Kawai CA501 - REVIEW | 2024 Digital Piano | All Wood Keys

Kawai CA501 digital piano REVIEW

UPDATED REVIEW |  Feb 1, 2024 | Kawai CA501 Digital Piano | LOW PRICE HERE! | All wooden key action and stereo acoustic grand piano sound | The Kawai CA501 furniture cabinet digital piano discount priced at $3999 is a newer 2024 model that just recently came out. It is an impressive upgrade to the previous and now discontinued Kawai models.

Initial thoughts

The price range of around $4000 for a new digital piano is very popular for a lot of digital piano shoppers. There are a number of reasons for that, but the most popular reasons are that you would be getting a more "premium" instrument with an upgraded furniture cabinet, better key action realism, more authentic piano sound sampling, upgraded pedal response, a more advanced internal speaker system, more usable digital features and functions, and more connectivity in this price range as compared to lower price ranges.

Kawai CA501 digital piano

The new CA501 definitely qualifies as a more premium digital piano because it has all the attributes of a premium digital piano. It has what I consider to be an attractive cabinet along with the functions and features that would make this piano something you could own for a very long time.
If your goal is to get a digital piano that you can "grow into" instead of "grow out of," then this model would definitely meet that criteria. The main reasons for this, besides having a nicely designed and constructed cabinet, is the fact that, in my opinion, it plays and sounds more like an actual acoustic piano than any other digital piano for the same price or for less money.

However, there are some other good choices out there in this general price range including other top brands like Yamaha, Roland, and Casio. But what sets the Kawai CA501 apart from the others is the piano playing experience. I personally enjoy a lot of the new digital piano technology that's available now. But my main concern is always about the actual piano playing experience realism, and the new Kawai CA501 gets a 5-star rating from me for its piano playing authenticity within its price range

Lower prices than internet or amazon


KEY ACTION


Kawai Grand Feel Compact Key Action

The actual keys in the CA501 are 100% wood. Having both black & white keys in a digital piano made out of 100% wood is very unusual and no other brand offers all wooden keys in the "under $4000 price range." Beyond the 88 keys being all wood, the full length of the white keys is 12" long which is much longer and more realistic in that way as compared to any other digital piano from any other brand in the price range. 

Kawai calls this particular key action the "Grand Feel Compact." In the world of digital pianos this key action is also very unusual in this price range because all of the other top brands not only have mostly plastic keys in this price range, but the white keys on those pianos generally average about 7 to 9" in length. 

CA501 bass notes counter-weights
With longer 12" white keys you are getting much closer to the key length of a real acoustic piano. Longer keys help give a better balance to the key movement when playing towards the front of the keys or towards the back of the keys. When I played the keys on this model I could instantly feel the difference compared to other digital pianos and the key movement response was very impressive. The keys are not only graded & weighted correctly, the bass notes have counter-weights in them for better response because bass note keys are a bit heavier and the key response down there is more accurate with these built-in counter-weights in the keys.

Key action stabilizer pins
In most digital pianos, key actions are generally installed in a metal chassis and each key is put in without being stabilized through the center of the key like acoustic piano key actions are. In the Kawai CA501, Kawai uses an acoustic stabilizer pin that is put through the center of the key which helps prevent "side to side" lateral key movement. This metal pin is permanent and also gives each key more stability so that the keys don't shift when you are playing them.

The metal hammers that move up & down in the key action have that weighted graded feel that give your fingers the feeling of playing a real acoustic piano but without all of the key action maintenance of an acoustic piano. So Kawai has really done an outstanding job in this way.

Key action comfort
The "weight" of the keys is very important in terms of key movement and response, as well as comfort when playing. Comfort when playing is important because you don't want your hands, fingers, wrists, and forearms to become fatigued when you are playing, especially when playing long periods of time. Playing music for most people is recreational and not competitive such as advanced classical performances on a grand piano. 

So when it comes to recreational playing at home or even playing at a school, church, studio, etc, the key action should move quickly and responsively, but also be comfortable to play and not wear you out. With this in mind, I found this Kawai "grand feel compact" to be quite responsive to play, but yet it was very comfortable and the weight of the keys did come very close to my experiences playing an actual grand piano in some ways, and more so than other digital pianos in this price range.

down-weight key force
The down-weight (aka: touch-weight) force on middle C white key when initialing key movement and pressing down on the key is at about 55 grams based on my measurements. In fact, the key actually started to move at about 48 to 50 grams (which is good) but was more noticeable at 55 grams when pressing down the key on middle C. In my opinion this touch-weight is just about perfect for piano playing when it comes to fast key movement response along with a very comfortable playing experience when pressing down on the keys. On the middle C# (black) key the touch weight is approx 53 grams which is also very good and is balanced well against the white C key.

Key action up-weight force
The upweight force of the middle C key when coming back up after pressing it down is approx 37 grams of force which is responsive but yet comfortable. I have played top name digital pianos that have a slow and sluggish upweight and I have also played top name digital pianos with an upweight return key force at about 45 grams or more which can be somewhat too strong (too much force when the key comes back up), especially when you are at more beginner through intermediate skill levels. 

So what I am saying here is that it would seem like Kawai really did their homework and got the major aspects of key action movement down to a "science," particularly in this price range. Not only that, but this key action is also noticeably quiet when the keys move. There is not a lot of mechanical key movement noise like I have heard in other digital pianos. This is a concern for some people and I am happy to report that Kawai also did a very good job in this area of their "Grand Feel Compact" key action in the CA501. 

MORE KEY ACTION FEATURES


Key action letoff
In addition to the all the features I have already mentioned concerning the key action, Kawai has a couple more things they include to make the key action a bit more authentic.
One of those features is called "let-off" (aka: escapement). The let-off features tries to simulate what the action movement feels like in a grand piano when you press down the keys. The a white key is depressed about half way down, there is a slight hesitation in the key movement which is also known as a "notch" where the action engages a movement that is supposed to give you more key control when playing lightly.

Key action let-off
You would only feel this "let-off" effect when playing lightly on a real grand piano and not when you are playing faster with more force.
The let-off simulation that Kawai has in this CA501 is actually pretty good and does give you that feeling that it is happening. But...whether or not this feature is necessary is something that I feel is very subjective. You can definitely live without it but for some people they will be glad it's there, especially if they have played real grand pianos before and are sensitive to it.

Kawai Grand Feel Compact ivory touch
The last thing I want to mention about the CA501 key action is the material they put on the tops of the keys. Kawai has designed a proprietary material that reproduces the "feel" and properties of ivory and ebony that were used many decades ago on real acoustic pianos. The organic ivory that came from elephants and organic ebony that came from actual ebony trees were put on the key tops to help absorb sweat from the fingers and also make the keys look less shiny and plastic. 

ebony from ebony tree
Almost all of the major digital piano manufacturers now put a synthetic version of the ivory and ebony on some of their models but each manufacturer does it differently and some are not as good as others. When it comes to the Kawai digital pianos that have this synthetic material on the keytops of some of their models, in my opinion Kawai has found the right balance between smoothness and a bit of texture for this material so that it look attractive, helps absorb sweat from the fingers, feels good to the fingers, and gives you the feeling that you are touching real ivory and ebony. 

STEREO GRAND PIANO SOUND SAMPLES


grand piano interior strings

The 2nd most important feature in any piano is the piano sound. The piano sound actually consists of many things because there are quite a few different organic tonal elements in a real acoustic piano that digital pianos try to recreate. The organic piano sounds in a real acoustic piano include the sound coming from the acoustic piano strings, the hammers and the subtle noise they make when hitting the strings, the dampers and the noise they make when they move, the individual vibrations the strings cause and the overtones when one string frequency impacts another string's frequency...and much more.

Grand piano strings & dampers
The piano sound is really very complex and there are over 200 strings in each 88-key acoustic piano. There may be 88 keys on a piano, but there are really about 2 1/2 times as many individual strings in that same acoustic piano, believe it or not. All these strings create all these different sound waves, frequencies, and organic tonal elements including the hammers and how they move and how they strike the strings in a real acoustic piano along with how the sound waves resonate in and through a wood soundboard in a real acoustic piano.

Grand piano sampling with mics
Just doing a sampled recording of a single piano string is not near enough to recreate an authentic piano sound in a digital piano. It takes a very sophisticated digital technology to make that happen for a digital piano along with how that piano sound is recorded from a real acoustic piano, how many and what quality microphones are used to do that piano sound recording in a good acoustic grand piano, the room it was recorded in, how good the original piano was tuned by an expert piano tuner, etc, etc.

The whole process is really fascinating to me and I have seen it done well and done badly. The quality and realism of the piano sound in a digital piano makes a huge difference and is also what contributes to a higher price for that digital piano and a lower price for the less expensive digital pianos. So just because a digital piano company says they have a "sampled" piano sound or they use a sampling or physical modeling process does not automatically mean that piano sound is going to be good. A lot more goes into it besides just that.

Kawai grand piano
The Kawai company is first and foremost an acoustic piano company founded almost 100 years ago in Japan and all they make is acoustic and digital pianos. They are a privately held company by the Kawai family for all that time. Their pianos are played by leading concert artists, musicians, piano teachers, universities, schools, recording studios, and families throughout the world. They have a great reputation for building fine pianos and have some of the best digital piano technology out there. In other words, based on my playing experience with their instruments, they know what they're doing.

In the new CA501 Kawai uses their premier sampling technology not found in any Kawai furniture cabinet model below this one. The recorded and sampled authenticity of the acoustic piano sounds in this model come from Kawai 7' and 9' acoustic concert grand pianos that are used by many top players in the world. So when it comes to a realistic grand piano sound coming out of a digital piano, this new model is very impressive. 

The stereo piano sounds in this CA501 model are rich in their resonations, tonal elements, and other aspects of the organic nature of the grand piano sound. At the $4000 price range for this piano, in my opinion there is nothing else out there that beats it for realism and most of the other brands don't come close. That's how good the Kawai sampling and sound reproducing technology has become over the years.

Kawai competition grand piano sound
To add to the realism of the acoustic piano sounds in this new model, Kawai has something they call the "competition grand piano" sound. This new grand piano "sample" is beyond previous Kawai digital pianos because of the upgraded technology that Kawai is using to produce this new "competition" grand piano sound along with the type of new stereo microphones and positioning of those microphones during the recording sessions where they record those piano sounds into the CA501 sound engine.

In other words, when you play the CA501 using the new competition stereo grand piano sound, it sounds like you are sitting in front of and playing one of their competition acoustic grand pianos that a pro player would use in a concert or pro recording session. There is a big difference between the CA501 in this way as compared to past Kawai models and other brands of digital pianos in this price range .

The new stereo piano sound is rich and natural without being too bright or tinny, or too metallic, etc. I am not trying to say this CA501 sounds completely like a real acoustic grand piano because there are no digital pianos in this price range or a higher price range which can do that. I know this because I play top brand acoustic grand pianos like Steinway, Bosendorfer, Kawai, Yamaha, etc, But...for most people who play piano at beginner, intermediate, and advanced recreational levels, the stereo grand piano sound in this model will amaze and impress you and give you a very satisfying piano playing experience.

KEYBOARD TOUCH SETTINGS


Keyboard touch settings
Most digital pianos have a feature that allows you to digitally change the touch when you play the keys. It does not actually change the physical weight of the key but instead it makes the piano sound come in quicker or less quick when you press the key down. In other words, if you pressed the key down lightly but you wanted to have the piano sound come in louder than normal then you would put the touch sensitivity on the "light" setting. 

Then when you press down the key lightly, the piano sound would come in stronger and more quickly without needing to press the key down as hard as normal to get that same volume. This "light" settings could be useful for younger children who have not built up any strength in their fingers yet or for older people who might have arthritis, etc.

touch control settings

If you instead wanted that initial volume to come in more softly because you have a normally "heavy touch" because you have muscular fingers or you just normally press the keys harder, you can reduce that initial volume by adjusting the touch to the heavier touch settings. Then when you press down the keys harder than normal the piano volume would actually come out less loud than normal. With the Kawai CA501, the touch settings work well and are quite accurate, and you get a lot more variety in the touch sensitivity control as compared to many other digital piano models. You can also digitally customize your own touch curve setting in this touch control mode.

If you are interested in changing the touch sensitivity curve in the CA501, you can easily do that with these touch settings and then it would affect the overall piano sound you hear because you made that change. It is just another way to "dial in" the piano sound and volume that you would prefer if the factory presets are not quite what you want. But...you can always go back to the default normal settings at any time if you wish to do that. 

PIANO & INSTRUMENT SOUNDS


Kawai acoustic piano sound list

Not only does the new CA501 have this new "competition" grand piano sound, but it also has a big library of additional grand and upright acoustic piano sounds which I have played and are also impressive. These additional acoustic piano sounds come from other top model Kawai grand piano & upright pianos and are professionally sampled and recorded directly from the actual Kawai acoustic pianos and done in a pro recording studio. 

There are a total of 45 piano & instrument sounds in the CA501 with 13 of those sounds being acoustic pianos. This large library of acoustic piano sounds will not only inspire your playing, but will allow you to choose different piano sounds for different styles and genres of music. Besides having a large library of acoustic piano sounds from the Kawai factory, you can edit and adjust those piano sounds with a virtual tool that Kawai called "Virtual Technician." 

Virtual Technician piano sound adjustments

The "Virtual Technician" allows you to easily "tweak" and adjust each preset piano sound in a way where can customize them for your ears so that the tonality is perfect for your type of piano playing and for "your ears." This is a great tool to have and it definitely works and is not difficult to use. Even a 5th grader can do it:). I have used it many times and it does come in handy in allowing me to make incremental adjustment to the sound (see chart above), just like a real piano tuner/technician might do in a real acoustic grand piano.

Not everyone will use this feature and you may be perfectly happy with the factory preset piano sounds. But the "Virtual Technician" is there just in case you need to make some small or big adjustments to the sound. There are parameters for these adjustments and they are clearly spelled out with this VT feature either by using the digital display screen in the CA501 or by interfacing with and using the Kawai "Piano Remote" app on an external person device like iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. I will talk about this Piano Remote app later on in this review.

organ sounds

There are 32 non-piano instrument sounds including a variety of strings, choirs, synths, vintage electric pianos, harpsichords, bass, and a few other tones. Unlike many other digital pianos out there with a big library of instrument sounds, the Kawai instrument sounds really sound good, very realistic and more natural than most of the other instrument sounds in other brands of digital pianos. This is not an easy thing to do in getting the non-piano instrument sounds to sound realistic.

Strings & choirs list

So when it comes to the string symphonies, electric pianos, choirs, organs, and other instrumental sounds in the CA501, in my opinion Kawai has done a great job in capturing the organic nature of those other instruments or voices as opposed to those instruments & voices sounding more like toys as they are in other brands of digital pianos. 

I know that most people will want to focus on the piano sounds and the piano playing experience and having it be as realistic as possible within the price range. For me that's the most important reason for purchasing a new digital piano. 

But when you are able to have these other instrument sounds and also layer/mix and split them with other sounds such as piano+strings, harpsichord+choir, grand piano on the right hand and an upright bass on the left hand, etc, then your music will become even more interesting and enjoyable to play. I certainly feel that way, so I like these extra quality and more realistic instrument sounds along with the 13 acoustic pianos that are in the CA501 sound library. 

PIANO "SMART MODE"


Kawai CA501 "Smart Mode"

Kawai CA501 Smart Mode
OK, there is one more thing for me to talk about with regard to using the grand & upright piano sounds in the CA501. Kawai has an additional piano sound feature called "Smart Mode" settings.
I already talked about the "Virtual Technician" parameters that allow you to individually adjust the many organic aspects of the piano sound and that's a useful tool to have, especially if you are a bit more "daring" and comfortable with doing those things.

However, with this "Smart Mode" piano sound setting feature (see above chart), the top pianists that work for Kawai created some "preset" sound settings that have a number of adjustments to the sound that automatically create a new piano sound "personality" by using the Virtual Technician parameters and other piano sound adjustments in the CA501 to create these automatic setups. 

Kawai CA501 Smart Mode
This is so that you don't have to adjust individual parameters in the Virtual Technician feature, but instead you just go to the Piano Sound "Smart Mode" and select any of the factory presets and the CA501 automatically adds or subtracts tonal elements of the piano sound you have selected among the 13 piano sounds in the CA501.

In other words, it would be like adjusting the audio sound character or video display screen on your external device like iPad, Android, home stereo, etc. The factory would have "presets" that make adjustments automatically so that you don't need to figure out how to make all those adjustments should you want to make changes. A 5-year old can do it with the Smart Mode.

Kawai CA501 Smart Mode
You would have the choices of just picking any piano sound out of the 13 piano sample recordings that Kawai provides in the CA501 and just playing that sound "as is." Or, if you wanted to "tweak" that sound a bit to get it more suited to your ears, you could do that with the Virtual Technician, one parameter at a time, or you could use the "Smart Mode" that has a number of preset settings that have already been done by the factory pianists to add even more realism and enjoyment to the piano sound you selected. 

The possibilities are really endless. Also, if you want to get out of the Smart Mode then you can press the "normal" setting and you are back to normal. But...for a lot of people who would not necessarily want or need to use these extra features, you would just select a piano sound out of the digital piano sound library and play. No need to do anything else. But if you do want to make some changes, they are there and can easily be done one way or the other. I have used these features and they are very cool...and useful.

TOPBOARD "LID" POSITION


Kawai grand piano
One final thing about the piano sound. Real grand pianos have "lids" (aka: tops). You can lift up the lid to a full height position which allows for the most piano sound to come out of the piano. That's how grand pianos normally look...with the lid fully open. You can also lower the lid to half-height position to reduce the volume of the sound along with that reduced lid height making the piano sound somewhat less bright. You also have the option of closing the lid all the way so that it lies flat on the piano. This reduces the volume even further and also makes the sound more muted and mellow. 

This physical aspect of a real grand piano makes it unique among pianos, and having that adjustable lid helps control and volume and the sound characteristics.

topboard chart

In the CA501, Kawai has a feature called "Topboard Position" adjustments. The CA501 can digitally recreate the topboard "piano sound experience" that you would likely get if the CA501 actually had a grand piano lid like a real grand piano. You can change factory presets in the CA501 to recreate this "topboard" (lid) position to give you the sonic effect of what it would be like to have a physical lid from a grand piano. It's a pretty cool feature, it's simple & easy to use, and it works. You don't have to use it but it's fun to do if you want to make a change in the piano sound doing it that way.

PIANO POLYPHONY


Digital Piano Polyphony
In the digital piano specifications there is something known as "polyphony" which is another name for piano processing power. The more polyphony a digital piano has, generally speaking, the better. But a primary purpose for having more polyphony as opposed to less polyphony is to be able to play more complex music with a more complex and upgraded stereo piano sound while also using the sustain/damper pedal at the same time. With more polyphony piano processing, you would be able to play at advanced skill levels with the notes being more natural in sound and performance.

This is especially true when layering or mixing two instrument sounds together such as stereo grand piano and stereo symphony strings. Each sound takes up a certain amount of the polyphony processing power, and when you combine at least 2 sounds or more together and play them simultaneously, then that combination of sounds eats up more of that processing power, just like in a computer when using too many features and windows at one time.

256-note polyphony
In the CA501 Kawai has 256-notes of polyphony which is the most that is offered in any of the Kawai digital piano models as well as in other digital piano brands such as Yamaha and Casio. Having 256-notes of polyphony is more than enough and allows you to play at any piano skill level any type of music. In the old days years ago, the amount of polyphony in digital pianos used to be 8 notes mono, then 16 notes, then 24 notes, 32 notes, and so on. At one time when there was an increase to 64-notes from 32 notes of polyphony piano memory, everyone thought that was amazing! 

But now we have 256 notes of polyphony in this new CA501 and also in other brands of digital pianos such as Yamaha, Casio, and others. So when it comes to the amount of "polyphony" a digital piano needs to have to perform at high levels, the Kawai CA501 will have what you need, no matter whether you are a beginner or an accomplished player using multiple sounds together.  

PIANO PEDALS


Piano Pedals
Pedals on any piano are important, especially when you are advancing in your piano playing skills or you already know how to play well. There are obviously 3 pedals on real acoustic pianos, and furniture cabinet digital piano are the same way. There is the right sustain/damper pedal (the most important one), the middle sostenuto pedal (the least important one), and the left soft pedal. However, the way these pedals function on acoustic pianos vs digital pianos are different from each other. Acoustic piano pedals work in a mechanical way and those pedals trigger mechanical parts on the inside of the piano to do certain things that will affect the piano sound.

Kawai CA501 pedals
In a digital piano the pedals try to recreate that pedal piano sound experience, but there are no mechanical parts in a digital piano like there are in real acoustic pianos, so that's a big difference and there are some mechanical things that pedals do that generally cannot be reproduced in a digital piano. But apart from the mechanical differences, the end result is that for most people the pedals on digital pianos will do what pedals are supposed to do.

digital piano pedals
But nevertheless, different models and brands of digital pianos can vary from each other when it comes to the quality of the pedals, the mechanical noise those pedals will produce when those pedals go up & down, the "feeling" of those pedals when your foot presses them down, and ultimately the piano sounds that are produced when you are using the pedals.

The Kawai pedal system in the CA501 is called "Grand Feel Pedals" because Kawai has designed each of the 3 pedals to be specifically "weighted" to feel like you would be pressing down a real grand piano pedals. Many less expensive or "no-name" brand digital pianos use cheap spring mechanisms that are noisy, springy, loose, and they feel like toy pedals. 

Piano pedals
They may look like pedals on the outside, but apart from that, those cheaper pedals on no-name brands of digital pianos don't work well, they don't make the piano sound good like pedals are supposed to do, and those pedals just don't work right. So when you see 3 attached pedals near the bottom of a digital piano cabinet, just know they are not all the same just like tires are not all the same on vehicles or water does not taste the same from one source or another just because it is water.

Kawai CA501 full cabinet
There are always differences in quality among the better brands of digital pianos, but I do like the Kawai CA501 Grand Feel Pedals very much. This is because they feel good when you press them down, they offer the control you need with regard to the right sustain/damper pedal levels, the left pedal soft pedaling, and the middle pedal sostenuto response...and they are mechanically quiet when they move. In fact the right sustain pedal offers a long sustain-decay time which is great (many sustain pedals don't do this) along with being able to trigger the half-damper sustain effect which is important.

SPECIAL EFFECTS & REVERB


reverb effects
Built-in "special effects" in a digital piano can be useful because they can help "liven up" the piano and instrument sounds in ways that may add to the overall realism of that sound. For instance, if you were playing a real acoustic piano or other instruments in a small room, then there would be a certain amount of natural "reverb/echo" in that room so the sound would be a bit more "alive" rather than be just more plain and dry. Natural reverb is all around us and the bigger the room we are in, then the more reverb there is, especially if there is little or no sound absorbing material in that room. 

CA501 reverb effects
CA501 reverb effects

As an example, if you were playing a grand piano in a concert hall or large auditorium then that room would cause the piano sound to have even more reverb/echo than in a small room. To reproduce this natural organic reverb effect that you would get in different sized rooms or environments, Kawai has a digital reverb feature (see chart above) that allows you to select one of these natural reverb settings and then you would be able to sound like you were playing in a larger or smaller room or area than you are really in, depending on what you want. 

It's an effective way to add to the realism of the sounds you choose in the CA501 and make your music sound larger and more lush, especially if you are playing the CA501 in a small to medium size room. You can also reduce that reverb effect and shut it off if you don't want it at all. 

tone controls

EQ tone control
Another cool feature is being able to alter and edit the tonal frequencies (aka: EQ) of the CA501 to add more or less bass, mid-range, and treble frequencies to your overall sound.
 Kawai calls this feature "Tone Control Types." Everyone's ears are different and we hear sound frequencies differently. To have a more customized "listening experience" you can easily and quickly adjust these tonal frequencies in the CA501 (see chart above) to make your listening experience more enjoyable to your ears in that way. 

Consumer audio equipment has EQ settings (tone control) as does your personal devices. But it is more unusual to get a quality EQ feature (tone control types) in a digital piano. These tone control functions work on all 45 sounds from the instrument sound library. You just simply change the EQ bass, mid-range, or treble frequencies using the factory presets (above chart) and then you will hear a change in the overall sound of the CA501 coming out through the internal speaker system or through headphones. 

special effects

The special effect types in the chart above is for a different purpose and are generally dedicated to non- acoustic piano sounds such as electric pianos and organs, among other things. They (effect types) are for adding special sound effects to those particular non-piano sounds that professional players would use to give those sounds more realism. So it just depends on what specific instrument sounds you want to use for your music and which special effects would be best for them. But that's up to you.

If you experiment with them to see what they do and how they would sound, you can always go back to the default factory settings at any time. So any changes you make to the sound are not permanent. You can save them or just go back to the original factory settings. But these things can be useful to have so that you can "customize" the sounds to your ears and your musical desires. I personally use these special effects, tone control EQ, and reverb settings from time to time to get a more organic sound experience out of the piano, depending on what type of music I am playing.

OTHER DIGITAL FEATURES & FUNCTIONS


other features & functions in Kawai CA501
The CA501 has many more functions & features than what I have already talked about, and these next features can be very useful. Like most other digital pianos in this price range this piano also has the ability to layer/mix and split 2 different sounds at the same time, you can transpose to any key with a transpose/key change feature for live play and also separately transpose any recording you have done to any new key for playback in that key. The transpose feature is great for modulating a song as well as getting it in the vocal range of someone who might be singing along. The CA501 also has an adjustable digital metronome to help with timing and that is especially useful for beginners. 

Alfred song books
When it comes to piano playing education, the CA501 has hundreds of popular piano lesson and finger exercise songs in it that go along with famous teacher approved lesson/song books which you can purchase separately from any on-line or local music store. This music library is really helpful and it's a lot of fun to be able to hear and play along with these lesson songs and finger exercises and see the music that you are playing with from the optional books. It's a great resource and tool for beginner children through adults and also for different skill levels.

Kawai Concert Magic
For absolute beginners Kawai has a digital song and rhythm teacher system called "Concert Magic" which allows you to play and hear 176 popular pre-programmed songs that most people will know and you don't have to know anything about playing piano to use it. You just play any key on the piano and the song will play correctly and keep going as long as you keep pressing any key. The goal is to get "instant gratification" in hearing the song play correctly while you press keys.

The Concert Magic feature motivates you to want to learn more about playing music and at the same time there is a rhythm/timing lesson mode that will play the song to whatever "beat" you choose to press down the keys. The better the timing you have, the better the song will sound. I have personally used this feature many times and it really works and is good for any age from 2 years old (believe or not) to 102 years old, and you don't need previous piano playing experience.  In other words, this feature "makes you sound better than you really are!"

Kawai concert magic
Kawai is the only brand that has this creative and useful Concert Magic piano learning tool and it really sounds good...especially when you see a 2 or 3 year old child do it...very entertaining as well! This feature shows up in the user interface display screen of the piano and there are helpful "prompts" that you can see in the display screen which help you play "in time" with the songs. Also, the volume of the songs changes depending on how hard or soft you strike any key so that you can put in your own musical expression in that way. Just a very cool learning tool and also fun for experienced players as well.

Kawai drum rhythms
Kawai also has 100 built-in drum rhythm patterns that help you with your rhythm & timing.
Rhythm & timing is the most difficult thing in music to learn besides reading music, but it's the most important thing when playing a song correctly along with feeling & expression. In addition to the other rhythm & timing features this model has, the CA501 also offers actual drum rhythm patterns that you would hear in a band or orchestra in a variety of styles, genres, and time signatures. 

Whether it's a variety of jazz, rock, country, Latin, waltz, or other drum styles that someone might like, there are many different types of music these drum patterns can go with. It's another great way to have fun while learning to play with a drummer. If you already can play piano and have good rhythm, then you can use these rhythms to enhance you music enjoyment when playing songs on this instrument. The drum patterns sound good, you can set the tempo, and also control the volume. 

16 registration memories
The Kawai CA501 has another feature that I really like which some digital pianos have and some don't. For people who would use many of the features & functions I have already discussed and they like to change and edit things and enjoy using the variety of digital technology in this model, then being able to "save" your customer settings would be important. This is because you don't want to have to re-create the special setup that you put together every time you want it.

In the CA501 there are up to 16 "registration memories" which allow you to store your instrument layers, splits, piano adjustments, transposed keys, effects, drum patterns, and nearly anything else you would do to your sounds. Then once you store your personal setups you can then instantly recall them later and see those memories in the display screen of the piano. I use that type of feature pretty often even if I just want one specific acoustic piano sound but I want some "reverb" effect on it and I want to maybe brighten up the sound a bit. 

Once I do that and save it into 1 of the 16 memories, then I can just recall that setup and not have to make it over again. It's handy and it works. You don't have to use it but it's there in case you want it.

RECORDING & PLAYBACK


CA501 recording & playback features

The CA501 has very versatile recording and playback features that allow you to record and playback your songs in 3 different formats including 2-track MIDI along with audio MP3 and WAV file recordings onto a USB flash-drive. The audio recorder has high quality sound technology and you can even overdub your recordings with additional tracks like a recording studio would do. 

2-track a-b midi looping
You can save ten 2-track MIDI recordings within the internal memory of the CA501 and also save those recordings along with audio recordings to a USB thumb-drive for quick playback to hear the songs you recorded. You can playback the MIDI songs files at any speed while listening to or learning how to play that song. You can also set "repeat loops" so the song player will only play back any part of the song that you choose and continually repeat (loop) it for practice sessions. You can also adjust the speed of that looped song part to play along and better learn it at a slower speed. That's a very cool feature.

Some digital pianos that do recording only have a 1-track recorder which records want ever you play in a simple recording. The 2-track MIDI recorder on the CA501 lets you play the right hand separately from the left hand, one at a time on 2 different recording tracks so that you can record the right hand only and then the left hand only (while the right hand is playing back) and then play back both parts simultaneously for learning. If you need to edit or re-record, then you can just do that on one hand rather than both of them.

CA501 thumb-drive
You can change settings during the recording process as well as transpose key and other aspects of the music.
If you record a song in the 1 or 2 track MIDI format and want to save that song as an audio song file, you can do that conversion easily within the CA501 by converting the saved song into a WAV file or MP3 file and then save the file onto a USB memory stick and save it to your home computer. Many digital pianos have USB memory stick features to save and playback recordings, so it is not uncommon. But it is definitely more unusual to be able to record, playback, and overdub in all 3 file formats...MIDI, MP3, and WAV like the CA501 can.

MIDI, MP#, wav file playback & recording
So when it comes to recording songs and playing them back, in my opinion the Kawai CA501 is very capable in this way and offers a variety of different recording and playback modes. It's for beginners up through advanced players to learn songs, play along with songs, and do pro quality recordings of your music. I like the fact that the CA501 has both the audio WAV file and MP3 (iTune) recording formats and that you can add additional audio tracks to the recording through overdubbing. You can really make these recordings sound very professional.

The CA501 also has Bluetooth audio streaming (which I will talk more about a bit later). If you wirelessly stream a song from an external device (mobile device, table, etc) into the CA501 to hear it, that external audio coming into the CA501 through Bluetooth wireless streaming can be recorded by the CA501audio recorder along with your piano playing so that you get that external music combined with your own live playing and being able to record it all together. This would include music from your external music library as well as music from YouTube videos, etc. Now that's what I call "fun!" 

BLUETOOTH WIRELESS STREAMING


Bluetooth wireless connectivity
Bluetooth wireless connectivity is becoming more of a standard feature in many electronic devices including new digital pianos. There is Bluetooth audio streaming, Bluetooth MIDI wireless connectivity, Bluetooth digital page turning, and Bluetooth wireless headphones, among other things. In digital pianos there can be up to 3 different Bluetooth technologies, but wireless headphones is not one of them. Bluetooth headphones don't work well in digital pianos because of inherent latency delays in the Bluetooth signal. So you won't be able to use Bluetooth headphones in digital pianos until that technology gets more advanced in the future.

Bluetooth audio & MIDI wireless
On the Kawai CA501 the most useful Bluetooth wireless feature is the wireless audio streaming. This feature allows you to wirelessly stream music from your external device (phone, tablet, computer, etc) through the CA501 speaker system. When you do that them you can hear your favorite music from your personal music library in your device or music from YouTube videos, etc come through the CA501 speaker system so that you can use the CA501 as your "home stereo" along with being able to play the CA501 live along with the incoming streamed music so that you can learn those songs by playing along.

Kawai CA501 white
Also, when you plug in wired stereo headphones then all of the streamed music and your live piano playing go through your headphones for private practice and playing. Bluetooth audio streaming is a very practical way of hearing and playing along with music from your external devices and having it all coming through the digital piano. You can adjust the volume of the audio streaming with a Bluetooth audio volume control so that you can balance out the piano volume with the external audio volume.

CA501 digital piano
Another aspect of Bluetooth is a wireless MIDI-USB connection. Normally you would use a USB cable to connect an external device to the piano so that you could interface with an external MIDI-USB device. A cable works fine and gets the job done. But if you don't want any cables because of the "look" of your device resting on the music rest with a cable plugged in or because you just want to reduce cable connections, then you can connect the CA501 to another USB device for wireless MIDI connectivity. You can only use one Bluetooth connection at a time and it can be useful in different situations. The Bluetooth connectivity and controls for the CA501 do work well and can assist you with your music creativity.

SPATIAL HEADPHONE SOUND 


stereo headphones
When it comes to digital (non-acoustic) pianos, one of the more practical aspects of them is to be able to play and practice silently by using headphones. Just plug in a pair of headphones and play and no one else will hear you. For some people that is an important feature and very important. It's especially important if you live in an apartment building with neighbors who are close by, or you want to play late at night, early, in the morning, or you want to play piano when other things are going on in the home and you need it to be quiet.

Owning a good, quality pair of headphones can be important if you care about the realism and quality of the piano sound coming into your ears through those headphones. With this in mind, Kawai has a couple of very cool features that enhance the realism of listening through headphones and allow you to create specific "listening experiences" through a regular pair of stereo headphones that you otherwise would not get.

Kawai Spatial Headphone sound

One of those Kawai headphone features is called "Spatial Sound." This type of headphone sound enhancement gives you the ability to change the position of the piano sound coming into your regular headphones. You can use settings in the CA501 that position the sound in the headphones coming out more in front of you, or coming out further away from you on the right and left side, or coming out more normal and naturally balanced. It's an effective feature that for some people can be very helpful in making the headphone listening experience more enjoyable.

Headphone types

Also, depending on what type of headphones/earphones that you are using in the Kawai CA501, Kawai has a feature that will optimize the sound in specific types of headphones so they sound as natural as possible. So if you have headphones types like "open," "semi-open," "closed," etc, you can activate that specific headphone setting in the headphone optimizer and get a sound that is more natural for those specific types of headphones rather than a "one size fits all" approach.

Private practice with headphones
All of this means that if you are going to be using headphones the Kawai CA501 will also improve that experience for you. For young children who would be using headphones, these features would not necessarily be important because all they need in the beginning is just to practice privately with any headphones. But eventually quality and realistic sound through a good pair of headphones will be important and the CA501 has the features it takes to help make that happen, and it does work and sound good that way.

CONNECTIVITY HARDWARE


Kawai CA501 audio outputs and inputs
Being able to connect external devices and external speakers to a digital piano can be important for some people depending on the purpose for wanting to do that.
The Kawai CA501 has the hardware connectivity built in to it that most people want. This includes dual 1/4" professional audio outputs, dual 1/4" professional audio inputs, dual headphone jacks including a 1/4" stereo jack and one stereo mini-jack, a USB port to host (computer, tablet, etc), and a USB thumb-drive port. the ports. The jacks are located underneath the piano but they are easily accessible.  

Kawai CA501 headphone jacks and USB thumb-drive port
Having this connectivity interface in this model means you can not only easily connect the CA501 to an external speaker system for a big venue, church, school, etc,
but you can also connect external audio devices into the CA501 such as an iPad, phone, etc and use the CA501 as an external speaker system for those devices. You can plug in up to 2 sets of stereo headphones for private practice, you can save & load MIDI and audio song files into a USB thumb-drive for playback and storage, and you can connect the CA501 to an external device via USB output port. Also, as I already mentioned earlier, there is Bluetooth wireless connectivity built in to this model.

USER INTERFACE CONTROL PANEL


Kawai CA501 user interface control panel
The Kawai CA501 has a completely redesigned user control panel with digital display screen that was not on previous models. This user button driven interface is more tactile, easier to use, more intuitive, and the display screen is easier to see than before with OLED light technology. Sometimes it's preferable to have buttons on the control panel to operate the features and functions as opposed to a touch screens that are on some higher priced models. So it just depends of the user interface itself, the size of it, and the layout.

But I do like this particular interface and you can move through it pretty fast once you learn the operating system and do it a few times. You would access all 45 of the instrument sounds this way, all layers, splits, transpose features, recording, sound editing, drum rhythms, and so on. Within this price range at around $4000 or less and of the various name brand digital pianos out there, I actually think this new user interface & display screen is the nicest one out there at the moment for a furniture cabinet digital piano. So Kawai did a good job on it for this new model.

KAWAI "PIANO REMOTE" APP


Kawai Piano Remote app
For some people out there who have external devices like phones and tablets (iPad, Android, etc) and would prefer to use those devices to control functions & features of a digital piano, Kawai has an impressive and easy to use app for those devices which they call "Piano Remote." Piano Remote allows the user to select any of the 45 sounds in the CA501 by just touch that sound name from the color touch screen of your device. You can also select many of the other CA501 features from the app as opposed to selecting those features from the user interface in the CA501. 

Kawai Piano Remote app
It just depends what you prefer to do and if you want control of the piano from your external device. Personally, I like using an iPad with the Piano Remote app and I have done that quite a few times and this Piano Remote app works well and can make it easier to get the job done, and it's fun too. 

Kawai also uses visual icons/images of certain grand and upright acoustic pianos that they produce to help the user better understand what type of piano sound they have chosen. They also do this for other instrument sounds in the CA501 so overall using this Kawai controller app is a good experience and the graphics have a good appearance as well.


INTERNAL SPEAKER SYSTEM


Kawai CA501 speaker system
All furniture cabinet digital pianos from all the top brands have an internal speaker system. Internal speaker systems are vitally important because the piano sound engine in the piano can only sound good if the speaker system is good. Unlike a real acoustic piano where the sound is heard through the strings amplified by the wooden soundboard, a digital piano needs speakers and digital amplifiers to do that job. If the speakers and amplifiers aren't good or powerful enough, the piano sound (and other sounds) in a digital piano can sound weak, tinny, artificial, and just not full and resonant.

The Kawai CA501 has a very good internal sound system for its price range. There are 4 separate speakers, 2 amplifiers, and 2 piano sound diffusers for the top 2 speakers. In the front of the piano there are two 5.1" main (woofer) speakers pointing downward and there are two 4.7" speakers pointing upward behind the music rest to give you more of an omni-directional sound coming out of different places in the piano as opposed to everything just coming in one direction. I like this approach to positioning the sound coming out of the piano sound system.

Kawai Speaker-diffuser image
Beyond that, Kawai has included two sound diffusers on the top speakers so that the sound is "diffused" or spread out in different direction as the sound is coming up and out of the top speakers. This sound dispersion helps the CA501 piano sound more natural because the sound is not just going in one direction but instead the piano sound is going in multiple directions just like it would on a real acoustic grand piano. Top speakers and speaker sound escapement ports on the top of the piano really opens up the sound more and it seems to flow better. 

CA501 top speakers under grill cloth
This type of speaker system design is an innovative one in my opinion and definitely sets the CA501 apart from the other digital pianos under or near $4000. Kawai designed the cabinet so that the top speakers are under an attractive grill cloth so the sound can easily come out of the top while the durable grill cloth covers the speaker system so that the entire CA501 cabinet still looks good 

The stereo amplifier power in this model is 100 watts total with two 50 watt amps powering all four speakers.  But this system is also energy efficient consuming just 12 watts of power.* There are more powerful and less powerful amplifier systems in digital pianos from other brands in this price range. But with the new Kawai designed sound system in this model, in my opinion it is more than enough power and quality to provide a full, resonant piano sound, even for advanced players and/or for bigger spaces. 

FURNITURE CABINET DESIGN


Kawai CA501 cabinet
When it comes to producing a digital piano furniture cabinet, I personally think Kawai has comes up with an attractive design that is sturdy and functional. It looks good from all angles and has a back privacy panel so that you cannot see through it. The front of the cabinet also has "support legs" to add to the stability of the cabinet. 

The cabinet comes in three popular colors which include satin black, satin rosewood, and satin white. The colors are not "flat" but have a bit of sheen or shine to them, but they are not glossy like the polished ebony finishes. So when it comes to wanting and needing a good looking and well designed furniture cabinet for a digital piano, the CA501 will impress most people in this way. The measurements of the CA501 are 56" wide x 19" deep x 37" tall. The weight of this piano is 146 lbs, so the overall dimensions and weight is very reasonable for its size.

Kawai CA501 cabinet
The height of this model has also been increased from previous models to give it more authenticity as compared to a real upright piano cabinet and this increase in height has also helped out with the music rack/desk potion for any sheet music that you would want to use.

The key cover on the CA501 slides out to cover up the keys when not in use and the new key cover design works well and looks good. I like the design of the music rack that hold the music and there is even built-in sheet music clips that help secure sheet music so that the music doesn't fold back on itself and that it stays in place. 

Kawai CA501 cabinet with closed key cover
All of these upgrades and design changes are good to have in a digital piano. There is also a headphone hanger support hook for the piano so that you have a place to hang headphones under the piano should you be using them for private practice.  The music rack is a good size to hold sheet music & books, has multiple positions, and is nicely designed with simple lines to it. Every brand has their own unique cabinet designs and the Kawai piano company certainly did a good job on this one. The satin black and satin rosewood cabinet colors would be the most popular followed by the white cabinet finish 

Kawai CA501 bench
Finally, you also get a matching standard height Kawai piano bench with the CA501 and it's comfortable to sit on. I should know because I have sat on it. Some benches have music storage in them and some do not. But you do get some music book storage in this bench. This bench is not an adjustable height bench which some people prefer. But...it's a good bench and should comfortably support different size people.  I personally would have preferred a height adjustable bench but those typically cost more money and most of them don't have music book storage on the inside of it.

FACTORY WARRANTY


Kawai 5 year factory warranty
Just like other top digital piano 
manufacturers, Kawai has a factory warranty on this model. It is 5 years parts & labor with in-home service in the US by an authorized Kawai technician. Based on my experience with the Kawai digital piano brand, they are built well and rarely need service. 

They don't go out of tune and they don't need regular maintenance. This is also true for other top brands such as Yamaha, Roland, Casio, and Korg. All the better manufacturers do a really good job building their digital pianos these days. So their product reliably is very high, and if for some reason you would ever need service on a Kawai digital piano, based on my experience with this company, they are very good to work with.

FINAL THOUGHTS


Final Thoughts

Kawai CA501 piano
The new Kawai CA501 is a winner in my book. It does what most people want a digital piano in this price range to do...and that's give them the best piano playing experience they can get in this price range. Having the most authentic and most organic piano playing realism is, by far, the most important thing when getting a new digital piano. The "bells & whistles" are great to have, but not at the expense of piano playing realism and authenticity. 

Most people don't want just a toy. They want a digital piano that will rise to the occasion and be enjoyable to play "as a piano." With an extended "all-wood" piano style key action, a variety of stereo grand piano sounds coming through a powerful speaker system with excellent sound positioning, responsive pedaling, useful digital features and all of it put into an attractive furniture cabinet for under $4000, what more could you want or need? Perhaps you might want to go up to the next level in digital pianos which would put you closer to $5000.

Kawai CA501 digital piano cabinet
But if you can be in an intermediate price range and still get advanced level piano playability, then the Kawai CA501 will impress you in that way and will likely be all you will ever need. Yes, there are other good digital piano brands in this general price range as well as below and above this price, and I have played them all. 

However, this new model really has features and functions that make sense to me. If all I did was use the acoustic piano sounds and play piano on this model and I didn't use the Bluetooth features, or the extra non-piano sounds, or the recording features, or the editing features, etc, this piano would still be worth the price in my opinion. The extra things it does is just "frosting on the cake" as some people would say, and sometimes the frosting is really good. When you can have it all in one piano, even if you don't use a lot of the extra features, but it's at a reasonable price, then that may be the perfect piano for you. 

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



4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Really good review! Keep up the good work

Anonymous said...

I appreciated your thorough review of this piano but I can't find any reviews from pianists who have actually bought the Kawai CA501 digital piano. This concerns me because it looks like many people have bought them since there are waiting lists for it at some stores. I wish I could find several more opinions on it before I spend such a large amount for a digital piano. I'd appreciate any other insight you may have about this. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Yamaha Clp 745 VS Kawai CA 501, which one to choose?

Tim Praskins said...

Although the Yamaha CLP-745 digital piano is an impressive digital piano, the "longer key all-wood" key action in the Kawai CA501 is noticeably more sophisticated and realistic in every way as compared to the CLP-745. Therefore if the realism and authenticity of the piano playing experience is most important to you then the Kawai CA501 would be the better choice. The piano sound realism and pedaling response is also impressive on the CA501.