Protagonist Keyboard Review

keyboard by: WiredIn 
Photos taken in House by alex

The Protagonist Review

Today, we’re diving into one of the most hyped-up boards I’ve seen in a while: the Protagonist. And trust me, the hype is real. This board sports a classic 60% layout with a sleek, modern design that’s all about customization. One of its standout features is the “keyframe” – a larger accent on the top of the keyboard that really gives it a unique look and comes in a ton of colours. It’s pretty sweet.

They’re touting this as the potential “end game” keyboard, if such a thing exists, so let’s get into why this $350 board might just be worth it.

Now, as of right now, there are a ton of great 60% boards out there. It feels like everyone is launching new projects – think Cloudnine, Chroma, Protagonist, and a few others – all around the same time. It can definitely make choosing the right one a bit overwhelming. I hope this deep dive helps you make an informed decision. Let’s get started!

Full Disclosure and Affiliations

For clarity and transparency, they are letting me keep the Protagonist board and did sponsor my live stream impressions of the boards. However, rest assured that my opinions remain unbiased and uninfluenced. Additionally, there are some affiliate links included in this article to support content creation (none keyboard being reviewed) – your support is greatly appreciated.

The Protagonist in orange / silver.

Protagonist Keyboard

What makes The Protagonist Keyboard Stand Out?

So, what makes the Protagonist stand out from the crowd? Let’s start with the visuals. This board has a fun take on the box-on-wedge side profile and features a fantastic raised top frame, which they call a “keyframe.” It’s a real eye-catcher. The Protagonist comes in a whopping eighteen different colors, and you can customize nearly every aspect of it. We’re talking a crazy amount of combinations, especially when you factor in the weight options – copper, brass, or stainless steel – all excellent choices. It’s amazing how much you can personalize the look of your board with their mix of anodized and Cerakoted colors.

Now, what is Cerakote you may ask? It’s a high-performance ceramic-based finish that’s incredibly durable. I really dig these types of finishes. They do have a slightly different texture and sheen compared to the anodized parts, so that’s something to keep in mind. For these boards, Loobed Switches is handling the Cerakote finishes. I want to voice this— I’ve had clients use their service in the past, and while the quality of their Cerakote application is great, there have been some communication and timeline issues, which are unacceptable. That said, all my clients were happy with the end results, and I spoke to Loobed Switches about this and they told me they are working hard to improve their processes to meet the growing demand.

The thing I really like about the Protagonist is just how well a lot of these colors and choices work. The larger bezels on the frame really make these colors and combos stand out, and I am here for it. It feels like the board seamlessly marries different materials, colors, and textures very well. Kudos to the team for pulling this off because it’s not an easy task.

The board has a very boxy design, but they’ve subtly rounded off the corners in a way that almost makes it appear sharp, yet it isn’t. This does add to how modern and simple the board is and I love it. I also appreciate the different engravings you can pick for the weight. This is a nice touch that I’ve only seen a handful of times, and it’s great to have these options.

Now, with all this being said, this is a lot of SKUs for parts. The vendors have had successful runs with boards that have been delivered in the past, and props to them for that, but taking on a project with this many pieces can be tough and time-consuming. My main concern would be organizing all these parts, which might cut into delivery time. I hope that’s not the case, but I wanted to voice some trends I’ve seen in the past when projects have tons of customization.

protagonist internals

It's Whats Inside That Counts...

Alright, let’s talk about the internals of the Protagonist. It features a semi-proprietary leaf spring grommet system with grommets of varying hardnesses. It sounds fancy,  but I promise it’s simple and I love this for a lot of reasons. During my testing, each grommet gave a distinct feel, allowing me to fine-tune the board exactly how I wanted it. Imagine it like little silicone slippers you put on the plate, which act like little pairs of feet. And the best part? No adhesives here. You can swap these out to your heart’s content without worrying about buying new grommets.

The Protagonist also offers seven different plate choices. I haven’t tried them all yet, but it’s awesome to have so many options. I chatted with one of the designers about their favorite plate, and they recommended the carbon fiber one. I gave it a shot, and it sounds fantastic. Now, some peers mentioned that the plastic, more flexible plates paired with the softest grommets were bottoming out with firmer typing. WiredIn assured me this will be adjusted in the final production run. For the full build process and more thoughts, definitely check out my Twitch stream.

Now, onto the minor details I really appreciate. The board uses a “hidden screw” design, hiding the screws under keycaps. Normally, I’m not a fan of this because it can be tedious and sometimes requires you to clip your switches for the top frame to fit. But here, they’ve secured the top frame with just four screws, making it small enough to avoid damaging your switches. Just be careful when screwing it together, but it’s a thoughtful design change.

Another wonderful small detail is the stepped pattern they have machined into the bottom of the case. This allows the case to be thinner since it makes some grooves that the pins and sockets can sit in without them touching the bottom of the case. It also helps a smidge with sound deflection and can help with a better overall sound signature.

The grommets also serve as alignment tools for the PCB assembly. They fit into a slot, preventing any odd play of your PCB during assembly. This makes building the board a breeze. Another small but great detail is the plate design around the spacebar stabilizers. They left the area more open, so if you want to tune or change your spacebar stabilizer, you only need to remove a single switch to access it.

Overall, the Protagonist is packed with well-thought-out features that make it a joy to build and customize.

Feeling and Sound

The Protagonist feels amazing. Its low front height of 18.8mm makes it super comfortable to use, and the grommets are a fantastic feature. I personally went with the hardest grommets because I liked the sound and feel they provided, but there really is something for everyone here.

Sound-wise, the board, even without foam, has a slightly brighter tone with a very bassy undertone. This gives it a full and lively sound, which I love because it makes the board easy to tune and mod to my liking. If you want to alter the sound further, you can always use foam as a modding tool.

I tried some long pole switches in this build and also tested it with full travel switches. Both worked great, but I decided to keep the long poles in because they sounded more fun. I ended up using some Obscura switches as my final pick, and they were perfect for this board.

The Bottom Line?

The Protagonist keyboard comes in at a starting price of $349 USD for its most basic configuration, but it can go up to around $545 USD with additional options like Cerakote finishes and premium weights. Even at its base price, you’re getting a hefty brass weight and a good range of color choices. You’d only need to shell out more for those fancier finishes and weights. It’s definitely a premium offering in the 60% layout category, and you can really see the attention to detail that went into it.

While there are other keyboards in this price range that are equally well-regarded, the Protagonist stands out with its customizability and bold bezels. It’s unique and it pulls it off beautifully. But that doesn’t mean you have to break the bank for a great 60% board. There’s currently the Chroma, an o-ring mounted board that sounds fantastic, as well as plenty of other wonderful in-stock options like the Salvation and the QK60 is up for preorder right now, too.

The Protagonist is aiming for a ship date in Q3-Q4 2024, but personally, I think it might spill over into Q1 of the following year. With so many parts and details to organize, quality check, and finalize, it’s understandable.

In summary, the Protagonist could very well be the one-and-only keyboard for some folks. It has a lively and vibrant sound signature, feels fantastic to type on, and looks stunning to boot. I’ve been using it while writing this article, and I must say, it’s been a joy. I hope to see Loobed work through some communication issues they have and really make this project shine.

protagonist
Protagonist Keyboard