|ES100 with optional stand & pedals|
I did not have high expectations when I first tried it out because of the low price and I thought that Kawai would have to make some drastic compromises to produce a good digital piano at $699 that would up in quality. Well I am happy to say that I was wrong and that Kawai exceeded my expectations in a number of ways. The ES100 has been out for about 2 years now and is still ahead of the pack and was designed to do a few things very well in its price range. This includes having a noticeably superior and sturdy (and quiet going both up & down) graded hammer key action movement (Kawai calls it AHAIV-F Advanced Hammer Action), realistic stereo acoustic acoustic piano sound reproduction with smooth velocity response, natural tonal dynamics, and a fairly even volume balance across the entire keyboard as well as solid piano pedaling performance. It is worth noting that each note of all 88 keys was individually sampled from a Kawai acoustic grand piano as opposed to being sampled (recorded) from an acoustic piano in groups of notes. Sampling in groups of notes at one time like many other brands do is a less expensive way of getting a piano sound reproduction. But the Kawai ES100 had every key sampled one at a time...and the resulting piano sound in my opinion is amazing for the low price, as I just mentioned.
The ES100 offers many other features which I will talk about below, but this model was obviously built for the primary purpose of offering the best digital piano playing experience (in a portable model) under $1000 and it includes 192-notes of piano polyphony memory (a good thing) which is the highest in its class in this price range for a portable digital piano. The internal speaker system has a fairly good volume at 14 watts total power going through two higher quality speakers which are positioned underneath the keyboard. I put the piano speaker system through its paces and the sound was clean and did not distort even at loud volume. The overall volume for a small portable piano like this is good for a small to medium sized room. However, I would suggest you consider connecting a small (inexpensive) external powered speaker system if you want to enhance the piano sound fullness & realism further, particularly for a larger room. If you do that then the ES100 can sound like a big acoustic piano. There are a number of ways you can do this which are fairly inexpensive and effective, and if you want more info with regard to best external speaker system in a low price range, before you do anything please contact me and I can give you the information which will work best for you.
|ES100 control panel|
But all the drum rhythms in the world, automatic chord arrangements, extra sounds, or the latest USB technology is useless in my opinion if you do not have a realistic piano playing experience with a solid key action and good smooth dynamic acoustic piano tone. Although piano touch and tone is ultimately a subjective thing, when you compare a digital piano to a real acoustic piano there needs to be some noticeable similarities, so the result is not completely subjective. There needs to be proper key weighting but not too much weight or too little weight. There needs to be a good piano tone but that tone needs to come with a good dynamic range so the sound is different as you are playing softer or harder. Dynamics are difficult to recreate evenly and with a large tonal range but Kawai ES100 seems to do a very god job of this and noticeably better than any new Yamaha digital piano I have played under $1500, so that ability is quite impressive to me.
|Kawai ES100 included damper pedal|
|ES100 control panel|
|ES100 function navigation chart|
|acoustic piano dampers/strings|
|acoustic grand piano hammers|
The ES100 does have a built-in digital recorder which offers one track of full piano recording and a 3-song memory to save your recorded songs. This is generally sufficient for most people although some of the competitors have a 2 track recorder separate left & right hand recording. Two separate tracks of recording is a nice feature and I would have wanted to see that in the ES100, but it is not absolutely essential. Most people just want to hear what they sound like regardless of whether the left & right hand are recorded altogether or individually. However, the ES100 does have a built-in music education lesson library consisting of Alfred's basic piano library of songs books 1A and 1B (a very popular lesson book series) along with Burgmuller 25 Etudes. With the built-in music library in the piano you can purchase the appropriate music books and then play along with the built in songs at any tempo you wish (slower or faster) and also separate out the left hand and right hand parts for playback with controls in the piano accessed by the function button and keys. In this way you if you are a beginner or novice player you can listen to left and right hand parts separately (before you play the song yourself) to understand how each part sounds and to then play each part one at a time along with the song playing back. It's a pretty cool feature and one that you can take advantage of if you are a beginner young person or adult. Kawai is the only digital piano under $1000 with this kind of built-in lesson song library, but even if you never use this function, it doesn't really matter because this instrument is really all about playing the piano and having it be the one of the best you can get for a portable 88 key digital piano under $1000.
For those people that might want to play the piano in a very large room, outdoors, at a school, in a church, or other venue, you can connect the ES100 to an external speaker system by way of a stereo output on the piano in one of the two headphone connectors. When you connect in this way you can also decide if you want the internal piano speakers to remain on or not because otherwise the internal speakers would not work under normal circumstances when you plug into a headphone output. But the ES100 has an override function that allows the internal speakers to remain on...very nice. I do wish the ES100 had a USB output to iPad/computer as well as an audio input...that would have been useful. But some people do ask for MIDI connectors (to connect to other sound modules, etc) which it does have, and you can always purchase a low cost adapter cable to convert a MIDI connector to a USB cable connector so that you can connect the piano to an iPad/computer at that point and use some fun interactive apps for creative visual learning and music playing. I use iPad apps in my studio quite a bit so I would definitely suggest that. Another feature the ES100 does not have is ivory feel key tops which Casio does have as well as Roland under $1000. Although some people do like that and it can be nice, it is not absolutely necessary and real acoustic pianos these days (and have for many years) use regular white hard plastic keytops and not ivory, so that material (simulated or organic) is not something you would see on a regular piano anyway.
For the money it is my opinion that the Kawai ES100 is, overall, the "home run king" of low priced portable digital pianos for realistic piano sound, key action authenticity, and pedaling realism. The key action is noticeably smoother and more realistic than the Yamaha GHS and GH key action found in the lower and higher priced Yamaha DGX and Arius models (including Clavinova CLP525 & CLP535 GH3), Roland ivory-G action, and a few other brands. Key action movement and realism is the number one feature to focus on in a piano and I have done reviews of those pianos which you can read about on my blog. When you put it all together having a quiet quality hammer key action, a large amount piano polyphony memory, smooth touch, elegant piano tone and combine it with all the other features I mentioned in a sleek, elegant little portable cabinet weighing in at only 33lbs (without stand and extra 3-pedal unit), you have a real winner, especially with the name Kawai attached to it.
|Kawai ES100 with opt stand & pedals|
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