🎹 Kawai ES110 vs Kawai ES120 | A Side-by-Side Comparison, Review & Audio Demo 🎹

Whenever a popular acoustic or digital piano model receives an update, one of the first things we like to do is a side-by-side comparison between the old and new versions. Knowing exactly what improvements a manufacturer has come up with is important to know for its own sake, but in many cases, shoppers will actually find themselves with the option for some period of time between the older model at a clearance price, or the new model for full retail.

This is sure to be the case with the Kawai ES110 portable digital piano and its new replacement, the Kawai ES120, so we wanted to get this article and companion video done right away.

If you’re after a full digital piano review of just the ES120 you can also find that on our blog and YouTube channel. But if you’re looking for an in-depth, side-by-side breakdown to see exactly what’s new with the ES120 in context, you’ve come to the right place.

Kawai ES110 vs ES120 – First Impressions

Kawai ES120 Digital Piano
Kawai ES120 Digital Piano

We’re really happy to have had the chance to get these side-by-side because the differences really start to crystallize when you can play them back-to-back. The Kawai ES110 digital piano was a favorite of ours here at Merriam Pianos, and a massive seller globally, so we expect the ES120 portable digital piano to pick up right where the 110 left off.

Some major differences that immediately jump out are the action and how the new Shigeru Kawai SKEX Concert Grand piano sound is presented via the speaker system. The control interface is also very different, with a much more modernized and functional approach taken with the ES120, and this is apparent just by looking at the two pianos.

Let’s take a closer look at these and some other key differences between these two instruments, as well as what’s been carried over.

Digital Piano Action

What’s Different?

Improved Cushioning

Both pianos’ respective specs sheets indicate the presence of the Responsive Hammer Compact Action (RHC), so you’ll be immediately forgiven if you assume these actions are the same.

Instead, the ES120 is receiving a new version of the RHC action with improved key cushioning. As a result, the entire structure of the key bed feels more solid, with less flex and less give when you really start laying into the keyboard.

For the same reasons, the key action is a lot quieter on the ES120 and the ES110, and this is going to be a very welcome improvement to those who discovered over the past few years how loud digital piano key actions can be, to the point of disturbing others around them even with headphones engaged.

Overall, the action just feels tighter and simply, better to play all around.

What’s the Same?

Kawai ES110
Kawai ES110

When it comes to the rest of the keyboard action everything stays the same, which is probably why Kawai didn’t go ahead and give this action a new name.

Case in point, both actions use a double sensor, whereas the RHCII action features an upgraded triple sensor.

Both actions also don’t have more advanced features like escapement or counterweights. We’re getting the sense that they’ve upgraded the key texture, but they haven’t disclosed that anywhere so we can’t confirm it at this point.

In any case, the RHC is using a nice texture on the keytops, whereas the Yamaha GHS action found in comparable models like the Yamaha P125 does not use a textured keytop. Most pianists find that some type of texture on the keys makes for better glide.

Digital Piano Sound

What’s Different?

Shigeru Kawai SK-EX Sample

The ES110’s core grand piano sound was the EX preset with 88-key piano sampling. This sample returns on the 120, however the default, core sound slot has been usurped by the Shigeru Kawai SK-EX 88-key sample.

The SK-EX sample has been Kawai’s go-to sample for a few years now, and to us, it’s a richer, more colorful sample with a wider dynamic range than the EX, as is also the case when comparing their acoustic piano counterparts.

Both samples incorporate damper resonance, but it’s more pronounced with the SK-EX sample.

Reverb Engine

Kawai has tweaked and upgraded their reverb engine, and even if you compare the same EX sample on each piano, you can definitely hear a difference, especially when using the instrument’s speakers.

When playing with headphones the differences are more subtle, but they’re definitely quite noticeable through the onboard speaker system.

They’ve also added the Low Volume Balance feature when playing with the volume set low, as well as the Spatial Headphone Sound effect for when playing with headphones.

Tone Ports

While the ES110 also had tone ports, there weren’t really serving a true sonic purpose as the ES110 would start to sound overly treble heavy and sharp when the volume was pushing.

They’ve totally addressed this on the ES120 to the point that it’s a fundamentally different tone coming through the speakers when the volume is pushed as a result of the new tone port design.

The tone is much more rounded, and there’s also more of an emphasis on the mid-range with a strong sense of a V-shaped EQ.

Speakers

Another critical upgrade Kawai has brought to the table with the ES120 is with regard to the built-in speakers. The ES110 had a high quality, but modestly powered 14-watt speaker system, whereas the 120 increases this by almost 50% to 20 watts of rated amplifier power.

A key advantage the Roland FP30 had over the ES110 was its 22-watt speaker system, which was then carried over to the 30X stage piano, so for Kawai to have essentially brought the speaker power up to be in line with the 30X was a big move.

The difference in power is very apparent playing these side-by-side, and the ES120 definitely now has one of the best stereo speaker systems in the price range.

Expanded Onboard Tones

The ES110 had a solid selection with 19 total onboard tones. The 120 beefs this up by 6 tones, bringing the total to 25. The upright piano, not totally convincing on the 110, is much more useable here.

The non-acoustic piano patches are the same in themselves, however, due to the new reverb engine, all of the tones, including electric pianos, organs, pads and especially the strings all sound fuller and richer.

So not only is the sound selection expanded, but they all sound better too.

Virtual Technician

The ES110 featured the Virtual Technician function available onboard with 7 editable sound-related parameters. The ES120 has removed this as an available onboard function. Automatic downgrade right? Not so fast.

The Virtual Technician app is still entirely accessible, it’s just accessed through Kawai’s free PianoRemote app for iOS and Android, and they’ve expanded the available parameters all the way up to 17.

Parameters include things like damper noise, fall-back noise, string resonance and more, plus it’s much easier to edit the parameters from an iPad rather than onboard.

What’s the Same?

Despite how different the ES120 sounds, it’s still using the same sound engine architecture with the Harmonic Imaging Sound Technology at the helm. But again, even though it’s the same sound engine, the inclusion of the SK-EX sample, new reverb configuration, tone ports and upgraded speakers means the sonic experience is so different it may as well be a different sound engine.

The 192-note polyphony present on the ES110 is carried over here, which is plenty of polyphony for solo piano playing and piano lessons.

Interface/Features/Connectivity

Kawai ES120 Features
Kawai ES120 Features

What’s Different?

Control Panel

As we mentioned above, another major difference between these two pianos is the user interface/control panel.

The ES110 had a small number of buttons on the front panel, which meant that memorizing a large number of key/button combinations was necessary for navigating the piano, making this a bit tricky.

They’ve added more buttons to the ES120 and added quick access to certain functions like Transpose and Bluetooth, which is great. Fundamentally, however, the overall level of access to functionality through the button system isn’t that different from the ES110, yet it feels easier.

Beyond this, the ES120 just looks more modern and up-to-date from an aesthetic standpoint as well.

Bluetooth Connectivity

The ES110 was one of the earlier. digital pianos in the class to introduce Bluetooth MIDI. This is of course retained on the 120, but now they’ve included Bluetooth Audio which is starting to become quite common in the class.

Paired with the upgraded speakers and the Bluetooth Audio connection is super useful as it lets you stream music from a smart device directly through the ES120, whether for practice and playing along, or simply for listening.

Connectivity

The remainder of the connectivity is mostly the same, however, the traditional 5-pin MIDI found on the 110 has been swapped out for USB-MIDI on the 120. Some people might miss the 5-pin MIDI ports, but most would consider it a worthwhile trade.

Damper Pedal

Unfortunately, likely due to the squeeze of inflation and simply because of what’s normal in the market, there’s one area where the ES120 received a marked downgrade – the sustain pedal.

The ES110 shipped standard with the great F10H sustain pedal, which greatly resembled a real acoustic piano damper pedal with full half-pedaling capability.

Virtually all digital pianos in the price range, including the Roland FP-30X and Casio PX-S3100 ship with a basic footswitch pedal, with proper damper pedals offered as an upgrade at an additional cost. Kawai has followed suit, and the 120 is shipping with the basic F-1SP switch pedal.

We would strongly recommend most users upgrade to the F10H pedal right off the hop, so you will have to budget for what additional expense.

What’s the Same?

ES120 Digital Piano
ES120 Digital Piano

Many of the remaining features, functions and accessories remain more or less the same. Built-in lesson books like Alfred’s Basic Piano make a return, as does the basic song recorder (with playback) and staples like a metronome, transpose, split, demo songs and drum rhythms.

Dual headphone ports and the ever-important 1/4” line-out jacks (L/MONO, R) are here once again meaning there’s no need to fiddle with adapters if you need to connect to an amp.

The optional triple pedal unit/pedal board is available once again though it’s been changed from the F-350 to the F-351 triple pedal, as is the designer keyboard stand, which has also been changed from the HML-1 to the HML-2. The music rest for sheet music of course still included, and the warranty coverage remains the same.

Closing Thoughts

We hope this comparison has been helpful. The ES110 got tons of coverage during its run, and we expect that will once again be the case with the ES120; a great piano for beginners just starting out, all the way up to advanced pianists seeking a trust practice companion.

If we didn’t go deep enough for your liking, check out our full review of the ES120 where we go heavy into all of the specifications and describe our overall impressions of this excellent portable piano.

Thanks for reading!