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Stabilizer Shake Down - A breakdown of modern MX-style stabilizers

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One of the best parts of custom keyboards is the sound they make. It’s clean, crisp, and free from any chatter or rattles. On a well-built custom keyboard, each keystroke is solid and definitive. On the smaller keys on your keyboard, keys 1.75 units or less, you can attribute that feeling to the switches themselves. However, on larger keys, keys that are 2 units and larger, stabilizers can make or break that feeling. Today, there are a plethora of different stabilizer options available for purchase. It can be confusing trying to navigate the different brands and configurations of stabilizers. Hopefully, after reading this, you’ll have the confidence to purchase the stabilizer that fits both your budget and your needs.  Before laying out the stabilizer options, it is important to understand their function within a keyboard. Stabilizers serve two main purposes. The first is to ensure that when pressing a larger key (2 units or larger) there is consistency in the keycap press. This allows you to press the keycap anywhere on its face, left side, right side, or somewhere in the middle, and receive the same feedback with no wobble or tilting of the keycap. The second purpose of the stabilizer is to ensure that there is no binding of the key switch from off-axis presses. With stabilizers, large keys feel just as solid as small ones.  Types of Stabilizers Stabilizers come in two main forms, PCB mount and plate mount. The difference is fairly self-explanatory with PCB mount stabilizers mounting directly to the PCB and plate mount stabilizers attaching to the plate. Typically, custom keyboards use PCB mount as the preferred stabilizer. They attach to the PCB using standardized holes in the PCB. PCB mount stabilizers also have two subcategories, clip-in and screw-in stabilizers. Again, the difference is in their name. Clip-in stabilizers utilize a push-pin style mounting method and screw-in stabilizers replace the pin with a screw-in design. Recently, clip-in stabilizers have seen a resurgence, as they are most compatible with the popular gummy worm mounting style. PCB mount stabilizers are seen as the most durable and solid stabilizer type. Plate mount stabilizers are less common than PCB mount, but you can see them from time to time on prebuilt keyboards. Previously, there was very little that could be done regarding plate mount stabilizers outside of user modification, however, multiple companies now make replacements for plate mount stabilizers to improve their performance (including Drop’s own Phantom stabilizers). 
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You can see the differences between both PCB mounts, screw-in and clip-in, and plate mount stabilizers above.
Within the two forms of PCB mount stabilizers, there exists one more variable, PCB thickness. PCBs typically come in two sizes, 1.6mm and 1.2mm. 1.6mm has been the standard PCB thickness since the introduction of customs, but in recent years, as typing feel preferences have changed, 1.2mm PCBs have seen a surge in popularity. Initially, you needed PCB shims to support 1.2mm PCBs. While this is still an option, companies like TX have introduced specific 1.2mm stabilizers. It is important to remember that while shims can be used to support 1.6mm stabilizers on 1.2mm PCBs, there is no option to support 1.2mm stabilizers on 1.6mm PCBs. This is important to take note of when ordering stabilizers for your build. 
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PCB-Mount Stabilizers Because of their popularity, there is a wide variety of choices when it comes to purchasing PCB mount stabilizers. As of writing, in February of 2024, the most popular choices for stabilizers are TX AP, AEBoards Staebies, Durock V2, Gateron Ink V2, and Owlab Owlstab V2.  Starting with TX AP stabilizers, the AP stands for almost perfect. These stabilizers are unique in that they are the main offering of 1.2mm stabilizers. They come in both clip-in and screw-in varieties and even have a special offering called Long Pole. These are designed to work well with switches that have shorter travel distances which we refer to as long pole switches. They are currently the only stabilizer producer to offer this choice. Speaking of unique features, TX AP stabilizers feature a built-in Holee Mod. The Holee Mod is a popular modification done to stabilizers to address ticking between the wire and the stem of the stabilizer. This is typically done through bandaids, Teflon tape, or precut strips included with stabilizers. TX AP uses a double shot stem that features a softer material where the wire touches the stem, thus reducing ticking greatly. This feature makes them a favorite of novice and experienced builders alike. TX also includes shims with clip-in stabilizers to help create a secure mount. This addresses a common complaint of older-generation clip-in stabilizers as they would sometimes pop off the PCB. 
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AEBoards entered the stabilizer scene with the release of Staebies. They boasted that these were stabilizers that did not need to be modded or lubed for peak performance. While they fell short of that claim, Staebies were relatively well-received by the community. They are a screw-in style stabilizer that focuses on tighter tolerances to prevent ticking or rattling. Staebies performed very well with GMK and Cherry profile caps but unfortunately tended to bind more frequently on other keycap styles because their tolerances were too tight. They addressed this issue in their release of the V2.0 Staebies, increasing the tolerance in the stem by 0.1mm. 
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Durock stabilizers were some of the first options for affordable custom stabilizers. Before them, Zeal was the only provider of high-quality custom stabilizers which were priced quite high. Durock originally used the same wire mounting method as all stabilizers had before them, which unfortunately was flawed. It allowed the stabilizer wire to pop out if a keycap was not taken off carefully. This was frustrating to builders as it often required a full desolder and deconstruction of the keyboard to fix. Durock released their second version of their stabilizer which addressed this predicament. With the new wire mount, it was much more difficult to disengage the wire from the stabilizer. This was celebrated within the community and led to Durock V2 stabilizers becoming a staple for builders across the hobby. Only recently have TX AP stabilizers started to dethrone the Durock V2. They are still an extremely solid choice, especially if you are worried about wire popping in the future, however, they require extra attention when modding to achieve preferential sound in comparison to TX AP and AEBoards stabilizers. 
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Gateron Ink V2 Stabilizers are nearly identical in form and function to Durock V2 stabilizers but they are made of the same housing material as Gateron Ink series switches. They are typically priced a bit higher than Durock V2, so if that’s a concern it might be better to revisit some of the other options listed here. 
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Owlab Owlstabs on the other hand require a little more work than the Durock V2 stabilizers to achieve a tick-less and rattle-less sound, but are often priced lower than Durock V2 stabilizers. They also offer packs that cover 100% keyboards which require extra 2u stabilizers for the number pad. They are seen as a great value proposition in the hobby.
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QMX Stabilizers are GMK’s introduction to the stabilizer market. They don’t have the popularity of any of the other stabs listed here, but they are new to the market. There have been reports of difficulty in tuning the stabilizer due to tighter tolerances. As with many of the stabilizers on this list, it will take time for GMK to properly adjust those tolerances to improve their stabilizers. I’m hopeful for later iterations of this stabilizer as GMK is using a wire clip-in style that would make it impossible for the wire to become unclipped once installed. This would be beneficial to hobbyists who are building boards for family members, or helping new hobbyists. Cherry stabilizers were once the workhorse of the hobby. They were considered to be the best quality stabilizer and the most sought-after. Today, Cherry stabilizers pale in comparison to the modern aftermarket offerings. Cherry still offers both screw-in and clip-in stabilizers and does have a place in the market for budget stabilizers. They are very accessible due to their low price and wide availability. They are often criticized for their scratchiness and lower tolerances. They are a budget option today and can be purchased in bulk which is appealing to those with larger collections. However, when chasing the smoothest of stabilizer experience, Cherry falls short. Plate-Mount Stabilizers Plate-mount stabilizers are less common, but thankfully, have received quite a few options for replacement within the hobby. Very rarely do you see custom boards support plate mount stabilizers, however—it is more common to see in prebuilt keyboards. While options are greater, there is less of a difference between the options than their PCB mount counterparts. Typically when purchasing from an aftermarket option like Everglide, TX, or Durock, you’ll see an improvement over stock offerings. With plate mount stabilizers, TX recently released the ability to have a specific long pole stabilizer just like their PCB mount stabilizers. This can eliminate any rocking that you might experience from using a switch with a shorter travel distance. Plate mount stabilizers benefit from a variety of typical modifications, however, they have a unique modification that I’ve found to be extremely helpful in ensuring a solid feel. When utilizing plate mount stabilizers, I recommend using a small cut strip of painter's tape to line the top and bottom of the stabilizer cutout on the plate. This essentially makes the stabilizer fit tighter into the cutout and removes any slack within the mount. This can greatly improve the feeling of your stabilizer. Plate mount stabilizers still benefit from other modifications, and while not as popular, can still achieve a good sound and feel overall.  Stabilizer Modding While not a guide to modifying your stabilizers, it’s important to know that it is not uncommon to do so. At the very minimum, hobbyists typically lube their stabilizers with a thicker lubricant like Krytox 205g0 or Dielectric grease. I have always preferred using Krytrox 205g0 as it’s been a staple on hand to lube linear switches with as well. I typically go one step further and plug the stem of the stabilizer with 205g0 while coating the ends of the stabilizer wire with an extremely thick grease called XHT-BDZ. I also tend to balance my wires by laying them on a flat surface, like the glass screen of your smartphone, and twisting them until they lay perfectly flat. Some users perform modifications like the previously mentioned Holee Mod or by band-aid modding their stabilizers. Holee Mod involves inserting small pieces of soft material, like Teflon tape into the stem of the stabilizer to reduce the tick caused by the wire being inserted into the plastic stem. The band-aid mod involves cutting strips of a fabric band-aid and placing it on the PCB where the stabilizer will make contact on its downstroke. This dampens the sound of the stabilizer but can lead it to feel mushy at times. When modifying stabilizers, it’s important to know that longer keys often take more effort to modify, with spacebars, especially 7u, being the trickiest to get right. Modifying your stabilizers is an endeavor that is well worth it in the end. Closing Thoughts Stabilizers are the unsung heroes in custom keyboards. They ensure a rattle-less experience and give our larger keycaps a commanding thunk when typing. Early in the hobby, there were not very many options for aftermarket stabilizers, and the ones that existed were pricey. Today, the keyboard hobby has grown significantly and the market has responded by offering multiple different options for hobbyists. These options allow you to fine-tune the sound and feel of your keyboard which sets it apart from the standard keyboards we once used. There has never been a time in the hobby when more in-stock options for keyboards, keycaps, key switches, and stabilizers have been available to the masses.  While unfortunately, not every single stabilizer option was discussed, the main takeaway should be that there are a plethora of options for the modern-day keyboard hobbyist. Rest assured there is a stabilizer that can provide the even consistent feel that hobbyists expect out of their larger keys.  I’d love to hear what your preferred stabilizer is and how you tune them.
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