Tech

rewrite this title This mechanical keyboard has a headphone jack you might actually want to use

The KB3 is a new mechanical keyboard from audio brand FiiO with a built-in headphone jack that stands a good chance of sounding better than the existing 3.5mm output on your desktop computer or laptop. That’s because the headphone jack isn’t just passing through analog audio from your computer, it’s plugged into a combination DAC and headphone amp that’s integrated into the keyboard itself. 

So rather than having a headphone cable snaking across your desk to reach your machine, or cluttering up your workspace with a separate DAC and headphone amplifier, all these devices can theoretically be built right into the keyboard that’s sitting underneath your hands. And it comes from a company which knows a thing or two about audio (even if its keyboard-making abilities are less proven). 

I can see the argument that you’ll get better results from buying equipment like this separately, but the audio and keyboard specs of the KB3 don’t contain any major red flags for an all-in-one device at this price. On the audio side the keyboard is equipped with dual Cirrus Logic CS43131 DACs and supports up to 32-bit / 384kHz and DSD256 audio. Alongside the standard 3.5mm headphone jack, there’s also a 4.4mm balanced output. Tom’sHardware notes that the audio specs appear to match FiiO’s $80 KA13 headphone amp.

The peripheral doesn’t appear to be a slouch in the keyboard department either. It’s gasket-mounted, with hot-swap switches (meaning they can be replaced without the need for soldering), supports both Mac and Windows, includes RGB lighting, and is compatible with the popular VIA configuration software. It’s available in a barebones option that comes without switches or keycaps, but if you want them included you get Gateron G Pro 3.0 Yellow switches and what appears to be a set of translucent keycaps. It uses the ever-popular compact 75-percent layout, similar to what you’ll find on a lot of laptops, and of course there’s a dial on the top-right to control volume. 

FiiO is far from the first brand to have thought of building a 3.5mm headphone jack into a keyboard. The Razer BlackWidow Ultimate 2016, for example, could plug into your computer’s 3.5mm jack and pass through audio to a port on the keyboard itself. But the general wisdom has been not to rely on headphone jacks like these because of the audio interference passing an analogue signal through a keyboard might add. By taking a digital audio signal from a computer and converting it using a built-in DAC, FiiO’s approach is similar to the Moondrop Dash, another recent keyboard with a built-in headphone jack. 

FiiO is selling the KB3 via AliExpress, where it can be had for $129.99 without switches or keycaps, or $149.99 as a fully-assembled model. It’s also available as a wireless keyboard, for $129.99 fully-assembled, but this model doesn’t have any of the interesting audio features.

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