. This mounting method is functionally identical to burger mounting — where rubber O-rings are placed between the keyboard’s plate and case along each of the screw holes — but is easier to assemble due to the use of silicone caps that stay in place as opposed to O-rings that can move during assembly.
“It’s all thinking about how someone actually builds the board, and how we make it so that, if somebody does move their board or bump their table, it’s not a bad experience,” Mello says. “It’s a small detail that has a big impact for someone who’s new.”
The half-plate creates a lot more flex in the typing experience by leaving the majority of the switches on the keyboard only attached to the PCB without any plate. When these two combine, the keyboard has a lot more give, which feels — at least to me — like a much more comfortable and casual typing experience.
However, I do find myself worried that the flex of the PCB could eventually damage the solder joints of the switches. While Mode reassured me that this would not be the case, my (albeit unrealistic) fears over this means that I don’t love typing on a half-plate keyboard.
Overall, the SixtyFive feels fantastic to type on, both with a half-plate assembly and with a full plate. The typing experience is comfortable and soft, and the sound is absolutely wonderful, too — the stack mount has a much more muted sound, while the top mount, especially with a half-plate, is a bit louder and has a bit more pop. The typing sound is, of course, dependent on the switches you use, but in testing different linear and tactile switches, the full plate felt great with all of them. (Note: Since the half-plate cannot be built with a hot-swap PCB, I was only able to try it with Mode’s own linear switches, which felt smooth and sounded crisp).
It should be noted that, with the half-plate assembly, the modifier keys and number row, along with any other keys that are attached to the plate, will have a lower-pitched sound profile than the free-standing switches. While I didn’t mind this, it could be a source of irritation for some.
Custom to you
The package Mode sent me for review included two keyboards — one with a polycarbonate case and the other with a black aluminum — and four different plates. The plates included a brass, aluminum, POM, and carbon fiber full plate. Here are my thoughts on each option, with typing tests done with Mode linear switches, Drop PBT keycaps and a stack mount in an aluminum case:
Brass: The brass plate is considered by many to be the gold standard of keyboard plates. It’s solid, dense, and provides a rigid typing experience. While I don’t love the feel of brass, I can understand why many would, and I have to agree that it has the best sound of any plate by far.
Aluminum: Anodized aluminum plates are fairly standard, as far as keyboard constructions go, and Mode’s offering is no different. Chances are, if you’ve typed on an aluminum plate before, this will feel pretty standard. It’s solid, simple, and barebones. While it has a nice sound, it’s nothing to write home about. If you get this plate, make sure it’s with the hot-swap PCB so you can explore a bit more.
POM: The POM plate is incredibly soft and smooth, especially with lubed linears. Typing on it, the flexible nature of the plate really comes out and gives the switches a lot of room to be experienced. A plate like this works great with good switches, but will also make the problems of mediocre switches much more prominent. The sound profile is poppy, and the typing feel has the same pop to it. This is as close as any plate comes to the quintessential typing-test sound, and that brings an even greater emphasis to the plate’s clean and flexible typing experience.
Carbon fiber: The SixtyFive’s carbon fiber plate can be summarized in one word: futuristic. The high-tech material long-revered by tech bros and car enthusiasts alike doesn’t disappoint in a keyboard. It’s flexible and poppy thanks to its lightness, and provides a lighter, higher-pitched typing sound. Personally, I absolutely love this plate.
In addition to physical customization, the SixtyFIve can be reprogrammed using QMK, an open-source keyboard firmware project that’s become the standard for custom keyboards, and VIA, a software used to remap keyboard inputs. Some of the more common changes are swapping out the caps lock key to activate a function layer, changing the use of the Windows key, or adding multimedia controls somewhere on the keyboard.
Details inside and out
When talking to Mode, they emphasized the importance of the SixtyFive’s build process. “We wanted it to be easy to assemble,” Mello says. “We used an interlocking front lip design not only to make it easy not only for the first build, but also if you want to go back into it later to tinker with things and try out different configurations.”
Over the time of my review, I probably disassembled and reassembled the SixtyFive at least 10 times to test different configurations, mounting styles, and plates. Across all of these tests, building this keyboard was always enjoyable at every stage: Admiring the amazing CNC work, feeling the satisfying click of two pieces coming together, and appreciating the final snap of the magnetic back piece all made the assembly a rewarding process that I never dreaded.
This experience is even further emphasized by the board’s fantastic engineering. The SixtyFive looks super clean and it’s designed to ensure that none of its screws can be seen once it’s assembled while still being easy to assemble and disassemble (two goals that I often consider to be opposed to one another).
To create a keyboard with no visible screws, Mode relies on some clever tricks. The bottom case attaches to the top with screws on only one end; the back end is secured in place with four screws, and the front has a small ridge that sits inside of an indent in the top case. Once the four screws are in, the metal plate on the back attaches with two magnets and covers up the screws.
In addition to the smooth form of the keyboard, the backplate creates a fantastic point of contrast on the keyboard. In talking with Mode about the design of this point, they described how the plate was meant to be a similar visual motif to other keyboards’ badges — like the 7V, ikki68, and think6.5 — without removing keys and sacrificing utility. Visually, this badge is an elegant piece of machining that makes the keyboard. Mechanically, the plate really brings the assembly together: It has a satisfying “click” when attaching it, and smooths out the back of the keyboard beautifully.
Really, the SixtyFive is a tinkerer’s dream. The keyboard has (at least) three solid mounting methods, a full set of plates, and hot-swap sockets all wrapped up in a very enjoyable building experience. I had just as much fun building the SixtyFive as I did typing on it.
Built to last
In addition to being fun to build, Mode anticipates the SixtyFive sticking around. Currently, pretty much every piece of the SixtyFive can be pre-ordered from their website: Plates, PCBs, foam and silicone, cases and backings are all listed, and Mode says they hope to keep all of these pieces stocked in the future for anyone who needs them. This is a great contrast to many group buy models, which often only provide one or two opportunities to purchase extra components.
Because of the availability of parts and the ease of assembly, the SixtyFive is a fantastic board to repair and keep running. Unlike many, there’s almost no danger of parts becoming impossible to find (unless Mode suddenly shuts down or loses access to manufacturing), and almost all repairs can be done without any specialized tools (unless you buy a soldered board or need to desolder a hot-swap socket).
Pricey, but worth it
Mode’s SixtyFive is not a keyboard for everyone, but that can be said about almost any high-end mechanical keyboard. Starting at $300 before you add switches and keycaps, and most likely costing over $400 once you’ve supplied all the other necessary components, it’s likely only for invested enthusiasts who already know a thing or two about keyboards.
However, if you do know a bit about keyboards, the SixtyFive is a fantastic option. The keyboard’s assembly and appearance are both elegant in their simplicity, and the typing experience is fantastic. In addition, the multiple options for customization and personalization make the SixtyFive a hobbyist’s dream.
The SixtyFive is a gorgeous, well-built tool.
I could imagine the SixtyFive being a keyboard that I use daily, something that can’t be said for mechanical keyboards like the gimmicky Logitech Pop Keys. The SixtyFive is a gorgeous, well-built tool that someone could potentially use for the rest of their life if they take care of it (and if they can get the right adapters in a few decades’ time). While $400+ is a lot to ask for a keyboard, this one definitely feels worth it if you want a truly beautiful, premium typing device.
If the SixtyFive’s layout isn't for you, Mode recently unveiled their Eighty, a tenkeyless (TKL) keyboard that uses the same mounting methods and design language as the SixtyFive. While this keyboard is currently only available for pre-order, it will likely have the same attention to detail as the SixtyFive, along with sharing the same minimalist, angled design language.
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