The ES100 is the latest digital piano from Kawai’s ES portable series. It features an 88-key fully-weighted keyboard, simple matte black design, built-in speakers as well as 19 instrument sounds. In keeping with true digital piano custom, the ES100 doesn’t feature an LCD display. However, Kawai have come up with some creative shortcuts which mean you’re not pressing the same button 15 times to get to your desired sound.
For a digital piano of its price range, the grand piano sounds are pretty solid. The first three or four sounds are the best, with a full, round tone that you would expect from a grand piano. They work well with the carefully-constructed sustain pedal, which is not always the case with all keyboards. The electric piano sounds are a bit hit and miss — for instance, while the RH register of the Rhodes is reasonably authentic, the LH doesn’t really cut through. The Wurlitzer sound is pretty tidy, although it would be nice to have the option of adding tremolo to it rather than it just being permanently on. I was impressed by the organ sound, which was honestly great fun to solo with. You can even trigger the rotor pedal by briefly holding down the Function and Record buttons simultaneously.The modern and rock piano sounds are not all that great, and I couldn’t help but think that Kawai might have been better off perhaps including a clavinet sound instead. However, the string ensemble, bass, harpsichord and vibes sounds all stand up reasonably strongly.
The ES100 allows you to split and layer your sounds, which is a great feature to have on a keyboard of its price. It also allows you to tailor your sounds by adding reverb, sustain pedal resonance and brilliance (or note brightness) to your sounds. It even lets you to change the tuning temperament to other tuning standards, such as those used during the baroque period. For example, if you’re a student studying a Bach prelude, and you’re curious to hear how it would’ve sounded back in the day, you can do this by altering the tuning temperament.
One of the more noticeable shortcomings of the ES100 is the inbuilt speakers. As soon as you wind the volume past 75%, you’ll begin to hear some rattling in the lower register when playing the grand piano sounds, which is a bit off-putting. However, I found the Responsive Hammer Compact action to be the standout feature on the ES110. You can tell Kawai have put a lot of time and effort into emulating the action of an acoustic grand, and they’ve nailed this. The Graded Hammer Action, I would say, is my favourite thing about the ES100. This basically means that the keys in the LH register feel weightier when played, while those up the top of the keyboard are comparatively lighter — as is the case on any acoustic piano. The touch sensitivity is also a nice inclusion, meaning that your pianissimo really will be pianissimo, and your fortissimos (provided you’ve got your headphones on) will really stand out. The matte black and white finish of the keys is a bonus: they felt quite comfortable to play, compared to other digital pianos with those glossy, slippery keybeds.
Connectivity-wise, it was good to see the headphone jack situated in an unobtrusive location — the bottom left-hand side, as opposed to the rear. This means no more annoying headphone cable hanging over the keyboard as you play. The ES100 is a very good keyboard for beginners who would like to learn the piano, and play something that actually feels and responds like a piano. While some of the sounds are a bit drab, the grand piano sounds are fairly authentic. This is a great practise instrument; students will find that once they move up to a real acoustic piano, they’ll pretty much already be used to the feel. All up, a quality instrument given its price range.
Hits and Misses
Weighted, graded action
Grand piano sounds are authentic
Splitting and layering features
Incredibly easy to cart around, at only 12kg
Electric/modern piano sounds are not great
Speakers rattle if volume is 75% or higher