The Kawai CN series has been synonymous with quality, performance and value. The Kawai CN29 digital piano was a massively successful model during its run, widely regarded as one of if not the best home digital piano in the class. Yamaha doesn’t have a truly comparable model for the price as an example, nor does Casio.
But, it’s time as a new model has come to an end with the release of its replacement – the new Kawai CN201. So, first things first – we’re going to get these two models side by side and see exactly how the CN201 manages to improve on the already excellent CN29, as we always do when a replacement model comes out.
Whether you’re new to the CN series, or perhaps deciding between a clearance CN29 (or even a used one) or a new CN201, this article and video should be helpful. Let’s get into it.
Kawai CN29 vs CN201 – Background
As we mentioned above, whenever a popular model gets an upgrade, we always love to get the old one and the replacement side by side to hear and see exactly what’s been improved. It’s even more relevant with this particular matchup since many showrooms across North America are still going to have the last of their CN29 stock this holiday season, likely available at an enticing clearance price, presenting customers with the option between a discounted CN29 or new Kawai CN201 digital piano.
Now, we can say right off the hop that the CN201 shouldn’t be described as a revolutionary upgrade over the CN29. It’s definitely more of an evolution, and a big reason why the upgrade occurred at this time is that one of Kawai’s main chip suppliers – Onkyo – went out of business, necessitating a redesign of their main chipboard and some of the signal processing.
This means that big components, like the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX Concert Grand Piano core tone with 88-key sampling, appear the same on paper, but by virtue of the improved signal processing it actually produces a superior tone. The keyboard action also appears the same at first glance with the RHIII brought back, however it’s an upgraded version of the same fundamental action. This is the general overall theme of the CN201.
With that said, let’s get into the sound and unpack the improvements.
Digital Piano Sound
Progressive Harmonic Imaging with Improved Signal Processing
The sound is probably the biggest difference between these two models, even though the Progressive Harmonic Imaging (PHI) engine is carried over from the CN29.
The CN201 however features an enhanced, high-quality SK-EX sample set, combined with improved signal processing. Kawai hasn’t specified what specifically has been improved with the sample, however, when playing them side-by-side we can hear that they’re changed the tone curve as well as the compression algorithm.
The CN201 also has a much smoother and less harsh upper volume range when you’re playing through headphones. The tone is also rounder and more delicate, though this isn’t as easy to discern when just playing through the piano’s built-in speakers.
The headphone’s spatialization effect, which Kawai refers to as Spatial Headphone Sound, is also more pronounced and overall delivers superior sound. Kawai’s Low Volume Balance features make a welcome return.
New K-60 Upright Piano Sample
The next major sound difference between these two is that a new sample of a Kawai K-60 upright piano has been included on the CN201. The K-60 is no longer in production, but it’s a fairly recent model that has since been replaced by the K-600 and K-800.
We can say that this is an absolutely fantastic sample, and we would even go as far as to say it’s probably one of the best upright piano samples loaded into a digital piano up to this point, even including higher-level hybrid digital pianos.
There are certain styles of music where an upright piano is just perfect, such as certain styles of pop and indie rock. This K-60 would fit in great with such styles.
In addition to adjustable reverb, the Virtual Technician remains unchanged, so you’re still given access to a whole host of editable parameters via the Virtual Technician App through PianoRemote App (for iOS and Android) such as string resonance, soft pedal depth, damper resonance, temperament key, stretch tuning, hammer delay, half-pedal adjust, top board, fall-back noise, damper noise and minimum touch.
Polyphony hasn’t changed with the CN201 and we once again have 192 notes available. This is more than enough for a piano-centric instrument that isn’t really built for arranging or production.
Other Sound Presets
Beyond the SK-EX and K-60 samples, the remainder of the tones on the CN201 appears to be the same as the CN29, and we’re not really discerning a difference in the quality level of these sounds, but they are still consistent and solid overall.
Kawai has done some tweaking to the stereo speaker system which they claim has improved the tonal clarity, so perhaps the tweaked speaker design is playing a role in some of the things we noted above.
That said, it’s still a dual system with 40 watts of power just like the CN29 was.
Digital Piano Action
Responsive Hammer III with Improved Cushioning
Kawai has referred to this version of their class-leading Responsive Hammer III (RHIII) as being an improved version of the one that went into the CN29. Playing them side-by-side, we were actually quite surprised because they feel more different from one another than we were expecting.
What Kawai has done is improve the key cushioning, and this is a trend other manufacturers are adopting with their actions as well and one we expect to continue due to the work-from-home revolution because even with headphones, most digital piano actions are still quite loud and very capable of disturbing other people in the general vicinity.
This new version of the RHIII greatly reduces the action noise, and it also feels a little bit lighter, though we actually weighed both versions of the action out and they are exactly the same. The other advantage of the improved cushioning is that the RHIII should now be an even more durable action over the long term.
Other RHIII Features
Otherwise, we’re working with the same beloved RHIII action that is considered by many to be the best plastic digital piano action currently available, and the best action in the price point, really only rivalled by the PHA4 action from Roland.
There are a number of reasons why this action is so highly regarded including its use of counterweights, a triple sensor and let-off simulation.
It also features ivory touch key surfaces with moisture-absorbing qualities and a good sense of glide.
Connectivity & Other Miscellaneous Differences
While the CN29 had Bluetooth MIDI, the CN201 expands the Bluetooth functionality to include Audio. More and more digital pianos are starting to offer this, but it’s particularly relevant with the CN201 because it allows you to stream music from an iPad or other Smart Device directly through the CN201’s excellent built-in speakers.
While it’s nice if any digital piano offers Bluetooth Audio, it’s not as notable on instruments with weaker speaker systems.
Kawai’s new PiaBookPlayer app is also worth checking out.
Other Connector Jacks
The rest of the connectivity remains the same with dual headphone outputs and USB to host. Unfortunately, Kawai has once again chosen not to include a 1/4” line out, which essentially pushes those who need line outputs and don’t want to fiddle with adaptors over to the new CN301 (which replaces the CN39.)
User Interface Control Panel
Kawai has also tweaked the OLED display user interface to be a little bit more friendly and easy to control
The standard functions are essentially the same from the CN29 to the CN201, with things like built-in music like Chopin etudes Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1A and 1B included once again, along with a Lesson function.
Things like Concert Magic, Transpose a metronome and the ability to store user startup settings are of course covered once again as well.
Cabinet & Finish Options
The integrated Grand Feel Pedal System returns, and this is great because Kawai actually calibrates the weight of each of the pedals to match that of an acoustic piano’s grand piano system with the damper, sostenuto and soft pedals all weighted slightly differently.
The CN201 is available in three distinct finish options – Satin Black (CN29B), Satin White (CN29W) and a Premium Rosewood Finish (CN29R.) – and the cabinet includes an adjustable music rest.
Here’s a quick summary of the improvements that the CN201 has managed to incorporate; a tweaked main piano sound, the added K-60 sample and general improvements to the signal processing and speaker design.
The RHIII is improved over previous versions, the user interface is better and the CN201 is now featuring Bluetooth Audio connectivity.
This brings us back to what we mentioned at the beginning – what should someone who has a choice between a discounted or lightly used CN29 vs a brand new CN201 do? In our opinion, if the price is fairly similar and you play with headphones a lot, or if you could really benefit from the quieter action, it’s worth it to go for the new CN201.
If you don’t play with headphones a lot and have no need for a quieter key action, if the discount is fairly significant, you’re probably fine to go with a CN29.
There are of course a number of factors at play here, and much of it will really come down to whether any of the specific improvements featured in the CN201 have meaningful value to you.
Like all Kawai digital pianos, the CN201 once again features great warranty coverage so you can rest assured on that front as well.
Thanks for reading!