🎹 Dive into the Power of the Kawai CA901 | The Digital Piano You Need to Experience 🎹

Kawai’s Concert Artist Series (CA Series) of premium digital pianos have enjoyed a spot within the upper echelon of the digital piano market for a number of years now, across multiple product generations. Kawai does have one digital product line above the CA models – the NOVUS NV hybrid instruments – but the Kawai CA models are nonetheless still among the top digital pianos available.

Today we’re looking at the brand new Kawai CA901 – the flagship model from the CA series that replaces the highly regarded CA99.

Kawai has upgraded the speaker design, added a new default core grand piano sound, and upgraded the touchscreen, along with a few other tweaks, so we’re excited to dive in and get under the hood of this premium digital piano.

The CA901 is built to compete with the top Roland LX models, Yamaha’s top CLP models, and the Casio GP-510.

We’ll start with a little bit more background information and context.

Kawai CA901 – Background

Kawai CA901 Digital Piano
Kawai CA901 Digital Piano

Kawai had a tall order in front of them to follow up on the CA99 – a simply fantastic piano. From the killer speaker system headed by a real solid spruce soundboard, new Grand Feel III wooden action, and second-generation SKEX rendering engine, many industry observers felt that the CA99 was the top digital piano in the class.

So, it’s really getting to a point where it’s hard to imagine what exactly Kawai can do with the next-generation model to make improvements and still leave a place in the market for a top-end CA product without encroaching on the Novus NV5S’s territory.

And this is probably the best way to frame the conversation moving forward before we dive into the specifics surrounding the CA901, i.e. what separates the CA901 from the NV5S?

CA901 vs NV5S

The critical difference between the CA901 and the NV5S and the main reason someone would spend more on the NV5S is the key action. The CA901 has the great Grand Feel III action most notable for its extended-length, wooden keys. The NV5S however has a literal acoustic upright piano action with optical sensor technology. As good as the GFIII action is, it still is a digital piano action and not a legit acoustic piano action.

Now, where the gap is starting to close between the two is the peak performance and overall acoustic playing experience. The gap between the 901 and the NV5S is narrower than it was with the CA99 in this regard.

Pair this with the fact that the sound engines are essentially the same, and it becomes apparent that the CA901 is really delivering for the price point, and certainly carves out a very specific place among Kawai’s broader digital piano hierarchy.

Now, let’s move to a much closer look at the GFIII action.

Piano Action

Grand Feel III Action
Grand Feel III Action

Grand Feel III

The key action is one of the most critical components of any piano since it serves as the interface that the player uses to connect with the instrument.

Pivot Length

The CA901 brings back the leading Grand Feel III (GFIII) wooden-key keyboard action which was introduced with the CA99 and 79. It boasts a litany of impressive specs, and while the 100% wooden keys often get the focus, what really makes the GFIII stand out is the pivot length, which is close to equivalent to a real acoustic piano.

A longer pivot length provides the player with a deeper level of control, which really manifests when playing at dynamic extremes. It also makes the resistance consistent regardless of where your finger presses the keys.

This probably won’t have an impact on beginner-level players, more advanced players will always benefit from the added control and consistent resistance of an action with a longer pivot length.

Keybed

Another interesting aspect of this action that doesn’t seem to get talked about is with regards to how sits on the keybed, which happens to be very reminiscent of an acoustic piano.

It’s cushioned with real felt and it sits on real wood, just like an acoustic piano action, but is very uncommon for digital piano actions. The design is very durable and requires little to maintenance despite being prepared to handle a fairly high level of abuse.

Touch Curve

The touch curve definitely needs some discussion. The way Kawai has programmed the touch curve actually makes the keys actually feel a little bit on the lighter side. This is probably because it’s the same touch curve they’ve programmed for the NV5S, which has a physically heavier key action.

Your preference for the key weight will of course be personal and you may like it just the way it is. However, you can edit the touch curve to make it feel heavier or even lighter, so that’s something to be aware of.

Other Specs

The GFIII of course has a number of specs that deserve attention as well. It boasts grade-weighted hammers which means the keys get lighter as you move up the range, just like on an acoustic piano action.

There’s also a realistic let-off simulation, triple sensor key detection, and 88 graded counterweights to help with the realism of the action.

In terms of the key surfaces, there’s an ivory texture on the white keys and an ebony touch texture on the black keys to absorb moisture from the pianists’ fingers during longer playing sessions.

Piano Sound

SK-EX Rendering
SK-EX Rendering

Shigeru Kawai SK-EX Competition Grand Sample

Kawai has brought back the SK-EX Rendering and Harmonic Imaging XL engines that were equipped in the CA99, however there is a new default, core grand piano sound – the SK EX Competition Grand Piano. The SK-EX Concert Grand piano recording is still present, but it’s no longer the default tone.
What’s different with this new sample set? Well, the original sample was built off of a recording of a first-generation SK-EX, however Kawai came out with a next-generation SK-EX a few years ago with hard rock maple added to the rim which added color to the treble, warmth to the mid-range and power to the bass register.

The basis for the competition sample is one of the new SK-EX’s, and our impression is that the sample just sounds fuller, with a higher degree of broadness of tone even in the upper treble range.

SK-EX Rendering

Now, what exactly does Rendering mean? In this case, it means Kawai recorded the SK-EX with multiple microphones in various positions, which is referred to as multi-channel sampling. You can actually select from 10 of the different microphone configurations such as Rich, Classic and Brilliant, all with a slightly different character.

In addition to the sample itself, Kawai also incorporates their 88-key Resonance Modeling which adds Damper Resonance, String Resonance, Undamped String Resonance and Aliquot Resonance. These parameters need to be generated in real-time because there’s no way to sample all of the various permutations.

Virtual Piano Artisan

Beyond the resonance engine, you can also edit 20 different sound-related parameters courtesy of the new Virtual Piano Artisan, which is an upgraded version of the Virtual Technician that was present on the CA99 along with many other Kawai digital pianos.

The VPA lets you edit things like the Touch Curve, Voicing and Cabinet Resonance, and there are also 10 preset configurations to choose from if you don’t want to spend the time really diving deep.

It’s our impression that Kawai is giving users the maximum range of editability in terms of an onboard sound engine. Of course there are a number of VSTs with substantially more editability, but in terms of what’s available on a digital piano, Kawai is at the front of the pack.

Harmonic Imaging XL

Once you get past the two SK-EX samples, the sound engine switches to something a little bit more traditional with the Harmonic Imaging XL (HIXL) engine with 256-note polyphony.

There are four high-performance grand pianos available here as well, all of which also boast 88-key sampling. Another rendition of the SK-EX leads the four and is rounded by the SK-5, EX concert grand and K-60 upright pianos samples.

The attack on an upright piano is so specific in terms of how you hear it as a player, so a good upright piano can be very useful for certain playing styles and genres.

Odds are most people who end up with a CA901 will probably spend around 90% of the time with an acoustic piano sound, however there are 96 voices in total, including some of the best pipe and Church organ sounds you will ever hear which means the Kawai CA901 digital piano is likely to be popular with the worship community as the CA99 was before it.

Speakers

As we mentioned above, while the CA99 had an impressive speaker system, Kawai has certainly leveled it up and brought the quality closer to the NV5S. The power is actually the same with a commanding 135 watts of rated output power.

The new design and layout features four speakers in the front, two mains and two tweeters, with newly added baffles that provide the player with more high frequencies than the past speakers. This mimics the sonic experience of playing an acoustic upright piano with the lid open.

Then there are two top speakers with new 360-degree diffuser panels which add a ton of detail and color to the tone.

This brings us to the 7th speaker.

TwinDrive Soundboard Speaker System

On the back of the CA901 is the final speaker, and the real showpiece for the instrument since the speaker is a solid wood soundboard. Again, this is a genuine spruce soundboard and not just veneered MDF or something like that.

The soundboard is driven by two upgraded transducers, which have been reconfigured from the transducers used on previous generation models.

While the CA99 had some unwanted woofiness when it was really pushed, that’s been entirely done away with on the 901 for a cleaner overall sound. The 901 is truly offering a premium audio experience.

Headphone Amplifier

Kawai also improved the headphone amplifier, so the Spatial Headphone Sound (SHS) technology is now even better.

There are three different presets available which alter the spatial positioning of how the sound reaches your ear. You can also specify the headphone type you happen to be using, and the sound is then optimized for that particular headphone type which greatly enhances the piano experience.

Features/Connectivity/Cabinet

Kawai Concert Artist Technology
Kawai Concert Artist Technology

User Interface

The top CA series models for a few generations now have featured an LCD touchscreen to navigate the instruments, not unlike the touchscreens used on Android and iOS devices.

Each successive model has featured an easier-to-use operating system, and now Kawai has added an anti-glare feature to make it easier on the eyes.

If you have any experience with a smart device you’ll have no problem navigating this user interface, and even if you don’t, it’s so easy to use that you should catch on quickly.

Functions

In terms of many of the onboard functions, much of what the 99 has been outfitted with is the same here. For example, standard functions like dual mode, split, layer, metronome and transpose are all present.

There’s also quite a bit of preloaded music as well as Concert Magic songs, plus 578 Lesson Book songs, of which 140 are finger exercises.

There’s also a fairly capable built-in USB MIDI and Audio recorder (WAV) with playback option.

Connectivity

Also like the CA99, the CA901 has a very comprehensive stable of connectivity options. For starters, there are dual headphone jacks, USB MIDI, 1/8” stereo line in and a 1/4” L/MONO, R line out. There is also USB to Host and USB to Device.

Of course, the 901 also offers integrated Bluetooth connectivity with both Bluetooth MIDI and Bluetooth Audio.

Bluetooth MIDI allows you to connect to smart devices to access apps like Kawai’s new PianoRemote app, whereas Bluetooth Audio lets you stream music directly through the 901’s premium speaker system, which means it serves as a powerful Bluetooth speaker.

Cabinet

With an upgraded cabinet design, the CA901 offers a beautifully striking upright piano aesthetic and is available in four different finish options – Premium Rosewood, Premium Satin Black, Premium Satin White, and a stunning Ebony Polish finish.

Not many companies really talk about their pedals, but Kawai makes a big deal about highlighting what they call the Grand Feel Pedal System, which mimics the feel of an acoustic grand piano’s pedals.

On a real grand piano, the damper, sostenuto and soft pedals are weighted slightly differently. Kawai replicates this with the Grand Feel Pedal System by using slightly different spring tensions.

They’ve also changed the positioning to make the pedals feel a little bit more comfortable to play on as well.

Closing Thoughts

The CA901 isn’t an Earth-shattering, game-breaking piano that doesn’t attempt to change the world. It does, however improve on the already great CA99 in a number of somewhat subtle, yet still difference-making ways.

For folks looking for a premium, high-end instrument who don’t need the absolute best of the best found in the NOVUS series, the CA901 should be on your shortlist.