Jarod Huynh arrived to the photoshoot with three outfits—one for each keyboard, which he laid out on a nearby table. Each was carefully wrapped in a t-shirt.
Someone exclaims that they look as expensive as their tuition this semester.
“Actually,” Huynh says, “It might be a bit more than that.”
This was probably true.
Who is opalit?
Jarod Huynh, who goes by Opalit on most platforms, started streaming in 2019. Now a Twitch affiliate with a little over 1K followers, he used to stream games but now focuses on keyboard content—from individual pieces to creation and construction.
“Anything really relating to keyboards I talk about or deal with,” he says.
A Vietnamese-American born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, Huynh and his family moved to Florida before settling in Arizona around the early 2000s. Throughout high school, he preferred content creation and entertainment over academics and started posting videos on YouTube around 2014, which he describes as “short, super unorthodox, very awkward, strange humor” mostly made for him and his friends.
“But I developed a huge interest in keyboards over the past few years and eventually I just shifted all my content towards keyboards,” he says. “It’s not quite the same when it comes to entertainment, but you get to watch a super niche hobby that’s growing, and I just felt that I could use my abilities as an entertainer to kind of enhance this hobby, as well as kind of use it for, you know, my platform of entertainment.”
He cites keyboard hobbyists/creators (“keebs”) like Taeha Types, who built keyboards for bigger content creators, as some of his first inspirations. But Huynh also noticed a niche—one that he could fill.
you get to watch a super niche hobby that’s growing, and I just felt that I could use my abilities as an entertainer to kind of enhance this hobby, as well as kind of use it for, you know, my platform of entertainment.”
“A lot of these keyboard streamers are a lot more serious in tone,” he says. “And while they do joke around a little bit, it’s still like, not quite there in the way that I use humor, if that makes sense.”
And when the set up of a keyboard streamer is pretty standard—a desk cam and face cam bare minimum—everything beyond that depends on you.
two phone baby keeb
Before, when Huynh streamed games, he was highly susceptible to malding.
“It’s basically a form of just being really upset at games,” he says. “While I was upset I also kind of tuned the mald in a comedic, entertaining way. And so that was like, kind of what people knew me for: I was a cheeky dude that malded a lot. But now when I stream keyboards, I still kind of have that like, cheeky energy, but it’s a lot calmer but more laid back and easy on me. But I feel like I provide more premium content for how much more enjoyable it is for me.”
Huynh says keyboard streamers range from dozens to hundreds—a miniscule figure compared to the hundreds of thousands streaming, say, Valorant. At the time of this interview, the makers and crafters of Twitch (not just keyboards) had around 1K viewers in total and a little under 400,000 followers, whereas a single game had 9.2 million.
Other than sheer size, the keyboard community is different in nature.
“There’s not as huge of a learning curve when it comes to keyboards as there is with video games,” he says, so it’s not uncommon for Huynh and other keyboard streamers to educate curious viewers with what they know. “Keyboards are like a hobby that you learn something new every day.”
This rings true when you consider the endless amount of rabbit holes to explore, from the designers who make new boards, keycaps and switches to the vendors that supply parts to the people who put every thing together.
“There’s a lot of places you can go, but it’s nice, because everyone’s sort of okay with spreading parts of the community around,” he says.
“Keyboards are like a hobby that you learn something new every day.”
That’s not bad for a subculture that, according to Huynh, may have started with coders who used keyboards for work. He says that despite the popularity of marketed gaming keyboards, gamers began to enter the keyboard community when streamers such as Taeha Types began creating boards for gaming creators.
“But at the heart of the community, a lot of the original people and a lot of like the older members of the community, you see a lot of coders,” Huynh says. “Accountants, stuff like that. People that use a keyboard on the daily. And yeah, just like…nerds. I’m a nerd. We’re all nerds here.”
THE BEST KEYBOARD (DOES NOT EXIST)
There is no “ideal” keyboard. The form as well as visual and sonic aesthetic varies from person to person.
“The best analogy I could use is a tennis player trying to find the best racket for themselves,” Huynh says.
“It’s gonna sound super stupid, but I like the pretty sound,” he says, noting that boards can range from clicky to clacky to thoccy to silent. The typical mechanical keyboard usually has clicky switches, although that style is considered mainstream among enthusiasts; Huynh himself prefers a deeper sound.
“My best keyboard would be one that subjectively fits my ideal sound of a keyboard. And it’s different for everyone. Some people prefer field design, but what really drew me in was how a keyboard sounded. And because I use keyboards, it’s satisfying to hear.”
But he not only builds keyboards, he also creates his own artisan keycaps.
“The best analogy I could use is a tennis player trying to find the best racket for themselves.”
“Keycaps are basically just like pretty key caps that people make,” he says, showing a keycap with his maker’s mark (his logo) at the bottom, along with a couple of his favorites from other creators. These tend to go on escape keys, home keys, though one can fill a whole board with artisan pieces.
“It’s this huge art form, because a lot of care goes into this—like look at this packaging. This is for a single key cap, you know?”
So, let’s say someone wanted to purchase a keyboard. What do those numbers look like?
“Let’s see…you could get one on Amazon for like 30 bucks—probably not the best. You could go for like a gaming keyboard which ranges from $80 to $150 and, oddly enough, that’s still not very great for, in terms of keyboard function, keyboard pristineness. A lot of designers and vendors are now providing entry level options for around a range of $130 to $200 for a complete board and those are honestly pretty good value. And then you have a full custom beginner board that can go for $300 and then—this is gonna sound crazy—but a mid-range keyboard is between I would say like $300 and $700 in a complete build. And then when you get to higher end, you’ll find people just buying not even the full board but just the case for, like, thousands,” he says. “Like even for me that’s still a bit crazy, because it’s just a piece of aluminum, but there’s a design behind it.”
Some of those high end collectors don’t even use the keyboards at all, saving them in mint condition until they choose to resell, similar to shoes. At one point Huynh himself had six keyboards, though he’s sold some since.
Despite there being endless ways to customize a keyboard, there are a few ways in which you can destroy one, like not reading the provided designer’s guide, or not knowing how to solder correctly, the latter of which almost ruined one of Huynh’s boards.
He built keyboards for himself in 2019 before assembling boards for others late 2020, a recommended move considering how experienced you have to be before being trusted with the job. It takes a lot of knowledge, he says, to be able to answer questions that people throw at you when you build on stream. If your product is at someone else’s expense, you should at least be able to explain what’s going on.
But if someone’s interested in becoming a keeb themselves, Huynh says a lot of the work should feel similar to other hobbies.
“If you like resin art, you can make keycaps,” he says. “If you like building PCs, you could build keyboards. If you like coding, I guess you could build keyboards. It might sound crazy, but if you like LEGOs, you might like keyboards.”
Of course, be careful not to get too carried away, as it can get pricey, unsurprising for a community full of engineers with money to burn. He himself has learned to save up and be really discerning of what he wants.
“It really perpetuates impulsive spending, because everything is done in super limited runs,” he says, as there’s a chance you won’t be able to find what you want again unless you go on the aftermarket and pay a high price, but there’s always something new coming out.
“If you like resin art, you can make keycaps. If you like building PCs, you could build keyboards. If you like coding, I guess you could build keyboards. It might sound crazy, but if you like Legos, you might like keyboards.”
The latest he’s seen is more popular anime, kpop and vintage-themed boards and keycaps that have sold for thousands, as well as interesting, so-called “ugly” boards pushing the envelope of taste.
“The current trend that I’m worried about is every set being inspired by pop culture,” he says. People making anime sets just for the sake of it. “Fortunately, the hobby has a keen eye for weeding out people just trying to make a quick set to stamp out.”
His ultimate goal as a keeb is to be able to design his own board. However, he knows it won’t be easy. Some of the veteran keebs have been grinding for years at this niche, but that’s part of the reason he loves this community, the way there’s always room for more collabs, more completed commissions, more keyboards, and whatever Opalit has next.
IN THIS ARTICLE
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