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AZ PIANO REVIEWS – The #1 Most Trusted Digital Piano Review & News Blog in the world! LOWER PRICES than Amazon and internet music stores! Free ship, no tax on most items. Don’t order anywhere until you check with Tim & Erik Praskins 1st! Email us at tim@azpianowholesale.com or call 602-571-1864

 

Kawai CA401 ReviewREVIEW – June 10, 2024 | Kawai CA401 Digital Piano | Hybrid All-Wood Key Action | $3099 internet price | The Kawai CA401 is the first model in a series of digital pianos from Kawai called the Concert Artist series. What makes this particular digital piano special, among other things, is that it has 100% black & white wooden keys that are also longer length than any other digital piano in this price range and more realistic and evenly balanced when it comes to replicating a real acoustic piano key action that’s closer to the way a real grand piano actually plays. Kawai calls the unique 100% wooden key action its “Grand Feel Compact.”

There’s a lot to talk about concerning this popular Kawai CA401, but before I do it will be helpful to know more about the Kawai Piano Company since many people are not as familiar with Kawai as they might be with other piano companies. Kawai is not as much of a mainstream consumer products name like Yamaha, Roland, and Casio are. They only make pianos but are very well know for their impressive pianos worldwide.

 

KAWAI PIANO COMPANY INTRODUCTION

The Kawai Piano Company is based in Hamamatsu, Japan and has been in business since 1927…so nearly 100 years…a very long time. The Kawai company is named after its founder Mr Kawai. The Kawai piano company is a privately held piano company having been run and owned by the Kawai family for all these years. The Kawai company is actually quite famous worldwide for its high quality acoustic upright, grand, and digital pianos.

Kawai acoustic grand pianoMany high profile Universities, schools, churches, and music teachers own and play Kawai acoustic grand, upright, and digital pianos and it’s a company that is highly respected by pro musicians. Kawai only designs and build acoustic & digital pianos, and nothing else. Other famous digital piano makers like Yamaha, Casio, and Roland are also known for producing other types of products such as sports equipment, vehicles, watches, calculators, guitars, band instruments, etc.

Kawai is not quite as well known as some of the other brands because they only produce pianos whereas other digital piano companies are more of a “mainstream” name because of the many other electronic, mechanical, or non-piano consumer products they products such as band instruments, guitars, motorcycles, audio equipment tennis rackets, snowmobiles, etc.

Nevertheless, this allows the Kawai piano company to focus on just designing and producing the best acoustic and digital pianos that it can do which are very impressive, and that is what sets them apart from their competition.

Ca401 Front View
Kawai CA401

Kawai has many models of digital pianos that covers all price ranges. But the CA401 is the first one in their lineup of their CA  Concert Artist series that uses its proprietary 100% wooden, longer length keys which gives it a considerable edge over the other brands within this price range in that way.

So why would someone want to purchase this CA401 model? The main reason is that you want to primarily play piano and focus on the most realistic piano playing experience they can get of all the brands in this price range. In other words, it’s really all about piano playing and getting the most realistic results possible.

If you don’t play piano and have not played a real acoustic upright or grand piano, then it may or may not be difficult for you to tell the difference between something like this CA401 vs a Yamaha, Roland, or Casio digital piano in this price range. If you are a novice beginner you might be happy on any of them. But we can tell you there is definitely a significant positive difference when comparing the piano playing experience on the CA401 to other brands and models in this price range.

KEY ACTION

Grand Feel Copact key action

#1 Long wooden key   #2 Counterweight   #3 Balance pins   #4 Weighted hammers
#5 Let-off mechanism   #6 Triple sensor   #7 Ivory Touch key surface

There’s a number of good digital piano brands that offer impressive piano sound reproduction and functions in this price range. But no one else offers this Kawai “Grand Feel Compact” key action with its proprietary 100% wood “longer length” keys in this relatively lower price range that replicates more of a grand piano playing experience as opposed to a partial or all-plastic key “upright piano” playing experience. The physical key length on plastic keys are also typically shorter which changes the balance and fulcrum points of the keys.

PIANO KEY ACTION REALISMThe same is true for acoustic pianos. Upright acoustic piano keys are shorter and acoustic grand piano keys are longer, although they both have 100% wooden keys. So the more realistic a piano key action is, the better and more realistic your piano playing experience will be, especially at more advanced skill levels. Key action is always #1 for any piano and then comes the piano sound realism, the pedaling realism, and the internal speaker system within the digital piano enabling it to produce a (hopefully) more natural piano sound, more natural volume, and higher quality tone.

Each key in the CA401 is also installed more like a real acoustic piano with the white keys having a metal center pin to secure them more naturally and this also helps to prevent lateral key movement which is not good to have. Some of the other brands can have noticeable lateral key movement (sloppy or wiggly keys) which is something that should be avoided.

The key movement is not only physically quiet, but very responsive and the weight or resistance of the keys when playing them is on the lighter side instead of being heavier. Having keys that are easier to press down and also don’t come up so hard is more like many good grand pianos and this allows for a more comfortable playing experience for your fingers, hands, wrists, and forearms. In other words, this more advanced key action allows you to avoid getting playing hand and finger fatigue…and this is a good thing.

key action let offThe key action also has a simulated physical feature known as “let-off” or escapement. On a real grand piano when you press down a white key slowly, there is a slight notch or hesitation about 1/2 way down or so in the key travel as you are pressing down the keys. This allows more advanced pianist to have a bit more control over their music when playing slowly. You don’t feel this let-off key movement when playing at medium or fast speeds on the keys…only when playing lightly and slowly. Personally, when it comes to a digital piano key action, for most people I don’t think this “let-off” feature is necessary and most people would not miss it if it wasn’t there. Nevertheless, it’s a nice extra feature for those people who can appreciate it.

Synthetic ivory & ebony key topsThe physical keys themselves have synthetic ivory and ebony on top of the white & black keys that not only give an appearance of real ivory and ebony on the key tops, but this synthetic material also helps absorb sweat from the fingers. Since real ivory and ebony material is porous, this simulated material helps with sweat absorption from the fingers and it really does work, This simulated material also makes the key tops look more upscale and classier looking.

The white wooden keys themselves are 12″ long which is considered extra long in key length for a digital piano in this lower price range. Most digital pianos in this price range not only have plastic keys (which in some cases if fine), but those white keys are generally somewhere between 8′ to 9″ long. The visible white keys on all pianos are about 6″ long, so it’s the remainder of the key that you cannot see that goes under and behind the key cover that gives it the extra length.

Weighted & graded keysThis key action, like many others has not only weighted keys to make the touch feel more like piano keys, but also graded keys meaning that the key weight in the left hand bass keys is slightly heavier than the keys going up towards the middle and treble section. The keys get progressively and incrementally lighter as you go from left to right across the keyboard.

In a real acoustic grand piano, the bass strings are very large so it takes more key weight to press down the keys in the bass section to give the bass notes a bigger sound. So with that in mind the Kawai company actually put in physical “counter-weights” inside the bass keys of the CA401 so that the feel of those keys as you are pressing them down is even closer to that of bass notes as you would play them on a real acoustic piano. So even those unique key action details were incorporated in to this special Grand Feel Compact key action in the CA401.

The longer and more well built the physical keys are, the more balance and even key movement you’ll have when playing the keys from the fronts of the keys to the backs of the keys. This type of key action design and construction is also why acoustic grand pianos are better and much more preferred than acoustic upright pianos. The CA401 key action design and movement is much closer to a real grand piano as compared to an upright piano.

Kawai CA401 Key Action
Kawai CA401 Key Action

So when you consider all the upgraded aspects of this Kawai all-wood longer length “quick response” key action in the CA401 for $3099, in my experienced opinion, nothing else from any other brand comes close in this price range when trying to get the most realistic and best playing key action movement & response possible.

Some of the other brands do have much shorter, partially wooden (white) keys only in this price range, or even longer length partially-wooden keys (white keys only) in much higher price ranges. Nevertheless, the key action design in the CA401 has all 88 keys made out of 100% high quality wood and is more like a real grand piano key movement as opposed to any of the other digital piano brands at any price under $7500. The key action is very comfortable to play, will not fatigue your fingers, hands, and wrists, and is physically quiet while te keys are moving up & down. It really doesn’t get any better than that.

PIANO SOUND

Kawai Grand Piano

The piano sound realism is always the 2nd most important aspect of any piano and this model is no exception. The piano needs to be not only resonate and full, but it needs to also have as many of the natural organic piano sound content and nuances as possible that real acoustic pianos have to give it a more natural and less synthetic piano sound.

grand piano stringsA piano sound is very complex in an acoustic piano because of the more than 200 individual steel & brass strings inside of it along with all those wooden cabinet components. There are so many natural organic sound elements happening at one time when you’re playing the keys in an acoustic piano and the Kawai CA401 tries to reproduce that sound experience as closely as it can within its price range, and I think it does an excellent job at doing that.

There are sympathetic vibrations among the notes (when one note is played but other strings make additional “sympathetic” sounds at the same time, overtones, resonances coming from the wooden cabinet in an acoustic piano, and the wooden soundboard and metallic strings creating the volume and tonal differences in an acoustic piano.

To replicate this things naturally in a digital piano is no easy task. There are lots of digital pianos out there from the better brands and the low end brands and they all want to make you believe they have the “best” piano sounds. But in reality, some of those models sound very synthetic, plain, toy-like, over-produced, unnatural, and just plain bad or uninspiring.

Natural or Synthesized?I’m not taking about a digital piano needing to have a “perfect piano” sound reproduction. But what I am saying is that the piano sound reproduction should not be artificial as some digital pianos are, and should not sound synthesized. But unfortunately a number of brands and models do sound “fake,” especially the off-brands. When you are spending a large amount of money on a new digital piano you should expect a more natural higher quality sound as opposed to what the “cheap” digital pianos might give you.

Also, I have heard some name brand $6000 digital pianos that don’t sound near as realistic as some other name brand $2000 digital pianos. So just because a digital piano has a high price and/or is a recognized name brand, that does not necessarily mean it sounds like a real piano or even as good as other name brands for less money. In fact, some of those high priced name brand models sound surprisingly synthesized and I don’t recommend them.

Piano sampling processIn the CA401, the piano sounds are professionally “sampled”/recorded from real Kawai grand pianos in pro recording studios using top studio recording equipment and professional microphones placed at strategic points outside and inside of the real grand piano to capture the essence of the real acoustic grand sounds in stereo.

Then those stereo recorded grand piano sounds are transferred into the digital sound chips of the CA401 so that this model can reproduce those multi-channel grand piano sounds through the internal speaker system of the CA401 when you are playing the keys on the wooden keyboard.

CA401 piano sound list
Piano Sound List

In the Kawai CA401 there are 7 individual acoustic grand piano sounds, 1 acoustic upright piano sound, and 2 electric/digital piano sounds. This gives you are large variety to choose from when it comes to playing piano on the CA401. There are brighter concert sounds, pop piano sounds, mellow-warm grand piano sounds, jazz piano sound, and so on. Whatever your in the mood to hear, I believe you won’t be disappointed in the sound selection of the piano library of this model. You just select the piano sound you want and start playing, it’s that simple.

There is one other other thing about these professionally recorded acoustic piano sounds that I was impressed with in the CA401. In some digital pianos from other brands, when piano sounds get recorded sometimes those sounds are recorded on one note and then artificially and electronically stretched up to become the next few notes, and then that process is repeated again.

This is a less expensive way to generate piano sounds from the 88 keys. But when the process is done like that then that’s generally when a more artificial and synthetic piano sound can be heard when playing that piano.

Kawai 88-key samplingIn the Kawai CA401 they do it differently. Each individual note played from each of the individual 88 keys is fully recorded one note at a time, and Kawai calls this process “individual note sampling.” This process definitely generates a more natural, more organic stereo piano sound when it comes to the authenticity of the acoustic piano sounds that you hear from this instrument. I like those sounds very much, especially as compared to some other brands in this price range.

Of course, I also play and have played many fine acoustic upright and grand pianos so I know what real pianos are suppose to sound like. Nevertheless, it’s good for you to be aware of it and to know that the piano sounds in the CA401 will be noticeably more organic and natural than in other digital pianos.

triple sensor chartThere are a couple more things I wanted to mention about the piano sound and piano sound responsiveness of this model. This piano has 3 key senors under each key and those sensors are very important to the response of the piano sound when playing the keys. Some digital pianos have 2 sensors per key which is good, but having 3 quality key sensors per key allows for better repetition response when playing the keys more quickly and repetitively.

Triple key senor technology, as it is called, is important to have, especially if you are playing at higher skill levels and doing faster, more complex pieces of music. The Kawai CA401 does have the triple sensor per key technology which is a good thing and allows you to grow into the piano instead of grow out of it.

 

192-note polyphony The other important aspect of any digital piano is the “polyphony” within the piano sound engine which accounts for how many notes can be played and sustained simultaneously. It’s important, generally speaking, to have a minimum of 192 notes of mono polyphony which translates to 96 notes of polyphony in stereo. Since the acoustic piano sounds are produced and recorded in stereo, then it’s that polyphony number which becomes important.

The CA401 has 192 notes of polyphony which is enough to satisfy even more advanced piano players who will be playing a lot of notes and sustaining those notes with their sustain/damper pedal. It’s important to not have any “note drop-out” and 192 notes of mono polyphony power will help to insure smooth piano sound note transitions no matter what skill level you are at.

So when it comes to the acoustic piano sound and response in this price range, the Kawai CA401 is very impressive, especially given how realistic the key action is as well. It’s a great combination to have both the key action and piano sound realism be as good as they are in this model. No complaints about that.

PEDALS

piano pedals

The pedals are very important on any piano and digital pianos are no exception. Just like the key action, the pedal action (movement) needs to be responsive, quiet, weighted, and to allow your music to sound more beautiful, especially if you are a more advanced player. The pedals are full length brass pedals and Kawai calls them its “Grand Feel Pedal System.” When each of the three  pedals are pushed down with your foot, they are weighted and respond in such a way that they feel and work more like grand piano pedals as opposed to upright piano pedals.

grand feel pedals
Grand feel pedals

This is a very nice feature, especially as you develop your playing skills because having a properly weighted and responsive pedal system can be critical to the music you are playing. Sometimes people take those 3 pedals for granted because they may not know that much about pedals and what they do.

But the proper pedaling is essential to your music and the way it all comes out. On the CA401 the sustain pedal also triggers the half-damper effect which means the sustain-decay time is variable instead of just on or off. It just depends on how far you depress the sustain pedal as to how much sustain you’ll get.

If you want full sustain then you press the sustain/damper pedal all the way down and you get plenty of piano sustain time to where your piano sound will become rich and resonant. The soft and sostenuto pedals also work well for their intended use when they are needed.

So when it comes to the pedals and getting what you need out of them to play whatever music you want to play, Kawai has done a very good job replicating a real acoustic piano pedaling experience. There are no physical dampers or damper rail inside these digital pianos because they are unnecessary as the dampers and sustained strings are digitally reproduced. Therefore the pedaling experience is not exactly like that of an acoustic piano. But this is true of all digital pianos under $8000 and the pedaling experience in the CA401 is very good.

INSTRUMENT SOUNDS

CA401 instrument sound list

The CA401 has an instrument sound library consisting of 9 non-acoustic piano instrument sounds including strings, organs, choir, harpsichord, bells, synth and the 2 electric-digital piano sounds for a total of 11 non-acoustic piano tones. For most people who are primarily focused on the piano playing aspect of the CA401, 11 additional instrument sounds is usually enough to satisfy most people.

symphony & harpsichordAs long as the realism of those instruments sounds are good, then that’s what counts. If those additional instrument sounds are not pleasing and as realistic as possible, then having a lot more sounds like 100, 200, or more doesn’t mean much if those instruments sound like toys. Fortunately the additional instrument sounds available in this model are quite good and therefore enjoyable to play, and a nice addition to the acoustic piano sounds in the CA401.

You can also layer/combine any two instrument sounds together such as as acoustic grand piano & harpsichord, electric piano and string symphony, or upright piano & choir as examples. So when it comes to playing music with other instrument sounds the CA401 does a very good job in my opinion and it should impress you with the quality of tones you get from this model and also the intuitive ways you can control those sounds such as adjusting the relative volume between the 2 sounds in a layer-combination.

DIGITAL RECORDER & PLAYBACK

Recording & playback features

When it comes to any good digital piano I find that it can be very useful to record your piano playing and then hear that song being played back so you can hear how you are doing. When listening to your song being played back you can then really focus on how you actually played that song and any mistakes you may have made or parts of that song which need improvement. This is especially helpful for piano students who are practicing their musical pieces and allows them to become better players.

CA401 recording and playback buttons

The Kawai CA401 does have a recording and playback system, although it is very basic. However, I believe that for most people this recorder system should be enough to get the job done for normal recording and saving songs. You can record and playback up to 3 separate songs in the MIDI format.  You can save those 3 songs within the piano memory for playback at another time.

recording & playbackThe recorder records both the right hand and left hand parts simultaneously (1-track) and then plays those parts back together at the same time when you start up the playback feature. The recorder cannot separate the right & left hand parts for record or playback of your songs, and the system cannot record and playback more than 3 total songs. Once you are done recording and saving 3 songs, if you want to record additional songs then you first need to erase one of more of your songs from the memory and start all over again.

 

Digital recording imageThe recorder and playback feature in the CA401 is very easy to use and works good, you can see what’s going on within the display screen, but as I already mentioned, is very basic. Other digital pianos, even at more than half the price of this model, have more extensive recording and playback features including 2-track recorders (separate tracks for right & left hand), audio WAV and/or MP3 file recorders, USB thumb drives for extensive song library storage, etc. But the CA401 has additional learning and practice features that other brands and models do not have.

If having a more complex, upgraded recording and playback system is important to you and you absolutely want that in a digital piano, then the CA401 is not for you. Instead you can consider getting another brand and model that has these features in the same or lower price range. Also, there is an upgraded Kawai model which has those extensive feature such as the Kawai CA501 at $3999 which has all of that and more.

MUSIC FROM LESSON SONGBOOKS

alfred books

The Kawai CA401 has built-in lesson book songs with a total of 6 popular lesson songbook music which many piano teachers normally use for beginner and intermediate students. They include Alfred beginner level 1A & 1B, along with the Czerny course, Beyer, and others so that you can order the books and actually hear and play along with the songs from those books which are built into the CA401.

Lesson books image for lesson songs CA401This is a very useful and stimulating educational feature, especially for beginner and intermediate students. If you want to practice your piano playing skills from those popular lesson books, you can do it by playing along with the songs in the CA401 lesson song library from those books and be able to hear the proper way to play those pieces as well as be able to control the tempo/speed of those songs so you can play them slower to begin with and then speed them up as you get better.

You can also isolate the right & left hand parts of those songs when they are being played back so that you can learn to play the 2 parts separately from one another. In other words you can play back just the right hand part of the song and listen to it while playing along with the left hand part of the song “live.” It’s like having a teacher right there playing one of the parts while you play along live doing the other part. It makes it a lot more fun and helps with rhythm & timing as well.

You can also swap parts from right hand to left hand depending on which part of that lesson song you want to practice and then let the lesson song play back the other part at the same time. This a very cool feature and will help you with your playing skills, and is exclusive to a few models in the Kawai digital piano lineup including this one.

CONCERT MAGIC

CA401 concert magic arrangement types

Concert magic

The Kawai “Concert Magic” feature is also exclusive to the Kawai brand and found in a few models including this one. This Concert Magic mode is all about learning and practicing your rhythm & timing. Rhythm & timing and “keeping the beat” can very difficult to do for some people and can take a lot of practice. The downsides of learning this aspect of playing piano or any instrument is that learning “rhythm” if you are not naturally gifted in that area, can be boring and frustrating.

Some people just have a hard time with learning rhythm & timing, and staying with the beat is sometimes not easy, regardless of your age. So when it comes to playing music and taking piano lessons to improve your skills, there are only so many things that can be done to help you in that way.

To that end the Kawai company developed this very unique system of rhythm & timing training in the CA401 that is fun, intuitive, and helps to teach you, subliminally to some degree, on how to pick up on the beat and timing of the music while being able to play the keys of the piano and make good music at the same time, even if you have never played piano before.

In other words, you don’t have to know how to play piano to sound good and learn the rhythm & timing of a song with Concert Magic. There are 50 well known built-in full length piano songs in the CA401 such as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, Silent Night, Fur Elise, The Entertainer, etc. The Concert Magic feature has 3 learning modes and 4 song playback modes. The musical goal is for someone with no piano playing experience or any musical instrument playing experience to learn to understand the rhythm and volume dynamics of both left and right hand parts in a song.

You start with the right hand and simply listen to the song play back that you select in that 50 song library. When you have listened to a specific song a number of times and have a good idea of how it should go, then you select the melody learning part and you press or tap any key on the keyboard and that key will play the correct note for that song and in the correct order. If you press the key harder then you’ll get a louder note, and if you press the key softer you’ll get a quieter note…and this can help with understanding volume dynamics and changes.

In other words, you do not need to play the correct notes as would normally be seen on some sheet music or music score. You can press any black or white key one at a time and what ever key you press anywhere on the keyboard that key will play the correct note of the song you selected. There are no wrong notes. You always sound good no matter what notes you play!

Kawai Concert Magic The idea is for you to have fun at any age, sound good, not know what you are doing (yet) and just get used to pressing or tapping keys one at a time or even multiple keys at a time and do that as steadily as you can trying to maintain an even tempo. The goal is for you to concentrate on your tempo or timing and not have to worry about playing the correct notes for you to sound good.

This Concert Magic feature is a great idea, and as a long time pro piano teacher I applaud Kawai for coming up with proprietary this rhythm/timing learning feature that audibly & subliminally helps non-players/beginners learn how to “keep a beat” to various songs without only needing to study and practice boring and uninspiring scales and notes using a metronome or just hand clapping.

Learning to get good at “keeping time” like drummers do or any good musician can do is vital to the overall outcome of your music. You don’t want to play “robotically” or not stay up with the beat, but you want to learn to play with feeling and expression and improve your listening skills, and you can do that more easily with this Concert Magic feature and have a lot of fun while doing it!

This unique way of learning to play with good rhythm & timing is useful whether you are 2 years old or 92 years old, and it covers all the bases for the beginner student in enjoying the piano playing experience and later on becoming more of a skilled player in understanding both the left hand and right hand piano rhythm parts of a variety of songs and time signatures built in to the CA401.

You can even be a very skilled piano player (like me) and have an enjoyable time using the Concert Magic feature because it’s fun and it can help you with your rhythm & timing no matter how good you get to be as a piano player. Along with family and friends, this feature is for rhythm & timing learning purposes that turn into musically fun ways to interact with a piano you’ve never tried before or thought possible. I highly recommend it.

REVERB SOUND EFFECTS

reverb

Many digital pianos have what’s known as “sound effects” in them. These effects are there to give your piano playing more realism based especially on the way your ears hear sound and hear music. For instance, when a grand piano is be played in a large room, concert hall, or church, the sound of that grand piano is effected by the size and construction of that room or hall. The piano sound in those different rooms can have more or less amount of echo (reverb) which can add to the fullness and resonance of the piano.

reverb effectsA reverb effects feature is one of the most common sound effects in a digital piano. Using the reverb feature can add some ambience and resonances in the piano sound that you otherwise would not get without it. But it’s not only having those reverb effects in digital pianos that counts, but it’s the quality and realism of those effects that really matter. Some digital piano sound effects can make that instrument sound very artificial and toy-like and not real at all. So quality of the effects is equally important besides just having them.

In the CA401 Kawai has pro quality reverb effects section that really impressed me with its quality and ability to replicate different types of rooms that a grand piano might be in. There are 6 effects or “virtual” rooms that have been digitally recreated so that you can apply those room effects to the piano sounds in the CA401 to make your piano sound like it’s coming out of those various rooms.

CA401 reverb chart

Those 6 virtual rooms include “Room” which simulates the reverb of a small rehearsal room. “Lounge” which simulates the reverb of a piano lounge. “Small Hall” which simulates the reverb of a small hall. “Concert Hall” which simulates the reverb of a concert hall or theatre. “Live Hall” which simulates the reverb of a large hall. The biggest and most resonant virtual room reverb is the “Cathedral” which simulates the reverb of a large cathedral.

concert hall reverbSome people may think these types of special effects are not necessary. But if you have ever played an upright or especially a grand piano in different size and types of rooms with different room contraction and design, then you have experienced what I am talking about. Without the natural ambience and resonation that a particular type of room can give a piano when that piano is being played, then that piano sound is missing some of the natural organic elements that are heard in various rooms.

With the Kawai CA401 you can also shut off any reverb effects coming from the piano and not have it at all. When there are no reverb effects being used then that sound can be referred to as being somewhat “dry.” The “dryness” of the sound is especially noticeable when playing piano with many staccato notes where the notes are played quickly with a fast release and no sustain. With a nice reverb effect then there can be a small or large resonance when the note is released, depending on the type of virtual “reverb room” setting you select.

The reverb feature is there to give you more options to increase the natural realism of the piano sound when you are playing your music. You can use it or not use it. But if you do take advantage of the virtual room reverb settings in the CA401, I believe you will enjoy your music even more and I was impressed by the realism of the the piano sound when using that feature and I believe you will also feel the same way.

TONE CONTROL EQ SOUND EFFECTS

CA401 Tone Control list

OK, so what is EQ? Some of you already know what that means…its “Equalization.” In other words, it’s adjusting the level or amplitude of various frequencies to get the “perfect” overall frequency mix for your ears and the room you are playing piano in. EQ is not reverb, it doesn’t add echo resonances to your piano sound. It is about adjusting the high, medium, and low bass frequencies of a sound, and it is important to have…especially in a digital piano

Some digital pianos have EQ effects adjustability, and some do not. The CA401 does have it as it is called “tone control, because you are essentially adjusting the tone to get a more satisfying and customized sound for your ears and the way you hear things…especially music.

EQ imageFor instance, I personally enjoy good clear high frequency sound and good bass response when playing piano. The piano sound frequencies in real acoustic pianos cannot be adjusted…they are what they are, for good or for bad. However, a good piano tech can adjust or modify the felt hammers so those hammers become physically softer or harder which then changes the tone coming from the strings when the hammers strike the strings. This procedure is called acoustic piano “regulation and voicing.”

In a digital pianos there are no felt hammers and strings, just the piano sound chip and a speaker system to hear those piano sounds. An EQ system allows you to personally modify the structure of the sound so that different frequencies can be increased or reduced to give your ears a more enjoyable piano playing experience for you.

To make this process as simple as possible, Kawai designed a user-friendly factory preset Tone Control EQ effects feature that automatically adjusts the EQ settings from the user interface buttons. It’s a very cool idea that takes away the learning curve of normal EQ control and allows you to select factory presets to give you a variety of new tone control EQ settings without knowing anything about it.

Sound Boost - EQThe factory preset tone control settings include “Flat” which is Tone control adjustment is not applied. “Brilliance” which adjusts the overall brightness of the sound. “Bass Boost” which  emphasizes low-range frequencies, creating a deeper sound. “Bass Cut” which reduces low-range frequencies, creating a clearer sound. “Mid Boost” which emphasizes mid-range frequencies, creating a harder sound.

There is also a “Loudness” control which emphasizes frequencies to retain the digital piano’s sound character when playing at low volume levels. For people who like those high frequency tones there is “Bright” which emphasizes high-range frequencies, creating a brighter sound. Finally there is “Mellow” which reduces high-range frequencies (for people who need that), creating a softer sound.

As you can see there are significant ways to “customize” the piano sounds within the CA401 so that you can get the “perfect” piano sounds for your ears, and these features really work because I have tried them and used them and they can and do make a difference. I happen to like technology especially if it’s user-friendly and Kawai did a good job in making it easy to customize the piano sounds, assuming that is something you would like to do.

VIRTUAL TECHNICIAN SMART MODE (AI)

CA401 Virtual Technician Smart Mode chart

Now if the previous customized piano sound settings were not enough for you, Kawai also has a very impressive feature called “Virtual Technician Smart Mode” which is like an AI technology feature that lets you quickly and properly configures the overall piano sound to come out perfectly based on how your ears hear music.  These factory settings duplicate on the CA401 what an experienced acoustic piano technician can do on a real acoustic grand piano to alter the sound and touch of the piano to better and more accurately play certain types of piano music.

piano tunerPiano technicians can do a lot (if they know how) to physically adjust and alter the keys, key movement, hammers, strings, and other components of an acoustic piano. To that end Kawai has designed and produced a very cool feature called Virtual Technician Smart Mode. Basically this feature is like an AI virtual technician which virtually changes the character and weight of the CA401 key action, the piano sound elements, virtual felt hammers, and various resonances a piano can produce.

This AI intelligent virtual technician offers the following 11 modes: Starting with “Normal” which is the default setting for Virtual Technician Smart Mode. “Noiseless” which is a preset that eliminates the mechanical noises produced when the damper pedal is depressed and keys are released. “Deep Resonance” which is a preset that emphasizes damper and string resonances. “Light Resonance” which is a preset that reduces damper and string resonances.

piano hammersBeyond those AI factory settings, there is “Soft” which is a factory preset that softens the hammers and increases the touch weight of the keyboard in order to produce a softer tone that is suitable for slow, quiet pieces. “Brilliant” which is a preset that hardens the virtual hammers in order to produce a brighter tone suitable for modern pieces. “Clean” which is a preset that hardens the hammers and reduces damper and string resonances.

To finish off these different Virtual AI Smart Modes there is the “Full” mode which is a preset that emphasizes dynamics, with a lightened keyboard touch and powerful damper and string resonances. The “Dark” mode which is a preset that hardens the hammers and increases the touch weight of the keyboard, in order to produce a dark, gloomy tone. “Rich” which is  a factory preset that lightens the touch weight of the keyboard and increases damper and string resonances. And finally there is the “Historical” mode which is a preset suitable for romantic, classical music, with a bright, open tone.

Grand piano sustain pedal gif

Kawai grand piano There is even more virtual setting controls for people who want to get into the inner details of changing and altering more aspects of the piano sound such as individual note volume control editing to set individual volumes for any of the 88 piano keys if you feel you need to make adjustments in that way. Or you can change the amount of virtual damper noise when pressing down the damper pedal either to get more or less of the virtual pedaling noise from inside the piano.

All of this is to get you as close to a real acoustic piano playing experience as possible by giving you all these nuanced sounds and effects that you can easily control. Also, if you don’t want to use this technology then you don’t have to. You can just select one of the very nice piano sounds in the CA401 sound library and start playing. Nothing else needed, no changes, no sound effects, no AI setups, nothing. You can just play and go from there. But at least Kawai has these very cool features in this model should you want to use them.

 

SPATIAL HEADPHONE SOUND

CA401 spatial headphone sound

3D headphone soundWhen listening to a piano through its internal speaker system, depending on the power and quality of the internal speaker system, the piano sound can be artificial and tinny and not sound good, or it can be a very good sound and also produce good sound positioning. When a person wants to practice privately on a digital piano so that other people in the room do not hear the sound coming out, you want to be sure you have good quality stereo headphones and also good headphone sound technology built into the digital piano that will give it moire 3D imaging.

 

Kawai SHS spatial soundTo that end Kawai has a very cool feature for using headphones called “Spatial Headphone Sound.” This technology feature for headphones means that the sound you hear in your headphones can be adjusted electronically so that the sound will be positioned towards the front of you within the headphones, or balanced directly in the center of your head/ears, or the piano sound in the headphones can be spread out very wide like it’s coming from all around you.

This features allows you to determine what type of piano stereo sound positioning will be best for your ears when using stereo headphones. This headphone technology feature works good and does make a difference when practicing for long periods of time using headphones.

PHONE TYPES

CA401 Phones type

Kawai also has another useful headphone feature called “Phone Types.” There are obviously different types of headphones out there including “open,” “semi-open,” “closed,” “inner ear,” etc. This Kawai headphone technology optimizes the sound in your headphones to match the type of headphones or earbuds you are using. It’s just another way to get a better piano playing experience when using headphones for private practice/playing.

Kawai SHS headphonesIt’s also good to be aware that wireless/Bluetooth headphones do not work well on any digital piano including the CA401. This is because wireless signal transmission has an inherent “delay” or latency in the device (headphones) receive the headphone sound signal. So when you press a key on the keyboard you won’t hear the piano sound in wireless headphones come in until a fraction of a second (or more) later.

No one wants to play a note on a digital piano (or any piano) and not hear that note immediately…and that’s what would happen with wireless/Bluetooth headphones…there would be a delay and therefore wireless headphones will not work for digital pianos. You need to use a good set of plug-in stereo headphones/earbuds of some type for private playing.

BLUETOOTH AUDIO & MIDI CONNECTIVITY

Bluetooth wireless MIDI & Audio

As most people know, Bluetooth audio wireless connectivity is a very popular form of technology these days. It is primarily used to transmit audio (music & speech) from one device to another such as from your music library in your phone or tablet to a Bluetooth wireless speaker system. Many digital pianos also have this technology so that you can stream your favorite music or videos from an external device into the piano speaker system.

bluetooth midi-iphone-ipad imageThis is useful technology when streaming songs into your piano internal speaker system and then being able to play along with those songs “live” on the piano. I have done this many times and it works well. Or, you can simply use the CA401 Bluetooth audio receiving technology to have the piano speaker system become your personal stereo system so you can play music through it from your external Bluetooth devices and just listen to the music that way.

The CA401 also has a 2nd form of Bluetooth wireless technology called Bluetooth MIDI. This feature is useful if you want to virtually connect your Bluetooth phone or tablet to the CA401 so that you can use interactive piano educational and instrument sound apps to further your enjoyment with the CA401. There are a lot of great interactive apps for digital pianos, especially when using iOS iPad/iPhone, and I use many of those apps in my studio.

So when it comes to wireless connectivity, the Kawai CA401 has the essentials in that way and they are easy to use.

USER CONTROLS & DISPLAY SCREEN

User Interface

The CA401 has a user control panel with OLED display screen on the left side of the keyboard and buttons underneath the screen. This user control panel is fairly easy to use and to understand and you can access the various features and functions in the CA401 that way.

The display screen uses bright white lettering to more easily see the info in lower light rooms or at night. I personally like this user control side panel because it makes the CA401 look more minimalistic in appearance and yet being fairly intuitive to use the features within.

CA401 master volume The 8 buttons on the control panel are larger, flush mounted, and easy to see and press down. On the right side panel of the CA401 is the power button and master volume control slider, which works well. So when it comes to the control panel buttons, user interface display, and access to the features of this model, Kawai did a good job with balancing aesthetics and function in this price range for what this piano can do.

The OLED display will show you the names of the instrument sounds, the various digital functions and features such as transpose key, metronome, recording, 4-hand mode, the concert magic features, the headphone functions, reverb settings, and many more functions that you can see in the display screen. Some digital pianos have display screens and buttons that are not as user-friendly or as easy to read as compared to the CA401. So overall I think this type of user interface will work good for most people.

KAWAI “PIANO REMOTE” APP

Piano Remote app

Kawai has a proprietary app for iOS and Android devices that allows you to control the various features and functions of the piano from the color touch screen of your device. It’s actually a more intuitive and practical way of using the functions in the CA401 and other Kawai digital pianos as opposed to just using the built-in user interface in the piano.

Piano Remote app logoAlthough the user interface and display screen in the piano works fine, I find that using the special function control app on your external device is even easier, and actually more fun to use. But you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to, but it is there to help you understand the internal feature of the CA401 in a more user-friendly way.

The “Piano Remote” app also has a few features that the CA401 does not have on its own that are very useful and can add more playing enjoyment to your music. Other digital piano brands also have “controller apps” so Kawai is not the only one. But what they have is very nice and quite useful and all you have to do is download the app to your device from the app store and then open it up and use it…it’s that simple to get and to use.

INTERNAL SPEAKER SYSTEM AND CONNECTIVITY

CA401 4-speaker output

The internal speaker system in any digital piano is very important because that’s where the piano sound comes from. Without a capable and high quality internal speaker system your piano simply won’t sound good and it will likely sound tinny and toy-like. It’s not just the amplifier power and size & quantity of the speakers, but it’s the quality of those components that also matters.

Just like in cars or appliances, the manufacturer can use cheap parts that may sound good in their advertising, but in reality those cheaper parts, in this case the speakers, amplifiers, and power supply parts, are very important.

inside small speakerKawai is using 4 high end proprietary Kawai speakers which consist of two 5.1″ main speakers inside the piano pointing down and reflecting sound off the floor, and also two high quality Kawai 2″ tweeter speakers to enhance the high end frequencies coming out of the inside of the piano towards the player. The amplifiers and power supply have been upgraded over the previous model to make the piano richer, smoother, and more authentic than in the past. The speakers are also quiet when piano sound is not being played which many people will appreciate.

The 40 watt amplification for most rooms is plenty of power as it has been optimized to be richer and fuller than before. It’s great that there are 4 speakers, especially in this price range because the quantity, quality, and position of those speakers within the cabinet are very important in making the piano sound more natural and less “digital” and that’s the goal of the CA401…to sound more natural and much more like a real acoustic piano.

You should never overlook the internal speakers system because if it is not good, then your piano sound will be artificial and uninspiring. Given that Kawai produces 9″ concert grand pianos that professional piano players and music teachers use, they definitely know what they are doing and I believe you’ll be impressed by what this new CA401 speaker system does to the stereo grand piano sounds coming out of it.

CA401 basic connectivityWith regard to the hardware connectivity in this model, it is good, but somewhat basic. There is a physical USB/MIDI output to external device and also 2 headphone jacks with one being a 1/4 output jack and the other being a mini output jack. So you can use both at the same time for two people or either one for playing privately by yourself. You just plug in a good pair of stereo headphones to hear the sound without disturbing other people who may be in the same room.

The CA401 does not have audio outputs for external amplification or external recording, no audio inputs, nor does it have a USB flash drive port for saving digital recording or setups. So if you want to connect the piano to an external sound system for some reason along while also using the internal speakers, you cannot do it on this model.

If you want to plug in an external non-Bluetooth audio device (phone/tablet, computer, etc) to the CA401, you won’t be able to do that either. You also cannot save digital data from recordings, sound setups, etc into a USB thumb-drive because this model does not have that feature.

To get more built-in connectivity hardware in the CA series you would have to jump up to the next Kawai model called the CA501 which is priced at $3999 on-line. That model is a big jump up in terms of just about everything it offers and everything it can do including having an upgraded piano sound engine and speaker system.  So you can keep “climbing the ladder” as far as going up to the next model if it is within your budget to do so. It’s definitely worth it but you would need to decide if it would make sense for your musical needs & goals.

CABINET DESIGN FEATURES & FACTORY WARRANTY

CA401 front view

The furniture cabinet and design is very attractive in our opinion and has a fairly compact “footprint” when it comes to taking up space the cabinet measurements are 54″ wide x 19″ deep x 36″ high with the music rest down, or 43″ high with music rest up. The weight of the CA401 is 127 lbs, so it’s really not that heavy. With its front support legs to give it more stability, larger music rest to support more sheet music, built-in sheet music holder pins to secure the sheet music or books to the music rest, and a slightly taller cabinet to give it more of a traditional piano appearance, this model really looks great.

CA401 satin black - top view

The cabinet comes in 3 colors including a very nice looking satin black with chrome pedals, satin dark rosewood with brass pedals, a satin white with chrome pedals, and all of them have comfortable padded matching benches included. All of the available cabinet colors look really good and the white cabinet is “snow white” and very contemporary in appearance.”

CA401 with key cover closed

The built-in sliding key covers work well and looks good when the keys are covered up by the matching key cover. The top of the piano is smooth and you can put music books on the top or other things you may want to put up there.

There is a privacy panel on the back of the piano so that when you look at the piano from the front, you cannot see through it and looks more elegant that way. The cabinet is very study once you get it assembles and assembly is fairly easy to do.

Warranty - 5 yearsThe Kawai factory warranty is 5 years parts & labor against any factory defects. That warranty also includes in-home service from an available local service technician should you ever need that. With Kawai being a Japanese piano company and in business for about 100 years, they have a good reputation for producing stable, reliable digital and acoustic pianos, so it’s doubtful you would need to use their warranty during the 5 years, but it’s always good to have it. Based on my experience with this company you you have a trouble free piano playing experience and enjoy this model very much.

 

FINAL THOUGHTS

final thoughts

OK…so here’s the bottom line concerning the Kawai CA401. The model is primarily focused on one thing which is being the best, most authentic piano you can find in its approx $3000 price range. The reason people want to purchase this piano is not for the extra “bells & whistles.” The bells & whistles (the fun stuff, Bluetooth wireless, extra sounds, etc) are just “frosting on the cake” as the old saying goes.

Kawai CA401 white
CA401 satin white

This piano is all about piano playing with the focus on the 100% all-wood key action with extra long keys that are patterned after a grand piano. The key action is by far the most important aspect of any piano and as far as I am concerned, this proprietary wooden grand style key action is way ahead of the pack in reproducing a very impressive key movement.

This “Grand Feel Compact” key action allows you to play any kind of music in ways that will not only help your playing technique, but will allow you to play at high skill levels without being hindered in your playing, especially as compared to other digital pianos in this price range. It really is pretty amazing, and I have play all of them in this price range.

The next reason to want to own this model is the piano sound itself. Kawai did a very good job in reproducing the organic resonations and subtleties in the piano sound that you would experience on a real acoustic piano. The piano sound in this model is enjoyable to play and there are enough variations in the piano sounds within the CA401 piano sound library that you will be able to find something that fits your musical needs and even “customize” those piano sounds as I mentioned earlier.

The stereo piano sound is full, rich, and you can get lots of expression out of those piano sounds. The sound is balanced nicely up and down the 88 keys when you’re playing and the bass response is also quite good.

Kawai-CA401-Premium-Rosewood
CA401 satin rosewood

The piano pedals work well, have been redesigned to be more realistic as compared to the previous model, and the piano sustain-decay time is fairly long with good volume and natural decay. Overall the piano playing experience is as good as it gets in this price range. Even though there are some other brands that are also impressive, you need to spend a lot more money for those brands to get something that competes well with the CA401 when it comes to playing piano and getting closer to a grand piano playing experience.

Does the CA401 have the most instrument sounds, the most powerful speaker amplification system, or the most bells & whistles in its price range right now? The answer is no. Yamaha, Roland, and even the new Casio models have more bells & whistles and some with a more powerful internal speaker system with more amplification.

CA401 rosewood
CA401

But the real question is…for $3100, which digital piano playing experience out there if closest to that of a real acoustic piano and even closest to a real baby grand piano? In our opinion it would be this Kawai CA401 for its amazingly responsive and comfortable key action in this price range as the 1st reason, its 88-note individually sampled stereo piano sounds, its “grand feel” pedaling, and its natural sounding internal speaker system, along with its attractive and functional cabinet.

Those are the reasons we think the Kawai CA401 comes out on top. The other things it does can be useful, fun, educational, and help in various musical ways. Nevertheless, this piano is all about “piano playing” and if this lines up with what you are looking for then we believe you cannot lose. It’s just difficult to be negative about the CA401.

Kawai CA501 piano
Kawai CA501 satin black

Are there things that I wish it had that are not on there? Yes, absolutely because I like using digital piano and recording technology and I do more things with my music than what the CA401 can generally provide me. But that’s no problem because the next model up called the CA501 gives me the same Grand Feel Compact key action and grand feel pedals but everything else is upgraded on the CA501 including the piano sound, speaker & amp system, and various functions & features.

 

Kawai Logo

With the upgraded CA501 and the more impressive CA701 above that, then all I have to do is spend more money to get either one of them. It really just depends on what you want to do musically, who’s going to play it, what kind of music you’ll be playing, your skill level, how long you want to own the piano, and how much money you want to invest in the piano. The nice thing is that the Kawai piano company gives you options in different price ranges to get something that will work for you.

But if you are mainly wanting to play piano and get a great experience doing so on a new digital piano in this approx $3000 price range, then the CA401 may be the perfect piano for you. Now you just have to order it if you think it fits your needs. Before you order any brand or model, please contact us first because we can help you get what you want, and for less money.

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

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