For the price, there’s a lot to love in the Kawai ES110. Despite being relatively basic in its sound-set of just 19 sounds, this instrument is ideal for the gigging musician. The piano sounds are surprisingly realistic, there’s a satisfying weight to the keys, there are some great connectivity features and all this is somehow crammed into an instrument weighing just 26 lbs (or 12kg), making this one of the most portable options for gigging I’ve come across.
In this article, I’m going to review the Kawai ES110 so that you can have a thorough understand of everything this instrument has to offer. While it impressed me overall in many areas, it’s not a perfect digital piano, and this article will delve into the pros and cons of the ES110 as well.
Before we move forward, as always, we encourage you to take a moment to view the interactive table below, which allows you to directly compare the Kawai ES110 to some of the best digital pianos on the market.
|Roland RD-88||PHA-4 Standard action, ZEN-Core sound engine|
|Nord Stage 3||OLED Display|
|Casio PX5S||Tri-Sensor Scaled Hammer Action II Keyboard|
|Nord Piano 5||Polyphony: 120 Notes (piano section), 46 Notes (sample synth section)|
|Yamaha YC88||128 Notes (AWM2/Organ), 128 Notes (FM)|
Phaser, Flanger, Chorus, Vibe, Pan, Tremolo and more
|Casio PX-560||5.3” Color Display|
What was most impressive about this portable digital piano was its weight—or lack thereof. There are two versions (or two ways you can set up and use this piano) available. One way is having the piano attached to its own stand and pedal-board for a more permanent home use, making it an ideal practice piano for learners.
Another way to use the piano, of course, is without the stand entirely. This is most ideal for someone that is a working musician and needs to take the ES110 on the road with them.
To me, the attached stand looks flimsy – there’s hasn’t been a great aesthetic sympathy afforded to making this a piece of furniture as with the higher end Kawai electric pianos, but it’s certainly functional. It won’t collapse on you if you pile your sheet music on it. And if you’re playing Making Whoopee, though, get Michelle Pfeiffer out of the room, because it might not hold her even her petite frame (a reference from, of course, The Fabulous Baker Boys).
I own the now discontinued Roland FP3, which comes in at a fairly whopping 40 lbs (18 kg). It feels great to play, but, for a stage piano, it’s heavy and makes gigging with it cumbersome to transport.
The newer version, the FP30, is a little lighter at 30 lbs (14 kg), but still is considerably heavier than the ES110. It’s got to be said that the FP30 has many comparable features and a really similar play-feel—and selling for a similar price—so the weight makes the ES110 the winner for the gigging musician in my mind. Weighing in at just 26 lbs (12 kg), I don’t think that the play-feel has suffered at all. And with a built-in speaker that offers a pretty impressive, enveloping sound, it makes the ES110 a great choice for both home use and out on the road.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best-selling digital pianos currently on sale (and see how well they compare to the ES110 when it comes to portability, price, and key features.
|1) Casio PX-770|
|2) Yamaha YDP-145|
|3) Roland RP-102|
|4) Yamaha YDP-165|
|5) Casio PX-870|
Before moving onto sound, let’s quickly summarize some of the notable selling points of the ES110:
- Light and incredibly portable
- Great speaker driver system
- Keyboard brimming with dynamic response
- Great piano and electric piano sounds
- Bluetooth connectivity
How Does It Play and Feel?
A stage piano needs to be a combination of things —great sound, portability, connectivity—but it’s all a bit moot if it feels like a tin-can to play.
When the Kawai ES110 was announced, and specially when I first set eyes on this piano, I had very low expectations. Why? Well, the user-interface is basic to say the least (more about that later), the body feels a little plasticky and I just wasn’t preparing myself to be “wowed.”
But, having played with it a bit and had some time to reflect, I am happy that I don’t let my own bias and preconceived notions dictate my final judgments. Yes, it’s the ES110 is not the most attractive instrument in the world, but it feels genuinely lovely to play.
This doesn’t have the weight and, perhaps, the grandeur of the Roland FP30 (which I brought up earlier in the prior section), but I would happily play this in the corner of a restaurant all night. I was surprised by the weight and feel of the keys, and it felt really responsive overall. There was the vibrational feedback akin to an acoustic piano, and it really felt like I was in control of a much more expensive instrument.
The key sensor is located underneath the middle of the key rather than the tip of the key, affording faster key-playing response than some of the springier keyboards available in this price range. I, for one, would trade in the FP3 for the ES110 in a New York Minute, the former of which is lovely to play but feels like a bucket of bricks to transport when compared to the ES110.
How Does the Kawai ES110 Sound?
You’re never going to be blown away by the expanse of sounds on an instrument like this. This is both an instrument for taking out and playing live, but it would fit comfortably in a studio working as a slave to a DAW. So, if you were going to use this as a MIDI controller, you wouldn’t be relying on its internal sounds anyway.
There are 8 piano sounds – Concert Grand, Concert Grand 2, Studio Grand, Studio Grand 2, Mellow Grand, Mellow Grand 2, Modern Piano and Rock Piano.
The instrument defaults to Concert Grand, brimming with clarity at both the top and bottom ends. The bottom end, perhaps, lacks some bass frequencies of a genuine piano, but it cuts through the middle like a hot knife through butter. There’s plenty of top end frequencies around the entire instrument that gives this sound, sampled from a Kawai grand, plenty of crisp energy that is pleasurable to control.
Concert Grand 2 has a more nasal tone, featuring heavily around the mid-range of the frequency spectrum with little bottom end and a cut-off around the top. However, this is a satisfying piano sound for classical music, coupled with the ES110’s great key-action, making this a nice sound to control.
If you’re playing in the corner of a restaurant, however, I don’t think this would be the sound to choose for low volume – I’d go for Concert Grand 1 which would cut through the hum of conversation more clearly without being intrusive.
Modern Grand has lots of crunch and a lovely dynamic response that makes it a perfect instrument for the emotive soundtrack-type classical repertoire. Again, combined with the key-action of the ES110, Modern Grand affords a great palette for expressive play.
Studio Grand has a fairly aggressive top end that would work well in the context of a band ensemble, avoiding the bass guitar, but with an open clarity that would cut through at high volumes. This sound lacks some warmth – there’s a clinical edge that makes it feel a little electronic to play as a soloist, but I think it would come into its own as part of a band sound.
The Modern Piano and the Rock Piano were variations on a theme. The Modern Piano would suit jazz, with a quilt-like warmth so lacking from the Studio Grand. The Rock Piano has the chill of the Studio Grand, with an aggressive mid range.
None of the sounds are unpleasant to play – it comes down to preference. A nice feature is the ability to change the default instrumental sound when you power up the unit – you can save up to 4 sound set-ups that are instantly available. This is a slight saving grace from such a clunky interface.
The internal speaker can be turned on or off which is a great feature for playing out live, meaning that, potentially, you have your own on-board monitor speaker. But the in-built speaker makes this a great instrument for learning and practicing at home. The speaker is surprisingly loud and crisp, with a realistic rotary speaker for the organ sounds.
This instrument also has 100 pre-programmed drum tracks. I’m always a little dubious of this as a feature of a stage piano because the drum sounds date incredibly quickly and are neither responsive in any way to your playing or particularly easy to control, so it’s more of a fun feature than something that excites me as a professional musician. For the one-man-band or a Christmas drunken sing-song, this would be a fun feature. I’ve had this facility on my FP3 for the last 15 years and I don’t recall a time where it ever came in handy.
Well, you had to know it wasn’t going to be all sunshine and roses in this review. And, when it comes to the user interface of the Kawai ES110, I felt that this was the main downfall of the instrument.
The reason? Well, there’s no digital display on the ES110, so to access the Studio Grand (for example), you have to press the PIANO key 3 times; to access the Rock Piano, you press it 8 times. This is particularly clunky as there’s no visual feedback to confirm the sound you are playing.
However, what does win hands-down is the ability to split the keyboard right down the middle for the duet feature. In fact, this is a perfect feature for piano teachers. I remember my own piano lessons, sitting side-by-side with my teacher who sat at the bottom end of the keyboard. Whenever he demonstrated a passage, he would play it several octaves below the intended pitch, giving each melodic phrase all the grace and nuance of a clumsy elephant in an undersized tutu.
Alternatively, another piano teacher sat at the top end of the keyboard and every demonstration threatened permanent tinnitus. This split feature allows both partners to operate the same mid section of the keyboard from the comfort of their own seats.
A particularly impressive aspect of the ES110 is in its connectivity – it has a Bluetooth 4.0 connection, which allows you to connect the keyboard wirelessly to iOS or Android tablets. Bluetooth capability, additionally, allows for connection to the Kawai Virtual Technician app, which is free to download. This allows you to edit all of the sounds as if you were a professional concert tuner, offering the opportunity to alter the TouchCurve, aspects of the Voicing, the damper resonance, damper noise, string resonance and key-off effect.
This is a really impressive aspect of this particular keyboard and makes it a great instrument for the studio, allowing you to customize the specifics of your sound.
The ES110 has the usual connections – LINE out via 1/4inch connectors, 2 headphone 1/4inch sockets, MIDI in and out and a connector for a damper pedal.
Learning on the ES110
For the player that’s continuing to learn and develop his or her skills, there’s a metronome function and a Piano Lesson feature that helps you learn technique. This, as with all electric pianos incorporating a similar function, is extremely limited in value and should never be considered a real substitute for adult piano lessons or online piano lessons.
For the price, it’s difficult to find fault with this Kawai digital piano. As a gigging musician myself, I recognize the value of its diminished weight. It’s a touch on the plasticky side, perhaps, but that’s made up by an impressive play and feel to the piano. This would make a great instrument for a beginner to practice on and grow with. And once you’ve honed your piano playing skills, you’ve still got a great portable piano that you can take on the road.
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