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Well, it’s been a couple of years since I’ve run my fingers over the keys of a Kawai digital piano, and I am going to preface this review with the fact that I am never disappointed in any of their instruments.
It’s not a matter of bias, but the simple fact that Kawai consistently delivers quality in all levels of digital pianos. You need only have a look, a listen. and most importantly, a play of the ES520 and you’ll understand just what I mean.
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The new ES series of portable digital pianos brings Kawai’s dedication to learning the piano even further, as is evident in the ES520. With a combined stand and three-pedal base unit, this 88-note digital piano is a real joy to sit down to. But, it can easily be moved around due to the lightweight case, so it is just as likely to be found at home, at a gig, or in a house of worship. USB connectivity, Bluetooth app integration, and a clear and precise front panel screen mean you can navigate your way though a host of features with relative ease and simplicity. And of course, both a sleek black finish or a flash white housing are on offer, so you can have a digital piano that fits in with your space and your lifestyle.
One thing has become evident over the past 20 years that I’ve been playing around with Kawai digital pianos, and that is their dedication to the key action. You simply will not come across a better design when it comes to replicating a piano’s hammer action in a compact environment. I believe this is the case not only in Kawai’s top of the range digital pianos, when price and space are not really an issue, but right through the range, where compromise is not seen as an option.
With that, the ES520 does not let the Kawai digital piano line-up down at all, even with its modest price tag. Under the hood, Kawai have included their Responsive Hammer Compact II keyboard action that goes into incredible depths to replicate an actual hammer action. And how does Kawai do this? Well, they build an actual hammer in for every key, folded over on itself to manage it within the space available.
So yes, there is a reason why the ES520 feels like a real hammer action. Every key is weighted accordingly to adjust for the weight of the larger hammers that would be found in a piano as you work down through the octaves. The result is a keyboard action that is a true delight to play upon, with a natural responsiveness and return that lends itself to that of the hammer actions found on models further up in the range. Don’t think for a minute that this is just some sort of gimmick keyboard for the beginner market. The ES520 proves that Kawai is dedicated to offering pianists of every skill level a quality digital instrument that sounds and feels like the real thing.
This unique hammer action design doesn’t just make its presence known in the feel of the instrument, but in the sound too. The triple sensor key detection brings a more organic feel to your keystrokes and is especially relevant when playing the same note repeatedly. As the sensors detect shorter movements in the lift of the key and subsequent stroke, individual notes can be more evenly layered, rather than cutting one another off. This also allows for a greater response to the release of the key, so faster staccato notes can be detected, and the tone of the note changed to better represent the behaviour of a real piano. The end result is a more fluid sounding instrument that delivers a more realistic sound to match the playing feel.
And of course, you want to hear all the subtle nuances that the ES520 can offer, with two of Kawai’s great concert grand pianos forming the basis of the built-in sound library. Kawai’s EX concert grand piano and their flagship Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand piano have both been sampled in great detail and are brought to life in the ES520. There are a wide range of other great sounds on board, but you’ll be hard pressed to move away from either of these two exquisite piano reproductions on offer.
The in-built speakers deliver an accurate portrayal of the instrument’s sound, but it really comes to life when you play through headphones with Kawai’s Spatial Headphone Sound implemented in this unit. Often a let-down of many digital pianos, the headphone is usually overlooked in the design process with a simple stereo signal sent to your cans that leaves the listener rather uninspired. Kawai have taken it upon themselves to change this and bring not only clarity and character to what you hear in your headphones, but space as well.
We all know that the sound from a piano will fill a room, with subtle differences being heard for each octave as the sound makes its way to your ears. It’s not just a case of left and right, with many reflections and a delicate mix of notes finding their way differently to each ear. That is what Kawai have delivered in this process, the ability to practice in silence, and still feel like you are hearing the piano all around the room.
Gone are the days of weighted keys feeling like they are just being held back by a spring. No more does a digital instrument have to sound like, well, a digital instrument. Nor does it need to behave like one. Kawai has proven with the ES520 that no matter what your budget, you too can have the feel, sound, and response of a quality piano.
Head to Kawai for more information.