The home digital piano class is the widest in the digital piano arena in terms of the sheer breadth of options available. From starter models available for under $1,500 to high-end units with stunning furniture for closer to $10,000, and finally, full hybrid instruments available for at or above $20,000 and everything in between.
Today we’re going to be looking at two of the most popular options available for under $1,500 USD, but a step up from the basic entry level. The models in question are the Casio PX-870 vs Kawai KDP120.
These two pianos stack up very well against each other with authentic piano sounds, class-leading speaker systems, and dynamic tri-sensor key actions. But, they do diverge in a few key ways and ultimately offer different musical experiences.
If you’re looking for a home-based console piano in this category, odds are one of these pianos will stand out to you over the other. Hopefully, this comparison helps clarify which one might be better for you and be sure to check our in-depth digital piano reviews of each model as well.
Casio PX-870 vs Kawai KDP120 – Background
As we said above, this is a really great matchup. In fact, the KDP120 and PX-870 digital pianos match up so well across multiple specifications that it’s actually challenging to find a closer comparison in the entire class.
The KDP120 is slightly more expensive than the PX-870 but they are pretty close from a pricing standpoint. Kawai offers the less expensive KDP-75 as their entry-level home model, while Casio offers the PX-770.
So in both cases, we’re talking about mid-range, intermediate-quality pianos built to serve beginners through the first several years of lessons, advanced players as an affordable secondary practice instrument, and hobbyists as a musically satisfying and good-looking instrument for the home.
Let’s start with a look at their respective sound-related specs.
Kawai’s Harmonic Imaging Sound Technology
Over on the KDP120, we have the Harmonic Imaging (HI) engine that Kawai has been developing and evolving for many years now.
This engine consists of a full 88-key sampling of their Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand piano, with a variety of synthesized elements added on top to fill in the sound, such as damper resonance, key-off effect, hammer delay and more, all of which can be adjusted via the Virtual Technician Smart Mode function, as can reverb and brilliance.
Polyphony is very strong at 192 notes, and while Kawai doesn’t disclose how many velocity layers go into each sampled note, there’s just a really strong sense of smoothness across the dynamic range that makes us suspect four velocity layers would be the absolute minimum.
For those that like to do playing with headphones, they’ve also included their Spatial Headphone Sound (SHS) effect which adds an extra layer of post-processing enhancement that greatly improves the headphone playing experience regardless of headphone type. They’ve also included a Low Volume Balance feature for when playing with the volume down.
There are 15 total sounds, including 4 acoustic pianos and then a mix of electric pianos, organ, strings, pads and a few others.
Finally, the dual speaker system is very robust with 40 watts of power. This more than doubles the power output of some other speaker systems in the class and is matched only by the PX-870 and its equally powerful 40-watt system.
Casio’s Multi Dimensional Morphing AiR Sound Source
Like the KDP120, the PX-870 also uses a sample-based sound engine with additional synthesis – Casio’s Multi Dimensional Morphing AiR Sound Source, with some versions being featured in Casio digital pianos for quite some time now.
Casio doesn’t specify which piano serves as the basis for the sample, but it’s long been suspected that the grand piano sound in question is courtesy of a recording of a New York Steinway Model D. Casio states that we are getting 4 sample layers per note, and while they don’t specify if it’s 88-key single note sampling, we suspect that to be the case.
The synthesis element is referred to as their Acoustic Simulator, and this consists of Hammer Response, String Resonance, Damper Resonance, Lid Simulator, Key Action Noise and Damper Noise, all of which can be adjusted.
Polyphony is even stronger here at 256-note polyphony, and while 192 is already going to be plenty for the vast majority of applications, having such a high polyphony count does speak to the sheer processing power of the engine.
There are also a few extra instrument sounds here with 19 in total covering the same areas as the KDP120, and as we mentioned above, the PX-870 also boasts a speaker system with 40 watts of amplifier power, however, the system consists of 2 mains and 2 tweeters. The Yamaha YDP-144 Arius (since replaced by the new YDP-145) which competes against these two pianos has 16 watts of amplifier power for comparison.
Musical Impressions of Both Pianos
Here are some musical observations of each piano’s overall sound after getting to play them side-by-side.
The real, acoustic Shigeru Kawai SK-EX is known as one of the world’s most luscious-sounding pianos. The mid-range and lower mid-range are just rampant with harmonic complexity, and the 120’s HI engine manages to capture that quite well.
They’ve also done a really got job ensuring that the sound transitions very smoothly across the various ranges with no sudden or abrupt large leaps.
With the 870, the various synthesis parameters like cabinet, string and damper resonance really come through with lots of warmth and shimmer. The fundamental pitch at the extreme ranges of the instrument becomes a little bit hard to hear with the bass being a little bit muddy, and the upper treble sounding a bit glassy, but this can often be the case with acoustic pianos too.
Overall, we tend to prefer the upper ranges on the 870 due to how much cabinet resonance is present, while preferring the mid and lower ranges on the 120.
In terms of the non-acoustic piano preset tones, the selection is pretty parallel in terms of quality, though the 870 of course does have those 4 extra sounds. Odds are anyone considering a piano from this category will be primarily focused on the acoustic piano tone anyway, and they do sound different. Definitely check out the video version of this comparison to hear some playing differences for yourself.
Comparing the Class Leading Speaker Systems
Comparing the 40-watt speaker systems of these two instruments deserves a little bit of extra focus since this happens to be a class-leading specification in both cases that ultimately delivers a different overall musical effect.
As we mentioned above, the KDP120 uses a dual speaker system, whereas the PX-870 features a 4-speaker system, which they call their Sound Projection System. The actual effect of the different speaker configurations is that the 870 has a more prominent treble thanks to the tweeters, as well as some tone ports on the top which allow a more direct pathway for some of the higher frequencies.
The trade-off is that while you are getting better upper-mid and treble clarity and definition, the bass register lacks some of the warmth and depth we’re getting out of the 120 because the wattage is split between 4 speakers instead of 2.
The 120 also tends to sound fuller when playing with the volume set lower. Now, we’re not sure that these differences will be deal breakers for anyone in one way or another, but it is worth noting.
Casio’s Tri Sensor Scaled Hammer Action Keyboard II vs Kawai’s Responsive Hammer Compact II
On paper, these two weighted key actions look very similar as they both offer triple sensor key detection, textured piano key tops and adjustable touch sensitivity, while neither offers escapement. That being said, these actions do not feel or behave the same way at all. Let’s get into how they differ and how that translates to the piano experience.
The biggest fundamental difference between these two keyboard actions is the key stick, and thus, the pivot length, which ends up being slightly shorter on the Casio Tri Sensor II action. A shorter pivot length changes the sense of weight, even if the actual resistance required to press the keys is the same.
Or the pivot length which is a little shorter in the Casio than it is over on the Kawai. This is going to change the sense of weight, even if technically speaking the amount of resistance it takes to get the key in motion is very similar.
Both actions don’t take long to get used to, but Casio’s Tri Sensor action does feel a little heavier than Kawai’s RHCII, and the impression is that the key dip is a little bit deeper as well.
For contemporary styles like pop and R&B, we actually tend to prefer the overall feel of the Tri Sensor II action, but for something that requires a little more finesse or nuance, we would probably go with the RHCII.
Thanks to the simulated ebony and ivory key texture on both actions, the sense of glide is great in both cases, with a comfortable surface for your fingers even in more humid playing environments when your hands get sweaty.
In terms of the whole class, the only other home piano getting an action as good or better would be the Roland RP107 and its PHA4 action, but these two actions are better on paper, and in our opinion, in practice than the rest of what’s available in the class.
Both of these musical instruments are really meant to be cost-effective, maintenance-free alternatives to an upright or acoustic grand piano, and as such, the acoustic piano experience is really the focus. This means that both pianos offer a degree of onboard features and functions, but neither would be considered anywhere close to fully loaded.
Both pianos get the staples covered with a metronome, transpose, duet mode and split. Both pianos have a basic MIDI recorder and playback option, whereas the 870 also offers some basic audio recording (WAV.)
Both pianos come with some preloaded songs stored in an onboard music library, and the 870 expands this with its Concert Play option which allows you to play along with 10 different orchestra versions of famous classical music.
The 120 on the other hand includes a lesson function with a ton of pre-loaded lesson books from Alfred, Beyer, Burgmuller and Czerny. Kawai also adds their Concert Magic feature as well.
Connectivity is an area where these pianos diverge, and arguably to a significant extent depends on your needs.
Both pianos have dual headphone jacks (1/4” and stereo mini), a connector for the included 3-pedal unit, as well as USB to a device.
Where they differ is that the 870 also offers a USB flash drive port, and perhaps most important, a line out, both of which are absent from the 120.
On the other hand, the 120 offers Bluetooth MIDI connectivity, which is absent from the 870. Both companies make great companion apps, so you will have to use a cabled connection to access the Chordana app for Android and iOS.
Kawai’s PiaBookPlayer and PianoRemote apps by contrast can be accessed wirelessly, which could be a big deal for you.
Accessories & Finishes
Both instruments come with a cabinet, music stand (music rest), key cover and integrated triple pedal system. Both also include a power supply, and in certain markets, a piano bench but this is region specific.
The triple pedal system in both cases consists of a damper pedal (half-pedal capable), sostenuto pedal and soft pedal. That said, the pedal system is more advanced on the 120, the Grand Feel Pedal system, as the spring tensions are identically matched to what you would get on a grand piano.
Finishes are also market dependent, however, both are generally available in Satin Black and Satin White, while the 120 is also available in Premium Rosewood.
We’ve got two very close competitors here ultimately targeting the exact same audience. Most people would be well served by either instrument, and the differences are largely going to come down to subjective preferences.
You’ve got a slight polyphony and total onboard sound advantage on the 870, but the 120 isn’t underpowered in either regard anyway. Both pianos deliver a high-quality piano sound via a 40-watt speaker system, but that sound and delivery are distinctly different.
Both pianos offer solid, triple-sensor actions that will be great for beginners looking to progress through a few years of lessons, or for advanced pianists who need an affordable practice instrument.
Musically speaking, we would actually argue that these deliver a much better experience than the average 50-year-old acoustic uprights that are also going to require much more care and maintenance.
You’re going to get a much more consistent and reliable experience with either of these pianos, and this is a huge reason the category has become so popular in recent years thanks to dramatic increases in digital piano quality.
Thanks for reading!