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Review: Dygma Raise split mech­anical key­­board for enthusiasts

The Dygma Raise is a splittable 60 % mechanical keyboard; meaning it has no function key row, navigation keys, arrow keys, or numpad. It’s squarely targeted at keyboard enthusiasts willing to pay 350 USD for a keyboard with fewer standard keys plus a unique two-rowed eight-key space bar design.

You can program every key on the Raise with up to ten layers to make it fit your needs. It’s quite flexible, yet it’s the first keyboard I’ve ever used that didn’t work after I plugged it in. Its firmware leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve already discussed the case for and against split keyboards in an earlier article. I won’t repeat myself here, so have a read through that first if you’re curious if split keyboards are right for you. You may also be interested in my keyboard form-factor guide.

The Dygma Raise is available in matte black or silver and it’s available with ISO or ANSI key layouts. You can choose from eight popular key switches from Kalih and Cherry MX, and eight regional keycap sets.

The Raise consists of two keyboard halves that you can place as you want. Each half is intended for single-handed operation. You can use the Raise as a normal 64 % keyboard by pushing the two halves together. The connector makes a snug and secure fit.

The two halves of the Raise are wired using USB-C cables into a small box Dygma calls the “Neuron”. The Neuron stores your custom light effects, keyboard layout and layers, and your macros. You can plug it into any computer and it’ll remember your setup without the need to install and configure any software on every computer you use. The Neuron is wired to your computer using an included USB-C to A cable.

Along with the Raise, you also get a carrying case and an “enhancement kit”. The kit includes a keycap and switch puller, O-ring switch dampeners, a brush that’s too big to fit where it’s needed, two extra keycaps, and one extra of each key switch you were offered when ordering. The extra keycaps you get are one blank key and one layout specific E00 key (the key to the left of the 1 key).

The enhancement kit is a nice touch, but it doesn’t make sense to send a key switch sampler set after you’ve already decided and bought the keyboard. I guess the intention is to include an extra key switch instead of shipping out replacements later in case of a faulty switch.

It’s presumably cheaper to send everyone a complete set than to stock different sets per keyboard, but the sets are already complex with the extra keycaps in two colors plus the layout specific E00 replacement. However, it would make much more sense if you receive the kit first as a sampler and then could place the order for the keyboard.

Most of the keycaps, including the four upper space keys, are standard Cherry-compatibles. However, the bottom four buttons are custom, although the company has made available 3D models for printing.

The lower four keys are my biggest gripe with Raise’s hardware. They’re about ⅖ the height of the regular keycaps, forming a tall barrier between the top four space-bar-replacement keys and the lower four. The profile of the space keys goes down to meet the other four keys, but there’s still a significant height difference.

My thumbs get stuck on the lower four keys as I repeatedly bump into the sides of the upper space keys. I need to make exaggerated and straining motions to compensate for the design. It’s difficult to get used to.

The bumps on the home row position keys (F and J) are shallow and positioned too close to the key edges; making them nearly useless when it comes to finding the home keys. Good positioning bumps are either tall near the edge or shallow but placed much nearer to the middle of the keycaps’ top surface.

I currently have 14 keyboards in the house and all of them but Dygma gets this right. The default keycaps are so bad that switching F and J to caps with proper bumps reduced my typing error rate by 14%. I constantly have to look down to locate the position keys, something I haven’t needed to do regularly in twenty years.

I can only assume Dygma’s designers either didn’t realize why the bumps are there, or that they have super-sensitive fingertips. It’s fixable by purchasing better keycaps, but it feels disappointing to have to spend the extra money to fix Dygma’s design flaw. You’ll have no trouble finding compatible keycaps, but they’ll probably look slightly off from the rest of the set.

Some of the product photos on Dygma’s website show the keyboard raised off the table and tilting out from the middle at a 40° angle. This is a typical feature for split keyboards, offering even more ergonomic customization. Despite its name, the Raise’s stand is sold separately (90 USD).

The open design makes it easy to clean, although some potential customers might be disappointed by the reduced reverb and sound from an unenclosed keyboard. Cat owners will love it, though.

The keyboard unfortunately isn’t rated as being splash-proof. Accidents involving various drinks are known to happen around expensive keyboards. The chassis doesn’t feature drainage holes at the bottom, which can help to prevent or limit water damage. Holes in the chassis can impact the sound profile of a keyboard, but I’d be much happier with that compromise than someday having a wet and dead keyboard.

The Raise is a keyboard for people who want to customize how their keyboards work. I found some of the out-of-the-box defaults baffling; e.g. the Insert key isn’t mapped to anything even though all the other navigational keys are available. The default keyboard makes so many strange decisions that it’s not really an option to not customize/fix it.

For example, the keyboard has a Function key. You would expect this to work with the number keys to emulate the missing function keys. Instead, the Function key is only configured as a toggle for the light effects.

The default secondary layer uses the E (up), S (left), D (down), and F (right) keys as directional arrow keys. Millions of people are already familiar with using the W (up), A (left), S (down), and D (right) keys; as they are the default movement keys in every game. It seems incredibly strange to me to not go with WASD as the default.

You can customize every keyboard layout using Dygma’s Bazcor configurator software. You can restore the Function key, move the arrow keys to WASD, implement a Windows key lock (popular on gaming keyboards), and do all sorts of changes.

Bazcor is a complicated piece of software, but it makes customizing your keyboard relatively simple. You might be disappointed if you expect to customize key levels and groups, though. It only allows you to customize which key emits which keycode; think of it as moving any key anywhere else on the keyboard.

You can configure up to ten levels and set keys to switch (permanent) or swap (switch while holding a modifier key) to different keyboard layers. For example, I swap to a layer where the number keys are mapped to Function keys 1–12 while holding the Function key pressed. I’ve also set up my keyboard to switch to a layer where the Windows key is disabled by pressing the Function + Windows keys.

You can configure custom light colors for each key, and even use different colors for different keyboard layers. You can’t assign any lighting effects other than on/off and color, though, so you won’t be able to configure a Caps Lock key to indicate its state.

My first out-of-box experience (OOBE) with the Raise after plugging it in was what appeared to be a completely dead keyboard. No key presses seemed to register. I feared I’d received a defective product, but the issue was more subtle than that.

I’d plugged it into my computer while it was asleep, and expected it to wake up the computer when I pressed keys on the keyboard. You know, like a normal functioning keyboard works.

The Raise doesn’t work when the computer is asleep nor when it’s in UEFI/BIOS setup mode because of blah-blah boring technical details. The issue was fixed in firmware version 0.3.5 released in . The Dygma website still only links to version 0.3.3 today over four months later. The issue has also reappeared in version 1.0.beta14.

It can’t start a sleeping device, and you need to have a different keyboard on hand if you’re doing something as exotic as interacting with your computer’s UEFI settings, dual-booting it, or run into the Windows- or BitLocker recovery screens. Dygma has sold a partially defective keyboard since its launch over two and a half years ago.

To be fair, I’ve got other keyboards where the Enter and Space keys don’t wake my PC from sleep. However, on those keyboards, I have at least 60 other keys that get the job done — and both Enter and Space work in BIOS mode.

The keyboard also occasionally restarts by itself while I’m using it. The lights distractingly flicker off and on again, and I might lose one keystroke when it happens. I’ve only noticed it happen five times in three months, so it’s not a huge issue. On the other hand, that’s also five times more than any other keyboard I’ve used.

Dygma has been open about its early issues with its keyboards freezing up completely. It initially solved the problem by adding a three-seconds-timeout-and-restart detection before finding a better solution. I assumed it was a loose cable or a poor connection before I read about Dygma’s earlier issues. I’m not sure if my issue is related to that issue, though.

The Caps Lock key is supposed to slowly fade on and off when enabled. The effect only updates when you press other keys on the keyboard, though. So, you might not be able to determine its state by looking at it, depending on where it is in its light cycle.

The Bazcor configurator also ran just fine on recent versions of both Fedora Linux and Ubuntu. It handled device communication, firmware updating, and even display scaling just fine. My only critique is that the firmware updates aren’t also distributed through the Linux Vendor Firmware Service (LVFS). You need to use the configurator to update the firmware.

Bazcor almost drove me nuts after the first use, though. I’d configured everything and sent the setup to the keyboard. I restarted my computer to apply some pending software updates but had trouble logging back in again.

It turned out something had gone wrong and every key on every layer had been moved by one position. The one key became two, the two key became three, and so on. I had to use my old keyboard to unlock my computer and figure out what had gone wrong with the Raise.

I was able to use Bazcor’s configurator to export my layers, fix them, and import them back onto the keyboard. It has only happened once and I don’t understand why it did. Most customers would have returned the keyboard at this point instead of writing a small program to fix the configuration files. Oh, and there’s no reset-to-defaults button in the configurator software.

On one hand, this shows the power and capabilities of a programmable keyboard. On the other hand, … it takes a very special kind of person to enjoy the programming challenge required to correct a problem like this one.

The Raise can be configured for basic mouse click and movement emulation. It also supports macros mixing keyboard and mouse interactions. The macro editor in Bazcor can take some time to get used to, but it’s within expectations given the complex nature of macros.

Conclusions

The Dygma Raise scores high on durability, repairability, and the quality of the hardware. You can buy replacements for everything likely to wear out from Dygma’s website. Everything feels solid and well-built.

Though, I’m not convinced its unique hardware features are all that good. The high ridge between the lower and upper rows of space keys makes it uncomfortable to use the lower row. The shallow bumps on the positional keys make me want to toss out the default keycap set.

You’re required to poking around a lot to discover how to use it to its fullest. That’s also part of the experience you’ve bought. With great customization-power comes great complexity, and Bazcor does a fine job at preserving the former while reducing the latter. The Bazcor configurator needs a “restore defaults” button and possibly some sort of version control or “undo” functionality, but it’s mostly fine.

The firmware leaves a lot to be desired. The occasional restart isn’t as big of a problem as needing a different keyboard on hand to wake your computer and operate it in lower-level modes. Dygma has released one firmware version where it worked properly, so there’s still hope that future versions will get this right.

The hardware product is surprisingly polished despite being developed by a small team. It’s a specialty product for people who can’t meet their keyboard customization needs through software alone. Ultimately, the firmware flaws make it difficult to recommend the Dygma Raise.