Buying a gaming keyboard usually entails some sort of compromise. Sometimes you sacrifice performance for a slightly prettier or wireless keyboard. Sometimes you go for a smaller form-factor and sacrifice productivity and so on. Luckily, there are some keyboards out there that come really close to being perfect and I feel like Roccat managed to get into that category with Vulcan 121 Aimo. It’s truly rare that we get a keyboard which as soon as we get it out of the box feels like it will be a no-nonsense premium piece of gear. Let’s check out why.
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Let’s get the obvious thing out of the way and right off the bat establish that Vulcan 121 is one of the most beautiful keyboards, ever. This is due to a combination of a couple of different design features but let’s start with its chassis. The main body of the keyboard is incredibly thin and is made from a combination of plastic on the bottom and a brushed aluminum plate on the top. Besides the premium look, this also gives it increased durability far exceeding keyboards made solely from plastic.
The underside is very smooth with only the height adjusting feet and rubber breaking up the otherwise minimal panel. The top plate is also very minimal with the only standout details being the reflective strips on the sides as well as the Roccat branding in the top right corner. What makes the body feel even thinner is the most standout design feature of the 121 – the ultrathin keycaps on top of elevated, fully exposed switches.
Sure, there’s no going around the fact that this is a full-sized keyboard, but Vulcan 121 and its milestone design somehow manages to make it feel smaller. The beautiful combination of reflective aluminum plate and exposed switches even boosts the appeal of the gracefully implemented RGB. Unlike many other gaming-focused keyboards, here, despite the LED’s being fully exposed, the RGB is never in your face even at its brightest and the smooth, built-in effects never make it go full-on disco mode. Even the caps, scroll, and num lock indicators are nicely implemented as simple little LED’s situated under the numerical keys.
Another notable design feature is the media keys consisting of a dial knob and three buttons. The leftmost button is simply used to mute the sound, while the other two are used in combination with the knob to either change the volume or the RGB brightness and effects. It’s not a full set of dedicated media keys so you’ll still have to rely on function key shortcuts to play, pause, rewind and skip music tracks. The Rocca4t software can be used to assign a few other functions to the FX and volume buttons but none of them are more useful than their default purpose.
Vulcan 121 also comes with a magnetically attached wrist rest. It’s not the most comfortable wrist rest since it’s made out of plastic but it does a great job of alleviating wrist tension. Rest assured, if you are short on desk space, the keyboard is perfectly okay to use without it, but it does make a difference, especially for longer play or typing sessions.
The keyboard sport Roccats proprietary Titan switches and our review unit came with linear red ones that actuate after 1.4 mm. Not only are they super fast but they are also very efficient and comfortable to use due to how stable they are. Thanks to the design of the housing, they are significantly less wobbly than other types of switches, and pressing the keys feels immensely solid and satisfying. Ultimately the switch is true to its name and makes the keyboard feel very premium and sturdy. They also aren’t very loud and are somewhere in the ballpark of silent cherry red switches which is something to keep in mind if you like your keyboards a bit louder and clickier.
There are some shortcomings when it comes to the keys, however. Firstly, they are made from ABS plastic that I see very easily becoming oily and shiny after prolonged usage, and secondly, the custom switches won’t fit most aftermarket keycaps so you won’t exactly have many options if you want to customize how Vulcan 121 looks.
The performance of the keyboard doesn’t lag too far behind its excellent design. It performs as you’d expect from a fast linear switch with a 1.4 mm actuation point. Roccat does say that the Titan switch minimizes debounce, making their linear variant actually 30% faster than other types of linear switches. While we didn’t necessarily feel this translate into significant in-game advantages, Vulcan 121 is still an excellent performer.
It’s fast enough to be used in highly competitive shooters and comfortable and robust enough for other, slower-paced types of games. What’s more, the great, solid feel of the Titan switch also makes it immensely satisfying and precise to use for typing. The layout and the spacing between the keys might take some time to get used to, but once you do, it’s an overall great experience. There are no dedicated macro buttons for those who want added functionality they entail but that compromise helps keep the keyboard as pretty and as compact as it is.
That shortcoming can somewhat be alleviated using the Roccat Swarm software. Besides creating macro key combinations for different apps and games, you can easily create and switch between 5 different profiles, assign different functions to different keys, and more.
The software also has a couple of adjustments for typing. For example, you can set how long you have to hold down a certain key before that character starts repeating, or set the speed for character repetition. You can also add sound effects like typewriter or sci-fi sound for each keystroke which is cool for 5 seconds before it becomes somewhat distracting and annoying. Wake up, sleep, and profile switch sound effects on the other hand proved to be a bit more subtle but still gimmicky features that I didn’t find any use for.
What Swarm does great is the RGB. Even though you can easily customize each individual key to create something uniquely yours, the presets included with the software proved to be so beautiful that I didn’t feel the need to. Whichever one you choose, the animations are creative, smooth, and perfectly complement the keyboard’s physical design.
I kept mine on the AIMO intelligent lighting preset that organically responds to your keystrokes as well as the apps you have running. The system supposedly works better the more you use it with more AIMO compatible devices but even after two months of usage, I couldn’t get my AIMO level to go over 35% and I wasn’t exactly sure how it all worked. The preset definitely looked great despite that but I was left wondering how to reach higher percentages and if they unlocked even more RGB goodness. Hopefully, Roccat makes this a bit easier to do and grasp with future updates.
The only thing that might prevent you from going for the Vulcan 121 is its fairly high price of $159,99. If you do, however, know that it’s more than meets the eye, and what meets the eye is already almost worth the price. Even if aesthetics aren’t the most important to you, Vulcan 121 can still easily be recommended given its sturdy build quality and great performing Titan switches. Anyone looking for a flagship, top of the line keyboard definitely shouldn’t sleep on Vulcan 121.