Since it was established, Kawai has always been synonymous with extreme quality. In its long history, the brand founded in 1927 by Koichi Kawai has evolved from making hi-end concert pianos to creating professional and reliable digital pianos.
Recently, the company unveiled a new product in its popular ES-series: the Kawai ES-100, which is the first-ever 88-key weighted hammer action digital piano under $1000 from the Japanese manufacturer, now available for $799.
Designed for piano students, intermediate and professional musicians who care about the piano sound and fidelity, the ES-100 is absolutely the best choice in the $500-1000 price range and offers one of the most realistic piano experiences, even considering more expansive products, such as several Yamaha’s products under the $1500 range.
Before moving forward with our review, please take a moment and use the interactive table below to compare the Kawai ES100 to some of the great digital pianos currently available:
$ = $500 or less | $$ = $500 – $1,000 | $$$ = $1,000 and up
|Kawai ES-100||88||33 lbs.||$$||★★★★|
|Kawai ES110||88||26 lbs.||$$||★★★★★|
|Yamaha P-45||88||25 lbs.||$||★★★★|
|Casio PX-160||88||25.5 lbs.||$||★★★★|
|Yamaha P-115||88||26 lbs.||$$||★★★★|
|Korg SP170s||88||26 lbs.||$||★★★★|
|Yamaha DGX-660||88||46 lbs.||$$||★★★★★|
Examining the Kawai ES-100
The Kawai ES-100 ships in both black and white finishes. Now, let’s see what’s inside the box:
- Kawai ES-100 88-key digital piano
- F-10H piano-style damper pedal
- Music rest
- Owner’s manual
- AC adaptor
Kawai also offers an optional furniture-style HML-1 stand, which matches with ES-100 and offers the three pedal functionality. Compared to competitors’ stands, the $230 Kawai HML-1 may be a little expensive for some, but the quality of construction materials, the elegant finish and the 3-pedals made out of metal are definitely worth the price.
The included F-10H damper pedal is one of the biggest features of this Kawai digital piano: an extremely solid, heavy-duty piano-style pedal that allows for half-pedal functionality, something that you would pay $80 for if bought separately. No other digital pianos in this price range offer a similar damper pedal in the box.
The ES-100 itself features a really lightweight chassis (only 33 pounds), but despite its ease of handling, it offers the excellent AHA IV-F, a graded hammer action keyboard that simulates the same feelings of a real grand piano by using an hammer component under each of the 88 keys.
Below, take a look at some of the best selling digital pianos available on Amazon, and see how they stack up against the Kawai ES-100 in terms of specs, features and price:
Less is More
The Kawai ES-100 features a very basic design: in addition to the power switch and volume slider on the top, we find the Function, Play/Stop, Rec and Lesson buttons, and three more buttons to switch between the available sounds. Other options can be managed by pressing the Function button along with a specific key on the keyboard.
On top of the chassis, there is also a slot for the music rest and the two-7W integrated speakers. On the rear side, instead, we find the MIDI I/O, the damper jack and the input for the AC adaptor. There are also two Phones outputs, which can be used for practicing in silence or connecting the piano to a P.A. or a mixer.
The built-in recorder allows for 1-track recording, for a maximum of 3-user songs. You can play along the previously-recorded song, but not record another instrument in the same song. Competitors like Casio and Yamaha offer built-in 2-track recorder in their products, and it’s a shame that Kawai did not do the same in the ES-100.
There is no Duet mode at all or any automatic accompaniment to choose from, but at least you can play along with 100 different drums rhythms. Solo musicians can use this feature together with the Layer/Split mode for their gigs or live exhibitions.
The Lesson mode, a library based on the renowned Alfred’s Song Books and Burgmuller 25 Etudes, is a huge feature for students that want to learn the basics, which can be found only in the Kawai ES-100, considering the $500-1000 range.
Many of you may complain about the lack of features, like the USB port or the LCD display, but the truth is that even without those appreciated options, the ES-100 can be considered the most convenient digital piano for students, pro players, stage musicians and piano maniacs.
Let’s dig a little deeper to find out why.
A True Piano Experience
The heart of Kawai ES-100 is the Harmonic Imaging sound engine, which offers to piano players an outstanding, natural sound when combined with the aforementioned AHA IV-F keyboard. Each note of all the 88 keys was individually sampled by Kawai in order to deliver the ultimate piano tone under the $1000 price range, and this goal was definitely achieved.
The reason why Kawai’s piano sounds so great is because of three additional features: the first is the pedal resonance, which lets you hear the strings echo and resonation while pressing the sustain pedal. This can be fully adjustable through the Function menu.
In order to achieve a superior, killer-piano sound, Kawai added to the mix the Fallback Hammer Noise and Damper Rail Noise, all the mechanical sounds you can experience in a real grand piano, which are simulated as well in the ES-100. These features are velocity sensitive, so the faster you press or release the sustain pedal, the louder the noise will be.
The ES-100 also offers 19 different sounds to choose from, including 8 stunning different piano tones (from Concert Grand to Modern Piano, from Studio Grand to Rock Piano) with a maximum polyphony of 192 notes. This is the highest amount of notes available in a product of this range, which also offers a much more realistic and natural way of playing.
The other included sounds are three Electric Pianos, two different Organ types, Harpsichord and Vibraphone samples, two Strings and two Bass presets. Of course, you can layer two different sounds or split the keyboard in two zones. You can even change the reverb, the EQ or the balance between two sounds, as well as the mellowness and other advanced settings.
If you want to save the sound you’ve created, just press one of the preset buttons on the top of the chassis in order to add a patch that you can instantly recall anytime. That’s particularly good for live musicians that want to customize their playing experience and use the ES-100 as the primary stage piano, as well for pro players totally addicted to recreating the most realistic and personal piano sounds.
Kawai ES-100 vs Yamaha P-115 vs Roland F-20
The P-115 from Yamaha is an very strong intermediate solution that offers the same amount of maximum polyphony and available sounds, but the comparison between the key-action and piano tones bends a bit in favor of Kawai’s product. Though this is of course open for debate, and this doesn’t diminish the P-115, which is a great instrument.
While not offering an ivory-feel keybed like Casio or Roland, the AHA IV-F delivers a true, realistic piano experience by making heavier the lower notes and lighter the higher ones. The key-action is a bit lighter than Casio’s PX-Series, but smoother and more realistic than Yamaha’s GH and GHS keyboards, the same of the company’s P-105, P-115 and even the much expansive P-155 model.
Compared to Roland F-20, the ES-100 features a higher polyphony (192-note vs. 128), the compatibility with the triple pedal, a better key-action, and a considerably lower weight.
It’s also cheaper, too.
Instead of focusing on the piano sound and keyboard action, which is surprisingly weak, Roland chose to focus on much more modern features, like the connectivity with an iPad. Although you may use a tablet to change sounds, navigate through the options and use the learning mode, you must buy a specific optional-USB dongle in order to connect your iPad to the piano.
With the ES-100, Kawai created its first affordable product, which is suitable for both pro players and students. While it only features basic options, I think that Kawai got it right by focusing on what really matters: the piano experience.
The retail price of $799 may not be an entry-level budget, but by choosing the ES-100 over cheaper instruments, you’ll make an investment for years to come. With its superior graded hammer action keyboard and realistic piano tones, the Kawai ES-100 is arguably the best portable digital piano you can find that’s under the $1000 range.
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