Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 review: A solid mechanical gaming keyboard with low travel switches

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Vanguard-K08-review

The Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard is a great entry for Creative into the gaming peripheral market.

TA-ratings-95As mentioned in our Siege M04 gaming mouse review, Creative has always been known for their SoundBlaster line of audio cards and speakers, as well as their recent foray into gaming headsets. Our Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 review takes a look at the first gaming keyboard from Creative which features custom Omron low travel switches.

Specifications

The Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 mechanical gaming keyboard has the following features and specifications:

  • Pixart PMW3360 IR LED precision sensor
    • 12,000 native DPO
    • 1,000 Hz polling rate
    • Low 2mm lift-off distance
    • 32-bit high-speed MCU
  • 109 fully programmable keys
    • 104 standard keys
    • 5 dedicated macro keys
  • High-speed USB 2.0 pass-through port
  • Onboard rotary volume and media controls
  • Low profile swift keycaps
  • Programmable per-key backlighting
    • 16.8 million color Aurora Reactive Lighting System
  • Detachable wrist rest
  • Sturdy extendable feet
  • Key switches
    • Durability: 70 million actuations
    • Actuation force: 45g
    • Actuation distance: 1mm
    • Total travel distance: 3.5mm
  • Dimensions
    • Without wrist rest: 465 x 149 x 37.6mm (18.3 x 5.9 x 1.5″)
    • With wrist rest: 465 x 215 x 37.6mm (18.3 x 8.5 x 1.5″)
  • Weight
    • Without cable & wrist rest: 1.18kg (2.6lb)
    • With cable & wrist rest: 1.28kg (2.8lb)

What’s in the box

  • Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard with attached 2.0m USB cable
  • Detachable wrist rest
  • Key cap remover
  • Quick Start guide

Design

For the most part, the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard looks like a regular keyboard with a few notable differences. Rectangular in shape, the corners are angled which provides a nice look.

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The Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard.

With six standard rows and a full number pad, the Vanguard K08 also has five dedicated macro keys on the left hand side, a mute button and a metal volume rocker above the number pad. An extra section also juts out above the F9 key to the edge of the right edge of the keyboard which contains volume controls, a Windows lock key, brightness and SBX controls.On the left hand side of this section are your num lock, caps lock, and scroll lock indicators while on the right side is the Sound BlasterX logo. Underneath the left hand side of this section, you’ll find a USB 2.0 pass-through port for added convenience.

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Dedicated audio controls are a nice touch.

The Vanguard K08 also includes a detachable wrist rest, although detachable might be a bit loose in terminology. The wrist rest doesn’t actually attach and snap onto the keyboard itself, rather the keyboard rests on top of it and keeps the wrist rest in place. Lift the keyboard up and the wrist rest remains in place on your desk. It’d be nice to see this attach somehow to the keyboard in the next iteration of gaming keyboards from Creative.

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The detachable wrist rest simply sits under and is held in place by the keyboard.

The keyboard has a nice design and look to it which is only accented by the Aurora Reactive Lighting System. The keycaps themselves have a lower profile and the custom keys boast a 1.5mm actuation distance for a 3.5mm total travel distance. You’d think half a millimeter isn’t much, but there is a slight and noticeable difference when using the Vanguard K08 with its custom Omron, dubbed PRES (Perceive-React-Execute Switches) by Creative, switches over other mechanical keyboards.

Ease of Use

Again, the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard is as simple as plugging it into an available USB port — or two if you want to use the USB pass-through — and away you go. Of course you’ll be relegated to the default lighting settings, so if you want to add macros to the dedicated macro keys or any of the other 104 standard keys and/or adjust the lighting effects, you’ll want to use the Sound Blaster Connect software.

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A USB pass-through port is also a feature of the keyboard.

Software

Like the Seige M04 gaming mouse and Katana sound bar, the Vanguard K08 uses the Sound Blaster Connect software for firmware updates and configuration. Similar to the gaming mouse, the Connect software lets you customize lighting, adjust performance settings, and assign macros to any of the available keys.

As with the mouse, there are eight lighting presets and the ability to customize your own, right down to each individual key and the BlasterX logo. Unfortunately, like the mouse, the lighting is only for looks and while it looks cool, it would be nice to be able to have it “react” to certain in-game events. That being said, it does look pretty cool when you have the mouse, keyboard, and sound bar all using the same preset. In addition, being able to assign a specific color to each key can also assist during gaming by making it stand out a little bit more.

The Performance tab allows you to set the repeat delay and repeat rate, as well as polling rate. Like the mouse, the Macros tab lets you assign macros to any of the five dedicated macro buttons and 104 standard keys, including switching key bindings or adding mouse functions to a key. The macro function allows you to record a series of key presses to fire off a set number of times with a single press of the key or until you release the key (forever).

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The Vanguard K08 setting screens in the Sound Blaster Connect software (click to enlarge).

Performance

So just how well does the Creative Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 with its custom PRES switches hold up against other mechanical gaming keyboards? Quite well in fact. As mentioned previously, the 1.5mm actuation and 3.5mm total travel distances do seem to make a bit of a difference both while gaming and typing. According to Creative, if one was to mash on a keyboard for a minute and registers 420 keypresses, you can pull off 48 additional ones with the Vanguard — a 12.5% increase. More key presses due to shorter travel mean more shots fired, boss hits, or even characters typed per minute.

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The custom PRES switches by Omron feature a lower actuation and total travel distance than most mechanical keyboards.

During gameplay, mostly Diablo III and Heroes of the Storm, the PRES switches were indeed very responsive and the keyboard is also comfortable to use for extended periods of use. The custom PRES switches also feature dual connectors in each switch. This guarantees the key will fire if either of the connections fails for whatever reason. The keyboard also features 26-key rollover with anti-ghosting, and while using it I never encountered any lag or delayed commands as a result.

The USB 2.0 pass-through works as expected as well, as do the volume mute button and volume control rocker. The Windows lock button is a nice addition as well and locks the Windows key from functioning while enabled. Disabling this key while playing games prevents your system from losing focus on the game should you accidentally hit the Windows key.

Price/Value

The Creative Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard is a bit on the high end of the price range for gaming keyboards at $139.99USD. That being said, given the performance of the custom Omron PRES switches with their lower travel distances, quality build, additional media controls, and USB pass-through port, it is pretty fairly priced. In addition, there is a limited edition Sound BlasterX Weapons Crate for $299.99USD which includes the mouse, keyboard, gaming mouse pad, and a few other goodies.

Wrap-up

As with the Seige M04 gaming mouse, the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Mechanical Keyboard is a great entry for Creative into the gaming peripheral market.

*We were sent a sample of the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 Gaming Keyboard for the purposes of this review.

Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08

$139.99 USD
Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08
9.5

Design

10/10

    Ease of Use

    10/10

      Software

      9/10

        Performance

        10/10

          Price/Value

          9/10

            Nailed it

            • Fairly solid design/build quality
            • Onboard media controls are nice
            • Responsive Omron switches
            • Quiet mechanical keyboard operation
            • Windows lock key
            • Dedicated macro buttons
            • Can program any key

            Needs work

            • Would be nice to have different profiles to toggle for macro use
            • Wrist rest doesn't actual attach to the keyboard
            • LED lighting simply for looks
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