For many people keyboard shortcuts are essential to their way of working, to others they are a mystery that seem to require too much research to make them worthwhile. To the second group of people the mouse is king and they find themselves increasingly absorbed into the single, linear mouse handed way of working – nothing wrong in that, except perhaps for the RSI and propensity for hunching. But I would suggest that in the mystery of keyboards shortcuts can be found an immensely speedy way of working, one that resists the urge to filter through menus and places common tasks right at your fingertips. Once discovered you’d be amazed at how it releases you from the mouse, how you straighten up, find something helpful for your left hand to do and suddenly feel in control of your DAW rather than spending all your time searching to find things. If you’re a visual person and don’t want to waste brain space remembering things then I can highly recommend checking out the Editors Keys range of keyboards with keys festooned with easy to read shortcuts ready to go.
Here’s the video version, the text carries on underneath.
I’ve got some history with keyboard shortcuts. Back in the year 2000 at Carillon Audio Systems we developed shortcut stickers for all the major DAWs that could be stuck onto your keyboard, and we gave them away with every system. At the time it seemed only video editors and Pro Tools users had access to these sorts of things. I spent many hours going through every Cubase, Sonar and Logic shortcut to capture the perfect combination of keystrokes and we came up with a colour coded way of indicating which modifier keys were used. Our intention was to lay out as many shortcuts as we could and while this was awesome it also resulted in a slightly crowded keyboard with some very small writing. So I’m very familiar with the task and challenges of designing a shortcut keyboard for keyboard shortcuts… as it were.
A company called Logic Keyboard had until recently cornered the market on media/DAW shortcut keyboards, they were mostly aimed at Apple users and had prices to match. Editors Keys has undercut their rival quite convincingly and are able to offer a range of keyboards for both Mac and PC and have just released one for Presonus Studio One – but not only that, they’ve decided that it really should also light up. So that’s what I’m reviewing today, the Editors Keys backlit Presonus Studio One shortcut keyboard!
The feel of the keyboard is “different” there’s no sculpting of the keys and the key caps feel tactile, resistant to your fingers rather than the smoothness you get from a regular keyboard. The keys feel substantial, somewhat chunky which is no bad thing in this world of super light ultrabook keyboards. There’s a good amount of travel and firm springiness – you really know that you’ve pressed that key. Keyboards tend to get thrown in when you buy a computer and typically cost no more than a tenner – so we are used to pretty rubbish keyboards. If you spend 30-50 quid and treat yourself to a decent keyboard you’ll be surprised at how much easier it is to type. I use a Logitech UltraX Premium keyboard which, for me, is excellent. It has more of a laptop feel while still having much of the response and spring of a desktop keyboard. This is more chunky than that, certainly not like an old keyboard but also not as delicate as the keyboard I’m used to. The body is a good slim size, made of shiny black and finger smudge prone plastic but rigid enough to not give under your pounding.
The backlighting is provided by LEDs under the keys activated by the does-anyone-ever-use-this-key-anymore Scroll Lock key. Because of the colouring of the key caps the light doesn’t shine through the tops at all under normal lighting but instead the keys stand a little proud to allow for the light beneath to bleed all around. The body of the keys under the cap are white and so they are illuminated quite effectively but you are also treated to a view of the dust and bits of crap that can accumulate underneath. It also throws light on the roughness of the keys, the slight unfinished or unpolished nature of them, but that’s being very picky indeed! Of course normal lighting is not the point! When you descend in to darkness with only the glow of your screen for company you’ll find that actually there’s a lot more glow going on that originally appeared. All the writing and icons are lit and visible – although some more than others, the red and dark blue being the hardest to read. The colours are helpful in differentiating between commands although there was no documentation with the keyboard and so I’m not entirely sure why some things are one colour and others are different. All the tools are orange for the number keys 1-8, zoom tools seem to be dark blue and transport controls seems to be light blue. Yellow keys are something to do with tracks and red seem to be about editing. It’s probably obvious if you are an experienced Studio One user… but then you probably already know the shortcuts whereas someone with less experience who might find this sort of keyboard helpful might benefit from a crib sheet. No modifiers are used and so unlike me with my Carillon stickers they’ve decided that one command per key is plenty. That certainly works in terms of clarity, allowing for decent sized text and a graphic to indicate what the command is and it looks completely fabulous – there’s no confusion over what a key does – I just wonder whether it’s comprehensive enough.
Well, the only way to know is to try it. So I’m going to spend some time working on a project trying to use as many keys as I can and see if there’s anything missing.
What I love about the whole concept when working with it is that you are drawn out of that mouse haze and sort of come to life because you are engaging more parts of your body in what you’re doing. And yes it’s pretty much all there, at least the majority of what you would use most often. There are some things missing because of the exclusion of modifiers – for instance adding a track is “T” which is there in lovely yellow with a bit plus sign, but removing tracks is Shift-T which isn’t indicated and probably could be without too much trouble. But at some point you have to make a design decision and in this case clarity and uniformity won out.
So having used it for a few days, for general computing duties as well as in Studio One, I’ve adapted to the feel of the keyboard and it’s a good experience. It is heavier than what I’m used to, and chunkier than their regular slim line shortcut keyboards, but it’s still very comfortable to use. There’s something to be said for having a bit of travel in your keys to give a more intentional feel. The colour separation works well, the keys are well defined and the style is very pleasing. At £99 you’d be hard pressed to find a keyboard as expensive anywhere – even an Apple Magic keyboard is only £79 – of course the specialist nature of the keyboard shortcuts and illumination add a premium but you can’t help feeling a little disappointed that for this price it’s not made of aluminium like the non-illuminated ones in the range. However, Editors Keys are still the best value shortcut keyboards out there and the addition of lighting is an extremely useful feature.
So, it’s a decent keyboard, the shortcuts can help your workflow enormously, it helps you out of the mouse zone and gets you doing things quicker and more naturally – and you can use it in the dark. That’s all pretty awesome.