Review: Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 gaming keyboard

The Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 gaming keyboard holds its own against better known competition, which is an impressive feat coming from a company better known for sound technology than keyboards. Creative Labs has clearly been paying attention.

Vanguard K08 feature highlights and specifications

The Vanguard K08 is a mechanical keyboard based on Omron switches, which Omron is calling PRES (“Perceive-React-Execute-Switches”). If you’re familiar with the more common Cherry MX switches (Red, Blue, Brown, and Black) and their characteristics, know that the Omron switches are very similar to Cherry MX Red switches. The Omron PRES deliver a very smooth, soft, and quiet key press–the very opposite of many noisier mechanical switch options (i.e. Cherry MX Blue, Brown, and similar switches).

Omron Pres switches are rated for 70 million keystrokes.

Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 features and specifications

Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 (Credit – Creative Labs)
  • 5 dedicated programmable macro keys
  • Dedicated media controls with rotary volume control
  • Quiet Omron mechanical switches
  • Low profile key swift key caps
  • USB 2.0 pass-through port
  • 109 fully programmable keys
  • Programmable reactive lighting system w/10 lighting presets
  • 2 position adjustable height
  • Detachable Wrist Rest

The Vanguard layout follows what has become a fairly standard layout for gaming keyboards. There is a column of 5 dedicated, programmable macro keys along the left side of the board. A row of dedicated media control keys rests above the PRT SCRN cluster, and a handy mute button and rotary volume control (a feature I’ve personally come to prize highly on my keyboards) sit above the number pad keys.

Rounding out the dedicated controls are an SBX button for opening the Vanguard software, a convenient “lock” button to activate gaming mode (i.e. disable the Windows key), and a brightness key to switch through the Vanguard’s 4 brightness levels.

Vanguard K08 performance Evaluation

The Vanguard’s keys and Omron switches are designed to be faster and more responsive than standard mechanical switches. This is a common claim by many keyboard manufacturers now, who have been moving beyond standard Cherry MX switches to create their own ‘gaming optimized’ switches.  ‘Gaming optimized’ switches are generally designed to require slightly shorter travel distances so they actuate (register a key press) more quickly than their non-gaming counterparts, thus making the keyboard “faster” and more responsive.

‘Gaming optimized switches’ also makes a nice bullet point on a package, but for most users it won’t likely make any real difference in your gaming ability. What tends to matter more–or at least, be more noticeable in real-world usage, is overall comfort, design, and the feel of the keys when you press them.

As a relative latecomer to the mechanical gaming keyboard market, the Vanguard demonstrates that Creative Labs/Sound Blaster have certainly done their homework. The Omron PRES-backed Vanguard K08 deliver silky-smooth, quiet key presses, and the keyboard follows a fairly standard and refined layout, providing enough extra features to easily match its competitors in the same price range.

The Vanguard K08 is a keyboard ninja. It feels fast, and fingers dance lightly across it with silky smooth keystrokes.

Side note: As quiet as it is, you could say the Creative Labs Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 is silent but deadly.

Side note 2: Above side note is why I am not in marketing.

The Vanguard K08’s only real ‘weakness’ (and it’s minor)  is its software, which is definitely a good first effort but lacks some of the refinement and more robust features of competitors such as Razer and Logitech.

The Vanguard software includes standard features such as a macro recorder and plentiful lighting controls to customize. Like competing RGB keyboards, you can make any key any color, and mix and match certain lighting functions; for example, if you want to make the arrow keys a different color from other keys and pulsate, you can do it.

However, for some bizarre reason you can’t drag and select a bunch of keys to assign them an effect or color. Instead you have to use CTRL+Left-click to select multiple keys to apply a lighting effect to them. The software also doesn’t support multiple profiles, easy profile switching, or launching a keyboard configuration (with associated customizations) based upon which application you launch. Granted none of these may be vital features, but they are fairly standard offerings from many competing keyboards.

But these are mostly minor quibbles and may be improved with future releases of the software. All you need to remember is that the Vanguard K08 is silent but deadly  a standout effort from Creative Labs and well worth considering if you’re in the market.

Overall: 8/10—Highly recommended

The Vanguard delivers fast, quiet keystrokes and a virtually perfect design and layout. Its software could use a little refinement, but it’s a solid first effort and likely to improve with time. And at a launch price of around $140, the Sound BlasterX Vanguard K08 still holds its own in overall comfort, design, and performance against competitors in the same price range, which includes heavyweights like such as Razer, Roccat, and Logitech.

And it is silent but deadly!

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