Angry Miao’s wild keyboard and headphone designs

Angry Miao’s wild keyboard and headphone designs

What does a $2,000 flex in mechanical keyboard form look like? Or a pair of wireless earbuds ripped from a video game’s post-apocalyptic future? What kind of zaniness does a boutique microbrand get up to when it has the freedom to charge premium prices for arthouse-level tech projects?

Tucked away in the recesses of mechanical keyboard fandom and a loyal Discord server is Angry Miao — the Zhuhai, China-based company originally founded in 2019 as a small-batch keyboard company and which now says it’s building a “Future Art Community” with serious VC money and feedback from its fans. But the campy slogan isn’t what catches our imagination here — it’s the provocative designs with eye-watering pricetags to match.

I got to try out one of Angry Miao’s keyboards and its upcoming Horizon Zero Dawn-inspired wireless earbuds, and I’m ready to take you on an emotional roller coaster of intriguing design combined with a slight airy musk of edgelord cringe.

Angry Miao’s efforts are simultaneously illogical, admirable, gut-wrenchingly try-hard, and kind of endearing. The 67-person company primarily makes mechanical keyboards, yes, but you’d be forgiven for thinking it lost the plot a bit after that. Angry Miao also makes a massive wireless charging mat for both its keyboards. And its own funky-looking USB-C charger. And its own wireless charging adapter for Logitech’s Powerplay-compatible mice. And NFT trading cards.

And now, after all that, it’s singling out Apple’s AirPods Pro as the thing to beat with a new set of noise-canceling earbuds, too — even though Angry Miao’s products are often released in limited-edition drops of as few as 100 units at a time.

The Am Hatsu’s design is meant to be inspired by the opening sequence of HBO’s Westworld, where automated mechanical arms weave tissue-like threads of a cybernetic android, contrasting the cold, hard metal with organic shapes.

But first, let’s talk about the Am Hatsu wireless split-ergonomic mechanical keyboard. Even if you’re familiar with split-ergo designs, you probably haven’t seen or felt anything quite like this. Wrapping your hands around this keyboard and tapping on its see-through smoked keycaps with linear, translucent icy silver switches feels like you’re operating something from another world — not a tool or a peripheral but a small interactive sculpture. The sculpture part is almost true: the cases have a curved and contoured all-aluminum build, utilizing a costly five-axis CNC milling process for their chassis.

The Hatsu has a unique layout on each side, with 52 keys arranged four-by-six for your fingers and a cluster of six for each thumb. The starkly tilted angles of each key floating above the white LED reminds me of a jagged mountain range, yet it’s oddly calming to rest my fingers atop their delicately contoured shape.

These glowing peaks of a keyboard are fully wireless, designed to sit atop the 13-inch x 35-inch Cybermat wireless charger.

Angry Miao packs 12 Qi charging coils into its Cybermat — a massive slab of metal and cloth singularly designed to live beneath the Am Hatsu or its other keyboard, the Cyberboard. (Take that, Apple AirPower.) Ten of those coils are spread around the middle, allowing you ample room to comfortably position the Am Hatsu across a wide area. The other two coils flank the keyboard to juice up your phone and your mouse if you have a Logitech Powerplay adapter or Angry Miao’s limited-run Cybercoin that snaps onto the bottom of those compatible mice. It’s all powered off a single USB-C cord running to the company’s bundled 90W GaN charger, dubbed the Cybercharge. If you haven’t noticed from the names, Angry Miao has a penchant for the dramatic. Not only does it make a charger specifically for its surfboard of a mat, but it also dresses up the design with vibrant interchangeable covers — even though you may never see it while in use.

This setup for the Am Hatsu spoils you with its clean desk aesthetic, devoid of most cables yet perpetually charged. As for the typing experience, the custom-molded high-gloss caps with frosted insides feel great, and the all-metal base makes for a rock-solid sound with each keystroke. It’s pleasant to type on, thanks to each key’s even and clear sound signature, lacking ping or hollowness — though some may find it overly deadened. When you hit your typing stride, it feels like entering a flow state with the delicately clacky sounds giving off a slight stereo effect since they’re coming from further apart.

Clean lines sit atop one of the many wireless charging coils embedded into the Cybermat desk pad.

Angry Miao’s newest product is called the Cyberblades because, of course, every dang thing it makes must be named Cyber-something — as if to shout from a rooftop: “I’m edgy, and not only did I study the blade, but that blade is a neon-purple glowing katana from the future!” But I have to admit these things look friggin’ wild. They’re a pair of triangular noise-canceling earbuds inspired by Aloy’s ear-mounted Focus accessory from Guerilla Games’ Horizon Zero Dawn, and they feature some connectivity tricks that are genuinely interesting.

The Cyberblades are launching on September 1st via Kickstarter for a backer-only price of $299, or $179 for early birds who order in the first 24 hours. After the Kickstarter, they should normally cost $328. That sounds almost, dare I say, normal. But that’s about where all sense of normalcy ends. In the looks department, the “shell black” colorway that I’ve been testing is a super shiny and reflective purple and green — like a pearlescent paint job that goes from a mirrored-black in low light to really popping with cool reflections in bright light. On the sides of each earbud is a strip of color-changing RGB lighting because, of course, they must be RGB.

The Cyberblades feature a unique design, customizable RGB lighting, and a charging case with a starry sky aesthetic.

While most earbud makers are focused on typical brags like sound quality, battery life, and noise cancellation, Angry Miao is boasting super low-latency audio for better gaming performance instead. It even put an extra processor into the charging case and built in a faux-wired mode to achieve a claimed latency of around 40 milliseconds. To use this pseudo-wired wireless mode, you plug in the charging case via its USB-C port, and the Cyberblades get picked up as a USB audio output — eschewing the need for Bluetooth pairing.

You might be thinking that adding a wire into the setup of wireless earbuds sounds a bit silly — and it kind of is — but this feature is also pretty cool in practice. Wired headphones are still the best option for latency-free listening and gaming, yet the Cyberblades make a compelling case because they’re actually fun to use. The lid of the cylindrical charging case is itself a button and a rotary dial, and it’s the key to using the Cyberblades with your computer. You press the lid or hold it down to connect, disconnect, mute the microphone, or cycle through preset EQ modes (gaming, movies, and music). Turning the lid controls the system volume, with clicky detents giving you some physical feedback.

It’s a unique and novel way to use a pair of earbuds, certainly the most I’ve ever seen implemented. And while it works with my Steam Deck and gaming PC, where I can see the reduced audio latency making its biggest difference, I appreciated it most during the work day while using the Cyberblades with my M1 MacBook Air. Having it paired with my phone via Bluetooth while connected to the Mac in wired mode allowed me to switch back and forth seamlessly just by double-tapping the case lid — a small touch of that Apple Handoff convenience without being trapped in Cupertino’s walled garden.

The Cyberblade docking throne. This included magnetic charging dock combines dark gray aluminum with an RGB-illuminated acrylic stand, and the metal-rimmed case lid rotates for volume control.

All those low-latency specs and connectivity tricks are mostly pointless if the earbuds don’t sound good, but the Cyberblades have nice overall performance. They meet the essentials, with great sounding audio (although not the brightest in the treble range), good battery life, and a nice fit — with eight sets of silicone and memory foam tips included to ensure it. The AirPods Pro still have the slight edge in noise cancellation and a better transparency mode, but the Cyberblades don’t lag behind much in sound quality.

The accompanying Angry Miao app, which is only for Android at the time of testing, allows you to customize the RGB lighting and choose three Bluetooth EQ modes: soft, vocal, and bass. Of the three, bass and vocal sounded best for music. Soft was just too mushy and compressed-sounding. Bass was a little over the top on the low end, though I didn’t mind it. The middle setting, vocal, was a fine catch-all balance.

But let’s be honest with ourselves here: no sound quality is going to get out in front of how the Cyberblades look and the image they present. You’re going to stand out wearing these in public and on the street. Personally, I’m used to earbuds being nondescript and even completely hidden by my long hair. Wearing the Cyberblades with my hair up, I realized how much they stick out from your ears, begging you to look at them. If you’re looking for something designed to set you apart from all the AirPods and Galaxy buds of the world, they absolutely do.

Be prepared to get some odd glances from people or nerdy questions and conversations.

I’ve used these earbuds for many hours, but I won’t review them because they’re pre-production samples — and a lot can change through the run of the Kickstarter and beyond. But just as Kickstarter has its inherent risks, so does getting your tech products from a boutique brand. The Cyberblades have their fair share of jank and clunkiness that’s not guaranteed to get ironed out. For example, the rotating case lid is nifty, but it takes a lot more turning than it should to register small volume changes. Also, the earbuds do not auto-pause unless you quickly remove both at the same time. And frankly, until a firmware update fixes issues like frequent connection drops and near-unusable touch controls, auto-pausing is the least of my woes. While Angry Miao may still be working things out, always keep in mind that tech products should never be purchased on a promise of what’s to come down the line.

Most of Angry Miao’s products are prohibitively expensive and difficult to buy, though it’s cool to see a small team with a unique identity building hardware that compels some emotion. Is it a “future art community?” That term still sounds like meaningless hyperbole to me. But it’s definitely a lifestyle tech brand that is carving out its weird little niches within niches and doing it in interesting and unique ways.

And I must admit there’s a part of me that’s unequivocally charmed by these products. The designs can spark emotion like not much else out there. For example, after I first learned of Angry Miao and saw pictures of one of the Cyberboard and its colorful LED matrix, I had a personal fever dream of a custom-modified Verge model, where it’s connected to a ticker showing the latest Verge headlines scrolling across it. I envisioned a custom key opening a web browser to take you to that exact story. Why did I think of this? Probably because I’m just a huge nerd, but also because these cool, quirky designs can help drum up ideas of your own. Is my fantasy Verge keyboard something attainable? Probably not. But hey, it’s fun to dream.

Photography by Antonio G. Di Benedetto / The Verge

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