Kawai MP11 Review
Kawai has a long and storied history of making amazing digital pianos. The Kawai MP11 is a premium digital piano-focused on the professional who needs a bit of versatility but will mostly employ it for his/her piano needs. The feel and the sound reproduction have been given a lot of emphases. It also boasts a plethora of additional features to make it stand toe to toe with the competition. We had a go at the MP11 to figure out if it is as good as advertised and worth the premium price it demands.
The looks are incredibly polarising when it comes to the Kawai MP11. It features brown wooden edges and a rather boxy design reminiscent of keyboards from the 80s. We will be honest here. It does look rather ungainly and a bit uneasy on the eye. Kawai was definitely going for a classic look and instead ended up with something that makes it look rather outdated. Another common gripe with this segment is the screen size and the buttons. The Kawai MP11 isn’t immune to these vices either. While the buttons are grouped together nicely, they are quite small and bunched together quite closely.
The screen is minuscule and feels like a major oversight at this price point. If you really love that retro look then you might love the way this digital piano looks. Otherwise, it will be something that many will find off-putting. Having said that, Kawai’s digital pianos have never been about the looks. They have been about the sound and the feel and the experience as a whole. Let us find out if the Kawai MP11 can redeem itself in these departments.
The people at Kawai weren’t kidding around when it came to the sound of this keyboard. It has not one, not two but three sound engines dedicated to each type of sound. There is 40 sound samples divided into three zones – piano, electric piano, and sub. While this might not be that big a deal, what is cool is that each zone is controlled by a separate sound chip, all of which integrate in a seamless manner. This comes in real handy when combining these sounds. The sounds themselves are some of the best. This is among the closest you can come to a true piano sound in the sub $3,000 range.
The Harmonic Imaging XL has worked really well in capturing the subtle nuances of the piano sound. All the other sounds also have a high level of depth and clarity to them. It is safe to say that sound is one department you should not have any complaints about. Each of the three sound sections has dedicated controls for the effects and the reverb. Like many other digital pianos in this price bracket, it does not have speakers of its own and you need a good-quality sound system to fully extract the audio capabilities of this digital piano.
The piano and electric piano sounds are sublime while the ‘sub’ section has some really cool sounds from instruments like Strings, Harpsi, Pad, Mallet, and Bass. They are all very usable and quite convincing. The presence of mod and pitch wheels allows you to create more authentic pieces of music using sounds from the ‘sub’ section.
One avenue where Kawai have exceeded all expectations with regards to the MP11 is the feel. This is good old technical wizardry and the expertise of making excellent pianos at work. We have reviewed some really high-end digital pianos in the past and while they have all come close, you could always tell that they were just trying to mimic the real thing. While amateurs and intermediate musicians wouldn’t find this as a big deal, the more experienced and professional musicians would sense the difference. One of the key areas where this would happen would be when playing the black keys. There would be a perceptible difference between them and the white keys.
The Kawai MP11 is the first digital piano that makes all the keys feel really similar and like the real deal. Every subtle aspect of the piano feel is replicated as authentically as possible. The hammer action is great and so is the notch feel and the let off. Even experienced pianists will have little to complaint about the feel of this digital piano thanks to its triple sensor system.
The practicality and usability
No product can be perfect and while the Kawai MP11 comes as close to perfection as possible when it comes to the sound and the feel, it lags behind when it comes to the practically and usability. Don’t get us wrong. The interface is very intuitive and quite easy to use. The separation of the various sounds into sections with dedicated controls is again very helpful in achieving the exact sound you need.
It is in knowing what you are doing that you will run into obstacles. The tiny buttons and the tiny screen makes for a terrible combination. It is okay if you are in a studio setting or at home where you have plenty of time and lighting. However, this is a stage piano where you will have to change settings on the fly and often under poor lighting conditions. This spoils what could have been an awesome instrument. It is by no means a major flaw but definitely ruins the experience.
Another point of contention is the placement of the pitch and mod wheels. They are placed in the top left corner which can lead to some awkward playing positions. This, however, is a problem faced by all 88-key digital pianos as there seems to be no good place for the placement of these wheels. It is quite bulky and heavy too making it relatively difficult to move around and transport.
Additional features and connectivity
The MP11 is an expensive instrument and that shows in the host of additional features that you get. The unit comes with a full set of pedals that also have a graded action. This is something that its competitors rarely do as the pedals shipped with most digital pianos, even the expensive ones, are gimmicks at best and you need to invest in new pedals if you are serious about using them.
The layering options are simply mind-blowing. Thanks to the triple sound engine, you can layer up to three sounds at a time with each having its own independent set of effects. This means you can add some reverb to the piano sound while reducing the low-end of the strings without one sound affecting the other. You can also split the keyboard into multiple zones with each zone playing a different sound. You can even set the limits of each zone, which is a very neat feature.
The effects are another reason that made us really love this digital piano despite its flaws. It comes with six reverbs, all of which are very usable. The same goes for the 129 additional effects that can all be customized to your exact needs. It also features one of the most powerful EQs seen on digital pianos. This can further enhance how realistic or impressive the sound is to listen A useful feature is the presence of 26 banks to save sets of effects so you can dial a particular sound very quickly. The only caveat is that there are only two buttons to access these banks and that to us felt rather unintuitive.
The Virtual Technician is another cool feature of the MP11. It is Kawai’s proprietary system that allows for really minute customization of the various parameters. It is also quite intuitive though it can get quite complicated very easily. This will definitely intimidate the beginners and intermediates as you really need to know what you are doing to be able to take full advantage of this system.
Connectivity and storage
The Kawai MP11 really excels at being a great MIDI controller. Normally a full 88-key layout remains underutilized when the instrument is used as a MIDI controller. The MP11 combats that by allowing the keyboard to be split into four zones each of which can control a separate MIDI module. It works without any issues with all the major DAWs right out of the box.
The storage options are also pretty impressive. You can record MIDI tracks with 90,000 notes. You can also record in WAV format for full audio quality. The memory can be easily expanded by connecting a USB flash drive. This is also a great way of transferring audio data from and to the Kawai MP11.Connectivity is impressive too with option of XLR along with all the regular audio, MIDI and USB connections.
Like any other musical instrument, the suitability of the Kawai MP11 for you depends totally on your specific requirements and more importantly, your skill level. This is an expensive instrument and should only be bought if you can and will exploit all its advanced features. Another thing to remember is that it is a digital piano, be it a very advanced one, and should not be expected to work like a synthesizer. While the sounds that are available are very good and can be customized to a great degree, the Kawai MP11 isn’t great when it comes to creating totally new sounds.
If you want a digital piano that is as good as an accoustic piano with plenty of effects, connectivity, and storage options thrown in then look no further. However, if you are more of a keyboardist than a pianist then give the Kawai MP11 a miss as you might find it inadequate for some of your needs. Also be very sure that you can live with its somewhat outdated looks.
– One of the best and authentic-sounding digital pianos
– Truest reproduction of the feel of a grand piano
– Impressive collection of effects
– Really powerful EQ
– Great connectivity and storage options
– Small buttons and screen
– Only two buttons to control the banks
– A bit bulky and heavy
– Somewhat outdated looks
- Rated 3.5 stars
- Very Good
- Kawai MP11
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