In this article, we’re going to put the Kawai ES8 under the microscope.  We’ll review this piano to see how it stacks up amongst its peers, and even how well it compares to its predecessor—the Kawai ES7.

There are so many digital piano options available nowadays, you want to feel darn sure you’re buying something of quality.  Well, Kawai is no doubt a manufacturer known for making quality pianos (the Kawai ES-100 remains a very popular digital piano, after all).

Kawai ES8

So, without further ado, let’s get right into discussing this Kawai digital piano, and see if this instrument is worthy of both your time and money.

Piano Buying Guide

Below, please use the table to see how well the Kawai ES8 compares against some of the competition, including even the Kawai ES-100, the Kawai MP7, and the Yamaha P-255.

$ = $500 or less | $$ = $500 – $1,000 | $$$ = $1,000 and up

PhotoModelKeysWeightPrice
Kawai ES8Kawai ES-88849 lbs.$$$
Kawai ES-1008833 lbs.$$
Yamaha P2558838 lbs.$$$
Kawai CE22088126 lbs.$$$
Kawai MP78846 lbs.$$$
Yamaha DGX 660Yamaha DGX-6608846 lbs.$$

ES8 OVERVIEW

Before getting started, let’s briefly go over some of the noteworthy specs of the piano:

  • $2,000-2,400
  • 88 Responsive Hammer III, Ivory touch keys
  • 37 sounds
  • 256-note maximum polyphony
  • Virtual technician
  • 6 reverb effects, 15 additional effects
  • Amp simulator
  • Dual-mode, split-mode
  • 100+ accompaniment rhythms
  • Recorder, USB functions
  • 2 (8×12)cm with Bass-Reflex-System
  • Amplification: 2 x 15 W
  • Weight: 49.6lbs

With the Responsive Hammer III (RHIII) action, the Kawai ES8 attempts to recreate the feeling of an acoustic piano. It contains 3-sensor technology that enhances the experience, making it a highly responsive piano.

You’ll notice that this digital piano is quite heavy (49 lbs), despite technically being a portable digital piano.  Once you get this puppy on a stable stand, however, you’ll rarely care much about the weight.   

The ES8, which can go for about $1999.99, features a let-off simulation that imitates the subtle “notch” sensation when playing the keys of a grand piano.

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Below, please take a look at some of the best digital pianos available on today’s market, and then see how they compare to the Kawai ES8:

  1. Yamaha P-115
  2. Casio PX-160
  3. Yamaha YDP-163
  4. Casio PX-860
  5. Yamaha P255

It’s worth noting, too, that there are exceptional instruments housed within the Kawai ES8, including the Kawai SK-EX, the SK-5, and EX grand pianos—thoughtfully reproduced through their Harmonic Imaging XL sound technology.

What does this mean?  Well, this means the digital piano boasts impressive range in comparison to the original pianos, affording pianists the softest pianissimo and the strongest fortissimo.

The Virtual Technician allows users to personalize their playing experience and adjust settings at the touch of a button. Users can fix string and damper resonance, as well as the hammer, damper, and key release noises. You also have the option to experience the reverberation effects that enhance the already rich, vibrant piano tones.

With 34 sounds, the ES8 has a decent selection of instruments to choose from. Sounds range from digital pianos and church organs, to string and mallet instruments. The variety of sound is great to enhance any performance.

The ES8 makes it possible to play almost any music style. Ranging from pop and rock ballads to dance and Latin, the Rhythm Section function of the piano provides solo performers with professionally arranged backing accompaniment. There are 100 present chord progression and the One Finger Ad-Lib that allows the performer to maintain complete control over their performance while enhancing the repertoire.

There are USB connectors that allow the ES8 to be connected to a computer for MIDI use too, but you can also load and save data to USB memory devices directly. The USB to Device feature allows songs to be recorded and stored in internal memory to be saved for posterity, or standard MIDI files (SMF) downloaded from the Internet to be played back without needing additional hardware.

The devices can also be used to play back MP3 or WAV audio files, allowing users to practice chords or melodies. This feature allows musicians to play along with their favorite songs, as well as save and share their performances through e-mail and smartphone.

The ES8 has several connectivity options to choose from, including Line-level output jacks that allow the instrument to be used in larger performance settings. This is a great piano for churches or school bands that will perform in auditoriums or on small to medium stages.

The standard MIDI and USB to Host makes it possible to connect computers and other electronic instruments, while the Line-in jack lets musicians mix audio from other digital devices.

ES8 VS ES7

The Kawai ES8 is the 2016 replacement to the very successful ES7. Up until this time, the ES7 has been out on the market for a few years as a reliable piano. However, the ES8 has some noticeably new changes while maintaining the level of expectations that we were accustomed to from the ES7.

Kawai ES7

The Kawai ES7

Similarities include the cabinet design, the control panel layout, internal speaker system, and a variety of other functions that carried over. Right now, both the ES7 and ES8 are going for the same MSRP of $2,000.

Now, here are some things that the ES8 has, that the ES7 doesn’t:

  • Counter-weight balanced RHIII key action with let-off
  • Upgraded sound chip
  • Additional sounds
  • Additional memory slots
  • Rhythm accompaniment, ad-lib feature
  • MIDI song files

If there’s one thing that makes a digital piano low quality, it’s the key action. I am very satisfied with the RHIII key action with the let-off because it does a strong job of tricking me into remembering I’m not playing on an acoustic piano.

People can be very skeptical about key action when it comes to digital pianos because it can be hard to push past the marketing speak and get an idea of what a piano really does and how. However, the ES8 is a very good piano, and while I’m not sure if it’s justified to parrot the phrase of “it’s as good as advertised,” I think it’s definitely a piano worthy of high praise.

The keys are firmer to press down but aren’t too quick to return to their original position. Compared to other digital pianos on the market, the ES8 seems to succeed in mimicking an acoustic piano (that’s not to say it succeeds wholeheartedly of course, because if that were the case, acoustic pianos would cease to exist nor be relevant.  But, especially for the price, I think a lot of people would be quite happy with the performance of the ES8).

With this ES8, there’s no hesitation or slow return allowing you to really connect with the music. There are key counterweights that are located at the front of each black and white key for accurate touch weight balance.  This is a feature that normally isn’t seen in digital pianos until you hit that $5,000 range, so it’s much appreciated.

There are also 3-electronic sensors under the keys for better repetition recognition when playing lively music or complex arrangements. The ES7 was also had three sensors, but they weren’t as responsive as the ES8. For those who have had the ES7 for some time, I believe this is a great upgrade. You have everything that you had with the ES7, but everything seems to be a bit better and more refined.  That doesn’t mean you need to ditch your ES7 if you’re happy with it, but I think it’s good to know that Kawai didn’t drop the ball when it came to the ES7’s successor.

And while the realism of the piano sound on the Kawai ES7 was great, I believe that there’s always room for improvement. I was pleasantly impressed with the ES8’s new piano sound chip, with their originating sounds from four very well-known Kawai acoustic grand and upright pianos, including the Kawai SK-EX, the SK-5, and EX grand pianos.

A digital piano that can’t perform properly in its acoustic sounds makes all the additional sounds irrelevant. With that being said, the ES8’s acoustic piano sounds are very enjoyable. The Kawai EX is best appreciated with lower registers and the bass is clear and low, while the SK-5 has a very sweet sound that blends the notes wonderfully.

The piano’s volume sensitivity and tonal changes are noticeable as you play across the keyboard, too. There are little to no tonal gaps that you hear on other piano brands. This really takes away from the acoustic piano authenticity, but the transitions are closely blended together.

  • The ES8 vs Other Competition

The Kawai MP7 is a digital stage piano that offers a 256-note polyphony with Responsive Hammer Action II. Like the ES8, it has the let-off simulation and ivory touch surface that imitates the acoustic piano feel.

The MP7 does not have built-in speakers, so when you factor in the fact that you’ll need to budget in a good $200 for halfway decent studio monitor speakers, there’s a chance that the music you create on the MP7 may sound anywhere from slightly inferior to the ES8 to–if you’re willing to spend some serious cash–vastly superior (especially if they are EQ’d properly and you are wise in your placement of the speakers within your room).  

Right now, the MP7 costs about $1,800. For $200 more, you could purchase the ES8.  Ultimately, this really comes down to personal preference and your overall intent with the instrument.  If you plan to “take your show on the road,” the MP7 (with it’s much larger array of sounds) might be a better choice.

However, if you plan on playing at home inside your very own bedroom or living room, and you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to have to feel “tied down” by having studio speakers (and additional wires) running around, you may find it better to go with the Kawai ES8.  Yes, you pay an additional $200, but you get built-in loudspeakers (with amps that are 15 watts per channel), so you never have to give a second thought to how you’re going to actually hear what it is that you’re playing.

Of course, there’s always the option of going with headphones instead, a topic we’ve covered in-depth already.

Nowadays, owners of the Yamaha P-255 are also questioning whether they should invest in the ES8 with all its great features. The three main features of the P-255 are the piano’s sound quality that attracts most experienced pianists, customizable sound settings, and the controller app for iOS.

The Yamaha P-255

The Yamaha P-255

I like that the P-255 has the speaker cut-off feature, along with the sound boost button to give it true presence. While the P-255 has some great features that would satisfy intermediate to professional level players, I think the ES8 is a step above in sound quality and features. They are equal in price ($2,000), but I feel like the ES8 has a lot more to offer a player.

Ringing in at $1,900, the Kawai CE220 uses Progressive Harmonic Imaging Sound technology with 88-note piano sampling, similar to the ES8. It’s a high quality digital piano with an attractive cabinet that features 88-key AWA PROII wooden-key, graded hammer action with counterbalancing. This is another digital piano made by Kawai that satisfies pianists with authentic piano touch, however the 192-note polyphony is significantly lower than the ES8. It also has USB to Device functions, dual, split, and four-hands modes for users enjoy. It’s a great digital piano for intermediate players.

  • Which Piano Is Best for You?

If you’re a performer that will be frequenting the stage, the MP7 is worth taking a look at. Even though the ES8 has a lot of great features that the MP7 doesn’t, the features the MP7 does have caters to performers who will need to make a statement during their sets.

If you’re willing to expand your outspend your budget by a few hundred dollars, you’ll probably be happy with the ES8 too.

Both the Yamaha P-255 and Kawai CE220 are attractive to the intermediate player. These pianos, along with the ES8, are in similar price ranges.  And while most may say that it comes down to preference, they aren’t considering the technology presented in the ES8.

Higher level piano players would likely better off with the ES8, but if you’re a lower-level intermediate (proficient in playing, but could still use more practice to approach the more advanced stage) player that only performs from time to time, I would suggest the P-255 digital piano. With the low polyphony and more basic features housed inside Kawai CE220, I think this is also a good choice, but it just wouldn’t top my list when compared to the ES8 and P-255.

KAWAI ES8: 4.7 OUT OF 5 STARS

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