Being the first white keyboard I've used since the '90s, I was prepared to be underwhelmed by the Roccat Vulcan II Max's stylings. Combined with my ambivalence towards OTT RGB, I was preparing to caveat this review quite heavily. Kinda like what I'm doing now, I guess, but the reason is entirely different, because this slab is beautiful.
Switch type: Optical
Switches: Linear, Tactile
Backlighting: Per-key RGB; 24 dual-LED smart keys
N-key rollover: Yes
Discrete media keys: Yes
Connection: 2x USB Type-A
Price: $229.95 | £200 | AU$369.95
This is a full-sized affair with optical switches and Roccat's own AIMO lighting tech, which the company claims is twice as fast as the competition, in the sense that the RGB will react to your button presses with more immediacy. The key lights themselves bleed into the translucent detachable palm rest, which looks more impressive than it sounds: even undulating light effects course through that thick texture in concert with the switches, almost as if the palm rest itself has lights. It doesn't: this is just good old fashioned light trickery at play. And if the white model I reviewed is too, well, white for you, there's a black variety too.
It's a bright slab, if you want it to be. Thanks to the biscuit-thin ABS keycaps the switches are perfectly visible from all directions and thus, the light verily gushes forth, especially since the characters on each keycap are translucent. Third-party keycaps are compatible, so there's room to replace them, and the switches themselves have an advertised 100 million keystroke life, so you may very well wear the keycaps during this keyboard's lifespan.
Meanwhile, 24 of the keys have dual LED functionality, which means there are two discrete LEDs under the switch rather than one, all the better for these keys to not only look very pretty, but to serve as indicators for various conditions. Is your mic muted? A light can show you that. Which keyboard profile is active? The function key with the fancy assigned light, of course! You can even have different coloured LEDs based on the battery status of a wireless headset or mouse.
These dual-LEDs are chiefly found on the F (function) keys, but the navigation keys have dual-LEDs as well. Overall, the level of key assignment flexibility here is extremely high, as you'd expect from a pricey modern gaming keyboard. Not only can you switch between five different profiles, but there's Shift-Key functionality which allows, with the assigning of a particular Shift-Key, an added layer of functionality to all keys. I personally don't use these much on a day-to-day basis as I simply forget what I've programmed, but plenty of bigger brained people will appreciate the options, especially MMO or MOBA players.
There are two drawbacks with the dual LED system. The first is that it necessitates the use of two USB-A ports, via the non-detachable but very robust power port. Two USB ports sacrificed to a keyboard may be a deal breaker to some, but I myself am a port over-compensator so it did not trouble me.
The second, more general drawback is using Roccat's Swarm software for customising profiles. Look: it's not terrible, and it works. Occasionally it throws up notification windows with clipped text, and no option to expand those windows, which is especially annoying when it's throwing you a warning. In fairness, this happened when I was fiddling with Roccat Torch settings in the same program, so it's not directly related to the keyboard at hand, but is representative of Swarm's slightly janky user experience. Five profiles can be stored in onboard memory, so the best option is to spend a few hours customising these and then switching between them with shortcuts, and then, if you're blessed, forgetting Swarm altogether save for firmware updates.
The form factor is about what you'd expect from a full-size keyboard, albeit a tad larger than what I'm used to at 463x154mm (I mainly use the Corsair K70 RGB Pro). It's not for the space conscious then, but the generous amount of profiles and the Shift-Key functionality means you'll be able to make great use of otherwise underused keys if you're a shortcut fanatic. The media controls at the top left are nice to have, though I prefer a horizontal volume wheel. While the dimensions sprawl the weight is slight, coming in at a touch over a kilogram. As you'd expect, there are two retractable feet at the back.
I normally use a mechanical keyboard with an aluminium frame, so I was prepared to be gentle with the Vulcan, which has a plastic chassis with a thin aluminium veneer at the top. The plastic is what makes this such a light affair, and overall it doesn't affect the appearance of what is a gorgeous keyboard, because it's the anodised upper plate you'll see. Still, given the price it'd be nice to get more metal for your buck.
With an actuation distance of 1.4mm (in other words: the distance at which a button press triggers an action) these red linear optical switches are supremely responsive for gaming: rather than requiring physical contact like a common mechanical switch, light is used to trigger the actuation. For everyday use it can prove a tad slippery when touch typing: it took me a while to adjust to its rather unforgiving sensitivity and so, that backspace button got a work out. As a result I'd probably personally go with the brown switch option, which is also available with an actuation distance of 1.7mm, but your preference may vary. You'll have to choose one or the other because unlike some Wooting keyboards, the actuation point cannot be changed.
The Roccat Vulcan 2 Max is an exceptional optical gaming keyboard and the price feels warranted, so long as aesthetics are your priority. This is easily one of the prettiest conventional gaming keyboards I've used, though there is increasing demand for the more elegant stylings of, say, the Wooting slabs. Still, as far as Roccat and its main big brand gaming competitors go, this is a restrained affair and the lights can be reined in with software if you choose.
The price is a big obstacle though. I'd have liked a sturdier build, say, a full aluminium frame, and the plastic wrist rest, while easy to clean, looks a little cheap when it doesn't have a light show coursing through it. This is a great gaming keyboard with exceptional lights, and if it's lights you're after, geez Louise, does this have 'em.