Ducky Year of the Rat Review
Ducky has long been a very reputable brand when it comes to mass produced keyboards. The brand stands for affordable but well-made products that focus on quality over flashy features, and the One 2 Mini in particular has been a straight hit with pros and more casual audiences alike as a top of the line compact keyboard.
Almost every year, Ducky releases a special edition keyboard to celebrate a new year in the Chinese zodiac. These mostly feature a unique keycap set and color scheme, but this year Ducky went all out with the Year of the Rat edition. As you can see this definitely isn't your regular keyboard, but it's not all about the looks: this has a hot-swappable PCB on the inside.
Is this Year of the Rat edition worth your money or is it much like the current year has been: disappointing and something you'd want to skip? Read our full review to find out everything you need to know!
"Although my thoughts change with the environment and my fictional characters keep evolving, my original passion for graffiti has not changed at all."Bounce, artist behind the Year of the Rat art
Ducky Year of the Rat - First Impressions
Since this is such a unique keyboard this review will be a bit different. I will be focusing on the looks and unboxing aspect much more than I usually do, which I think is only fair when you're reviewing something that's a bit of an art piece in itself.
As you can see, this is not something you buy when you're looking for a subtle keyboard. The Ducky Year of the Rat has been made in cooperation with graffiti artist Bounce, who made a bunch of unique designs for this keyboard, and I love the way this looks. I wouldn't use it as my main board (I have a more subtle looking setup with darker colors when I'm not testing various peripherals) but that doesn't prevent me from really liking the aesthetics. Yes, it's loud, it's bold, and it draws the attention, but I think that the 'street style' has successfully been translated onto a keyboard.
From the greys of the keycaps that remind you of pavement and inner-city apartment blocks to the bolder (but not super bright) green tint that could be used for eye-catching graffiti tags: this all works. The hand drawn legends and illustrations only reinforce that 'makin' my way downtown' feeling. What I also love are the details. There's of course the beautifully made spacebar, but if you look at the Windows key, for example, you'll see a little Bounce mouse peeking from behind said window. All of this makes the Year of the Rat an eye catching but very well thought out keyboard, and while my personal style doesn't have many street/urban influences at all I can definitely appreciate the art and the amount of work that must've gone into this board.
And then there's of course the hot-swappable PCB, which means that you can change the switches without having to solder. I'll go deeper on that further on in the review but I know that this is something that a lot of Ducky fans have been waiting for so I hope the company is using this as a sort of 'proof of concept' to then install this in (some of) their standard boards.
One substantial downside is that this board has a rather thin plastic case. That no doubt has something to do with the fact that there are drawings (including a very intricate one) all over the board and those wouldn't come through as cleanly on a metal casing but it does mean that there's some flex. It's not really there when you're using the board but if you're expecting a premium feeling case like what you're getting with the Mecha line you'll be a bit disappointed here. The case itself is a little different from Ducky's usual case design, giving it a slightly more aggressive look on the sides.
This board is very much a collector's item since it comes out in very limited quantities and at a much higher price than Ducky's regular offerings, so you'd expect them to jazz up the unboxing experience a little bit. Packaging, extras, and just an overall attention to detail are part of what makes luxury/exclusive products so appealing, so it's good to see that Ducky has delivered with this unboxing experience. You get a beautiful box, and inside of it are a bunch of neat extras that I'll tell you about in the next section since I think we can call this whole experience a sort of 'feature.'
Size & Dimensions
Features and build
So, the unboxing. I really loved this experience. When I took the box out of the drab cardboard package it was delivered in I felt the sort of excitement that you get when it's your turn to unwrap a present at your family's Christmas party. I suppose that's a welcome sensation because we won't be celebrating the holidays with our families where I live because of the virus but I digress.
The Year of the Rat doesn't come in Ducky's standard type of box. This one is larger, and features Bounce's artwork on all sides. On the front you'll also find a holographic sticker indicating authenticity, and to open it up you simply slide the inner portion out of the thick outer shell. When you do you'll see all the extras that Ducky has included here. There's a matching deskmat, a wire keycap puller, a switch puller, a USB-C cable, three extra keycaps, and one tiny little switch and keycap combo to hang on your keychain.
That little keychain hanger has a blue switch inside it (at least it did for me; I'm not sure if it's a random switch) so it now has a permanent spot on my desk as a kind of fidgeting toy. I love it. Aside from the extra keycaps there's also a deskmat. This features pretty much the same design (with some small changes) as the one you'll see on the box and the backside of the keyboard and the quality is honestly pretty great. It has nicely stitched edges and a smooth surface. I haven't tested it extensively as a gaming mousepad but in a pinch it definitely works, though it doesn't have the fastest glide.
The board itself is, as mentioned, completely made out of plastic, and the plate that goes on top of the purple hotswap PCB is left unfinished in the sense that it's not painted with that almost signature Ducky white. I suppose it aids with the whole industrial/street look that the board is going for but to be honest I don't really see a lot of the plate with these packed 60% boards. Still though, I do feel like this unfinished plate is a better choice than the standard white for this particular board so it's a good decision in my book: the details count too. The backplate also feels decently thick and sturdy.
What also feels decently thick and sturdy are the keycaps. These are PBT and feel very nice to me. They do not let any backlight shine through however, so if you're a fan of extensive RGB shows (this board does have programmable RGB, just like normal Ducky boards) you will want to take note of that. You can of course swap them out if you really want to but that would be a shame with a board like this that's as much about the art on it as it is about the performance if you're asking me.
Performance and every day use
I got Cherry MX Red switches with the Year of the Rat, and those are of course the de facto 'standard' gaming switch of the past couple of years. I can't say that I have been in contact with very many niche/enthusiasts switches (though I have been reading up on custom mechanical keyboards; my wallet is already screaming in fear) but for me these feel rather smooth. They're of course linear so you don't get any sort of tactile sensation when you're using these but if you're after the standard linear feeling these should serve you well.
I did notice that there's some 'feedback noise' from the case if you're a heavy typist. It's not exactly loud enough to really annoy me but if you are someone who's into high tier custom boards this might be a different story for you. Then again, comparing a board like this to vastly more expensive customized keyboards wouldn't be a fair comparison either way. Still, even when compared to some of the better mass produced boards out there it doesn't sound all that impressive; it's decent enough (though the keys on stabilizers could be better) but I've heard better.
Of course this board is also hot-swappable. If you want to try out some new switches you just have to pull the switch out with the included switch puller, replace it, and you're done. That's extremely handy since normally you'd have to take a keyboard apart, and start a lengthy process of desoldering and soldering a bunch of switches. That's not only a time consuming process, it's also not super easy to do if you've never done it before. Anyway: that's not something that you have to do with a hot-swappable board, and I really hope that this is the way forward for Ducky.
It seems to me that the custom keyboard scene is growing each day, but a completely custom board can still cost a lot of time and money, so for people who don't want to dive off the deep end these hot-swappable boards are a great way to try out a variety of switches, including lesser known ones. That's why I hope Ducky will also release hot-swappable versions of their Mecha boards. It works great on this board (and there's room for five pins, so that means a lot of switches will fit) and replacing a switch is completely risk-free.
As with all of Ducky's boards (at least the ones that I've tested) this one comes with fully configurable RGB lighting. It won't be as impressive as on other boards due to the solid tops of the keycaps but this works just the same as, for example, a One 2 Mini. That means that there's no software; not even optional. If you're someone who likes to program really intricate layers of RGB lighting along with a host of macros you might want to take that into consideration.
All in all this keyboard performs just fine. The MX Red switches are about as common as they come, and they are among the most loved switches for gaming for a reason. Combine that with N-key rollover and you've got a board that's going to serve you great for gaming, but of course the standout feature is the hot-swappable PCB so the switch performance isn't all that important. If you don't care about that functionality and just want a 'performance board' you're better off buying any other regular Ducky keyboard since this is pretty much a collector's item.
Conclusion & Recommendation
I would compare this board to buying a beautiful vintage mechanical watch: it obviously works to tell the time but if you're just buying a watch to get the most accurate reading of the current time you're better off buying a quartz watch. That comparison of course isn't entirely fair: this board performs just as good as any mechanical gaming keyboard but I mean to say that people will probably be buying this for the art as much as for the performance. If you just want to get a performance board you're better off going for a regular Ducky keyboard, though you will miss out on the hot-swappable PCB, which is one of the reasons I'd like to see Ducky include that in their regular boards as well.
What you get here is a very unique and limited edition keyboard that comes in a nice box and has a couple of neat little extras included in there. That unboxing experience, along with the art that's scattered all over the board and the packaging is what makes this board worth buying, if you're into the way it looks and/or you're a collector of course. As a special edition this is really nice and I love all the art and the completely unique way it looks, even though it's not my personal style. I just hope this won't be the only hot-swappable Ducky keyboard we're gonna see in the near future.