The Kawai CN37 is an unassuming piano. I approached it with little by way of expectation. In the best possible sense, the CN37 is a rather funky wolf dressed up in deceptively drab clothing. There’s nothing to get excited about on the outside, sporting a very similar build to that of a Yamaha Clavinova.
However, as soon as I started playing, I realized that this was an instrument that I was about to lose many hours of time to. And whenever you can find a piano like that, especially given the price of higher end digital pianos these days, it’s time to rejoice.
Before moving on, please take a brief moment to compare the Kawai CN37 to some of the other popular digital pianos currently on today’s market by using our interactive table:
First Impressions of the Kawai CN37
The first thing you notice is the lightness of touch and the bounce of the key-action. The second thing you discover that is that an hour has whizzed by and I haven’t moved from the padded bench I’m sitting on. This is a keyboard that you can truly lose yourself in.
Kawai has a well-earned place in the holy trinity of digital piano brands, as one could certainly argue that Roland, Yamaha and Kawai are the leaders in the industry (with Casio closely following and rapidly catching up).
Kawai was established in 1927 and became world-renowned for their grand and upright pianos, so it’s no surprise that they’ve brought their expertise into the creation of some of the best digital pianos on the market. The CN37 is equivalent price to the Yamaha Clavinova CLP 635, so we will end up comparing these two digital pianos quite a bit throughout this review.
For the uninitiated, here’s a brief summary of some of the notable features of the CN37:
- Multi-dynamic sampling of the world-renowned Kawai EX and SX-EX grand pianos
- 360 instrumental sounds
- Bluetooth connectivity
- A delightfully light key action
- Headphone control
- Split / dual / definable keyboard modes, perfect for piano lessons
- Free Virtual Technician tablet application, offering great instrumental editing capability
Below, please feel free to view some of the best-selling upright digital pianos currently on sale (and then see how well they stack up against the Kawai CN37):
|1) Casio PX-770|
|2) Yamaha YDP-145|
|3) Roland RP-701|
|4) Yamaha YDP-165|
|5) Casio PX-870|
How Does It Play and Feel?
Using Kawai’s Responsive Hammer III keyboard action, they’ve almost perfectly replicated the key weight and response of a grand piano; complete with the tactility of vibration that runs through the fingers. Using authentic counterweights, the lower register keys are weighted more heavily, whilst there’s a distinctly lighter touch at the top end, recreating the differing key and hammer lengths of acoustic grands.
One of the things I was so impressed by with Kawai’s lower priced stage-piano, the Kawai ES110, was the great feel and key-play response, courtesy of the positioning of the sensor underneath the key. If you’re looking for a more portable keyboard in a similar price bracket as the CN37, you could go for the Kawai ES8, which sports a better user interface than the ES110 but with the same responsive play and feel.
The CN37, if anything, is even more responsive with Kawai’s triple-sensor key detection technology. Without going into the “science” of it, what you get is a dynamically responsive playing experience—totally lacking in any key latency. This gives the pianist a real sense of immediacy underneath his or her fingers.
The keys themselves are described as “ivory touch.” They’re basically a carefully textured, matte plastic key that absorbs fingertip perspiration and oils to allegedly help enhance playing control. I’ve never really been one to sit at the piano with a bag of chips, so I’m not entirely sure whether I fully buy the idea that an absorbent key surface really helps one’s play control, but they certainly feel good under the fingertips. Arguably, the keyboard is the most important element of any digital piano, and I really feel that Kawai have afforded an enormous effort in getting the play interface totally correct.
There’s an amazing lightness to the action of the keys, in comparison with the Clavinova CLP 635, which feels much heavier under the fingers. I suppose it comes down to preference but, for me, playing the CN37 was what I enjoyed the most.
There’s a very pleasing bounce to the key-off action, as opposed to the Clavinova’s rather sprung key release which doesn’t feel as authentic to my fingers. You hit the key and it bounces back to neutral with the same hammer return as an acoustic piano. The triple sensor detection ensures that only a single note is heard with each key strike, even if the same key is hit repeatedly, so this bounce provides a really genuine keyboard feel.
There is a sufficiently large digital display at the heart of the rather powerful user interface. At first glance, it looks over-complicated and difficult to navigate. In contrast, one of the things that Yamaha seems to get right almost every time is a simple interface layout, which is almost instantly self-explanatory.
The CN37 has a slightly intimidating first page/screen of its display, which will make you reach for the “CN37 for Dummies” if such a publication exists. But, like riding a bike, it doesn’t take you long to have forgotten what seemed so initially complicated.
There are a number of options instantly accessible from physical buttons on the panel, indicating which of the instrumental groupings you’re exploring. It wasn’t instantly obvious, for example, that to scroll through different piano sounds you need to repeatedly press the Piano key — the name of the sound is displayed on the digital panel. Once you’ve worked this out, you realize that there are enough physical buttons to make this a really simple and easily explored interface.
The CN35 has a more traditional, physical button-driven user interface, with a smaller digital display, but more options that are immediately available at your fingertips. There are some really impressive additional editing functions available for the CN35 and at a similar price-tag (slightly lower) making it a good option if you prefer your interface more simply presented.
If you’re looking for a stage piano at the end of the market, the ES110 is a great option but has quite a clunky user interface. It’s half the price of the Kawai ES8, however, which houses a much more comprehensive user interface that is more effective for quickly switching sounds and controlling built-in rhythm tracks.
Is it boring of me to suggest that the piano sounds are a little underwhelming? They were perfectly acceptable – good, authentic grand piano samples, the color of which varies depending on the intensity of the play – but I didn’t particularly fall in love with the sounds, unlike with the equivalent Roland LX series.
I think it was the positioning of the speakers — the sound feels a little detached from the play. This is easily overcome, I think, with headphones, but was a bit of a distraction. There are 352 instrument sounds and they’re all fine – completely functional, responsive and realistic; everything you’d want from a digital piano.
But, it’s the electric pianos in particular that really bring this instrument to life in my opinion— rich, deep, spatial and authentic. They really give the speakers something to do. You can almost hear the speaker set yawning through the piano sounds and then suddenly jumping to life, high-kicking and clamoring for attention once the beautifully crunchy, grungy, authentic electric pianos put in a performance.
There are great rotator speaker emulators that are dizzying and exciting to play and an amazingly authentic, touch-responsive Fender Rhodes-like collection. I often find the “other” sounds on a digital piano can be a bit of an after-thought — more of a “because we can” rather than “because you need this,” scenario, but on the CN37, the “others” are great fun to play.
The string collections are OK – they sound electronic rather than authentic, but the organ sounds are really impressive.
In contrast, the CN27 (the little brother of the 37) has the same play-feel and equally impressive piano and electric piano sounds, just with a reduced instrument count of just 19.
The CN37 has all the expected connection types, 5 pin DIN MIDI, USB MIDI, LINE in and out. It also offers a Bluetooth connection, which allows you to wirelessly interact with a tablet driving synth apps. The Clavinova in the same price range (specifically, the CLP 635) lacks Bluetooth connectivity, so for the money (you can find the Kawai CN37 anywhere from $2,500 to $3,000), it would be the Kawai all the way for me.
Ability to Edit
There’s a powerful sound engine at the heart of the CN37, allowing edit of many aspects of the piano sound, such as lid position, hammer delay, string resonance and foot pedal sensitivity. These are all pretty standard for electric pianos in this price-range but what’s particularly impressive about the Kawai offering is in the free Virtual Technician tablet app (available for both Android and iOS platforms), providing a much broader interface for adjustment and fine tuning of the instrument.
As a customer, this really gives you a sense of control over the product, and whilst many of those editing options are available via the user interface, they are more accessible via the app. The CN27, however, has a much simpler display and general interface, so the Virtual Technician really comes into its own for that instrument.
The Headphone Experience
One of the most useful features of digital pianos is the ability to practice without disturbing the rest of the household. Often the headphone experience is just a direct re-routing of the main speakers, but Kawai have gone the extra mile with the CN37.
Their Spatial Headphone Sound technology offers a number of options designed to heighten the realism of the playing experience and to reduce auditory fatigue whilst wearing headphones for an extended period. This is really important for the learner practicing the same two bars of music repeatedly until it flows — headphones have saved the sanity of many a family member or roommate at colleges and universities around the globe.
This makes the CN37 a perfect learner’s instrument: this attention to auditory fatigue is essential if practicing for extended durations. The sound is genuinely transportive through headphones, boosted by the 2 headphone sockets, so it can be perfect for piano lessons as well.
There’s also a “Lesson Function” that helps you to develop piano technique and learn from a limited choice of piano pieces. Whilst this is useful, I don’t think you can replace a living and breathing piano teacher who can watch, listen and correct in the flesh.
You May Want to Read: What Are the Best Headphones for Digital Pianos?
Like many of the keyboards in this particular price bracket, the keyboard can be split at user-definable points to allow you to control (for example) a double bass in the left hand and an electric piano in the right hand.
Also, there is the split mode that allows you to divide the keyboard down the middle and for both halves of the keyboard play the same octave range – a perfect solution for piano teachers and students alike.
All-in-all, there’s a lot to love with the CN37—and not a lot to hold you back. I personally favor the lightness of the keyboard over the heavier key action of the Clavinova, whilst also preferring the piano sounds of the Kawai, which feel less “produced” than the higher end Yamaha’s.
If you’re looking for an electric digital piano that will be an asset to a pianist or even piano student, then look no further to the beauty that is the Kawai CN37.
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