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Kawai ES4 review #688504
06/05/06 12:02 PM
06/05/06 12:02 PM
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jerusalem
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jerusalem
After months of research on the web and mp3 sample listening, I finally went hunting downtown for my digital piano. My heart was set on the kawai ES4. I checked it out, and I would like to share my impressions. Remember; it is only MY personal opinion that I am expressing. Things are mostly a matter of taste and personal needs and preference. And after all, I’m not a concert pianist. Just a common piano player with his own ideas and expectations.

First, as so my opinion should be properly understood, I must first explain why I prefer a digital. (Everyone knows there is nothing better than a REAL piano!). I play only at home for my leisure. I don’t go out gigging or anything. But I do need something that doesn’t take up too much space and that can be easily moved around my apartment with no trouble, and also be put away. Second, I want to be able to play with headphones night or day without annoying my family (and they HATE my ‘practicing’…) or having angry neighbors knocking at the door.

I am basically looking for a very good sounding expressive and detailed piano sound, realistic and responsive action, built-in speakers, plus portability. I was considering the yamaha P-120, P-140, kawai ES4 and MP4, and even looked up to the great yamaha synth s90 ES. The CP33\300 are not available yet. (Not all those models have speakers).

I went the other day into the kawai place; sure I would be going home with an ES4. In the music store I was showed into a room which was a quiet recording environment (good conditions for really hearing things), where the ES4 happened to be standing.
I spent there almost two hours scrutinizing this new digital piano.

The first thing that struck me was the adorable appearance in polished black and smooth attractive design. It looked and felt so nice and solid in a very piano like fashion. It seemed so inviting, and I went ahead and switched on the power.
The first notes startled me. It was nearly a whisper! I expected a beast and discovered a bird! Those speakers do sound good but even on their maximum they are so soft! Although good for practicing, you can’t really get much out of them. I started the demo and stepped back. It sounds more like listening to the radio then to someone playing the piano. Disappointing, but not the end of the world. With headphones, however it was loud and clear. This means that if I really want to use it, I need a proper sound system (in addition to the cables, to drag along everywhere. Very poortable.).

Standing alone, it is nice and portable. Not too heavy for a piano. (20.5kg. when did you last lift a 9 ft grand?). It is more or less the average for a stage piano. Not too big.

It is easy to use; however you have to memorize how to change settings. And the three digit LCD provides only a vague hint. I cannot understand why on such an advanced device they still use the old fashion unclear and inefficient digital display, and Yamaha’s new CP33 has it too!

Now to the action. It is kawai’s new advanced hammer action IV. To me it felt very realistic, in connection with the sound, and just excellent. Especially when adjusted to heavy (takes more force to produce sound). In fact, it was lighter than the P-120 and very close to the P-140 (GH3), but those few extra grams don’t really matter as long as you feel the control in a realistic way. You get the desirable resistance, and on the other hand it isn’t to stiff or sluggish. I think most players would be satisfied with this action.

And the sound, well the sound… Although very dynamic, responsive in a realistic way, has a good sounding delicate tone. After all (to my ears) it sounded digital. If you strike hard chords the sound gets a little harsh and grainy. And the overtones intermingle and get somewhat noisy. Listen to the mp3 samples available on the internet to get an idea of this (although in real it’s not as bad). Pleas note, I have been using reference class hi-fi headphones (my dear Sennheiser 650’s), so they tell the painful truth. I would be happy to know why the kawai fans consider this the best! Perhaps for some reason they think it more natural, although I can’t see why. maybe there bribed by the delicate tone. Anyway, it IS good. But certainly not perfect.I also could not hear the 'thump' of the felt parts falling back in place.
So this sound is probably not for you if top quality piano sound is crucial. I wonder if the MP4 is better at this point. It wasn’t on display there. If yes – it probably is a better choice. you see, If anyhow you don’t have the advantage of the monitors in the ES4, the MP4 offers a variety of pianos as well as many more sounds, effects, and controllers. And the price is not much higher.

But somehow I can’t reject this instrument. I surprisingly like it despite it’s disadvantages. I didn’t buy it yet. But it found more favor in my eyes then the definitely better sounding P-140 and P-120 (which is older but better, some say). I did not see the s90 ES yet. They say it’s the best. It is much more expensive and only has balanced keys, but it offers a vast piano patch (53 MB. My question is what are 53 MB nowadays in the age of the iPod and portable hard disks that fit in your shirt pocket with hundreds of giga bites. Some software pianos use 15 GB of samples!) and hundreds of sounds arps and efx (do I really need all that? I play piano, not synth. However, all those possibilities surly are tempting).
Maybe I’ll wait for the new yamaha CP33 (or 300) to come to our area. I suppose it should be good if it has new samples on the level of the s90 ES.
Yet, I can’t get that adorable instrument out of my mind. ES4. I even like the name. I guess I must find something better quickly, before I lose my self control and fall for it.


Yiss
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Re: Kawai ES4 review #688505
06/05/06 09:15 PM
06/05/06 09:15 PM
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Georgia, USA
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Hi Yiss,

Great review on the Kawai digital.

To make a long story short, I purchased a Yamaha P90 (online, sight unseen) and was mega dissapointed. A few notes in the upper octaves had a ringing, pinging overtone that irritated me to no end. Yamaha service convinced me the odd ringing overtone was normal and a Yamaha feature. They also gave me the impression that I was the one defective for being in the minority of dissatisfied Yamaha customers.

Anyway, I decided to purchase a Casio Privia PX 310 and have been very well pleased with it.

Good luck on your quest to find just the right digital piano.

Rickster


Piano enthusiast and amateur musician: "Treat others the way you would like to be treated". Yamaha C7. YouTube Channel
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688506
06/05/06 09:54 PM
06/05/06 09:54 PM
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I'm glad to hear about the review. I was wondering about the speakers. I was considering this the MP4 or the GEM prp800. For me in Canada it actually costs more for me to get the ES4, so I'll likely get the MP4 and buy the speakers or the GEM. A dealer should have a GEM for me to try in a week or two

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688507
06/05/06 10:21 PM
06/05/06 10:21 PM
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The low speaker volume doesn't sound right... the ES4's speaker system is more powerful than many digital pianos. Someone may have altered the original settings. I recommend trying a factory reset by turning the power off and then turn it back again while holding down both the Touch and Transpose buttons at the same time.

If you get a chance to sit with the owner's manual it's worth trying the settings for brilliance, EQ, tuning, voicing, and damper effect. Also, the ES4 has a main demo and 19 built in sound demos for a total of 20. The demos will all play one after the other or to select a specific demo, press the desired Sound button while the demo is playing.

I enjoyed my first trial of the ES4 - I spent a good hour with it before deciding to buy it - but I spent another week tweaking the sounds and effects to my exact tastes, saving all along the way until I was happy with my user defaults.

I play professionally and I find the ES4 to be a very gratifying instrument. It really does look and play terrific. The MP4 has more sounds and more controls but I enjoy the ES4's speakers for instant-gratification practicing. I also use the audio input for playing MP3 backing tracks so again you should reset the keyboard and rejudge it's sound. And the ES4 makes a nice USB controller - I use it in my studio with my computer and softsynths.

Not trying to sell you an ES4 but I wouldn't want you to miss anything either.

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Re: Kawai ES4 review #688508
06/05/06 10:40 PM
06/05/06 10:40 PM
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For me it makes more sense to buy the MP4 than the ES4 in any case, because the only ES4 I can get is in Canada and costs 2199 Canadian dollars plus shipping. I can get an MP4 for 1500 Canadian dollars shipping, taxes everything. It doesn't make sense I know, but no one in the US is able to ship an ES4 to me.

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688509
06/06/06 01:02 PM
06/06/06 01:02 PM
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The ringing overtones on P90... I like them and find them rather (not totally, of course) natural. The ringing overtones are present on two upper octaves in brighter real grands. These srtings are undapmered. May be you simply like darker pianos (Steinway) more than Yamaha grands, but some people are OK with P90 samples.

Yamahas sound better than Kawai. MP9000/MP9500, and ES4 have pity mistakes at the level of sample mapping. Harsh and grainy sound is just an icing on the cake.

Casio is a completely different level and no, none of Casios matches Yamaha P90 for realism.

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688510
06/26/06 03:17 PM
06/26/06 03:17 PM
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jerusalem
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yiss Offline OP
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Quote
I play professionally and I find the ES4 to be a very gratifying instrument. It really does look and play terrific.
Pro, I would like to know, how do you feel about the noisy overtones I found in the ES4. I understand you use it all the time. do you hear the same thing? I did reset the piano as you discribed, and I used very good headphones. I was yet not pleased. I heard your music on your website, so I see how in such an arrangment the subtle sounds don't matter at all. But what about playing a solo? I won't use it for production, but as a substitute to a real piano. so I want the best piano experience. What is your opinion on the subject?
Thanks.


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688511
06/26/06 10:59 PM
06/26/06 10:59 PM
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When I normally think of overtones I think of artificial tones created by the sampling process, and I hear none of these. The fade out of the notes seems especially quiet and noise-free to me. But in the mid to upper range I hear some sampling remnants that sounds like cabinet resonance of the original piano the samples came from. I hear it best through headphones in stereo, and this sound seems much less noticeable in the mono piano sounds (Piano #3). Is it a "noisy" sound? A little once you listen for it but unnoticeable in common use. I think it could be picked out by a critical ear in solo recording situations.

And that's the thing - I just finished an album and I used the ES4 as a midi controller with my sampled piano library which sounds and plays better than the ES4's piano sounds, especially for solo work. A real piano still sounds best of all and it hasn't been perfectly replicated by anything yet so we're talking about a matter of preference among third-rate choices with any digital piano.

The ES4 is not perfect, but the acoustic piano sound is very good for the live use it was designed for, and the combination of all of it's sounds and features along with it's weight, action and appearance make it one of the most desireable digital pianos in it's price range and class. Mostly I just enjoy playing it.

BTW: I recently played a Kawai MP8 and was very impressed. The action, sound and features are immediately superior to the ES4 or MP4 but at a cost of more weight and no internal speakers. I think the MP8 might satisfy more critical applications but I'd have to try it in the studio to be sure.

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688512
06/27/06 01:27 PM
06/27/06 01:27 PM
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I see what your saying. thank you for your time.


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688513
06/28/06 02:38 PM
06/28/06 02:38 PM
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yiss,

The sound you're hearing thru those Senn's (I still use the 580's) will be very difficult for a digital's on-board speakers to match. For one thing, the bass speakers are too small.

If you have to choose between looks and sound, I'd go for sound. Ultimately that's what the music is about.

I'm a Yammy fan, but tho built like tanks, they can end up looking a little like bricks.

The graded hammer concept, which other makers have had to copy, does correspond to the way techs set up acoustic pianos in the field. Yamaha's site touts the equal downweight of each key on their concert grand, but the sligtly different feel is how pianos are usually actually set up.

The touch settings on digitals are a clever psycho-acoustic illusion. Higher touch settings cut off the lowest numbered MIDI control change messages, so it takes more pressure to get any sound at all. If you like playing expressively, the lightest setting will give you the full dynamic range.

If you have to choose between keyboard feel and tone, I'd go for feel. You can buy third-party samples or expansion boards, but you're stuck with the action.

BTW, enjoyed your review of the ES4.

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688514
06/29/06 06:30 AM
06/29/06 06:30 AM
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jerusalem
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yiss Offline OP
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Quote
If you have to choose between looks and sound, I'd go for sound. Ultimately that's what the music is about.
Definitely true, but still, it is more inspiring when you sit by an adorable instrument that realy looks like a piano vs. a modern practically designed keyboard.
It's like the difference between practcing on a cold cloudy day, to playing at a stunning sunset on a blooming spring evening.


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688515
07/11/06 01:44 AM
07/11/06 01:44 AM
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Quote
Originally posted by yiss:


Now to the action. It is kawai’s new advanced hammer action IV. To me it felt very realistic, in connection with the sound, and just excellent. Especially when adjusted to heavy (takes more force to produce sound). In fact, it was lighter than the P-120 and very close to the P-140 (GH3), but those few extra grams don’t really matter as long as you feel the control in a realistic way. You get the desirable resistance, and on the other hand it isn’t to stiff or sluggish. I think most players would be satisfied with this action.

And the sound, well the sound… Although very dynamic, responsive in a realistic way, has a good sounding delicate tone...


LISTEN TO THE mp3 DEMO (same as the ES4 piano)
http://www.kawai.de/audio/dp/mp4_cg1.mp3


We buy the ES4 for its action and because the dynamic response is really good. And it has stereo speakers. Not loud enough? Add a little Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 powered computer subwoofer on the floor with its satellite speakers($99) for a bigger sound.

The ES4 Piano sound is OK, not the best in hardware. I prefer the RD-700SX Piano 1 or even the Yamah S90ES or Kawai MP8. But the ES4 behaves very well when played and it has "matched" speakers. The action and dynamic response take priority over its sound. I am getting rid of my P250. If you need tone for recording buy Ivory piano. After three years of suffering with a Yamaha P250, P120 and P90 I am quitting the Yamaha P series for good. Did you notice that the Yamaha actions are sluggish and their piano samples are loud on the attack and too soft on the sustain? Therefore it's nearly impossible to play a smooth relaxed legato line. And Yamaha samples one key and transposes it up for the next five keys. Therefore every note sounds the same and that is very sterile and boring, did you notice that?


Casio PX-360 digital piano, Mojo 61 digital organ, 1966 Mason & Hamlin piano.
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688516
07/11/06 07:56 AM
07/11/06 07:56 AM
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yiss Offline OP
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jerusalem
I am happy to hear a different opinion. Never tried the P250, but I’m very surprised to hear that there is someone who prefers the ES4 over it. The yamaha P120/140 samples sounded of MUCH higher quality. It's just that the Kawai had something more realistic in its response and character. I assumed the P250 made up for this with its string resonance. The ES4 sound is pleasant, but lacks something compared to yamaha. It may be that my headphones are too natural sounding for this purpose as they are unforgiving in exposing the flaws. Cheaper headphones might cover it up. However, the P140 did not sound noisy or distorted through the senn’s in the way the ES4 did (subtly, for sure).
Anyway, the ES4 is after all an outstanding lovely instrument, and I am pleased to hear you got it. Surely worth every penny. You’ll definitely have a great time with it.


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688517
07/11/06 11:53 AM
07/11/06 11:53 AM
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Did you notice that the Yamaha digital piano actions are sluggish and their piano samples are loud on the attack and too soft on the sustain? Therefore it's nearly impossible to play a smooth relaxed legato line. The P120 is downright harsh.
Their keys also do not sound until you hit the keybed, ouch! I have owned several, along with a P250 and a P90 and have grown to dislike these flaws. I have played them daily over the past four years. I have made a lot of solo demos using the P250 and it does record well.... I run a large size piano teaching studio and have Mason and Hamlin, Steinway and Yamaha acoustics and Kurzweil, Yamaha, Roland and Kawai digitals.

Also Yamaha P series and Kurzweil sample one key and transposes it up for the next five keys. Therefore every note sounds the same and that is very sterile and boring, did you notice that? Roland RD-700SX and Kawai MP8 do not do that, every note has a different character similar to a real piano. This makes a huge difference, it releives a lot of that monotonous sameness of every note sounded that Yamahas suffer from.


Another mp3 DEMO of Kawai MP4 (same as the ES4 piano)
http://www.kawai.de/audio/dp/mp4_cg1.mp3


Casio PX-360 digital piano, Mojo 61 digital organ, 1966 Mason & Hamlin piano.
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688518
07/11/06 02:21 PM
07/11/06 02:21 PM
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yiss Offline OP
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jerusalem
I only examined the P120 for five minutes or so, and the store was noisy. So I can’t say much about the sound of this one.
As to the action, yes, the P120 was rather stiff, but I think people consider this more realistic (I must say, I have no judgment on that point, as I do not have experience with grand pianos. so I'm sure you know better). The P140 seemed much easier on the fingers. It might be a matter of personal taste.
In some ways I felt more in control with the ES4, (more connection between keys and sound) and that is part of why I liked it better. But the sound, although more live sounding and realistic in response, was not as clean as yamaha. You might be right that yamaha is a bit duller, after all you heard and used it more then me. But it actually sounded to me more real and alive.
In other words, the ES4 sounded like real recorded pianos I’m used to hearing on CD’s, but the P140 felt (as far as sound) more like I was playing a real instrument other then just activating satisfactorily a virtual one, like on the ES4.

Now, the ES4 does have a very beautiful piano tone, But the other sounds like harpsichord and church organ, as well as vibraphone and others are just a totally different world on the yamaha. I heard the sounds on a clavinova, and on mp3 samples from P250/P90. There is just no comparison. The ES4 sounds are very simple compaired to yamaha.

I’m thinking now of the CP300. What do you think?
(Perhaps your fed up of yamaha and don’t believe it will be better, so you’re the wrong one to ask wink ).

So I guess for your needs the ES4 is the best. Especialy if you use software pianos with it.
Enjoy your new ES4. Time will tell if I'll follow you!


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688519
07/11/06 11:37 PM
07/11/06 11:37 PM
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A Steinway grand can have the action "regulated" to many different weightings. The "downweight" required to depress a key is measured in grams. Horowitz liked his Steinway set at about 40 grams of downweight. I like that too. My yamaha P250 is 75 grams downweight. My fingers are like little ballet dancers, playing the original P250 action feels like dancing with rock climbing boots on.

Yamaha has been lightening their actions over the past two years as many customers have complained that they were too stiff (original P250, P200, P120). The P90 is not as stiff either. And you are correct the P140 is easier to play now and so are the newer P250s (they have changed the parts).


Casio PX-360 digital piano, Mojo 61 digital organ, 1966 Mason & Hamlin piano.
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688520
07/12/06 09:03 AM
07/12/06 09:03 AM
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I just went through the same process as the original poster of this topic. I was ready to drive about 140 miles to a larger town that has a guitar center since I was ready to buy but wanted to try out about a half dozen options. I wanted a digital piano with graded hammer action to replace/upgrade my Yamaha DGX305.
A local jazz pro that is awesome plays a P120 if he isn't using his Yamaha acoustic grand. After much research and hands on, I bought a new P120. I think it was the last available one in my town that I knew of. If I couldn't have gotten the P120, I might have searched for a used one or probably went with a P140.
I did try Korg, Kurzweil, Roland and Kawai ES4. The Kawai might have been an option but much preferred to P120/140 sound and action. I think the P120 is suitable for pro use and the p140 for the home market.
I know much of all this boils down to personal preference about feel and sound, but I'm happy with the P120.

I don't really know why I wrote all of this,

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688521
07/12/06 10:43 AM
07/12/06 10:43 AM
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...The weight of the later Yamaha's being lighter is a myth.


Everybody was complaining at the P80's very heavy action in the 1999-2001. When P120 came out, many people were happy with its lighter action compared to P80.
These days many people are happy wih even lighter action of the P140.

I have both, the P80 and the P140, side by side. Let me assure you - P140 is not a tiny bid lighter to play than the P80. In fact, P140 has a little more resistance, because it's relatively new. Over time it will become just the same action as the P80.

What did change is the electronics part. The keyboard of the P140 sends higher MIDI velocity much easier than the P80. But it has nothing to do with the key weight.

Re: Kawai ES4 review #688522
07/12/06 11:42 AM
07/12/06 11:42 AM
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jerusalem
Alekkh, please excuse me for contradicting. shocked
I tried the P120 and P140 side by side, and that P120 has been on display for a long time wile the P140 was fairly new. and the P120 action was definitely heavier beyond any doubt. I’ve compared them off too!


Yiss
Re: Kawai ES4 review #688523
07/12/06 11:57 AM
07/12/06 11:57 AM
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i felt p140 is lighter than p120 when i tried on both at a Guitar center.

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