AZ Piano Reviews

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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

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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 ES120 ReviewUPDATED REVIEW – May 1, 2024 – Kawai ES120 digital piano – $949 internet discount  price (stand & triple pedal optional) | LOW PRICE HERE The new Kawai ES120 is the 2024 replacement of the popular ES110 which had been out for a number of years and is now discontinued. The ES120 has already become very popular with people looking for the most life-like piano playing experience in a portable digital piano under $1000.
With some digital pianos and brands, new versions of previous models may not have many or big upgrades, so things can change but in just minor ways. However, in the case of this new ES120, nearly everything has been redesigned and upgraded in some very noticeable ways from the previous model. This would include the key action, acoustic piano sounds, pedals, functionality, features, and even the appearance of the ES120 is more refined and more visually appealing. This model not only comes in black and in white, but it’s now available in a new contemporary color called “light gray.”
Kawai ES120 light grayThe control panel user interface is also more intuitive than before with access to additional features at a touch of a button rather than diving deep into an owners manual or display menu and getting somewhat confused. There is even a new app for iOS or Android called Kawai “piano Remote” which allows you to access most of the internal features of the ES120 from the touch screen of your external device for more intuitive control.
Kawai ES120 digital pianoI can say for sure that after playing this new model extensively, of all the major brands in this price range under $1000 that produce portable digital pianos, I believe this new Kawai model has the best and most responsive playing key action along with impressive piano sound and pedaling. It also has a few impressive “bells & whistles” which are always enjoyable to have. But the ES120 is primarily focused on the “piano playing experience” and the authenticity of that experience as compared to a real acoustic piano.
Kawai ES120I seldom give out this type of endorsement on a digital piano under $1000, but in this case I have not found anything wrong with this new Kawai ES120. Does it have everything that I would want in a digital piano under $1000? The answer would be no because there are always a few additional things that I would personal want to have. But is this new model the best one under $1000 with regard to a portable digital piano which focuses on offering an impressive piano playing experience, especially when it comes to the realism of the key action movement and piano sound? The answer would be…Yes.
The only other portable digital piano in this price range under $1000 that in my opinion competes in different ways with the Kawai ES120 would be the popular Casio PX-S3100 at $879, and I have done a detailed review of that particular piano on this site.
So what are the things that make this new ES120 model so good, especially as compared to the other major brands out there under $1000? Please read my review details below.
 
Lower Price than Amazon or Internet

 

KEY ACTION INTRO

Key Action Realism
The most important aspect of any piano, whether it is acoustic or digital, is the key action and the way the keys move when you are playing them. Every brand out there likes to say that they have the “best” key action when it comes to the models they offer…that’s normal and expected. No manufacturer will suggest their piano key actions are not good.
In fact, none of the top name brands have bad key actions and in reality the portable digital pianos out there under $1000 and under $2000 are playable. That’s not the issue. The issue is always how comfortable is the key action when it comes to they way it impacts your fingers, hands, and wrists and also how responsive are the keys when you play them as those keys go down and then come back up?
Key actionThen there is the amount of force it takes when you press down the keys at the front of the keys as opposed to the backs of the keys as you are going from the white keys to the black keys? There are all kinds of dynamics when it comes to key actions and your interaction when playing those keys.
There is also the “noise” factor. What I mean by that is…how noisy or quiet are the keys when they are moving? How sturdy is the key action and do you hear those keys producing loud mechanical noise when the keys are moving? All keys in key actions produce some noise when they are moving because they are mechanical. But is that mechanical noise “too much” and noticeably distracting with knocking, thumping, or rattling sounds when the keys go down or come back up?
These are all things that concern piano players, especially as you because a bit more advanced in your playing skills. At first these key action things (too heavy, too light, too loud, too uneven, etc) may not bother you or you may not notice them…and that’s OK. But as you become a bit more skilled in your playing, then you will notice these things and at that point you will likely not be happy about it and some or all of these things may inhibit your growth in piano playing.

KAWAI ES120 KEY ACTION DETAILS

 
Kawai ES120 RH-Compact-Action
So where does the Kawai ES120 key action fit into all of this? Well…here is the bottom line: this new and improved key action, which Kawai calls RH Compact, after playing it for quite a while, in my opinion it “checks all the boxes” when it comes to a quality key action that plays in the most realistic way possible within this price range with quicker key movement, more comfort, for the fingers, noticeably quieter mechanical key action noise, and improved responsiveness over the previous model.
There are a number of noticeably heavier key actions out there for portable digital pianos under $1000 including the competitive Roland FP-30X which is heavier in key movement and can be a bit fatiguing to play, especially for novice and recreational players. The weight and balance of the keys going from the white keys to the black keys and moving up & down seems to be more unbalanced on the Roland but almost perfect on the Kawai ES120 based on measuring the key down-weight (aka: touch-weight) and the key return up-weight force measured in grams on middle C and C# which I personally did.
Key actionIn other words, you will thoroughly enjoy the playability of this new Kawai ES120 when it comes to the key action. It’s comfortable and quiet to play over long periods of time because of improvements Kawai made to the key action materials, and this newer key action would be good for about any piano playing skill level (beginner through advanced) within this price range.
There are just 2 things that other key actions may have that this ES120 does not, but I don’t believe they are of real importance or are “deal-breakers.” One of those things is what is known as “escapement” or “let-off” which is a “feeling your fingers would experience in grand pianos when a key is slowly depressed about 1/2 way down. There is a notch or hesitation in the key movement when playing very slowly on a grand piano, but not on an upright piano.
In a digital piano with that “escapement” feature, this feeling is typically simulated with a piece of rubber material or other material in the key action that tries to reproduce this sensation you get in your fingers on a grand piano. But…I don’t find it to be very realistic in digital pianos and it can get in the way of your playing sometimes. Plus…most people don’t even feel this simulation depending on how you are playing the keys. In other words…it’s definitely not a big deal. I think it is more of a marketing tool by a piano manufacturer than anything else, especially in the lower price ranges.
The other feature that Kawai does not have on the ES120 keys is “simulated ivory” key-tops for its white keys. Kawai instead chooses to use a white matte finish on the white keys which is smoother with no “simulated” grain. Some other digital piano manufacturers use a simulated ivory material (not ivory) to try and “simulate” real ivory white key-tops that were used in acoustic keys many decades ago.
The simulated (not real) material used by the digital piano manufacturers on their white key-tops is nice, but not absolutely necessary. Besides, real acoustic pianos do not have real ivory surfaces on their white keys anymore and it’s been many years (decades) since they could use real ivory.
key action down-weightNevertheless, the way the keys move on the ES120 and how quiet they are is very impressive. The faster responsiveness of the key action with excellent key-weight at approx 55 grams of down-weight force on middle C and 54 grams of down-weight force on middle C# gives you a lighter and more consistent key movement. When pressing down on the keys you want them to be comfortable to play and the ES120 definitely makes that happen.
Key action upweightThe upweight return force at 37 grams on middle C, and 37 grams of up-weight force on middle C# is even and comfortable to play when the key comes back up. The keys on the ES120 are not sluggish or too forceful and Kawai did an outstanding job in this lower price range of producing an impressive key action movement. You just cannot get better than that for any portable digital piano in this price range under $1000. OK, now that I have exhausted that subject, let’s move on to the “piano sound” realism.

PIANO SOUND REALISM

Piano sound realism
Piano sound realism in a digital piano is dependent on what the manufacturer did to get that sound. How did they “sample or record that original piano sound sound, or did they synthesize it electronically? Did only some notes get sampled from a real piano and the other notes were electronically “stretched” up or down from the fewer sampled notes to save money by not sampling or individually recording every one of the 88 notes from a real piano?
Piano samplingThere are a lot of things that go into producing a real piano sound in a digital piano and you want to be sure that when you paying close to $1000 for a new digital piano that you get the most authentic and organic piano sound that you can get for the money. Most digital pianos out there use a technology where the manufacturer samples (records) a limited amount of notes from a real piano and you don’t really know how good that technology is and the process they actually use to get their piano sounds.
The most popular and cost efficient way of  obtaining piano sounds in a digital piano is to sample (record) one of them and then electronically stretch that note up to the next 3 or 4 notes without actually having recorded those additional notes individually on the real acoustic piano. In other words, one note is actually recorded from a real piano but the next few notes are not sampled…they’re just electronically stretched to become to next few notes on that digital piano and they usually don’t sound as real.
piano samplingThis is a cost efficient way of having the notes without sampling/recording all of them individually. It’s more of a synthesized method of getting all 88 notes. So in a group of notes/keys, one, or more may actually be recorded from a real piano but the others are copies of the first note and then stretched to be “in tune” to become higher notes.
This process is somewhat synthesized but for many people who are beginners, you may not be able to hear the difference because you don’t know what to listen for yet. But…if you want the most accurate rendering of a real piano sound, “individual note sampling” is the best way to get that piano sound.
Beyond that process, a real piano sound has organic elements in it besides the original recorded tone. There are things like over-tones, sympathetic vibrations, dynamic tonal expression, hammer noise, resonances, and other organic tones that piano have that go beyond the simple sound of the note. Digital pianos that don’t have these organic tonal elements sound “fake” and artificial and just plain like a toy piano.
If you are wanting to focus on having the most realistic piano playing experience that you can have for around or under $1000 in a new digital piano, then you will need to pay attention to how that manufacturer got their piano sound and what they did to get it into their digital piano.
You’ll need to see if that particular digital piano model has some or all of those additional organic tonal elements to make the piano sound as real as possible. Dynamic tonal range and expression is what piano teachers look for in any piano and the ES120 has those two important elements so that the piano sound is more “alive” and has more musical color when you play it.
I believe that if you are going to spend around or under $500 for a very entry level digital piano, then these things are not near as important because you are getting a more basic digital piano with more basic technology, and that’s OK for under $500. But once you are near or above $1000 price range, then you should pay attention to the piano sound technology and dynamic range in that model.

KAWAI ES120 PIANO SOUND TECHNOLOGY

ES120 piano sound list

The ES120 has seven different grand piano sounds in it and one upright piano sound (see list above), which is a completely different piano tone as compared to grand pianos. So there are a total of 8 acoustic piano sounds in the ES120 giving you a lot of variety so that you can play all styles of piano music depending on which piano sound fits best.

Kawai ES120 cabinetThe Kawai ES120 is unique among its peers when it comes to the piano sound in this price range. This is because Kawai samples (records) the piano sounds in the ES120 from their best full acoustic Kawai grand pianos and the recordings of those notes/keys are done individually for each of the 88 notes/keys on the ES120. In other words, there is no electronic stretching of the sampled notes, no synthesis, and no low end recording technology.
Kawai uses this “individual 88-note stereo note sampling” process on all of their digital pianos including this lower priced ES120 at $949. The piano sounds are recorded in stereo and each note is recorded/sampled individually so that every note you play and hear in the ES120 is from the real piano. It’s good to know that there is also something called “sample memory.” Sample memory is the resolution or quality of the piano sound based on the memory in that sound chip.
Kawai piano sampling technology

Kawai has 3 different piano sound chip engines for their portable ES models which include this ES120 at $949, their ES520 at $1399, and their top ES920 at $1899. I call these 3 sound chips…good, better, and best. But the interesting thing is based on my playing experience with all these models along with the other brands, what Kawai has as their “good” piano sound chip in this $949 model ES120, as compared to other brands piano sound realism, you would need to get to at least $1500 to $2000 before some of these other top brands would come close to this ES120 as far as the piano sound realism goes.

In other words, the Kawai piano sound technology and 88-key sampling is so good, that it rivals other models from other brands that are twice the price. Then when you move up to the $1399 Kawai ES520 and then the $1899 ES920, the acoustic piano sounds in those models are even more organic and realistic in my opinion than some current digital pianos in much higher price ranges from digital piano companies like Roland, for instance.
Kawai 88-key piano samplingKawai also offers those extra organic tonal elements in its piano sounds. This includes brilliance, voicing (expression), touch curve, hammer fall-back noise, and damper resonance which is the piano sound resonating in a more natural way when you are holding down the sustain pedal and getting sustained piano tones. These are just some of the ways that the piano sound can be customized and edited with these individual organic piano sound elements.
What this proves is that piano sound technology in different digital piano brands and models is not all the same. There are some huge differences, and if you want the most realistic piano sound reproduction you can get within this price range (under $1000) in a portable digital piano, it does not get better than this newer Kawai ES120 with 88-key sampling based on all my playing time on it.

PIANO SOUND “SMART MODE” CHART

Smart mode chart
 
Kawai also has a cool feature called “Piano Smart Mode.” This features has 10 factory preset modes (as you can see in the above chart) that give you instant piano sound customization based on the type of piano sound you want to hear. In other words, you don’t have to do any individual editing or changes to the piano sounds if you want it to sound different.
You would just use the “Smart Mode” feature and then you would have instant custom factory settings beyond the 8 pianos that are already in the ES120. This feature takes any of those 8 piano sounds and alters them so that if you want more resonance or less resonance, or want it to be more mellow or a brighter sound, etc, then these preset modes will automatically do that for you.
 It’s nice to know you can get “professional type settings” in an instant way without having to be a “rocket scientist” so to speak. 

PIANO POLYPHONY

192-note piano polyphony

 

Piano polyphony are words that show up in digital piano specs that indicate how much piano processing power is in the piano chip/sound engine. Generally speaking, the more the polyphony, the better the piano sound and response. However, having more polyphony power than you need is irrelevant if the piano sound is not good or not realistic.
Polyphony alone doesn’t make the piano necessarily play or sound better. It’s the right combination of polyphony power, sound realism, and organic resonances that make the difference. With the ES120 having 192 notes of polyphony, that’s more than enough polyphony power to play even very complex piano music on the ES120.
Also, having 192 notes of polyphony is more than enough piano processing power to layer/mix 2 sounds together at the same time. Some digital pianos have 256 note polyphony or higher and some have 128 notes of polyphony or lower. The ES120 has plenty of “polyphony” to give you a very satisfying piano playing experience without any “note-dropout” which can happen when polyphony is 96 notes or less.

PEDALING

Kawai sustain pedal
 
All digital pianos need a sustain pedal and the ES120 is no exception. The sustain pedal comes with the ES120 and although it is a more basic plastic sustain pedal, it is better than most in its design and has friction points on the pedal so that your foot can stay on it better. The included pedal is an on/off switch type pedal which allows you to have sustain on or sustain off.
Kawai F10H sustain pedalKawai also makes an optional upgraded sustain pedal called the F-10H which is a more durable and larger metal pedal. This pedal is also heavier which allows it to more easily stay in place and will likely hold up better over time. Another important aspect of this upgraded sustain pedal is that it can trigger the half-damper effect. Half-damper is another name for variable sustain level. Real acoustic piano sustain pedals allow for a variable amount of “sustain” depending on how far you press down the pedal.
This variable sustain is the most realistic piano sustain sound that you can get from a sustain pedal. The included plastic pedal is only on or off and there is no variable sustain level. The on/off sustain pedal will be fine for most people, especially if you are not a more advanced player. But you can always order the upgraded F-10H pedal for another $70 if you should want it.
Kawai GFP-3 triple pedal for Kawai ES120The next pedal option for this model is the portable triple pedal unit called the GFP-3. For people who want the convenience and upgraded operation of a 3-pedal system in a smaller metal chassis and don’t want or need the furniture stand and furniture pedalbar that you can otherwise get for the ES120, this GFP3 is a great option and works like any traditional piano triple pedal, but it’s less money, very durable, and is portable. You just place it on the floor, plug it into the piano, and then you can use all 3 pedals in a traditional way along with getting half-damper variable sustain. We definitely recommend this model and it’s priced online at $139.
ES120 with furniture stand and triple pedal barKawai also has the optional full triple pedal bar which attaches to the optional furniture stand. That triple pedal unit cannot be used without that optional furniture stand, so if you think you need all 3 pedals then you’ll also have to get that furniture stand. That’s not a bad thing but you’ll need to allocate more money to do that. The bottom line is that one sustain pedal should be enough for most people when it comes to playing the ES120 and using the piano sounds.
As for the quality of the sustained piano sound when using the pedal, that piano sound is very good and full of life when the piano sounds are sustaining when using the pedal. The decay time is long and even like you would find in a real acoustic piano. This is not necessarily the case with other brands and models of digital pianos, especially in the off-brands. The pedal and the quality of the sustained piano sound coming from the piano is very important and should not be overlooked. A well sustained piano tone that is even, long in duration, and that has lots of pedal resonance and natural organic pedal tones will enhance the music and make it more natural and more beautiful.
My recommendation is to try to get a digital piano with the best pedaling response and sound that you can get in your price range, regardless of your playing skill level. The ES120 is impressive in that way and it was a pleasure to play and also use the pedal for beautifully sustained piano tones that have that 88-key sampling for more realistic piano sound and sustained tones

INSTRUMENT SOUNDS

instrumental sound list
Besides having eight different acoustic piano sounds, the ES120 has 17 other non-acoustic piano sounds including vintage electric pianos, organs, strings, choir, bass, harpsichord, and synth. So there are a total of 25 sounds and those additional instruments are really quite good. Some of those instrument tones that are included on other brands of digital pianos can be somewhat artificial and fake and really don’t sound that great.
keyboard gifOn the ES120 those additional sounds are actually very good overall and have a lot of realism to them. So if you like additional sounds, especially the ones that are in the ES120 such as the organ sounds, strings, choir, vintage electric pianos, etc, then you’ll be pleased with what you hear and the tonal expression you’ll get out of them. The sounds are located in 3 sound category buttons called piano, electric piano, and “others.” In the electric piano button the organ sounds are also accessed from that button.
You can layer (mix) any 2 instrument sounds together and you can also “split” any 2 sounds with one instrument sound for the right hand and one for the left hand. Those features are very useful and can add an additional dimension to your music that you won’t get from just playing a piano sound alone. Also, you can adjust the relative volume between those 2 sounds so the volume balance between those two instrument sounds is adjusted correctly.
violinsSo when it comes to the additional instrument sounds on this model along with the acoustic piano sounds, in my opinion you will enjoy them very much and they are also at a higher level of realism than most other digital pianos in this price range. It is also good to know that there are other digital pianos in this price range with many more instrument sounds with up to 700 or more of them.
We’re talking about sounds like trumpets, saxophones, banjos, guitars, flutes, bells, synthesizers, and variations of sounds that seem almost never ending on other brands and models. If you want access to a lot of different sounds, literally hundreds of sounds, then the ES120 may not be the right instrument for you.
If you primarily want to “play piano” with an excellent piano playing experience with a variety of quality acoustic piano sounds along with some additional sounds like those vintage electric pianos, organs, choir, harpsichord, etc, then the ES120 may be the perfect instrument for you in that way.

REVERB EFFECTS

ES120 reverb settings

 

Reverb effectsReverb effects can be a very important part of the piano sound. This is because a real piano has a lot of space in it and the piano sound vibrates within that space and creates a natural echo or reverb sound. Without that natural reverberating sound the piano sound itself would sound dull and plain without much life. The bigger the acoustic piano cabinet such as a large grand grand piano, the more reverberation you will get along with longer resonating tones.

 

Many digital pianos have a “reverb” feature that tries to digitally reproduce that reverb/echo experience you would get from a real piano. The digital reverb is not the same in all digital pianos. The technology that is used to recreate the “reverb” in digital pianos can vary quite a bit with some digital reverberation sounding very fake and artificial in many digital pianos, and in some other brands and models the digital reverberation sounds really good…almost like the real thing, very natural.
I bring this up because even though the reverb feature may seem like a small thing, it is actually very important to the overall piano playing experience. The Kawai ES120 has a noticeably authentic reverb feature for this price range where it really helps the piano sound become even more “alive” and realistic, based on my playing experience with it.
Concert hall reverbThere are actually 6 modes or variations of reverb sound. They are called “room, lounge, small hall, concert hall, live hall, and Cathedral.” Each setting is different and tries to recreate the experience you would have in listening to a real acoustic grand piano in those types of buildings or venues.
This “reverb” variety can be useful depending on the song you are playing and the piano experience that you are looking for. It’s very enjoyable to use and Kawai does a very good job with this feature.
With regard to “effects,” one other effects feature in the ES120 that would be used primarily as effects for the other instrumental ( non-piano) sounds are the vintage effects.  This would include effects like chorus, tremolo, delays, panning, and rotary. These special effects are especially good with the electric pianos, organs, and bass sounds. You can also combine the reverb effects with the other effects to create your own customer effects for different sounds.

OTHER FEATURES & FUNCTIONS

other features & functions
The ES120 has a variety of other features and functions which can be useful. This would include a transpose function that digitally allows you to change the key that you are playing in by going up or down from normal transpose position. There is a direct access transpose button on the control panel which was not on the previous model. This button makes it much easier to use this feature and it is more intuitive that way.
Other additional functions include a brightness control to enhance the overall sound, speaker on/off, speaker EQ, auto power off, temperament modes, touch curve settings, demo songs, a full song library, and a few other things.

REGISTRATION MEMORIES

Registration Memories
A good thing to have in any digital piano is a way to save and recall certain sound set-ups that you have created. For instance, if you have two favorite sounds you want to layer together and you adjust the relative volume for those sounds, and then you put reverb effects on those sounds along with maybe transposing that sound to a different key, then the ES120 can save that setting so you don’t have to recreate it every time you turn on the piano.
4 registration memoriesThe Kawai ES120 has 4 registration memories for saving your custom setups. Four memories can be enough for many people because some digital pianos don’t have any memories for saving your sound and effects settings. But there are other models like the popular Casio PXS3100 where you can save up to 96 setups into 96 memories.
Having 4 memories for your setups on the ES120 gives you at least a way to save your 4 favorite combinations and then instantly recall them when you want to use them again. This can be very useful and I tend to use these registration memories because I like to get creative with the different features on the piano so this allows me to store what I like and then quickly use that same setup again at another time.
power up memoryThere is one more “memory” feature available on this new Kawai model and it’s called “power up memory.” You can set up your favorite most used piano or instrument sound setting along with effects, layer, or split, etc to instantly come up when you first power up the ES120. If you just normally power up the ES120 then the first thing you’ll get is the main piano sound.
But if you want more than just the default piano sound when you first turn on the piano, then you can save any piano or instrument sound setup to come up as the new “default” setting when you first turn on the piano. Maybe you want a “brighter” piano sound or a more mellow piano sound, or you want piano & strings together, or you want extra reverb echo on the piano sound when you first turn on the piano. With the ES120 you can have a “power-on” default setting and have it be whatever you want. It’s just another way to make using the ES120 more enjoyable.

METRONOME & DRUM RHYTHMS

Drummer and metronome feature

 

MetronomeLike many other digital pianos, the ES120 has a digital metronome to help with timing when you practice and play your music. Timing can involve different time signatures like 3/4, 4/4, 6/8 and other tempos. You can also slow down and speed up the metronome sound so that you can practice at any speed. The metronome feature on this model works well and is useful.
However, to help you even more with rhythm and timing, the ES120 also has drum beats. It has a big library of 100 drum rhythm patterns that actually sound fairly real (like a real drummer) and those patterns include Jazz, rock, Latin, country, waltz, march, with a huge variety of them. You can just select your favorite drum pattern and then set the tempo and start it up. Then you can play along with the drummer so that you can still learn the proper timing while having more fun.
Drum setPlaying along with a drummer is not only more fun than using a metronome, but it really does help you learn different rhythms for different styles of music. Some digital pianos in this price range have drum rhythms and some do not. It is a useful feature and I definitely recommend it, especially if you’ll be playing music other than classical.
With classical music drum rhythms are not as useful, but with all the other styles it is very helpful and it’s enjoyable to have as part of your music. Either way, a digital metronome and/or the drum rhythm styles in a digital piano can go a long way to helping people of all skill levels do better in their practicing and timing abilities.

RECORDING & PLAYBACK

Recording and playback features
record & playback featureThe ES120 has a recording and playback feature but it is somewhat basic. For many people all they want to do is be able to record a song all at one time, then stop it, and then play it back to hear what you sounded like. This would enable you to see how your practice is going and allow you to hear any mistakes you made so that you can correct them the next time. While the playback of the song is going, you can also play “live” on top of that recorded song to add some fun to your playing.
one track, 3 song recorderThe record and playback feature in this model has a left hand/right hand simultaneous song recorder where you record one song at a time for both hands and then you can save up to 3 separate songs in the internal memory of the piano. If you want to erase your recordings you can do that or you can just rerecord of the top of the previous recording. The recording format is in the MIDI platform and there is no audio recording available nor can you save recordings externally onto a USB thumb-drive.

With other digital pianos you can save more recorded songs along with being able to record and playback left and right hand parts separately for individual tracks. Some digital pianos can also record in the wav file or MP3 formats as well. But the ES120 record feature, although it is rather basic, it works well and should be enough to let you hear what you are doing with up to 3 recorded songs saved into memory.

HEADPHONE PRIVATE PRACTICE

Kawai SHS headphone

 

When it comes to owning a digital piano, one of the more practical benefits to having one is being able to play in silence and practice privately without disturbing others in the room building. Having a built-in stereo headphone jack allows you to plug in a standard pair of stereo headphones so that no one else will hear the sound coming out and then the internal speakers are automatically shut off.
Digital pianos cannot, however, use wireless Bluetooth headphones because of what is known as “audio latency” (aka: signal delay). But a good pair of wired headphones will work fine and that’s what I use in my studio. However, with any headphones it’s good to have optimum sound for your digital piano and the ES120 goes way beyond most other digital pianos in this way, especially in the price range.
Spatial headphone sound
What Kawai adds to the ES120 in the way of headphone sound features is called “Spatial headphone sound” and also headphone “type.” The spatial headphone sound digital recreates the “sound field” so that you can electronically move the sound forward, in the center, or in a wide stereo position so that it will sound like the sound is coming into your headphones from different positions in the room.
It would be like having no headphones on and hearing the sound more in front of you, more in the center of the room, or more spread out. So it gives you control over the positioning of the piano sound within your headphones. You don’t need “special” headphones to use this feature. However, the better your headphone sound quality is, the better the results will be when using this feature.
Headphone type
With the “Headphone Type” feature, this technology “optimizes” the sound coming into your headphones depending on the actual type of headphones you are using. Whether those headphones are open, closed, small, in-ear, etc, the piano sound in your headphones will be automatically optimized when you select the type of headphones from the menu in the ES120.
All of these things just makes the headphone listening experience that much more realistic and it’s helpful and makes things sound better when you use stereo headphones to practice privately. I don’t know of another brand or model in this price range that gives you this much control over the headphone experience. So if you will be using headphones at all, this is a very good feature to have.

BLUETOOTH WIRELESS STREAMING

 

Bluetooth wirelessThe Kawai ES120 has now been upgraded from the previous model to include Bluetooth wireless MIDI and Bluetooth wireless audio connectivity. These 2 Bluetooth formats allow you to connect an external device such as an iPad to the piano without the need for using a connecting USB cable. Also, you can connect an external Bluetooth sound source like your phone to play your external music library (songs) from that device and use the ES120 as a stereo speaker system to hear those songs.
Whether it would be your external music library or even a YouTube music video on your device, you could hear all that music coming through the ES120 internal stereo speaker system streaming from your device. That’s a really cool feature and I like taking advantage of it. It also allows you to play along live on your piano while having that streamed music coming out of it at the same time. There is a dedicated button on the front panel to access the Bluetooth feature unlike the previous model which did not have that.

PIANO CONTROL PANEL

Kawai ES120 control panel
The control panel on the ES120 has been completely redesigned from the previous model to function better, be more intuitive to use, and also look a lot better with sleeker and more contemporary buttons. The buttons and design have an elegant styling to them that give this model a more expensive appearance than many other digital pianos in this price range.
ES120 black - control panel buttonsThe color of the buttons are also different depending on which cabinet color you choose. For instance, the new contemporary light gray color cabinet has brass color buttons that contrast really well with that cabinet color, so that’s pretty cool. The black or white cabinets have chrome buttons to it a more modern look to it rather than standard buttons.
Even the shape and movement of the buttons have been redesigned to give the ES120 a fresh new look. I happens to like them a lot and sometimes it’s the “little things” that you visually see that can help make a positive difference. Also, after all, you’ll likely be looking at the piano should you purchase it so it’s good that it doesn’t look like a toy.
Kawai ES120 control panel buttonsThere are 9 buttons which includes the power button, one master volume slider, and one of those function buttons is there to directly access the Bluetooth wireless feature. The other buttons access instrument sounds and other features.
So overall it’s fairly simple to use but you will still likely have to red the owners manual to access some functions since there is no display screen on the piano. That’s the only drawback as far as I am concerned. I would have preferred to have a built-in LCD user display screen.  However, Kawai has a proprietary controller app that takes care of that issue which I talk about below.

CONNECTIVITY  HARDWARE

Kawai ES120 back panel

 

The ES120 has the standard connectivity hardware that most people will want or need. This would include a USB output connector to an external device like a computer or tablet and two 1/4″ standard output audio jacks to connect the ES120 to an external sound system or monitors should you need that.
headphone jacksThe optional triple pedal from Kawai also connects to the back of the piano. There are 2 headphone jacks on the front of the piano to connect up to two pairs of headphones and those connector jacks include one 1/4″ and one 1/8″ jack. The ES120 does not have an audio input jack or microphone jack, but most people don’t need those types of jacks, although they would have been good to have. But overall, Kawai does a good job for connectivity hardware on this model.

INTERNAL SPEAKER SYSTEM

speaker gif

 Kawai has definitely upgraded this new model with a noticeably better internal speaker system that offers more power at 20 watts (stereo) total power, a richer piano sound with better speakers mounted under the piano.  
The piano sound is also more realistic and balanced when playing at softer volumes due to new technology being used by Kawai to help the piano sound be more even and natural no matter how hard or soft you are playing or if you have the piano set to a lower master volume.

“PIANO REMOTE” CONTROLLER APP

Kawai Piano Remote controller app
Kawai Piano Remote app“Piano Remote” is Kawai’s newest and most comprehensive app for controlling functions and features on their digital pianos. With this new app, you can use the color touch screen on your external device (tablet/phone) to more easily control the features in the piano. Even though the ES120 itself does not have a user display screen, which I would have preferred, it does give you that experience when using your external device to actually see and more easily use functions within this model.
Kawai PIano Remote app instrument soundsThe Piano Remote app has all of the instrument sounds in the ES120 displayed on your device and you just touch the sound you want on the display screen of your device and then the piano is instantly set up to play it. You also have control over the layers, splits, record, drums/metronome, and other useful functions that you can visually see within this app on your device.
So even though Kawai does not have a display screen on the ES120, they make up for it with this very cool and visually pleasing app that takes the user experience to a higher level of understanding and enjoyment.

KAWAI ES120 CABINET

Kawai ES120 black cabinet

 

The ES120 comes by itself as just the piano with a lightweight plastic pedal and music rest/rack, or you can get it with an optional furniture style stand and triple pedalbar. The piano alone weighs in at 26 lbs and the measurements are 51″x 11″x 6″. So the piano is easy to transport and does not take up too much space. Kawai also makes a proprietary soft carry case for this model called the SC2 which is very nice.
Casio PX-870 pianoThe optional furniture stand and furniture style triple pedal unit is $89 each. However, most people just need a single pedal whether it be the smaller one that comes with the piano or the upgraded piano style portable single pedal for an additional $70. The ES120 does not have a built-in key cover like regular furniture cabinet models do.
Most people typically get a “portable digital piano” so they can have portability and move it more easily. But once you add the cost of the furniture stand and triple pedal unit to this piano (assuming you would want them), then that total cost is $1139 (plus tax) and you still don’t get a built-in cover or privacy panel for the piano. Once you are up to that price range, if you prefer a furniture cabinet with upgraded cabinet and internal speaker system, then at that point we would highly recommend the Casio PX-870 at $1199 internet discount price. Go to the following link to read my detailed review of that model: Casio PX-870 review

FINAL THOUGHTS

Final thoughts

 

When it comes to new digital pianos, the things that are most important to me is the key action, piano sound, pedaling, internal speaker system, and ease of use. With regard to portable digital pianos under $1000, there are many of them out there including name brans, off-brands, and brands that no one has ever heard of that are sold mostly on Amazon.
Kawai ES120In terms of providing a realistic piano playing experience in a portable lightweight cabinet, one thing is for sure. In my opinion there is nothing out there under $1000 that beats this ES120 for “piano playing.” I don’t say this lightly because there are other digital pianos that I like under $1000. Some have more bells & whistles and some are less money.
But the Kawai piano company of Japan has been able to offer a very impressive key action and piano sound technology that together gives it an edge over the other brands for the price range under $1000. The only other digital piano in a close price range that surpasses the ES120 in a couple of ways is the new Casio PX-S5000 at $1199. That model has a “hybrid” wood & resin key action along with impressive acoustic piano sound and upgraded digital technology. But it’s $250 more.
Kawai ES120 colorsBut for under $1000, if your musical goal is to mainly focus on the piano playing experience authenticity, in my experienced opinion there is nothing out there that can match the new ES120 for under $1000 when it comes to piano playing realism including portable digital pianos from Yamaha, Roland, Korg, etc.
If you want many more bells and whistles, then there are other better digital pianos in that way. But for many people it’s all about playing piano first and the others things second. The ES120 looks great, sounds more organic and natural, and the key action is amazing for its $949 price. So what more can you want? Perhaps this will be the perfect piano for you. Do your homework and then contact us…we can help you.

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

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0 Responses

  1. Probably the best and most comprehensive overview of this digital piano. This convinced me to buy it. Thank you ??

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