Kawai has around 100 years of experience in building some of the classiest grand pianos on the planet. Famed for their quality of tone and robust build, their pianos are widely recognized as amongst the best in the world.
Roland, on the other hand, has never made an acoustic piano. Instead, they’ve focused on innovating the digital instrument. They invented the touch-sensitive keyboard, as well as drove the popularity of the synthesizer in the 70s and 80s. Roland is a young company, whose focus on innovation has brought them to the forefront of music technology since 1972.
So, who will prove their mettle in this battle between the respected sage and the relative new kidson the block?
In this contest to find the best digital stage piano between the ES8 and the FP90, we’ll be looking at the following:
- Keyboard action
- Onboard speakers
- Instrumental voices
- Layout and interface
- Special features
And, to better help you, please use our interactive table below to directly compare the Kawai ES8 and Roland FP90 to not only each other, but other noteworthy pianos that are on the market today.
|Kawai ES-8||88||$$$||RHIII Graded-Hammer Action|
|Roland FP-90||88||$$$||316 Sounds|
|Roland F-140||88||$$$||SuperNATURAL Piano engine|
|Roland FP-50||88||$$$||Built-In Speaker System|
|Roland FP-60||88||$$$||288 Max Polyphony|
|Roland RD-64||64||$$||Ivory Feel-G Keyboard w/Escapement|
|Roland FP-80||88||$$$||128 Note Polyphony|
|Roland RD-2000||88||$$$||SuperNATURAL Sound Engine: 128 voices|
|Yamaha P-115||88||$$||GHS Weighted Key Action|
|Yamaha P255||88||$$$||256 Note Polyphony|
|Kawai ES110||88||$$||Bluetooth MIDI|
How Each Are Built
The ES8 feels like it has been constructed with care. The body has a glossy, metal finish and the upward facing speakers are held behind a metal mesh.
This is an instrument with width. The buttons feel like they’ll stand up to the test of time, and the digital display is easy to read and well-lit. The ES8 has a reassuring sturdiness that is instantly likable.
The ES8 weighs in at 49 pounds (or 22.5kg), which is pretty hefty for a stage piano and practically elephantine in comparison with its cheaper and smaller cousin, the Kawai ES110 (26 pounds, or 12kg).
The version I tried out was attached to its accessory stand. The stands for stage pianos, I often think, are an after-thought; with very little in the way of consideration for aesthetic beauty afforded to their design, but this has to be the exception. While it isn’t going to win any design awards, the stand, with its 3 foot-pedals, felt sturdy and like it actually belonged to the keyboard.
The FP90 has a sleek, flat cabinet, with a matte feel. The buttons and the control sliders have all been designed with a distinct tactility in mind – it feels like Roland has really put some consideration into the product design, as well as to the development of its feature-set.
There are a number of similarities in the build of the two instruments in question – the depth of the instrument is around the same, as are the upward facing, metal-mesh covered speaker sets.
It’s got to be said that it’s refreshing to see that the accessory stands for both models have been given an attractive aesthetic.
The FP90 is a colossally hefty beast at 52 pounds – which is heading towards way too heavy for a portable piano. However, the addition of built-in mic pre-amps, allows you to travel without the additional weight of a PA system.
Regarding overall build, I’d say that we’re at fairly level pegging in terms of robustness and portability, but the Kawai wins solely by being a little lighter, and, therefore, more portable. If you’re a singer-pianist, you might consider the FP90 to be the winner because of the built-in mic pre-amp, negating the need for an additional PA.
Below, please take a moment to view some of the best digital stage pianos available on Amazon (and see how well each one stacks up to both the Kawai ES8 and Roland FP90.
How Do the Keys Feel?
I’m not going to beat around the bush – I was disappointed with the ES8 keyboard.
In my experience, Kawai keyboards have a fantastic lightness of touch, with a satisfying key-off bounce. Although the keyboard certainly does have that distinctive bouncing quality, there’s a heaviness to the action which I really wasn’t expecting.
I remember being incredibly impressed with the ES110 keyboard – the build of the ES110 is a little on the plasticky side, but the keyboard action is excellent. Trialling both keyboards next to each really did highlight that the ES8 keyboard does not have a particularly pleasing action.
The keys are plastic and “ivory feel” which, in itself, isn’t a negative, because most stage pianos use this type of key construction. The “ivory feel” surface of the keys do feel nice underneath the fingers, but I found myself disappointed with the keyboard feel.
It felt clunky and un-pianistic. Despite the elements that make this keyboard an impressive instrument (including the beautifully sampled voicing), the keyboard action just doesn’t feel right. It’s a bit like driving a Ferrari with a child’s plastic steering wheel.
The FP90, on the other hand, has got it going on in the keyboard department. For a company who have never made acoustic pianos, Roland has mastered the play feel with their superb keyboard construction.
Your fingers literally glide across the keys. The key action is responsive (enhanced by 100 levels of dynamic sampling that responds precisely to your finger play), with a key bounce that feels beautifully pianistic.
The keys are genuine piano keys – at least, they’re wooden keys with an “ivory feel” laminate. So, while the surface of the keys are similar in feel to the ES8, the weighting and landing of key to contact have a pianistic sponginess that makes the FP90 the far superior digital piano.
The FP90 wins, hands down, in terms of the keyboard.
The speaker system looks very similar with both models. They both sound great, and I struggle to differentiate between the two keyboards regarding the way they deliver the sound into the space. I guess it comes down to spec at the end of the day.
The ES8 has just 2 speakers – both are 8x12cm, both driving 15W each. The FP90 has 2 of the same sized speakers, delivering 25W each, as well as two 1 inch dome tweeters, each delivering 5W of greater detail and clarity at the top end. More speakers aren’t necessarily better, but I guess it comes to the innate ability of the speakers to deliver at high volumes, both of which do well – but the FP90 delivers a little more clarity when pushed hard.
One of the most impressive features of the FP90 is the built-in microphone pre-amp, which allows the piano singer to amplify their voice through the on-board speaker set. There’s a separate mic gain control, as well as a selection of impressive digital audio effects, which is, perhaps, why this instrument has the additional speakers.
In terms of the speakers and the features they offer, it looks like the FP90 is the winner in relation to the speakers. The ES8 is starting to look very much like the tiring underdog.
Both Kawai and Roland provide an amazing selection of sampled and digitally recreated sounds. The ES8 offers 34 instrumental voices in total, including high-quality sampling from Kawai’s flagship SK-EX grand piano and their medium-sized SK5 chamber grands.
The sampling is amazingly crisp and full of individual character that sounds great. The additional electric pianos sound amazing, offering a great selection of Fender Rhodes-style cabinet emulators, along with some fantastic Hammond organs with a convincing rotary speaker simulation. The string sounds are good – along with the room resonance settings adding reverb and warmth, the strings are amongst the more impressive to be found on a digital stage piano.
All of the piano sounds are editable in regards to string and cabinet resonances, lid positioning and room reverb. The sounds are warm, rich and a real pleasure to play. Unfortunately, the keyboard action ruins the experience a little.
However, the FP90 has the whole music shop and more packed into its rather stylish case. There are 15 pianos, driven by Roland’s amazing SuperNATURAL piano modeling engine, with 100 levels of dynamic response per note. When coupled with the amazing keyboard action, these sounds spring to life, enveloping you in a sound experience that’s hard to forget.
Additionally, there are 16 electric pianos which are just stunning; 11 string sounds that are OK – passable, yet rather unexciting; 15 pretty passable pad sounds; and 278 other voices, including 8 drum sets and a SFX set.
Again, quantity shouldn’t ever be favored over quality – it’s just that the quality of 98% of those sounds are excellent and a real joy to play. The Fender Rhodesy electric pianos have got an attractive rawness, complete with the distortion you get from playing really hard, as well as a dizzying rotary speaker effect on the Hammond organ selection.
Although the ES8 does have genuinely great sounds that would provide a lifetime of musical enjoyment, the keyboard lets the instrument down.
It’s another win for the FP90.
Layout and Interface
A stage piano needs a simple layout and user interface. The digital display should be clear of extraneous information, and simply serve to confirm a setting at a glance. Both instruments do this very well, with a near identical digital display.
The FP90, however, has 8 control sliders – master volume; 3 band graphic equalizer; 2 “part” sliders, allowing control over combined voices; a “song” volume, controlling the auto-accompaniment; and a Mic volume slider. Everything is laid out in a very intuitive way – there’s nothing to learn. It’s a case of sit down and enjoy.
The ES8 has a simple button-driven interface, with a master volume slider and access to the on-board MIDI recording facilities. Again, there’s little to complicate things, here. It’s functional and user-friendly.
But, if we’re in the business of picking hairs (and I guess that’s why we’re here) I would have to say that the FP90 has the superior user-interface. You can control the balance and volume of combined instruments, and control the mic gain. The 3 band EQ really does trump anything available on the Kawai, offering quick access to controls that mold your instrument to sound great in any room.
I think, by now, it’s already clear that the winner is the FP90. And this section isn’t going to change that.
The auto-accompaniment feature is a relatively new addition to the stage piano. On both models, they have intelligent accompaniment that matches exactly what you play, regardless of complexity. The accompaniment includes drums, bass lines, and guitar licks.
I feel bad for the ES8, because I’ve been fairly consistently running it down in this article, and I would love to say that the accompaniment is where things turn around. Unfortunately, that just isn’t the case. The accompaniments are cheesy – they feel a little Bontempi.
The Hip Hop options sound like they’ve been programmed by someone who doesn’t know what hip-hop is. The Latin-American accompaniments are the equivalent of dragging your fingernails down a blackboard.
The auto-accompaniments on the FP90, however, do deliver. They’re not trying to do too much, and this is where they succeed.
Whether or not you would ever use these auto-accompaniments in a live gigging situation is, I guess, down to the type of gig. I don’t think I’d ever find a need for them. But they’re there, so they’re worth considering.
Bluetooth seems to be oddly absent from the ES8, which is a big surprise. The FP90 has Bluetooth MIDI and audio, which means that you can connect the piano to an iOS synth app, control it from the keyboard, and route the audio through the on-board speakers. This offers an almost infinite level of potential for expansion and is just one more reason why the FP90 is the superior instrument.
I think it’s fairly clear by now that the FP90 is the champion of the stage piano, between these two worthy contenders. I feel a little bad for Kawai because the vast majority of their range of digital pianos is stunning. The ES8 just feels a little dated and uninspired – there’s not that much there to get excited about.
So, without a shadow of a doubt, I prefer the Roland FP90. So, if you’re looking to buy a digital piano, this Roland superstar is hard to beat. The build quality is top notch, the sounds are nothing less than stunning, the keyboard action is amazing, the mic pre-amp makes this perfect for the singer-pianist, and the Bluetooth MIDI and audio are wonderful.
The FP90 is the worthy victor. I hope that Kawai can bounce back in an inevitable rematch between these two titanic brands.
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