Kawai ES110 Review
In a world populated by instruments trying to do too much, Kawai tries to do one thing and do it really well with the Kawai ES110. Instead of designing a piano that does other stuff too, they have tried to make a digital piano that comes as close as possible to an acoustic piano. In this review we’ll find out if it has accomplished this task.
While nothing can capture the elegance of an acoustic piano from a visual standpoint, this one looks quite good when compared to other digital pianos but as a musical instrument in general, it is quite plain looking. There are no fancy curves or contours and it is quite simple looking. It is all about functionality and as it is advertised as a replacement for a stage acoustic piano it might not look the part. This is especially disappointing considering it is not the cheapest digital piano by a long shot. However, all this disappointment begins to vanish once you start playing it. Extra care has been taken to make the keys feel like the real deal. We will get to how well this has worked in a moment.
As it does not have too many features, the number of buttons are very few. There is very little real estate above the keys and that combined with the full 88-key layout has given this keyboard a very slender look which some might like while some might not. It lacks the universal appeal of an acoustic piano. The upside though is that this is one of the easiest digital pianos to move around and can come in handy if you gig in a lot of different places that involves a lot of traveling. Let us take a closer look at everything this digital piano has to offer.
The feel of this piano is used as a major way of marketing and we have to say that Kawai has delivered here. The compact hammer action with variable weighted keys does make it feel close to a real acoustic piano. There are still some differences especially in the bass section but that would be nitpicking. At this price range this is one of the best digital pianos that you can get that actually feel close to an acoustic piano. The keys are sturdy and feel great during fast runs. The velocity control also seems pretty accurate and allows you to have deft control over what you play. The keys do not move sideways like they annoyingly do on other digital pianos in this price range.
The overall feel of this keyboard is its best feature and if all you want to do is get that authentic piano feel for a reasonably low price then this is one of the best options out there.
This is another thing that that is used as a marketing point. Kawai claims that the sound has been faithfully captured from an acoustic piano using something they call the “Harmonic Imaging Technology”. Here is the issue with that. The ES110 does have speakers of its own but they are mediocre at best and leaves the piano at the mercy of an external sound system. We tried it on a number of PA and monitoring speakers and the quality seemed quite subjective to the settings on these sound systems. We are not saying that it is bad or not fit to be a great digital piano.
Barring the concert piano sounds, It just isn’t as groundbreaking as Kawai claim it is. This was a bit disappointing as we felt that the lack of additional features meant that Kawai would have really concentrated on getting the best sounds on the ES110 but it is pretty much the same sound sample you would get on the models with hundreds of sounds. The concert grand sound is good but the rest are pretty ordinary. There are only 19 sounds available onboard of which eight are piano sounds. These are adequate if all you need is piano sounds and a few very basic sounds of other instruments. Again, for such a small library of sounds, the quality isn’t that earth-shattering which it needed to be to justify having such a small sound pool.
The additional features
The looks of this digital piano kind of gives it away. This is a very minimalistic keyboard that tries to offer you the bare minimum of features so that they can keep the price down. The additional features is where this approach has had the most massive effect. There are only 19 tones as we mentioned earlier and the rest of the features are pretty Spartan. The biggest hindrance is the lack of flexibility. You are pretty much tied down and have to use whatever little is available onboard. The lack of a screen further complicates things as you have to know exactly what to do to get a certain result.
Kawai has been clever but it might be too clever for its own good. All the 88 keys can function as switches and can be used to configure things on the piano like switching the speakers on or off and so on. However, it is almost impossible to remember which key does what and carrying the manual with you at all times becomes a necessity. In today’s world of touch screens and gesture controls, this system feels quite archaic and outdated.
Portability and build quality
Because of the revolutionary variable weighted key system that this piano uses, it does not need any wood or metal in its construction and that keeps the weight down to a minimum. This digital piano is almost exclusively made out of plastic and that makes it quite lightweight and portable. This is great for an 88-key piano. It does feel a bit flimsy when playing really hard. The build quality is touch and go. The keys are pretty sturdy and should last a lifetime but the same cannot be said about the rest of the digital piano. The overall construction feels quite fragile and while it is easy to transport due to its light weight, it has to be done very carefully or you might end up with cracks or chipped edges. We cannot be too harsh here though. This is what you get across manufacturers in this price range. At least with the Kawai ES110, you get the advantage of great portability. This can come in very handy when you have to move stuff on a stage or across the room making it a great practice option as well.
Ease of use
This is the biggest flaw with this piano. If you are all about simply switching it on and playing then this will serve you well but any amount of tweaking requires considerable effort. The lack of a screen means that you have to do everything blind. This can really complicate things especially when you have to follow multiple steps and you lose track of what you have already done. Tweaking the sound is almost impossible and the only way most people will end up using this digital piano will be in its stock configuration. Kawai has taken the “replicating an acoustic piano” quite literally and if you do not like the stock sounds then you must stay away from this digital piano.
If you are graduating from a cheaper digital piano then the variable weighted keys will also take some time to get used. Initially, your playing will be all over the place with the highs sounding especially terrible but with time you will get the hang of it. This, however, does mess with the feel when using the split feature as you have to apply different amounts of pressure to get a similar register in both halves which can feel like an impediment.
Given the Spartan nature of the rest of this digital piano, you wouldn’t expect much on the connectivity front but the ES110 is actually pretty good when it comes to connectivity options. While most of its contemporaries offer different types of wired connections, the ES110 has Bluetooth 4.0 which allows you to pair it up with an Android or iOS device and you can then use the Kawai Virtual Technician app to edit some of the sound characteristics like the TouchCurve and damper noise. The wired connectivity is pretty standard but there is no USB connectivity making this unusable with most DAWs.
There are plenty of other options in this range from many different manufacturers but what Kawai offers with the ES110 is very unique. Whether this will be to your liking or not will completely depend upon your needs. You have to understand that this instrument has only been designed for one purpose and one purpose only – to replace an acoustic piano and it does that job great for its price. Anything beyond that is all a big letdown but that is the whole point of this instrument. If you are a pianist then this will make the perfect road and practice companion for you but if you want your digital piano to be versatile and not set in its ways then this is the last piano you should consider buying.
– Realistic keys
– Minimalistic design
– Great portability
– Lack of a display
– Lack of USB-connection
– Piano samples could be better
- Rated 3.5 stars
- Very Good
- Kawai ES110
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