🎹 Kawai ES-120, Kawai CN201 & Kawai CN301 | New Kawai Digital Pianos Announced at NAMM 2022 🎹

One of the most exciting times of the year for the musical instrument industry is without question the annual NAMM show held in Anaheim. Many manufacturers of all kinds of musical instruments showcase their offerings, and many will save big announcements for their time at NAMM as well.

Kawai certainly did that this past NAMM by announcing the upcoming release of three brand new 88-key digital pianos set to replace staples from the current lineup; the ES120 which replaces the beloved ES110, as well as the CN201 and CN301 which replaces the CN29 and CN39 respectively.

So, this is going to be a quick article to reflect on Kawai’s announcement and everything we know so far.

Kawai ES120, Kawai CN201 & CN301 – Background

Kawai ES120 Digital Piano
Kawai ES120 – New Kawai Digital Piano

The NAMM show has traditionally been held towards the end of January every year, however, COVID has of course disrupted this over the past few years. As a result, NAMM 2022 was held in June instead, but despite the rescheduling, some manufacturers decided to save announcements for the NAMM show anyway.

Kawai was one such manufacturer, and as we said in the intro, they went ahead and announced three models; the ES120, CN201 and CN301. The ES120 portable digital piano is notable in that it replaces the ES110, which was one of Kawai’s best-selling products since it hit the market all the way back in 2017.

The CN201 and 301 are notable for different reasons; The CN29 and CN39, both popular models, haven’t actually had that long of a production run. However, Kawai’s chip supplier went out of business, which necessitated a redesign and ultimately an upgrade to the motherboards. As such, it made sense to release these models under a new name.

Let’s dive into what we know about the ES120 so far.

Kawai ES120 Digital Piano: What We Know So Far

Out of the three model upgrades Kawai announced, the ES120 definitely has the most upgraded specifications from its predecessor, and this makes sense since the ES110 had more than a 5-year production run.

Despite its affordable price and long production run, the ES110 is still a popular instrument among a wide audience from beginners to pros needing an inexpensive acoustic piano-centred stage piano.

Here are the key upgrades from the ES110.

User Interface

The single most significant upgrade to the ES110 in our opinion so far has to be the user interface. For as good a piano as the ES110 undoubtedly was, it was a bit of a pain to navigate, with an overreliance on shortcut commands that would take most people quite some time to commit to memory.

There are still a number of shortcut commands, but the reliance on them has been greatly reduced. Accessing things like the song recorder and playback should be a lot easier.

Add in the fact that the design is simply much more modern and aesthetically pleasing, so pianists of all stripes will appreciate this upgrade.

Bluetooth Audio & Connectivity

The next upgrade is the inclusion of Bluetooth Audio connectivity. The ES110 was an early adopter of Bluetooth MIDI, and now that Audio has trickled down into the price point Kawai has gone ahead and included that here as well. This will allow you to stream audio through the 120’s speaker system from an iOS and Android smart device.

Also, the version of Bluetooth MIDI has also been updated to reduce latency so that’s a plus as well. The ES120 will be compatible with the new PiaBookPlayer and PianoRemote app.

Another connector jack, USB MIDI, has been added as well which replaces traditional 5-pin MIDI. Otherwise, the 1/4” L/MONO, R line out remains, as do the jacks for the power supply, a sustain pedal and separate floating GFP-3 triple pedal (damper, sostenuto and soft) or F-351 Triple pedal bar which requires HML2 keyboard stand to function)


RHC Action
RHC Action

Kawai has brought back their Responsive Hammer Compact Action (RHC) here which was also featured in the ES110, however, this is a new version of the action with improved key cushioning. The result is a much quieter action with greatly reduced mechanical key noise.

The difference between the RHC and RHCII keyboard action is that the RHCII features a triple sensor while we’re still working with a dual sensor here.

Still, the upgraded key cushioning is very welcome as you’ll be able to play with the ES120 without disturbing others who are close by, and the RHCII should also prove to be a more durable action over time.

Piano Sound

Moving onto the sound, and while the ES120 brings back the Harmonic Imaging (HI) sound engine with 192-note polyphony, the core grand piano sound is now the Shigeru Kawai SK EX concert grand piano sample. The ES110 featured the EX concert grand, and while that sample is still present here, the SKEX is definitely the highlight.

Both core grand piano sounds feature 88-key stereo sampling, which is still a rarity for the price point. The SKEX sample in particular is very complex with a ton of available tonal variety. There’s a handful of other grand piano sounds which are all versions of the SKEX and EX sample sets with different mixing, while there is also a solid upright piano sample as well.

Kawai has also included their Spatial Headphone Sound effect as well as a new Low Volume Balance feature.

Non-piano Sounds

Kawai hasn’t said anything about the non-acoustic piano sounds except for the fact that the sound bank has been expanded from 19 sounds to 25.

Many of the ES110’s non-piano sounds were fairly average, especially compared to the sounds on the newer Roland FP-30X, so we’re hoping the electric pianos, organs, synths etc. receive some kind of upgrade as well.

Features for messing around with the sounds like Split and Transpose of course return, as do staples like the metronome and drum rhythms.

Speaker System

Next up is the speaker system and this area actually happens to be one of the most substantial areas of improvement.

The ES110 had a dual speaker system with 14 watts of power, while the 120 features a pair of redesigned speakers and 20 watts of output power. So we’re talking about a 40% improvement here which is obviously very significant.

Of course, you’ll still need to connect to an amp if you’re gigging, but for solo playing and practicing, the new speaker system is sure to extract much more complexity out of the piano tone.

Digital Signal Processing

The last point we’ll highlight has to do with something a little bit more obscure as it’s an area that doesn’t really show up on specs sheets – the digital signal processing.

Kawai’s former chip supplier responsible for this area was Onkyo, but they’ve gone out of business as a company. Kawai has sourced a new supplier, and while the said supplier is being kept confidential, we’ve been told that it’s an even better-known hi-fi supplier.

The result is some enhancements to the reverb engine, but we suspect it will also be the case that the ES120 sounds quite a bit better, especially due to the improved speaker system and new sample set as well.

Kawai CN201 and CN301: What We Know So Far

Kawai CN201 Digital Piano
Kawai CN201 Digital Piano

Moving onto the CN201 and CN301, between the two, the 301 seems to have received more upgrades. Any changes to the Kawai CN201 digital piano look admittedly subtle.

In fact, we suspect the biggest reason they’ve changed the model names is due to the Onkyo situation we mentioned above.

Here’s what we know about these two models so far.

Piano Action

The Responsive Hammer III action, or RHIII for short, is a very well-liked action in the market, widely considered the top plastic key action available. In fact, you can even order a special version of the Nord Grand with the RHIII instead of Nord’s usual, more basic action.

The RHIII returns here from the previous CN series models, however like the RHC we mentioned above, this is a newer version of the RHIII with improved key cushioning. Again, this will lessen the action noise and improve long-term durability.

The other specs that have made the RHIII great including triple sensor key detection, counterweights, ivory touch key surfaces and let-off all remain. If there was any doubt about the RHIII being the best plastic key action available, that will likely be put to rest.

Bluetooth Audio & Connectivity

Like the ES120, the CN201 and 301 are both also adding Bluetooth Audio. This is actually a little bit more significant with these two pianos since the high-quality speaker systems are more likely to be able to double as a home stereo replacement.

Speaker System

The speakers on the CN201 look to be the same as the CN29, however, the CN301’s speaker sound system has received a redesign and the addition of top speaker diffusers. Companies like Yamaha and Casio have been taking a similar approach recently.

The power remains the same at 40 watts, but we expect this speaker design upgrade to make the 301 better able to maximize the potential of the Progressive Harmonic Imaging sound engine and relay sonic artifacts like damper resonance.

We found that on the CN39 you did need to play around with the Virtual Technician and EQ presets to really get the CN39 into an ideal state.

Piano Sound

The Progressive Harmonic Imaging (PHI) tone engine returns, but both pianos get the new K-60 upright piano sample (also uses 88-key sampling), which happens to be the nicest upright piano we’ve heard in a digital piano. The CN301 also gets the SK5 sample.

Odds & Ends

Kawai CN301 Digital Piano
Kawai CN301 Digital Piano

The CN301 is also getting a new OLED display cheek block control panel, so navigating some of the functions should be a little bit easier.

When it comes to other areas, many features are simply getting ported over from the CN29 and 39. The lesson function, with repertoire from Alfred, Beyer, Czerny and Chopin all returning, as well as things like Concert Magic.

Both pianos will be available in Rosewood, Satin Black and Satin White. Both pianos will once again feature Kawai’s great Grand Feel Pedal system.

Closing Thoughts

Thanks for joining us for this quick look at what we know so far about these three brand-new models from Kawai.

We have high hopes for all three and will certainly be back with extensive piano reviews for each once they’ve hit the market.