🎹Kawai CN29 vs Roland HP702 Digital Piano Review & Comparison - PHA-4 vs RHIII Piano Action🎹

Today we’re comparing the Kawai CN29 digital piano, part of the CN series of pianos that includes the CN201 and CN301 and one of the most popular $2,000 pianos on the market, with the Roland HP702, part of the HP series of pianos that includes the Roland HP704, one of the other most popular $2,000 digital pianos on the market, and we’ll be going through the difference in how they produce the piano tone. We’ll be talking about the differences in the piano sounds that they have on board, comparing their actions, talking about connectivity, and other things like that. So without further delay, let’s get started with the CN 29 and HP 702.

Anybody who has delved into the world of digital piano buying will quickly realize that $2,000 seems to be a major sweet spot, at which point you start to access really good technology, great action, good cabinetry, and good speakers. You can find shades of it underneath the two, but there really does seem to be a fairly distinct divide where as soon as you get over the 2,000 US dollar range for a lot of digital pianos, then you get into, good actions with triple sensors, escapement, and solid construction. You get into cabinets that feel a little more robust, and you start getting into 35 to 40 watts or even higher in terms of speaker power. You also get into some really high-fidelity signal processing and tone engine technology that’s very difficult to find below that price.

We’re taking a look at the Kawai CN29 vs Roland HP702 because these are the two models that really crest that threshold. They both have plastic actions, they both have fairly similar speaker power, and they both have a relatively similar number of tones that are available to them at least in terms of access within the control panels; however, there are some fundamental differences in the nature of the piano tone and how they feel.

As soon as they start looking into this, there are many, many families that realize they are not really at a beginner’s standpoint. They’ve got somebody in the house who has been playing for a few years, they’re trying to upgrade from an entry-level digital piano, and they quickly figure out this is the budget that they have. Some may decide to go higher, but this really is kind of the Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla range in the digital piano world.

Piano Sound

Kawai CN29 Digital Piano
Kawai CN29 Digital Piano

Kawai CN29

Let’s start by talking about sound and tone, and I’m going to start with the CN29. This is a piano that is equipped with the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX sample set and an Onkyo-developed motherboard for superior sound and greater tonal clarity. This sample set uses Progressive Harmonic Imaging (PHI) sound technology and is available on a number of Kawai digital pianos, and it’s notable for a few reasons. The acoustic piano itself is splendid. If you ever have a chance to sit behind a nine-foot Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand piano, please do so, even if you have to skip lunch or hop in a cab to get to another side of the city. If you’re a piano nerd and you happen to be somewhere where you know there’s a showroom with one in it, please do it. Take the chance. It’s one of those instruments that really needs to be sampled at some point in your life. It’s just beautifully colorful. It’s rich and it’s warm. It’s a really unique voice within the concert piano arena.

So they’ve sampled that, but they’ve sampled each individual note in stereo, and multi-layered. This is commonplace when you are in the upper echelons of digital pianos, but it’s a little less common when you are down in this $2,000 price point range. There aren’t very many instruments that you’re going to find that utilize piano sampling that has individual note sampling, multi-layer sampling, and stereo sampling of a piano like that in this price range. So, the tone source is great.

That SK-EX sound is really beautifully colorful. There are all sorts of partials, that basically refers to the series of harmonics coming off the fundamental tone, and that’s something that the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX is really quite known for. They’ve captured that and so when you’re playing this instrument, you have a huge variety of tone from the soft to the loud and you’ve got a really good sense of control of that piano. It’s a great, classical instrument to work with and it’s a great solo piano tone to work with because it does give you this huge palette of color.

That’s not the only individual piano patch on here. We also have the EX Concert Grand Piano, which is slightly brighter, and then we get into Upright Piano, Studio Grand, Studio Grand 2, Mellow, Modern, and so on and so forth. There are 19 sounds in total on the CN29.

Roland HP702

There are a considerably larger number of sounds available on the Roland HP702. When we start listening to the HP702 in terms of its concert piano, here’s what we’ve got. It’s a little clearer and a little less blended than the Kawai. There’s more distinct tonal separation, and the speaker box gives more of a mid-range clarity than the Kawai does, which I feel has more of a V on it. You’ve got nice, crisp high-end trebles as well as full bass. This tends to be more of a bulge in the middle, or I guess in comparison it sounds like a bulge, which means this is probably a lot closer to flat.

There’s a big difference in the tone generator here. The Roland is using SuperNATURAL piano modeling to generate its main piano tone. This means that there is no sample at the center of this sound. This is actually computer algorithmically generated sound. Both the fundamental tone, as well as all the artifacts and all the harmonics, and you can go in and manipulate any of this stuff on board or using the app.

Kawai has the same thing, except it’s still sticking with the main sample as its core, and then there are additive layers of the artifacts on top; such as key noise, let off, and things like that. But then you’ve got resonance simulation so that you truly get a real-time harmonic simulation of what would happen if any combination of strings were played; pedal on or pedal off. It’s really, really cool technology that both of these instruments are using, but it does produce a different effect. There’s a blend to the Kawai that you get, and somehow this really only happens when you’re taking real samples, I’ve tried this like on the computer with plugins like Pianoteq versus Vienna Symphonic Library or Ravenscroft, where it’s real samples versus modeling, like the Pianoteq, and there’s a certain blend that you get that seems somewhat impossible to simulate digitally. That could be because there are so many subtle imperfections in the real thing that it kind of creates this mash of tone in the middle that the computer model doesn’t quite account for. So that’s what we’re talking about when we’re looking at these piano tones.

The Ballad Piano preset from Roland is the same tone set that you’re going to get on the HP704, and I believe it’s essentially the same tone set that you get on the LX705 as well.

Non-piano Sounds

There are a couple of other big differences in terms of sound on these two instruments. The Roland HP702 has the full general MIDI 2 sound set plus quite a few more core tones, or full version tones, so it’s 19 on the Kawai CN29 versus well over 300 on the Roland. There’s absolutely no comparison when it comes to the range of sounds available, so that might tip your choice when you’re looking at one of these versus the other.

In terms of the sound, you’re going to be choosing between a beautiful natural sample set of a great piano and slightly larger speakers with a great polyphony, 192 notes worth of polyphony, versus the Roland, where you don’t have quite the same power and presentation in terms of depth of sound on the onboard speakers themselves, but you have an equal ability to manipulate that, and a very clear tone that you could really play with and get to a point where you were potentially just as happy with it as with the CN29, plus unlimited polyphony for any piano category tones. Right out of the box, CN29 has a bit more of a natural sound, but that is something that you could play with on the Roland and get there. Of course, that has to be balanced with the fact that there is an enormous difference in the quantity of the tones, if that’s something that is important to your buying experience.

Keyboard Action

Roland HP702
Roland HP702

The Kawai CN29 uses the class-leading Responsive Hammer III (RHIII) action. This is a very well-respected action; Nord has this in their new grand piano, and Kawai uses it in the DG30, the CN39, CN29, and all of their ES series, so it is quite prevalent throughout their lineup. The Roland HP702 uses the PHA-4 standard keyboard action (Progressive Hammer Action 4), which is something that you see in the FP10, FP30-X, FP60-X, probably the RD 88, the RP 102, the F701, and RP 701. That’s quite a few. The PHA-4 has become the backbone of the Roland action offering. Both are plastic actions but they have slightly different length key sticks, they have slightly different weighting, and the key bed also feels a little bit different. Each has its own place. I really enjoy playing the PHA-4, and the fact that you can get the PHA-4 in instruments like the FP10 at $600 or $700 is unbelievable in terms of value. I’ve said that before without hedging the comment that the FP10 with the PHA-4 key action, I think is the absolute best value in that price point. If action is the top priority for you, I think it’s the best one out there. When you get into this kind of a price range though, there are a lot of people who would say the RHIII is as good or better than the PHA-4 in terms of the lower levels of control and generally, the sense of depth that you get out of the RHIII. It’s much more of an equal match between these two actions.

What I find on the PHA-4 is that the accuracy in terms of the MIDI output, as well as the sense of weight and flow, feels the most authentic when I’m in kind of the 50 to 80% volume or force input from me. On the RHIII, anything under 50% and right at the very, very top as well, feels like it’s a little better matched to what I would be getting on an acoustic piano. So this is a matter of trying both and understanding your own playing style and understanding what you are likely to want to enjoy on these two instruments. That’s the feedback that I’ve picked up from both of these actions, playing them tons, recording them tons, and looking at the MIDI output, the subtlety that you can get on an RHIII is really gorgeous. Then, when you get to the point where you’re digging in, up into the 80th or 90th percentile, the bottom of the key bed feels like it’s got just a little bit of give to it because they’re using a fairly thick felt pad for the cushioning on this, and that feels a little closer to an acoustic in that sense.

I should point out that most hobby players spend their time in the 50% to 80% range, which means there’s going to be a fairly large portion of people that likely will sit down at the PHA-4 and go, “That’s the comfort zone.” For people who have already spent quite a bit of time behind an acoustic, and already know what they like in terms of being able to pull different nuances out, I think the RHIII is going to feel a little more natural.

They both have a nice microtexture on top of the white key and the black key. The Kawai piano uses the Ivory Touch key surface, while the Roland piano uses the Ivory Feel key surface. The RHIII has slightly rounded white key tops versus the PHA-4, where you’ve got a bit of an edgier front as well as sides. This is purely a personal preference choice.

Both are very well-made actions, and both are very reliable. We see hundreds and hundreds of these go out from our showroom every year, and it is a ridiculously low warranty rate on either one of these actions. I think they’ve clearly done some fantastic engineering on these as they are standing up over time.

Ports and Connectivity

Both of these pianos have very similar ports and connectivity, with two exceptions; the Roland has discrete quarter-inch outputs while the Kawai does not, and the HP702 can receive Bluetooth audio while the CN29 cannot. So the CN29 is definitely a little more limited than the HP 702. Neither one has USB audio playback capabilities, but both come equipped with Bluetooth MIDI.

Audio Output

In terms of capturing the audio output of this instrument, the headphone jack is going to be your only route for the CN29. For people who absolutely need discreet outputs, the CN39 might wind up being the route you want to go. The HP702 and HP704 both have unique line outs, so that’s handy for recording. It would be great if they also included the USB midi interface on either one of these because then it wouldn’t matter. I have a feeling that in another two to three years, all models at this price point and higher are going to include the USB audio interface, but for now, it’s a little bit spotty. There are probably less than a quarter of the models out there from all manufacturers who include this. Yamaha has been one that’s been leading the charge on that. While they’ve been a little behind on Bluetooth implementation, they’ve been a little bit ahead on USB audio. So, all of these manufacturers have their focus.

They both come with ac adaptors, and both have headphone jacks; the quarter inch as well as the 3.5 inch, so you do not need the adapter, which is great. The Kawai CN29 boasts its Spatial Headphone Sound, while the Roland HP702 provides 3D Ambience with its headphones. They both come with the triple pedal included with the stand, and in the case of the Kawai, it also comes with the bench. In some markets, the Roland comes with a bench, and in other markets, it doesn’t, so just check to see whether the Roland bench is included wherever you happen to be purchasing the instrument.

They both have key covers, they both have music rests, and they both come in multiple colors.

Other Specs

HP702 Dimensions
HP702 Dimensions

Both the Kawai CN29 and the Roland HP702 make use of apps to give the users access to control the various parameters of each instrument; including damper resonance, damper noise, key off resonance, key off noise, hammer noise, hammer response, reverb, brilliance, full scale string resonance, single note character, single note tuning, single note volume, duplex scale, soundboard type, and cabinet resonance. The CN29 uses the Virtual Technician app and HP702 uses the Piano Designer app.

Kawai owners can enjoy the Grand Feel Pedal System that features a soft, sostenuto and damper pedal, with half-pedal capability. For the Roland, there is a Progressive Damper Action Pedal, soft pedal, and sostenuto pedal.

Both digital pianos have an OLED display to navigate the various settings and parameters, as well as built-in controls for quick access to split/dual function and transpose.

For cabinet design, you can choose satin white, satin black, or Premium Rosewood finish for the Kawai, while the Roland comes in white, charcoal black, dark rosewood, and light oak finishes.

For sound quality, the HP702 has a two 14-Watt speaker system, while the Kawai’s speaker system is comprised of two 20-watt speakers.

For learning purposes, the Kawai includes built-in Classical Etudes, Alfred’s Basic Piano Library lesson book levels 1A and 1B, and the Chopin Walzer lesson book. Similarly, the Roland comes with 30 Do, Re, Mi lessons and 287 other lesson pieces, and also the Piano Every Day app to help encourage daily practice. Both keyboards can playback MIDI files, and have a metronome.

For more specs visit these websites or refer to the owner’s manual:



Final Thoughts

So to wrap this up, for anybody looking at that $2,000 price point, and I do think for anyone who is serious about having a good digital piano and having it in the home for five or more years for a semi-serious player, $2,000 is a very critical threshold that you want to try and be over if you can. You start to access the better chipsets, you start to access the better speaker boxes, and the engineering just gets a little bit better. It really becomes something that feels like a true musical partner and musical instrument. If you’re able to look at that, these are two stops along the road that you’re not going to be able to avoid. They’re going to wind up on the charts, just like if you’re taking a look at Yamaha’s CLP735 or the YDP184. For me, I’m always about piano tone and piano action. I love both of these for different reasons. Hopefully, I’ve explained why, but they definitely present very different sets of appeals.

The Roland HP702 has a huge number of sounds to choose from, slightly smaller speakers, Bluetooth audio in, and a nice crisp action that’s going to feel great for hobbyists playing in a contemporary style. The Kawai CN29 has a gorgeous stereo sample set that blends really well and is going to work very well for solo playing and classical playing, an action that brings all kinds of nuance out, and quite a bit fewer onboard sounds. You don’t buy a CN29 if you’re looking for anything really except your core acoustic piano tones and maybe a couple of other tones like organ or electric piano, which we’ve covered in its own review.