Today I spent about 1.5 hours in Thomann's shop, testing the Kawai Novus NV10 and, for comparison, some other digitals and acoustics. Here are a few of my impressions from that session.
TL;DR: I liked the NV10 well enough to have ordered one (or rather, to not have cancelled my preorder - but more about that below).
First of all, some background so that you know what you can expect from this "review": This is going to be more of a stream of consciousness write-up than a proper structured review. Also, I'm not an expert. Neither of digital pianos nor of acoustic pianos. Also not of sound systems or sound reproductions. So you won't find a detailed analysis about how every minute property of the action compares to every other digital (and acoustic) action out there. Neither anything about how the speaker/amp system is "heavy in bass" or "lacking in certain frequencies in the treble" or "overemphasizes the G4 when also playing a G-minor chord in the C3 octave", or how "the modeled harmonics for the C4 are rather a tad too sharp", or any such details.
Oh, and this might get a bit longish (<- understatement of the year!), as I tend to ramble, but you already saw my TL;DR, so that's all you need to know if you aren't up for a wall of text.
Today being a Saturday, I went to the shop rather early, to beat the crowd. Which was a good thing, because I had more than an hour of relatively quiet and undisturbed testing time, before around 11:00h or so, when the ambient noise picked up a lot and made further testing almost impossible (even with headphones - at least with my open backed ones).
To get sort of a baseline, I first played the Avant Grand N1 for a bit. It was how I remembered it. I.e. I didn't like it too much. Mainly because of the sound (which is of course a bit dated by now), but also because of the action feel. I always have problems on the Avant Grands, especially in fast passages.
Then I went over to the Kawai CA98, the successor of the CA97 that I currently have. I deliberately selected the SK-EX from the sound mode engine, which is the same as the SK-EX in my CA97, and as expected, I felt right at home. No wonder, as the CA98 has the same GFII action as my CA97.
Then I switched over to the new SK-EK rendering engine in pianist mode that the Novus also has. And yes, I think it does indeed sound even better than the "old" Hi-XL SK-EX that I am used to and like very well. So on that front, things were looking good in respect to how I would like the NV10.
Although I must say, if it were only about an upgrade from the CA97 to the CA98, I would pass at this time. The new pianist mode sound is very good, but the previous sound mode sound is also already very good, and just for the new sound mode, I wouldn't drop another 1500-1800 EUR (depending on how much I can get for my used CA97).
With that baseline established, I finally sat down at the Novus NV10.
First impression: Thank heavens, I do
like the look in real life too. I did like how it looked on the photos and in the videos, but was unsure how my impression would be in the real world. I think it's very sleek looking. High polish black piano finish, understated design, unobtrusive speakers on top.
Second impression: The action is way
different than the GFII in my CA97 (and the CA98)! At least to me. I have practically zero experience playing on grands. My whole piano education in my youth was on acoustic uprights only, and since then it was digitals all the way. That's also why having a grand piano was always a dream of mine and why I'm now so interested in this newest generation of hybrids, as it can finally get me as close to a grand as is possible with a digital (and for other reasons I actually prefer a digital over an acoustic grand). So I didn't really know what to expect. Remember how I said I didn't like the N1 too much because of the action feel? Turns out a good bit of that may have been because I'm simply not used to a grand action!
So what was so different? The action, at least of this particular unit, has a very
noticeable pressure point at the escapement. Much, much more than the simulated "escapement" of the GFII. Actually, even a bit more than the same Millennium III action in the Kawai GL30 and GL50 pianos that Thomann has in their show room, and that I tested for comparison. I wonder why there is such a noticeable difference? Maybe because the NV10 was brand new, and has not been played a lot yet, while the GL30 and GL50 have likely been in that show room for quite a while by now? Maybe the GLs are better regulated (or regulated worse - I don't know which of the two is "better")? Maybe there's a difference between different manufacturing batches of the Millennium III? [Side Note: I noticed counter weights visible in the sides of the bass keys of the NV10, that I don't remember seeing on the GLs, although I forgot to explicitly check for them - maybe that's also a sign that the actions are subtly different?].
I also noticed that the action has a lot of "bounce" (for want of a better word). Meaning, that if you press a key and release it quickly, it swings back up, actually going slightly higher than its resting position, then swinging back down again, a bit lower than its resting position, up again, etc. in an oscillating pattern before (after a very short time, i.e. a fracture of a second) it finally rests still in its normal position. This
I made sure to check on the GLs, and yes, on those the keys had the same "bounce back" behavior as on the NV10. So regarding that, the actions are
But what does all of this mean regarding how it plays? Surprisingly, to me, I got used to this different feel quite quickly and I had the feeling that I could control the action quite well. In contrast to the N1 action that I tried at first, I could play the fast passages, and fast ornaments, very well on the NV10 action (although that might have been because by now I was played in, while I tested the N1 "cold"). I got the feeling that the runs and ornaments were more under control and more even than what I usually manage on the CA97. Don't know if that is wishful thinking though...
So yes, this grand action felt quite different for me, but it turned out that the difference was "good" - essentially the whole reason why I'm excited about these hybrids, giving me a grand action without having to deal with the disadvantages of an actual grand. It would be a shame if there weren't
a noticeable difference to the GFII, because then I could just as well stay with the CA97.
Actually, that was my main "fear" beforehand, that it would turn out that the GFII does indeed simulate a grand action so well, that the difference to the Millennium III action is so minute, that the expense to upgrade to the NV10 is simply not justified. Well, that "fear" was unfounded. The action feels quite
different (although I still think the GFII is a great action too) and my play tests showed that, at least for me, that difference did indeed give me the feeling that I had better control of the action. But I could also understand if someone else comes to a totally different conclusion. I think this is highly
BTW, I quickly tried the action of the Yamaha CLP 685, as that action has been described in a quite controversial fashion here in the forum (some liking it a lot, others not at all) and I must say that I'm firmly in the camp of not liking it. It has a very stiff pressure point (static weight?) that must be overcome to depress a key, which felt very unnatural to me, especially in comparison to the N1, NV10 and the acoustic GLs that I tested.
The one action that I would probably still prefer over the Novus action was the Renner action in the 45,000€ Alpha Piano that they also had in the show room.
One other aspect that I tested (or tried to test) was of course the sound via speakers. Some forum members have expressed doubt that with the given specs (for speakers and amps) the Novus may not be adequately equipped to reproduce a grand piano sound properly.
This was unfortunately very difficult to test in the public show room. First of all, because I totally hate playing in front of strangers. Secondly, because the room acoustics are all but ideal. And third, there was a lot
of interfering noise (other people playing acoustics and digitals), especially when the shop started to get more crowded.
From what I could
test, I thought it sounded very good.
But take my evaluation with a pinch of salt. As I said in the intro, I'm not an expert. I'm also not a hifi aficionado. When others complain that the CA97/CA98 with the soundboard sounds boomy/boxy, I can only respond that to me it sounds perfectly fine, excellent even (I still prefer playing my CA97 on speakers/soundboard over playing it with headphones). So what sounds "very good" in my ears may well sound way different in yours.
One test I did specifically, after QuinnGold wrote about her tests at NAMM 2018, that she thought the max volume on the NV10 was probably a bit on the low side, was to test how "loud" the piano would get at fff. I especially compared this to the loudness of the acoustics. I made only a very basic test, of course, by simply playing a bass chord at about ff force (I didn't want to lean in all my weight to go for fff or more, because of the other people there). Compared to the upright acoustics (I tested the larger Yamahas and Kawais, and even a very nice 20,000€ Blüthner concert upright), the NV10 had no problem matching the volume. I didn't even have to max out the volume knob for this. I would say that it would also be a match for the GL30. Which leaves me convinced that for the intended use in our living room, the volume of the NV10 will do just fine.
BTW, the subwoofer in the base (behind the pedal rods) manages to impart a nice vibration to the pedals and keys, when playing bass to midrange keys at f/ff. That is a small but nice thing that for me always adds that little touch of realism when playing my CA97 with the soundboard, and I'm happy that the NV10 does have this too, at least to some degree. But the final verdict on how I actually like the speaker sound (and the achievable volume) will have to happen when I test the Novus in my own home.
All in all, after my test today, I'm 90-95% sure that I will be very happy with the Novus. These final percent will have to be confirmed when testing it here, at home.
And under this consideration, it is a good thing that I have already ordered the NV10, so that I can
indeed test it at home.
I ordered it online, BTW, so that gives me a 30 day window during which I can return the piano for a full refund, no questions asked. So if it should turn out that here at home I actually don't
like it, then I still have that option open to me.
I did not order at Thomann though. While I appreciate that I could test the piano there, they currently do not have it in storage, so I would have to wait for the next batch, which is not expected before the end of the month. Instead I ordered at a different online shop. That's where I fear I'm now outing me as a bit crazy, because I actually ordered (and paid for) the NV10 a few days ago already, on last Wednesday, before I had even seen it with my own eyes, let alone tested it.
I thought I was super clever with that. I had noticed that Thomann had the NV10 as "available immediately" last Tuesday, but on Wednesday it was already set back to "available on Feb. 28th". I figured, that they probably got two or three units delivered, put one into their show room and sold the other one or two. And if Thomann, the biggest player in the field, only gets two or three units of the first batch, then most likely all other sellers would also get a similar small number. Most of which would end up as show room units, so if I wanted to snag one of the first batch, and not wait until March or later, I would have to be quick.
Well, there was this other online shop that offered the NV10 too, with two advantages over Thomann: First, they gave 2% discount if paid in advance (via wire transfer) and second, while Thomann (and many others) only do curb side deliveries (and you would have to pay extra for more), this seller offered a "premium delivery" by a specialized piano mover firm for free, which includes delivery to the final placement site, which is important with a 130kg piano (up two flights of stairs in our case), and assembly. This premium delivery however has the drawback that it is supposed to take about 1 to 2 weeks from the moment the piano is available at their facility (depending on how far away you are and when the piano movers are next in your vicinity). So overly clever as I were, I figured, that I could just order the piano on Wednesday (and wire the advance payment to make sure it is reserved for me) and then test the piano on Saturday at Thomann, and if it turned out that I actually didn't like it, I would have lots of time to cancel my purchase before it even leaves their facility.
Well, this worked perfectly in so far, as I did indeed manage to reserve one of the few available units of the first batch for me. But it worked a bit too
As it turned out, my guess that each vendor was getting only one or two units was spot on. When I called them yesterday afternoon, to confirm that my advance payment had made it through (which it had), they did tell me that they had indeed received exactly two units from Kawai. One of which they were just then in the process of setting up in their show room, and the other was the one that I had just bought. Which they had not even removed from the truck, but had simply sent on on its way to me. Argh! And I thought I had lots of time to maybe cancel the delivery after I tested the piano today. Turns out, I was wrong. Already yesterday, just one hour after I spoke to the seller, the piano movers called me to arrange for a delivery date.
So I'm now having my NV10 delivered the day after tomorrow, on Monday afternoon. Which I think makes me one of the first persons in Germany (and probably the world, excluding Japan?) to have the Novus at home. A distinction that makes me a bit excited, but also definitely a bit nervous.