Kawai ES520 - REVIEW | Digital Piano - 2021 | Impressive Sound

Kawai ES520 Review
REVIEW
- Kawai ES520 Digital Piano | 2021 Mid Range Portable ES Model | New Model | Impressive Piano key action and stereo piano sound | 
The new 2021 model Kawai ES520 at $1199 price is really a very cool portable digital piano at a good price point for what it offers. Kawai currently has 4 digital pianos under $1600 including the ES110 at $699, KDP70 at $899, KDP110 at $1199, and the new ES920 at $1599. With the addition of this new ES520 to the lineup of digital pianos under $1600, Kawai now has 3 models in the ES portable category along with its furniture cabinet models KDP70 & KDP110 making 5 models in this price range under $1600. Kawai also has one more furniture cabinet under $2000 called the CN29 which sells on-line at $1959 making for a total of 6 self contained (with internal speakers) digital pianos under $2000 which gives you many good choices in the Kawai brand for this price range.

INTRODUCTION & BRIEF "ES MODEL" COMPARISON

Kawai Grand Piano
Kawai Concert Grand Piano
The Kawai piano company of Japan has had a long history of producing some really great acoustic and digital pianos.
In fact, that's all they do...design and produce pianos unlike Yamaha and Casio who design and produce many other types of consumer products that are well known. Kawai only makes acoustic & digital pianos and lots of them from low prices under $1000 to very high prices well over $100,000 for acoustic concert quality grand pianos. In fact, I have personally played many Kawai acoustic grand pianos over the years in concert and for personal pleasure and they really are great instruments. Kawai has been in the piano business since 1927, almost 100 years, and that is much longer than many other digital and acoustic piano companies which means that by now they out to know what they are doing. So when Kawai produces a brand new digital piano model at a new price point they've never had before, then that is pretty big news for a company like Kawai. So exactly what is the new ES520 which sells on-line for $1199 and why did Kawai come out with it? I will answer that question in my detailed review below.


Kawai ES520 Portable Digital Piano
What Kawai has done is to take various popular features and functions from some of their other newer digital piano models over the last year or two and put them all together in a lower price range to make this new portable instrument.
At $1199 price
Middle Price Price Point for Kawai ES Digital Pianos
(not including optional furniture stand and furniture triple pedal-bar) the ES520 now fits between the low priced ES110 at $699 and the higher priced ES920 at $1599. This gives the Kawai company 3 portable ES models instead of just the 2 ES price points they have had for awhile. Kawai likely did this because there have been a number of digital piano shoppers who liked the low priced ES110 but wanted more out of it and were willing to spend more money to get those things rather than go all the way up to the top of the line ES920 at $1599. The ES520 does deliver in that way  as a significant step up from the ES110, so now Kawai can accommodate different musical needs in the "portable digital piano" category with the addition of this 3rd model which occupies the middle price point. That makes sense to me as long as what you're getting out of the new ES520 is worth the $1199 price and in this detailed review I think you will see that it is definitely worth the price of admission. The difficulty right now is getting one if you decide you want this model because not only is it a brand new model but also there are huge delays from all of the major digital piano companies in getting product from their overseas factories due to many factors. So if you want one then you'll need to get on "the list" and reserve one out of the next shipment. As with almost all major brands of digital pianos we can also help you get on at even less money including free shipping and no tax.

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ES520 Compared to other Kawai digital pianos under $2000
Here are a few interesting comparisons of the new Kawai ES520 to other current Kawai digital pianos under $2000.
The ES520 has the RHCII triple sensor key action movement of the Kawai KDP110 furniture digital piano which sells for $1199, it has the same PHI stereo piano sound engine of the Kawai model CN29 furniture cabinet digital piano which sells for $1959, it has the big 40 watt Onkyo speaker system of their higher priced ES920 which sells for $1599, and it also has the full size single piano sustain pedal with half-damper effect of the both ES110 ($699) and ES920 ($1599). Those things are the main piano playing components that are important for a higher quality more natural piano playing experience. So as you can see there are things coming from the other pianos that are now in the new ES520. It's really a combination digital piano, and that is not a bad thing. Why "reinvent the wheel" if you can take those good parts from other pianos you make and put them into a new model to make something new and different? Apart from those main features the most (but certainly not all) of the new ES520 pretty much comes from the higher priced ES920 including the same cabinet design, same connector array for external and internal connectivity, same powerful 40 watt stereo internal speaker speaker system by Onkyo Audio company of Japan, same overall control panel layout and OLED user interface screen, and other similar features. However, the key action and piano sound engine of the top ES920 is noticeably upgraded over the ES520, but it should be since it is more money.

Is the Kawai ES520 Worth the money?
Before I go any further and point out some of the specific things this new ES520 can do, I want to mention that the ES520 provides a noticeably better "piano" playing experience as compared to the lower priced Kawai ES110 at $699, so it is definitely worth the price difference between those two models in our opinion.
It is also much better than the Kawai KDP110 furniture cabinet piano at $1199. However, it is not as good as the higher priced ES920 when it comes to the piano key action movement and the piano sound engine realism, as I just mentioned. The ES920 at $1599 is on a higher level in that way as compared to the ES520 and that is a big reason why it is $400 more than the ES520. So what you'll need to decide when it comes to this "over $1000 price range" for a portable digital piano is...should you bump your budget up $400 more and purchase the ES920 (assuming you want a Kawai digital piano) or will the new ES520 be enough for you? That's the big question and because I have played this model extensively I will outline some of the things the ES520 has in it and why it is worth the money.

KAWAI ES520 PIANO SOUND

Kawai ES520 white digital piano
The 1st thing that was evident to me when I played the ES520 (I have played it many times) is how real the piano playing experience seemed to be as compared to other portable digital pianos in this price range and to a good quality acoustic piano.
The ES520 had a huge natural acoustic type, resonant stereo piano sound coming through its extraordinarily powerful internal speaker system. I was amazed at just how big and loud this model could get along with being able to nicely project the piano sound into the room. In fact the sound was so big, bold, and rich, even when played at medium volume levels, except for really big rooms/venues, there really is no need for external speakers or sub woofers to be connected to this piano because the highly capable new internal speaker system by the Onkyo audio company easily takes care of the sound in a big way. But besides having a big sound, that piano sound is also very balanced from left to right going up & down the octaves so that the bass end is not too boomy and the treble end is not excessively bright. The mid range is also impressive so the the entire frequency range seems to be covered by these stereo piano samples and the speaker system that those piano sounds are coming through. Other digital pianos I have played have inferior internal sound systems in this price range and that type of thing usually creates a very overall artificial piano sound.

Kawai ES520 with music rack
The natural pianistic sound of the ES520 rivals some of the higher priced Roland and Yamaha home digital pianos at over $2000. So don't let the low price of the Kawai ES520 fool you into thinking that it cannot keep up with the piano sound of much higher priced digital pianos in other brands because it definitely can keep up and surpass them in that way. So I was pleasantly surprised in seeing and hearing that happen when I played it. In other words, if you simply just wanted to play piano on this new model and that's all this piano did, in my opinion it would still be worth the price of admission at $1199...it's really that good...at I don't give my approval that easily to these kinds of digital pianos. 

Kawai EX concert grand sound
As far as the actual acoustic piano sound samples go, there are 8 of them in the ES920 including SK, EX, Jazz, Warm, Upright, Pop, Modern, and Rock. However, the first 4 are really the full grand piano sounds and of those sounds I personally like the EX grand sound the best.
It has the most realistic tone on all of the keys and is the most consistently like a real piano. As with some other
Kawai SK Concert Grand sound
digital pianos out there the SK sampled grand piano sound is very good although I noticed a few artifacts/anomalies in the sound on a few notes. This not necessarily unusual mainly because I can be very picky when it comes to digital pianos because I have played so many acoustic upright and grand pianos and I know what they sound like and how they behave. It is true that even acoustic pianos can have some piano sound anomalies in certain notes because of how the strings resonate or behave and one piano can be different that the next one when it comes to acoustic pianos. Nevertheless, the EX piano sound sample is more refined than the SK sound sample in my opinion. 

Kawai Digital Piano Sound Sampling Technology
Actually, Kawai has 3 levels of piano sound sample technology in their ES series portable pianos which can be referred to as Good, Better, and Best.
The entry level ES110 at $699 has their "good" entry level of sound sample recording/processing, the ES520 has the "better" middle level sound sample recording/processing, and the higher priced ES920 at $1599 has their "best" top level piano sound recording/processing with their best sampling technology which makes the ES920 sound even more realistic than this ES520, even though the ES520 and ES920 have the same internal speaker system. So it just depends what you really need and want out of a digital piano. The Jazz piano sound sample on the ES520 is a brighter, crisper tone, and the "warm" grand piano sound is a more mellow tone. However Kawai has
Kawai Virtual Technician Voicing
a sound editing technology in their ES520 called the "Virtual Technician" which allows you to edit the preset grand piano sounds and other acoustic piano sounds so that you can change the sound characteristics of the piano sounds by making any of them brighter, more mellow, more dynamic, and also edit some of the specific organic elements of the pianos sound, etc, which allows you to customize and save those new piano setups and I will talk about some of that more later in this review. Some people may just want to modify/edit the preset piano sounds with a global (easy to use) editing function called "voicing." Voicing is the function that can quickly change the overall character of the piano sound and sometimes it is very effective in giving you a piano sound that is even more pleasing to your ears. Using the voicing feature of the Virtual Technician is definitely a good way to do it and it is very easy to use. I have included a small chart showing the "voicing options."

PIANO SOUND POLYPHONY & TONAL DYNAMICS

ES520 192-note polyphony
The ES520 sound engine has a 192-note polyphony power so you can easily play piano without "note-drop-out."
This means that when you are playing more complex music and also layering/mixing 2 sounds together such as piano & strings or piano & organ, etc, you will not experience notes not being able to keep up with your playing and dropping out so that you cannot hear them. With a lower polyphony number, sometimes that will happen when there is not enough piano polyphony power. But with the 192-note polyphony
ES520 Musical Colors & Expression
sound engine you won't have a problem with that. Part of the piano sound technology in the ES520 also includes better tonal resonation, longer and deeper pedal and note sustain resonation, and more overall dynamic tonal range from mellow to bright when striking a key softly up to playing the note with more force. The ES520 definitely has impressive tonal dynamics and expression that offers and abundance of "musical color" to your music. It also has very impressive and smooth tonal transitions when playing the keys at different velocities because you don't hear obvious beaks or jumpy transitions in volume or tone like you do on some other digital pianos. These are the type of organic piano sound elements that people look for to get a more authentic piano sound so that it does not otherwise sound plain and uninspiring or "digital." The Kawai ES520 does a very good job at making you feel like you are hearing a real piano because of their advanced piano sound technology.

INSTRUMENT SOUNDS

Kawai ES520 Instrument sound chart
As far as the other "non acoustic piano sounds go, out of a total of 34 instrument sounds with 8 of them being pianos, that leaves 26 other sounds which are divided up into sound groups.
Those sound groups include vintage electric pianos, organs, harpsichords & mallets, strings and choir, and bass. On many digital pianos those additional non-piano sounds tend to sound very artificial  and just not
ES520 Strings
realistic. The good thing about the ES520 is that these additional sounds are impressive with a lot of organic character to them. The vintage electric pianos such as the Wurlitzer, Rhodes, and DX7 tones were very good and felt natural with good expression as well as the string symphony tones, church organ sounds, synth sounds, harpsichord and choir. Their also also some good left hand bass tomes such as upright bass which can be used as an example when playing some jazz tunes and having the upright bass tone be setup for the left hand, a stereo grand piano for the right hand, and maybe a jazz drum pattern for the background rhythm. In this way you can get a 3-piece jazz trio with you playing both left hand bass and right hand piano. It's a lot of fun to use the ES520 in this way and sounds great.

INSTRUMENT SOUND LAYERING & SUSTAIN

Kawai ES520 sound layering
When using any of the additional 26 instrument sounds you can also layer or split them with the acoustic piano sounds, or with any other sound in the ES520 for that matter.
A common layer/mix setup is piano & strings, church organ & choir, electric piano & string pad, acoustic grand piano & classic electric piano, etc. In a real string orchestra with piano as the primary instrument up front, the string players can either play their notes continuously 
in a sustained fashion without stopping, or those
Kawai ES520 sound layering
same strings can play in a style where the notes decay or fade out while the piano keeps playing. Unlike all the other digital piano brands which are preset by the factory to respond one way or the other without you the user being able to change it, the ES520 gives you the option of a "sustain "hold" function or a non-hold function which would allow the strings to keep being heard or sustained while you hold down your sustain pedal or they would fade out while holding down the sustain pedal. 

Kawai ES520 sound layering
In other words when layering piano & strings together or harpsichord & strings for example, you'll want to use your piano sustain/damper pedal in a normal way with the piano sound fading out (decaying) like it normally would.
However, you may want the layered strings to fully and continually be heard while the pedal is being held down which makes the strings sound a lot more
Kawai ES520 damper hold function
natural as a backing to the piano sound. As a comparison, with Yamaha brand digital pianos the strings always fade out like a piano does and that is not necessarily the way real string violin, viola, and cello players play their instruments when playing along with a piano, or even by themselves. But if the strings do need shorter sustain time because of the type of music you are playing, the ES520 can do it that way too with changing a user function. My point is that I am impressed with all these little details that Kawai offers on this model including "pedal hold" if you are wanting full continued sustain for strings as well as organs, choir, etc which allows all of those instruments to sound real instead of fake whether you are layered/mixed with a piano sound or just playing those other sounds by themselves. You just have more control on this one rather than less control like on other digital pianos.

SMOOTH SOUND TRANSITION

Kawai ES520 smooth sound transition
One of the cool things about digital pianos is that you can "orchestrate" your music in real time which means that if you are playing a song you may want to add or subtract instrument sounds while you are playing so that you can get more variety in your music.
As an example, if you are playing a song using a full grand piano sound and then on the next verse in the song you want a more mellow grand piano sound, when you go to select that next grand piano sound button the first grand piano sound you were using smoothly transitions to the next grand piano sound without any gaps or breaks in the sound when you go from one sound to the next while playing a song. Or when you are playing any type of grand piano sound on the ES520 and you want to add/mix another instrument sound on top of that while you are playing such as strings, choir, organ, etc, the 2nd instrument sound is smoothly layered and heard with the grand piano sound you had on and those 2 sounds combine together seamlessly without any interruptions as you are playing in real time. This type of technology allows you to select different sounds and move from one to another smoothly and evenly during the song just like a real band or orchestra would sound. This is called "smooth sound transition" and the Kawai ES520 has it. I like to be able to do all of that and add a little "variety" to my music and have it sound real, but there are some digital piano brand out there which cannot do this such as many Roland digital pianos using physical modeling technology. That technology produces noticeable gaps when changing instruments as you are playing.

"VIRTUAL TECHNICIAN" PIANO SOUND EDITING

Virtual Technician feature editing chart
Speaking of control over the sounds, Kawai gives you full specific editing control over the stereo acoustic piano sounds with a feature called "Virtual Technician."
Kawai has had this feature for a number of years on past models as well as on many current models of digital pianos and the ES520 is no exception. Virtual technician allows you to edit and customize many aspects of the piano sound by being able to individually edit organic elements that you would normally find in real acoustic pianos. In fact, Kawai has a chart of all the Virtual Technician parameters such as touch, voicing which adjusts the tonal character, string resonance, overall tuning, stretch
Kawai Virtual Technician
tuning, temperament, key volume, topboard adjustment which adjusts the virtual "top-lid" up & down of the grand piano (just like you would on a real grand piano), and so-on. In other words, even though the factory stereo piano sound samples in this model are very good and probably enough for many people, if you would personally like to modify those piano sounds in various ways for "your" ears then you can do that and it actually not difficult to do...and it really does work in some very cool ways. Once you make those modifications and you are done editing then you can save it into memories for fast recall later on.

ES520 KEY ACTION

Kawai ES520 Key Action
So let's move on to key action which for most people is the number one thing they are concerned about when shopping for a new digital piano, regardless of the price range.
Some digital pianos have a heavy, clunky key action while others have key actions that are too light, while still others have key actions that are sluggish or very uncomfortable and that makes it difficult to get good control over the sound. If the piano sound in the piano model you are looking at is good but the key action response is bad then that can be a real problem. So when shopping for a good digital piano the 3 main elements in any piano should all be good including piano sound, key action, and pedaling. In the case of the Kawai ES520, the key action in this model feels natural, responsive, and has nice movement to it. In other words it feels very comfortable, moves up & down nicely with impressive down-weight and upweight measurements with down-weight measured at middle C being 57 grams which is extremely close to a good acoustic grand piano down-weight measurement such as Yamaha and Steinway concert grands I have played. 

key action upweight & downweight force
You definitely don't want the down-weight measurement (in grams) to be much higher than 70 grams or so because then it really starts getting too heavy/firm for most people after that.
As a comparison the Yamaha P-515 portable digital piano at $1499 measures about 85 grams of static down-weight (touch-weight) at middle C which is considered very heavy and can cause wrist, hand, and finger fatigue when playing the keys for longer periods of time, especially for beginner through intermediate players and people with muscle or movement issues (such as arthritis). So why would a good manufacturer such as Yamaha make a heavy key action that would get in the way of your playing and comfort...because of cost. It costs money to design and build new key actions and Yamaha, as an example, has been using this heavy key action for many years so they continue to do so in some models. However Yamaha just changed and vastly improved the key actions in their new higher priced Clavinova furniture cabinet digital pianos but those changes have not trickled down into their portable digital pianos and for that reason alone I would never buy a Yamaha portable digital piano with a heavy key action. 

Kawai ES520 Compact II key action
But as for this new Kawai ES520, the key action is really very impressive and feels great and I enjoy playing it. Being a long time experienced piano teacher, a quality piano key action is very important to me so I pay close attention to it.
I know that some of my piano teacher colleague may like a slightly firmer key action because acoustic grand pianos are all different from each other with some key actions a bit lighter and some a bit firmer when you press down on the keys. On the ES520 with Kawai's RHC2 key action (Responsive Hammer Compact II), the key action touch resistance (touch-weight) can be digitally adjusted within the Virtual Technician settings of the piano for a firmer key weight and response. When you make that adjustment to give you a firmer key movement response, what that feature is actually doing is digitally creating a different touch velocity curve so that when you press the keys down lightly the sound does not come in as loud or as quickly as the normal setting, so you have to play the keys harder to get the sound to respond more fully. 

Keyboard touch setting
Hence, when you play the ES520 on normal touch curve setting then that's the way the keys and piano sound would normally behave. Once you change the touch setting  to "heavy," then the keys seem to "feel" heavier and the sound comes in more fully once you play the keys harder.
It's really a mental illusion because the physical weight of the keys or "physical resistance" don't change at all. It is all done digitally with touch control settings and it works well. So even though the ES520 key action is on the normal "lighter side," which is the way many acoustic grand pianos behave and lots of players like it that way, you can change the touch setting to make
Keyboard touch curve setting
the keys appear to "feel" firmer and the result is just like you actually have a firmer key action. I have tried this out with advanced piano players and they definitely notice the difference and some actually like it better that way. But that's just a matter of musical taste when it comes to playing piano and some of the advanced pianists are more "picky" than others. So with the new ES520 you can have it both ways and enjoy the playing experience very much. Just to let you know, many digital pianos have touch setting variations but most of those settings on some other digital piano brands either don't work well at all or they actually affect your piano playing in a negative way. So that's another reason why I really like this piano.

KEY ACTION NOISE?

Key action noise
However, on the slightly negative side, the key action is a bit noisy when the keys are coming back up after being pushed down.
 When the keys are being pushed down they are fairly quiet when hitting bottom and any noise coming from the key action at that point is normal. When you are playing the piano with medium overall master volume then you cannot hear the noise of the key action movement (keys returning to resting position) because the piano sound/volume is covering up the key action noise. This is also true for regular acoustic pianos because those key actions are physically noisy in all acoustic pianos, but you do not hear that noise because the volume of a regular acoustic piano is so loud all the time and covers up any key action movement noise. With digital pianos you have a master volume control and as you reduce the volume then the key noise becomes more evident, which is normal. When you plug in headphones for private practice then people in the same room as you may hear that key noise even though you don't hear it because you are wearing headphones which typically covers up your ears. 

Key action movement
The better digital piano manufacturers are always trying to produce the best key actions that they can make at a certain price point so that you will get the most natural piano playing experience possible.
However, the more realistic the playing experience gets with natural key action movement, sometimes the key action noise level goes up because the manufacturers are trying to reduce friction in the key movement as well as not having too much padding inside the key action which can cause the action to be sluggish and not move and respond good. So that's the dilemma...trying to produce the most realistic piano key action possible in different price ranges while keeping the key action noise to a minimum. It is important to note that there are also some really bad key actions out there in a variety of digital pianos which I call "Piano Shaped Objects" (PSO) and those pianos not only have extremely loud key action noise but the actions themselves feel very fake in those models. For me its all about the realism and movement of the keys as they go up & down and how smooth and delicate the key action can be while also giving you the ability to play aggressively with a lot of force when needed, and having that key action respond so that you can be fully expressive in your music. The Kawai ES520 is overall really a joy to play because it feels "real," at least it does to me, and I have played thousands of acoustic upright, grand and digital pianos. All digital piano key actions make some key noise, and even thought the keys coming back up do make some return/bounce noise, overall the ES520 key action movement is fairly quiet as compared to many others I have played.

MORE KEY ACTION DETAILS

ES520 key tops
Keeping with key action for just a moment, the Kawai ES520 does not have the synthetic ivory and ebony keytops and does not have the escapement-let-off feature that some other digital pianos have.
You may have read about these 2 things on other digital pianos and the manufacturers claim that you "just cannot live without them," But in reality on most real acoustic pianos there is no escapement/let-off feeling when pushing down the keys down and those keys also do not have ivory or ebony on the keytops. The keytops in regular acoustic pianos are almost all white plastic keys and a matte finish on the black keys. The E520 has smooth matte white keys and smooth matte black keys and they feel very nice to play and I like them a lot. Yes the "synthetic ivory" material they are using on some models (such as the Kawai ES920) is nice to have but in reality will likely not make a huge difference in the outcome of your music and you could likely live fine without it. The let-off function is what happens in grand pianos when you press the key down slowly and you feel a slight hesitation (notch) in the key travel about 1/2 way down. This "feeling" is where the action engages in a grand piano when playing very lightly and slowly and in a digital piano is just a simulation and not the real thing. OK...yes it is nice to have but personally I can live without it in a digital piano, especially when I am just playing recreationally. If you are at a very advanced level of piano playing, have played on real grand pianos, and want to fully concentrate on classical music or high level jazz, then maybe having the let-off simulation might be nice, but generally and overall it is not necessary in most digital pianos because it doesn't trigger anything...it's just a simulation.

KEY ACTION - TRIPLE SENSOR

triple sensor key action
In many digital pianos these days the key actions can either have triple sensor key contacts under each key or 2-sensor electronics under each key. With triple sensor electronics you would have better key repetition response when playing more complex music as compared to the 2-sensor key contacts.
Overall I find that even 2-sensor key contacts do a very good job at sensing where the key is located as its going up and down and I have played key actions when that type of technology and not had issues in playing my music. For me it is more about the quality of those sensors, where they are located under each key, and how they work. There are some really bad key sensors in a few different brands of digital pianos that I have played including Williams, Suzuki, and a few others where the music you are playing is so choppy and artificial that it makes me not want to play those models at all because it is completely unenjoyable and there is no way to make it better. When "cheap parts" are used in digital piano key actions then you get a bad result and it sounds cheap. The Kawai ES520 has triple sensor key electronics under each key and they work great with no breaks, gaps, or bad transitions in key repetition or piano sound. It is important to have high quality key sensors under the keys and these are the things you cannot actually see but are nevertheless very important.

PEDALS

Kawai single damper pedal
When playing any piano, the pedals are very important to the overall piano playing experience, especially the sustain damper pedal. The Kawai ES520 has 3 pedal options including the included single piano pedal that comes with it, an optional portable triple pedal unit, and an optional triple pedal-bar furniture unit which would connect to the optional furniture stand for the ES520.
The single pedal that comes with the piano is by far the best single pedal unit I have ever played that comes with a portable digital piano. This chrome single pedal is heavy-duty, is quiet when pressing it down and coming back up, is full length piano size,
Kawai GFP3 triple pedal units
and also triggers the half-damper variable sustain effect where you get a variation of sustain time rather than the standard cheaper plastic on & off pedals that normally come with many portable digital pianos. If you do not play classical piano well, generally only play music for recreational purposes, and/or prefer a portable sustain pedal, then the one that comes with the piano will be more than sufficient. If you want the full triple pedal playing experience with the additional middle sostenuto pedal and left soft pedal, then there are the other 2 options. The portable triple pedal is of the same quality as the single pedal but it lets you have the sostentoto and soft pedal function as well as being able to program those extra 2 pedals to trigger other functions on the piano which can be very useful. The furniture unit triple pedal-bar makes the ES520 look more like a real piano with a more traditional appearance, but you'll need the optional furniture stand to make that furniture triple pedal unit work properly.

DAMPER-SUSTAIN PEDAL "DECAY TIME"

Long pedal sustain decay time
But as for pedals on a digital piano, for most people they are mainly concerned with the sustain pedal. The most important aspect of the "sustain pedal" is the physical pedal movement response as well as the sustain and decay quality and time of the stereo piano piano.
 After playing the ES520 for quite a few hours I
pedal sustain decay time adjustment
found the sustain pedal playing experience to be extremely impressive. It offered me great control of the piano sound as well as big resonant piano sustain quality, piano sustain volume, and extended sustain-decay time. In other words, my music did not sound choppy are artificial because the sustained piano sound was full and rich and had long decay time at middle C of approx 14 seconds when you held the pedal or key down without letting go. That's actually a fairly long time and definitely more like a real acoustic piano, although the sustain-decay time on an acoustic piano is longer than that on middle C. The the higher priced Kawai ES920 ($1599) the natural sustain-decay time is even longer than on the ES520. However, on both the ES520 and ES520 the sustain-decay time can be digitally adjusted within the Virtual Technician parameters and you can add to or subtract the amount of time the sustain will keep going and then fade out.

Kawai ES520 with stand and triple pedals
There are many digital pianos with short sustain-decay times closer to 6-7 seconds in duration and weak volume as well. 
Long sustain times and higher sustain volumes produce a much lusher and more resonant piano sound especially when that sustained piano sound has good volume duration as well. When the sustain time on the ES520 is measured at the low C note in the 1st octave, the sustain
decay time for that note has a duration of about 30 seconds long which is great because on a real acoustic grand piano, the bass strings are big and fat and resonate for a very long time when the pedal is held down of the key itself is held down so that the damper is off the string. The long sustain time give that low note lots of power and range, But again, on a real concert grand piano (9') in length) that low note sustains for an even longer period of time beyond 50 seconds in some cases. The point is, the new ES520 does a great job when it comes to its pedaling, and when you are at a higher intermediate to advanced level of piano playing, that's the point at which you will really appreciate all these details about the sustain pedal and the 3 pedals in general. In my opinion most people will only need the single piano style sustain pedal that comes with the ES520 as far as functionality goes. But if you want more of the furniture cabinet appearance then you'll need to cough up another $169 to get that cabinet triple pedal unit but you'll also be required to get the furniture stand as well at another $259 because the furniture style triple pedal unit needs to attach to that stand or it won't work and be stable.

SUSTAIN PEDAL HALF-DAMPER FEATURE

Pedal half-damper adjustment
The single sustain pedal as well as the triple pedal units are also preprogrammed to trigger a half-damper effect which simulates what a sustain pedal will do on a real piano when it comes to getting a variable amount of sustain depending on how far down you press the pedal. There are some digital pianos that have sustain pedals that are only on & off pedals. In other words, the sustain is all the on and its maximum amount of it's all the way off...there is not in-between. On real pianos depending on how far down you press the damper pedal you can get a variable amount of sustain, not just on & off. There are some brands of digital pianos that offer a single pedal "half-damper" effect simulation but you have to buy an option upgraded pedal for that function and those pedals can easily add another $50 or more to the price. As far as the triple pedal units, even some of those on other brands do not trigger the proper "half-damper" feature. Kawai includes their best single pedal with the ES520 giving you the half-damper function and both of their triple pedal units also have that feature built in.

MORE FEATURES & FUNCTIONS

ES520 split keyboard function
So far I have mainly talked about the piano playing aspect of the ES520 and what you can expect from it along with the other non-piano sounds.
But the ES520 does more than that including recording what you play, giving you the ability to layer/mix 2 instrument sounds together which I previously mentioned and that most digital pianos can do, and digitally split the keyboard into 2 regions and place one instrument sound on the left hand and another instrument sound (of
ES520 4-hand play mode
your choosing) on the right hand. As an example, you can put a guitar or upright bass sound on the left hand and a piano sound on the right hand and use built-in realistic sounding drum rhythm patterns like a jazz drummer and then you'll have yourself a jazz trio setup. There is also a digital metronome for rhythm and timing training, a 4-hand play function that allows 2 students to play the same music at the
ES520 special effects
same time by splitting the 88 keys digitally into 2 44-note keyboards with the same octaves, editable studio quality reverb and special effects to make the instruments sound even more realistic. Those effects settings are definitely pro quality in the ES520 including chorus, tremolo, phaser, etc. But something else that is near & dear to my heart is a dedicated transpose-modulation button on the front panel so that you can quickly change key anywhere in the song such as going from one verse to another, modulating at the chorus verse, or wanting to replay the song a 1/2 step up but still play the same notes, which some digital piano shoppers ask about. 

TRANSPOSING FUNCTION

ES520 transpose button
I can tell you for a fact and from 1st hand experience that having a dedicated transpose button on a digital piano that quickly allows you to change the key your in but while you play the same notes is a really big deal for a lot of people, especially those that cannot read music or otherwise play in a variety of keys.
Most digital pianos, especially those in traditional furniture cabinets, don't have a dedicated, easy access "transpose button." In music, a lot of
ES520 transpose OLED display info
pro singers and players like to play in a key that is more pleasing to their ear or is better for your vocal range so they want to transpose the song electronically to a different key rather than learn to actually play in that key which for some musicians is difficult to do. The ES520 has a very nice transpose feature with a dedicated button on the control panel so that you just hold it down and then press a value button near the display screen and you can move that song into any key, just like that. Or...you can hold down the transpose button and then press a key on the keyboard for the "key" you want to be in and then instantly you are in that key...supper fast. People who play live in performance settings such as church, recitals, schools, accompanying vocalists or choirs, or just wanting to keep playing the song you like but increasing or decreasing the key by 1/2 steps, the dedicated transpose feature is a "must have" for many people and it is easy to use on the ES520 and it works very well. 

RECORDING FEATURES

ES520 recording features
A useful feature on any digital piano is being able to record yourself and play it back.
This type of function is on almost all digital pianos these days in some fashion. Sometimes pianists and students use the recording system to record their lesson or their practice song so they have a chance to hear it played back and then can critique their playing to see if and how many mistakes they are making allowing them to better correct those mistakes. The recording features also allow you to play live along with that recording so it is like having two people play along with the same song which can be fun. Some digital pianos have more recording features than others and those features can vary quite a bit. 

ES520 song recording
In the ES520 the recording functions are on the simplistic side offering a 1-track MIDI recording function which means the piano will record your left & right hand playing all at one time and then you can play it back instantly from the piano at any tempo.
You can save up to 3 recordings from the piano into internal memory and also off-load them onto a USB flash drive and then later insert that flash drive into the piano so that you can retrieve those
ES520 song playback
songs at a later date if you wish. On other digital pianos like the higher priced Kawai ES920, it allows you to record 2-tracks of playing which means you can record your left and right hand parts independently of each other and then play those parts back independently as well, and that allows for a lot more flexibility, especially if you want to edit one of the tracks (left or right) without affecting the other part. Or maybe you only want to play back one part to listen to it while keeping the other part off. The ES520 cannot do that like the ES920 can because it can only record 1-track left & right hand simultaneously and then play it back all at one time. The recordings sound good and they are very useful, but not too much flexibility as compared to a few other models out there. 

ES520 control panel
Also, on some digital pianos the recording features include the ability to have audio MP3 multi-track and 1-track audio wav file recordings of what you have played and those recordings can be taken off the piano in a USB flash drive and played on another device like a computer.
Those recorded audio songs will sound identical to what you played on the piano...and that can be useful to some people. Many digital pianos now have audio (uncompressed) wav file recorders and some also have MP3 (iTunes type) recorders and playback features which the Kawai ES520 does not have. So if you need extensive recording capability built-in to your digital piano including 16-track multi-track MIDI recording and playback, then the ES520 is definitely not the piano for you in that way. However, because of the audio input and output connectors on the ES520 you can connect an external multi-track audio recorder to the piano along with that recorder having a built-in stereo mic so that you can also record your singing voice along with your piano playing, and you can do that separately on different tracks or simultaneously altogether. In essence the Kawai ES520 recorder features are only limited by your imagination when it comes to what you can also do by connecting relatively inexpensive but yet advanced audio recorder devices to the piano.

MIDI FILE SONG PLAYER

ES520 USB flash-drive stick feature
Many digital pianos have the ability to play MIDI song files from the internet. A MIDI song file is a song that you can download from the internet (some free and some you pay for) and then you can put those songs on a USB flashdrive and play them through the ES520. There are 2 kinds of MIDI song files which include the basic format of the song you have selected playing one sound that you are using (piano, electric piano, strings, etc.) and that sound is what you will hear when the song plays back. If the MIDI song file has multi-track instruments like a full band or orchestra that would normally be in classical or pop music and have many instruments playing correctly at one time, the
MIDI song file
ES520 cannot do that correctly because it does not have General MIDI full instrumentation in it. In other words, the ES520 MIDI files can play right and left hand of a song but with only one instrument sound. Other digital pianos can play full General MIDI files with all instruments together such as what an orchestra or band would do, as I previously mentioned. The piano type (single instrument sound) MIDI files in the ES520 sound good and if you want a Billy Joel or Elton John rendition of one of their songs in piano style for example, the ES520 can do that well and you can play along with it and change the tempo if you wish. But if you want to play the theme from Star Wars or some other orchestral piece for instance, forget about it...the ES520 cannot do that whereas other digital pianos can do that. The ES520 MIDI file player is very basic and the operating system for that feature could use some improvement including accessing the song files better and more quickly. But as the basics go, it does the job and allows you to play along with piano music from the internet which can be useful and fun.

RHYTHM & TIMING, METRONOME, AND DRUMMER

ES520 drum rhythm buttons
As a piano teacher I am really into "rhythm & timing" and how important that is to becoming a good musician and piano player.
Without good timing and rhythm a persons music will sound artificial, out of sync, and even robotic. Music is supposed to have "feeling" and that feeling is supposed to be natural and free and expressive. Staying "with the beat" is so very important so when you have some digital tools that help with that, it can be very useful. A digital recorder can help in that way because you can hear yourself later and critique what you've done to improve it. But beyond that a "drummer" playing in different musical styles and tempos can also be very helpful because it allows you to play along with drummer and be able to learn different musical styles and learn to "feel" the beat. 

ES520 Drum Rhythm beats in OLED
To that end the ES520 has a built-in drummer in it which can play 100 different styles including Jazz, rock, Latin, country, swing, waltz, dance, march, etc. and then you can play your music with the drummer.
The 100 drum patterns give you a lot of variety to play and learn different styles of music and have fun doing it. Without the drummer in the piano then all you have to help with "timing" is the built-in digital metronome which most digital pianos have. A
ES520 Drum Rhythm beats in OLED
metronome is very useful and necessary to help beginner students stay up with their music lessons and get a better idea of what's going on in the music that has 4/4, 3/4, 2/4, 6/8 timing, etc and this model definitely has one with a dedication metronome button for easy access. But later after the metronome has been used for the beginner, once your skill level improves then you can go up to the built-in
ES520 Metronome button
drummer playing the same music but being able to better express yourself rhythmically in a way that allows you to more "feeling" into your playing, especially with more popular music like what I mentioned before...jazz, Latin, rock, kids, Disney, swing, country, etc. Many digital pianos, portable and furniture cabinet type, do not have built-in drum patterns like the ES520 so that is a definite benefit to this model. The drummer has adjustable features such as tempo control, volume control, and start & stop, and you can navigate through all 100 rhythm styles from the display screen. But overall the drummer features are pretty basic...but better than nothing and for a lot of people that is all they will need.

REGISTRATION MEMORIES

ES520 registration buttons
One thing I found to be very cool in this model and super helpful (especially for people like me who likes to use a lot of different sounds and settings in the piano) is the "registration" feature. Generally speaking when it comes to digital pianos and also many organs, the word "registration" means storage memory.
You can save your customer setups in the registration storage memories so that you can quickly select them the next time you want them without having to manually setup your sounds, effects, drummer, etc all over again. You just save it into the memory buttons on the piano for quick recall later on. There are 28 memory registrations on the ES520 and for additional storage beyond that you can save them onto a USB flash drive for more capacity if you are a pro musician and performing and needing a lot of preset custom setups to move from one song to the next quickly. I like using it because then I save my favorite setups like grand piano and string synth, relative layer volume control setting, concert hall reverb, contemporary drummer style on 120 bpm, transposed into a different key, etc. Once a setup is easily and quickly saved into one of 28 registration memories, it is in there until you save something different over it. The next time you power up the piano you can just go the the appropriate registration memory button, recall that setting, and start playing...and that's all there is to it.

BLUETOOTH WIRELESS

ES520 Bluetooth Wireless
OK, so now let's talk about Bluetooth wireless connectivity which is a big deal for some people out there. The Kawai ES520 has 2 types of Bluetooth wireless which includes MIDI and Audio.
They are separate functions, and typically you would not use them together. MIDI allows you to connect an external device such as a computer, iPad, etc without needing a USB cable. Even though connecting with a cable is not difficult and works fine, have Bluetooth wireless MIDI simply eliminates the need for extra cables and that's a good as long as Bluetooth transmission is working well because sometimes that technology can have glitches but overall it works good. MIDI connectivity allows an iPad music app for example to respond to your keyboard playing so that your keyboard triggers sounds or commands and interacts with that app. There are piano educational and instrument apps that are interactive and respond to your keyboard playing in real time so that can be very important depending on what computer programs or apps you are using.

ES520 Bluetooth Wireless
Bluetooth Audio wireless connectivity allow you to wirelessly transmit/stream the music from your external device through the internal piano speaker system. I
n this way you can hear your iPad music, for example, coming out of the powerful ES520 speaker system and be able to play along with that music at the same time or even use the ES520 as a "stereo speaker system" to play music through from your iTunes or other digital music libraries from your Bluetooth capable device. It's definitely a nice feature and works well. You can also stream YouTube videos through the ES520 speaker system rather than use your computer or tablet speakers because the ES520 is a much better source of audio quality. Many people may take advantage of Bluetooth audio connectivity and the ES520 has it and it connects easily and quickly through the functions in the user display screen. Once connected you can also plug in some good stereo headphones and hear the music coming through the piano from another source and play along at the same time all in privacy with anyone else hearing, so that can be a lot of fun. 

SHS & HEADPHONE TYPE STEREO SOUND TECHNOLOGY

Kawai ES520 SHS mode
Speaking of headphones, Kawai has created a headphone effects technology called SHS which simulates in your ears what it is like when you are listening to the music without headphones on and where you might be sitting or standing.
You can position the headphone sound to come out dead center in between your 2 ears, or in a wide dispersion like you are hearing the music in a wider stereo field when the stereo imaging is pushed further out from your ears which is very cool, and also it can create a sound image through your headphones that makes it sound like like your playing is more in front of you as if you are standing out in front of the keyboard. So this SHS technology is pretty cool and is useful depending on what position in your ears that you want hear to your music. I think most people would just want to put on a normal stereo field but if you do want something beyond that option then the SHS technology will give it to you.

ES520 Headphone type mode
In additional to the SHS technology for headphones, Kawai has a 2nd digital technology CALLED "headphone type" that applies to any headphones/earphones which gives you the ability to digitally change your headphone sound into other type of headphones.
In other words, all headphones are different and they produce a different sound depending on the headphones and your ears. It would be like comparing one speaker system against another one and the different type of sound that they produce. With the Kawai "headphone type" technology as an example you can change a closed ear bassy, more muted sounding set of headphones into a clear in-ear stereo earbud experience without actually getting new headphones or earbuds. In other words, you take the headphones you have which may not produce the sound that you actually want and you can digitally alter that sound with the Kawai headphone sound feature and simulate a different headphone sound coming through your headphones. It's like buying a completely different type of headphone and using it instead of what you may already have. I have a number of different headphones in my studio and use them depending on what I am plugging them into because one set may sound better than another set depending on what I am using them on.  

ES520 Headphones type - inner ear
The Kawai "headphone type" technology can simulate ear canal ear buds, inner-ear earbuds, fully closed headphones, open headphones, semi-open headphones, and normal stereo headphones...and they really do change the quality of the piano sound you are hearing through your headphones.
For people who may be using headphones for private practice, this feature can come in handy especially if your current set of stereo headphones is not producing the type of headphone sound that you really want. So for instance, an in-ear headphone type sound is more clear and less bassy than a closed ear type of headphone sound when using this technology in the ES520. For many people you will likely just want to use your headphones and the standard normal setting, but for others you may want to change the setting to something else to get you a sound that may be more to your liking through your headphones. It's all up to you.

KAWAI INTERNAL SPEAKER SYSTEM

ES520 internal speaker system
When it comes to "sound," that can be a very personal thing because everyone's ears are different and what may be low power and quiet to one person may be loud to the next person, or what may be a more muffled sound to someone could be a brighter sound to someone else, or vice-versa.
But one thing is for sure, having an underpowered internal speaker system in a digital piano is definitely not a good thing. You want plenty of power so that the sound can project out of the piano in a natural way without that sound being tinny, thin, or artificial. Unfortunately there are a number of portable digital pianos out there (and cabinet digital pianos too) with underpowered and/or lower quality speaker systems. The surprising thing about the Kawai ES520 is how good it sounds through its speaker system right out of the box. You just power it up, put the master volume control on medium, and start playing...and what you hear is pretty amazing. This brand new 40 watt, 2-way stereo speaker internal speaker system inside the ES520 puts out a piano sound with big volume, depth, and richness that I definitely did not expect. It sounds as if you are playing a higher priced cabinet model digital piano but you're not.  

Onkyo audio logo
What makes the ES520 speaker system so good is the fact that it was designed and made in partnership with the Onkyo Audio electronics company of Japan.
So rather than Kawai do 100% of the audio components in their digital pianos, they partnered with the famous Onkyo company of Japan to come up with an upgraded internal audio system that would give this ES520 model a sound quality and volume that you would otherwise not expect to hear in this price range and they definitely got the job done in an impressive way. I really almost could not believe my ears on how big, bold, and clean the piano sound was when I played this piano and I only had the volume half-way. The sound was very balanced from bass octaves to treble octaves and everywhere in-between and the clarity and range was really good. The other surprising thing to I discovered when playing this instrument through this new Onkyo internal speaker system was how much control I had over the dynamics and intensity of the piano sound. Even when the master volume was up pretty loud I still could easily control the volume and tonal dynamics when playing lightly or more aggressively and that's a difficult thing to do on other digital pianos I have played. I loved the fact that I had so much control over the dynamics, expression, while the quality of the sound coming through the speaker system made my music sound great, and that is something that's not easy to do in a portable digital piano in any price range.

"TONE CONTROL" SPEAKER SOUND CUSTOMIZATION

ES520 Tone Control - user EQ
To add to and customize the speaker system listening experience, Kawai has a special digital feature in the ES520 called "tone control" which allows you to quickly customize and alter the sound coming out speaker system with some instant preset sound adjustments.
These tone control settings adjust the EQ frequencies in a general and specific way which is very impressive considering how
ES520 Tone Control - bass boost
good the speaker system already sounds. However, if you want a "punchier" bass sound coming out of the speakers without affecting the other frequencies, then you can select "bass boost" which instantly cranks up the bass response even more than it normally is and you can definitely tell and feel the difference. Or perhaps you want to adjust the sound in other ways such as increase or decrease overall "brilliance," reduce the bass frequencies with an instant "bass cut," or perhaps you want to add more volume to the speakers or make the sound more mellow? You can do all those things and more with the "tone control" feature and instantly change the way the piano sound (and other instrument sounds) come out of the stereo speaker system. There is even a user customizable EQ setting where you can set and save your own frequency ranges that appeals to your ears, and that function is especially useful for pro players who might want have even more control over the tone. 

USER INTERFACE - BUTTONS & DISPLAY SCREEN

User Interface
We're nearly done with this long review (aren't you glad?:) so now we're going to talk about the user interface control panel and OLED display screen.
In the world of digital pianos, in past years the user interface in many cases was not user friendly, they were difficult to navigate and hard to find functions & features. These days with other devices such as phones and tablets, we have become used to very beautiful color touch screens and an intuitive user experience when searching for functions and features, and this has been a very welcome change from days long ago in digital electronic products. So our expectations have gone way up when it comes to working with digital devices. Although the Kawai ES520 does not have a color touch screen, what it does have is generally more than enough in my opinion when it comes to understanding and navigating the functions and features of this instrument. 

ES520 OLED screen and navigation buttons
Kawai is using a new OLED screen technology which is different than those of the past because the new (O)LED technology now offers a much brighter and clearer display of the letters and numbers in the screen and it is much easier to see, whether daytime or night.
This is a big improvement from past LCD and LED display screens that were more difficult to look at. The screen itself is in the center of the control panel just above the panel buttons which is a very practical place to have it and be able to see it. It is also larger than past display screens in Kawai portable digital pianos, so that is a good thing. On the right side of the display screen are the menu & value buttons to access many of the functions and features of the piano along with an exit button so you can exit those functions and get back to you control panel buttons. The display screen and buttons next to them are easy to use and conveniently located so that is helpful to the user experience.

ES520 control panel and OLED
Below the OLED screen are the general panel buttons which are good sized round buttons with an indentation inside each one for a nice tactile experience. The buttons are made out of hard plastic for durability and are very easy to press down and have a click to them when you have engaged that button.
Nearly all of those buttons have a bright blue little light showing through the top of each button to let you know that function/function is in use and also makes it much easier to know those buttons are being used when you're in a dark room or at night. There are different specified buttons grouped together of buttons along the panel. There are 8 instrument buttons in
ES520 EFX buttons
the instrument sound group within the line-up of control panel buttons just above the keyboard, so they are easy to access. When you press one of the sound group buttons then a small blue light illuminates in the buttons, as I mentioned, and then one of the individual instrument sounds is displayed in the user OLED screen above the buttons. In other words, you have the sound group buttons such as harpsichord/mallets and then the specific instrument sound in that particular group such as the "marimba," which is displayed in the OLED screen. You can either use the value button to consecutively move through the sounds in the sound button or you can just keep pressing the button and the sounds advance one at a time that way. So there are some good options in quickly accessing the sounds, features, and functions that you want using the control panel buttons and looking in the display screen for what you have selected. Pretty easy overall and fairly intuitive.

USEFUL OPERATING SYSTEM DETAILS

ES520 layered sound buttons
If you want to layer 2 instrument sounds together like organ & strings, piano & organ, electric piano and acoustic piano, etc, you just press 2 sound group buttons together at the same time and then you get those 2 sounds mixed together.
You can even change the relative volume of those two sounds and control it when you press either of the value buttons next to the display screen...also quick and easy to do and works well. If you want a "split" sound combination then you just press the split button and touch any of the 88 keys and that's where your split point will be dividing the left and right hand. Then just choose the first sound by pressing an instrument sound
ES520 relative volume of layered and split sounds
button (like piano) which is applied to the right hand, and then choose your 2nd sound (like bass or bells) by pressing and holding the split button which is then applied to the left hand, and then you play...it's as easy as that. If you want to change the relative volume between the left hand sound and right hand sound in the split mode, you just press a value button like you do with layered sounds and you can instantly change the volumes to your liking. Oh, and if you want to "save" all those settings you did to use at another time instead of creating them all over again, you just save them into the registration memory buttons as I discussed earlier. So as far as the operating system goes on this piano and how things are laid out and the way you access them, it's a very nice design overall and makes playing your music that much more enjoyable, and this is always a good thing to have.

ES520 CONNECTIVITY HARDWARE

ES520 back panel connectivity
The hardware connectivity on the ES520 is in no short supply.
It includes two 1/4" line output jacks, one 1/8" stereo input jack, standard MIDI in & output jacks, a USB to host output jack, a USB device (thumbdrive) input jack, and 2 stereo headphones jacks with one of them a 1/8" input and the other being a 1/4" input. Having two different sized headphone jacks accommodates both types of
ES520 headphone jacks
headphone cable connectors  which is the bigger one and the smaller one. There is also a place to connect the single sustain pedal that comes with the piano as well as for both triple pedals units. The hardware connectors pretty much has what most people would want and need in a portable piano like this one. The only thing it does not have that a few other digital pianos may have is a microphone jack to connect a mic. I wish this model had one but you can kind of get around that by purchasing an inexpensive mic mixer and connecting it to the stereo input jack of the piano and controlling microphones in that way. This allows allows for multiple mics to be connected and controlled independently as well as adding vocal reverb effects to the voice when connecting a variety of external mic mixers. Also, if you were to connect a powered subwoofer or additional speaker monitors to the line outputs of the ES520 then you can increase the depth and power even more than what's already in this piano if you needed to do that for very big rooms, auditoriums, or outdoor events.

CABINET DESIGN

ES520 cabinet design
As far as the cabinet design and structure goes, it is a hard plastic material but does seem durable and well made, and the Kawai piano company is definitely known for building well made products.
The cabinet has very nice beveled edges that look clean and contemporary and the smooth texture of the cabinet feels good to the touch. It comes in either a matte black or a matte white for those people who think white is a better option. The black color is by far the most popular and the optional furniture stand and furniture triple pedal unit can also be either black or white depending on the piano color you choose. The dimensions of this model are also impressive in that it's not too large but still large enough to give it a professional appearance and not have it look like a toy. It measures 53" wide x 15" deep x 6" high, not including the music rest so that make it somewhat easy to carry, especially because it only weighs 32 lbs which is very light for an instrument of this caliber and size. 

CABINET WEIGHT AND FACTORY WARRANTY

ES520 Lightweight cabinet
Over the years one of the biggest complaints about portable digital pianos in this price range has been the weight.
This is because there are people who want to take them places and carry them around and if you add a stand and carry case to that weight it will be
ES520 3 year factory warranty
even heavier as far a total weight. As a comparison example, Roland has 2 portable self contained digital pianos over $1000 with one weighing 43 lbs and the other weighing in at heavy 52 lbs. Yamaha has one portable self-contained digital piano between $1000 and $2000 and it weighs in at 49 lbs. Even the top of the line Kawai ES920 only weighs 38 lbs which is still far lighter than the competition. So Kawai has really hit a "home run" in my opinion in keeping the weight down in the ES520 but still giving you a durable instrument that plays very well and looks good. Also, this instrument has a 3 year factory warranty on it for parts & labor which is fairly standard for portable digital pianos like this, so the warranty coverage is good. However, it is unlikely you'll have issues with a high quality product like this from the Kawai piano company

FINAL THOUGHTS

Kawai ES520 black
 Kawai ES520

The bottom line to all of this is this: if someone is looking for a high quality portable digital piano that offers a strong natural piano playing experience in this price range just under $1200,
then in our opinion the new Kawai ES520 cannot be beat by any other major brand right now including Yamaha, Roland, Casio, or Korg. Its powerful sound and rich tone will blow you away and the key action is better than anything else out there for this price range in our opinion, and we have played them all. We really don't want to be an "advertisement" for Kawai because we do not work for them and they don't pay us for reviews which is true of the other manufactures. But when you produce a new model in a new lower price range that is this good as far as the piano playing experience goes, then it's difficult to criticize it beyond what we have already done.

Kawai ES920 black
Kawai ES920

The ES520 also has a good amount of functions and features (bells & whistles) but not an overabundance of them that you may not use. I think it's just the right balance of form vs features in this price point. Yes, there may be some things you want to have beyond the ES520, especially if want even more technology (bells & whistles) or are an advanced pianist looking for the highest possible piano playing experience. In that case we would suggest you look at the slightly higher priced Kawai ES920 at $1599 if you want to stay with the Kawai brand. Even though those 2 models look nearly identical and do many of the same things, they are actually different in terms of the piano playing experience with regard to key action and the piano sound engine. For just $400 more there are some very good reasons why you may want to invest the extra money and go up to the ES920 instead of the ES520. You can read more about the ES920 at my review of that model at the following link: Kawai ES920 Review. In the meantime, should you have additional questions on this or any digital piano, please contact us before you purchase anything from anyone...you'll be glad you did.

If you want more info on new digital pianos and LOWER PRICES than internet discounts, please email me at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call direct at 602-571-1864.

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