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My new Kawai CS11 "box of lies" #2661474
07/14/17 06:20 PM
07/14/17 06:20 PM
Joined: May 2017
Posts: 2
Cary NC
Joe Baron Offline OP
Junior Member
Joe Baron  Offline OP
Junior Member

Joined: May 2017
Posts: 2
Cary NC
Short version: Finally decided that at age 60+ I needed/wanted/deserved a really good piano, bought a Kawai CS11,and I'm very happy.

Long version: I've been playing since age 8 or so, almost always classical. Lessons until about age 15, music major first time around in college (engineering the second time around), and self-taught since then. On a good day, I'm pretty good, but never anywhere near where I really want to be. Over the years, I have owned many pianos, and at least when in school had access to better ones than I owned, but I have never owned a piano as good as I wanted. We grew up playing some old upright hulk that was, well, a piano. Far, far better than no piano, but nothing to write home about. After I got married, I bought several used pianos. For a while I had a 1950s era Wurlitzer waterfall upright in rosewood, very pretty piano, light action, nice sound, but badly in need of some action work and new strings. Then I replaced it with a 1980s? era Yamaha U series studio upright. Not a very pretty piano, but serviceable, action too heavy and sound much too bright for my taste, and also in need of action work at 30+ years old. Both are still in the family, but a move became the impetus to buy a new piano once we were settled in.

I'm a computer geek, and some time early on (1990s maybe) I first looked at digital keyboards. My thought was, "This would be really cool if only they could add sympathetic resonance." I then stopped paying much attention until a few years ago, when I started researching digitals again, to find that they have gotten really good. I tried a few in stores here and there, and was favorably impressed. In 2014, just on a lark, and based on best-bang-for-the-buck reviews at that time, I bought a Casio Privia PX-850 online for about $1000. My thought was, we keep late hours, I like to play at night, it will be a second piano I can play with headphones. Well, I ended up playing almost exclusively on the Casio, and mostly without headphones, because it was a far better piano than my old Yamaha U series upright. Not perfect, by any stretch -- for one thing, it didn't *look* like a piano should look -- but by far the best sounding and best playing piano I had ever owned. Good enough to mostly get out of the way and let the music challenge me. My teenage daughter hated the Casio, called it a "box of lies!" and would only play on the upright. My wife and my daughter both wanted me to buy a baby grand. I, however, was intrigued by the digital pianos, and decided that I really just wanted to get a better "box of lies."

Last year, we moved and downsized, gave away a lot of stuff, including the old Yamaha upright. I started searching for a more perfect "box of lies." Based on lots research here and elsewhere, the candidates were:

Yamaha CLP 585
Kawai CA 97 / CS11
Casio GP 500
Roland LX17 (or LX7)
and... Pianoteq 5 or another VST connected to something, like a good stage piano in a grand piano shell.

I wanted a good piano sound, choice of pianos would be a nice extra. I wanted a really good grand-piano-like action with a long pivot, and a very light action. It had to look like a piano should look, and it should not cost much more that $5k. I quickly decided that I wanted a piano, not a project, so I eliminated the idea of a stage piano in a shell, but still was interested in the supposedly better sampled and modeled sounds in VST pianos.

Now, to try them all, and hopefully to compare them side-by-side. This is no easy feat in the US; I really envy you guys in other parts of the world that can do this more easily. In the US, usually a dealer carries one or, if you are really lucky, two of the brands. I could find most all of these except the Casio, but not side-by-side. The Casio GP was new to the US market, and just really hard to find at all.

First I tried the Yamahas, the CLP family up through the NU1 and Avant Grand. For my taste, far too much money, didn't like the heavy action, and I didn't really like the piano sound. And I really hated the strange foreshortened look of the Avant grands, though no way would I spend that kind of money in any case. All the Yamahas were convincing pianos, but just not to my taste. I tried a few Kawais here and there, and generally liked them. I could not find the Casio anywhere nearby, and just never got a chance to try a Roland. Then, when traveling on business, I found a piano dealer who was liquidating another piano dealer's whole store, and had all the pianos on my list. Finally, a chance to play the Casio GP, Kawai, and Roland side-by-side. (I had eliminated the Yamahas already.)

I spent about 4 hours comparing pianos. I started with the Casio GP, liked it a lot, but didn't like feel of the ivory-textured keys. Played the Roland, but just did not care for the sound at all. Then I played the Kawai CS11. For me at least, it was nearly perfect, and it made me wonder what I liked about the Casio GP. To me, the CS11 had beautiful piano sounds, had an absolutely gorgeous action feel, nice and fast and light, and the polished ebony small upright style cabinet looked like a piano should look. I had found my new piano. I went back home, and ordered a Kawai CS11 from a local dealer.

A few months later, I'm just absolutely in love with this piano. It both gets out of the way, and challenges me. It lets me challenge myself with the music, my interpretation, and my technique. It is just me and the music. I found that I had learned many bad habits over the years that were (at least partly) ways to compensate for a crappy upright piano. For example, I often played with the soft pedal on, because on a crappy upright, the hammers closer to the string let me play more quickly, and also cut down the overly bright sound. I also over-used the sustain pedal, even when playing Bach, because my pianos just sounded like crap without it. On the Kawai, I can play Bach and Scarlatti without pedal, and it is just right. With other music, Mozart, Beethoven, Mendelssohn, Chopin, Debussy, I can really work on my pedal technique. Especially with the SK Grand (default) piano sound, I can play phenomenally quietly without using the soft pedal, and I find myself using it only very rarely for pp passages to change the timbre and play super quietly. I alternate between the (default) SK-EX concert grand sound and the SK5 studio grand depending on what I am playing.

So what do I dislike about this piano? Not much, mostly small things. I just don't care for the EX grand sound. I find the music shelf uncomfortably low and too close to the keys. I wish the piano pedals were a bit bigger, full-size like they are on the Yamahas. I like that the controls are hidden under a flap, but I find them hard to see and sometimes confusing to navigate. One or two keys have started to have a bit of a just-barely-noticeable mechanical click. (I'm going to wait to see if a few more start making noise before calling it in for warranty service.)

Oh, and I did buy Pianoteq 5, and I sometimes use it connected back through the CS11 speakers. It works great, and the Steinway D4 and Bluethner are really nice pianos, certainly different and maybe even nicer than the sampled sounds in the CS11. But it is a pain to grab my laptop and connect it before playing. I want to just sit down and play a really beautiful, responsive piano whenever the spirit moves me, and the CS11 with its built-in sampled piano sounds -- left powered on all the time -- serves that purpose really well.


Joe Baron / Cary NC, USA
Kawai CS11 + PianoTeq5
Piano & Music Gifts & Accessories (570)
Piano accessories and music gift items
Re: My new Kawai CS11 "box of lies" [Re: Joe Baron] #2663084
07/21/17 04:40 PM
07/21/17 04:40 PM
Joined: Jul 2017
Posts: 206
Salish Sea
Qwerty53 Offline
Full Member
Qwerty53  Offline
Full Member

Joined: Jul 2017
Posts: 206
Salish Sea
This is so helpful! I've just returned to playing (after fift+ years off) on an entry-level Yamaha P-115, and already I'm wishing for the nuances of an acoustic piano. Or at least the opportunity to explore those nuances! Yet an acoustic isn't practical where I am, so I have been wondering whether a digital piano upgrade would be worthwhile. Your explorations suggest a place for me to start; thanks for sharing. Happy playing!


”Mister Upright,” Yamaha YUS5.
Re: My new Kawai CS11 "box of lies" [Re: Joe Baron] #2700614
12/30/17 10:46 AM
12/30/17 10:46 AM
Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 10
MB, Canada
grburgess Offline
Junior Member
grburgess  Offline
Junior Member

Joined: Feb 2015
Posts: 10
MB, Canada
NIce evaluation. I like both digital and acoustic pianos, but I ended up buying the Kawai K300 acoustic, and I love that everything works fantastic on a brand new piano.


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