Azio Cascade Keyboard Review: An Easy Way to Dive Into Customizable Mechanical Keyboards

Josh Goldman/CNET

There seems to be a boom in demand for compact mechanical keyboards at the moment — and not just for gaming. It makes sense, with more people working from home or in hybrid work situations, splitting their time between home and an office with hoteling or hot-desking. Having your own keyboard is about comfort but also about personal style.

With so many keyboards out there, it can be intimidating if you’re not sure where to start, which is what makes the Azio Cascade so appealing. It’s a compact wireless mechanical keyboard that can be customized with Lego-like simplicity.

Currently a project on Kickstarter, the Cascade is similar to options from competing brands like keychron and fishing lesson† It’s a 75% keyboard, meaning it doesn’t have a 10-key number pad but still has function and directional keys. The body, available in standard and slim versions, has an aluminum top and plastic on the bottom. The top plate is interchangeable, though, and while you can choose from gray or bronze for the project, Azio says other colors are in the works. That’s also just the start of the customization options.

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The Cascade can be used wirelessly over Bluetooth or wired. You can also flip between Windows and Mac key layouts.

Josh Goldman/CNET

Azio sent me a preproduction sample of the Cascade Slim to test. It has a height of 27 millimeters, while the standard model is 41mm in height. The smarter frame makes it easier to drop into a backpack for a commute; adjustable feet at the rear give it 4, 6 or 9 degrees of tilt.

Both versions come with your choice of prelubricated Gateron mechanical switches: blue, red, yellow or brown G Pro switches on the Cascade and blue, red or brown Low-Profile Gateron switches on the Cascade Slim. I tested with the brown switches, which are quieter like the linear red switches but with more weight and a tactile bump. The switches are hot-swappable, though, so if you want to mix things up you can. However, while the standard Cascade works with any MX-style mechanical switch, the Cascade Slim only works with the Low-Profile Gateron switches.

You’ll run into a similar situation with the keycaps. While the Slim’s switches have MX-style posts, you’ll need to use low-profile keycaps. Azio has several sets to choose from that you can add to your pledge, and in general, the ones that topped my keyboard were fine. My only complaint is the secondary characters on the keys looked slightly smudgy, making them difficult to read. On the other hand, Azio stamped them with both Windows and Mac markings so you can use the Cascade with either OS without having to remember the key assignments. A switch on the back changes the key function for Mac and Windows on the fly.

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You can cycle through backlight colors and patterns with the arrow keys.

Josh Goldman/CNET

The keyboard can also be switched between Bluetooth for wireless use on up to three devices or wired. Battery life is OK; you can expect to charge it every couple of days depending on use and backlight level. (Azio included a braided USB-A-to-USB-C cable and a combo keycap and key switch puller.) Wireless performance was reliable but, like most Bluetooth keyboards, it goes to sleep when not in use and takes a second or two to reconnect.

Even though my Cascade Slim is preproduction, the keyboard felt good and sounded great. There was no discernable wobble to the keys and no ping, rattle or hollowness to the sound. Just an all-around pleasing typing experience. the campaign page has a sound sample if you want to hear what the keyboard sounds like with the Gateron Low-Profile Brown switches.

The Kickstarter campaign for the Cascade keyboard is fully funded and a company representative confirmed the keyboard is currently in production. A keyboard with shipping is a $109 pledge, or about AU$151 or £84. The campaign ends on April 2 at 12 pm ET and is expected to ship in May. This is Azio’s second keyboard campaign and, judging by the comments on that campaign, the company delivered on time to backers and was responsive to issues. Still, before contributing to any campaign, read the crowdfunding site’s policies — in this case, Kickstarter — to find out your rights (and refund policies, or the lack thereof) before and after a campaign ends.

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