Today we’ll be comparing the new Kawai KDP120 digital piano and the Yamaha YDP-144. Both of these instruments are surely going to wind up in countless Reddit threads, Piano World Forum posts and even Amazon reviews as people try to figure out the better fit for them in this extremely competitive home piano part of the market that also features good offerings from the Casio PX (Privia) line and Roland.
These two digital console pianos are positioned directly against one another, and as a result, there are several specs that line up almost identically across both instruments, they look very similar and are priced the same in most markets with great warranty coverage. At the same time, there are some meaningful areas where they happen to diverge, and understanding these differences will be critical in deciding which piano makes more sense for you.
Yamaha YDP-144 vs Kawai KDP-120 | Background Information
Best Selling Models in the Class
As we intimated above, this is likely to be one of the most widely discussed matchups in the Digital Pianos world for 2022 and probably beyond. The under $1,500 USD home digital piano is crucial to manufacturers since such a high volume of digital pianos are sold in this range.
The Yamaha YDP-144 is probably due for an update as it’s been on the market for a few years now, but currently, this is the Yamaha product that directly competes with the KDP120, which itself is a recent upgrade to the popular KDP-110.
Quick Snapshot of the Kawai KDP-120
The 120 is an 88-key weighted action digital piano that features some nice upgrades over the 110, including some improved cushioning on the RHCII action for a noticeably better playing experience. It’s also available in more finishes beyond Rosewood and has an updated version of Bluetooth MIDI making it easier to connect to Kawai’s new PianoRemote app.
Quick Snapshot of the Yamaha YDP-144
Over on the YDP144, we’ve got a smaller speaker system and fewer onboard sounds, but the same polyphony count as the KDP-120 and a similar cabinet. The Yamaha YDP-144 is also available in multiple finishes, and of course, also possesses 88 weighted keys.
Both pianos feature sound engines that are built off of their top concert grand pianos, which are among the top concert grand pianos available anywhere in the world. They do sound quite different though, and that really comes through with the YDP-144 and KDP-120.
The Yamaha CFX concert grand is a very nuanced, colorful instrument with a super tight mid and high-end, and very clean bass. The Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand is even more colorful, perhaps one of the most colorful pianos available. There’s so much harmonic information through the mid-range and the treble has a very fat attack that is reminiscent of a very good New York Steinway D.
With that, let’s jump into a more detailed comparison of the sound engines.
Yamaha YDP-144 vs Kawai KDP-120 | Piano Sound Engines
Kawai’s Harmonic Imaging Sound Engine, 40 Watt Speakers, 192 Note Polyphony
The Kawai KDP-120 is pumping an impressive 40 watts of sound through the speakers, with 192 note polyphony, and their Shigeru Kawai SK-EX sample set which is being delivered with full 88 key sampling and adjustable reverb and brilliance.
The sound engine is Kawai’s Harmonic Imaging (HI) engine with damper resonance. Sound-related upgrades over the KDP110 include a new Low Volume Balance Feature (essentially an auto EQ when playing quietly) and upgraded Virtual Technician (which allows you to adjust things like touch curve and soft pedal depth) and Smart Mode feature.
Yamaha’s CFX Sound Engine, 16 Watt Speakers, 192 Note Polyphony
The Yamaha YDP-144 has quite a bit less amplifier power with 16 watts, though polyphony is equal at 192 notes. The sound engine is the Yamaha CFX engine, which also features individual sampling and delivers a really nice, high-quality piano playing experience.
YDP-144 also features its tone engine-related features such as Intelligent Acoustic Control, key-off resonance, and Stereophonic Optimizer.
How Do They Differ Musically?
Playing them side-by-side and you’ll notice right away the tone itself sounds very different between both pianos (check out the video for playing examples). There is more of a high-end character and upper partial information coming from the bass register with the KDP-120 -the tone is both deeper as well as more complex on the top end of the note out of the 120.
Now, having played the real versions of these instruments, we can tell you that in real life, the difference between what you’re hearing in the video and the actual pianos is a lot greater than in real life. Both pianos have a beautifully complex treble in real life, but the YDP-144 is coming off as a much simpler capture with less sonic information.d c59
Speakers vs Headphones
Beyond the tone itself, if you plan on using your digital piano primarily without earphones, the speakers are a pretty meaningful difference here. The more than double the rated power output on the KDP-120 does make a pretty significant difference in practice.
Of course, if you plan on playing primarily with headphones, this difference is pretty moot. The selection of preset tones beyond the grand piano sounds between the two pianos is very similar, with 15 on the KDP-120 and 10 on the YDP-144. The electric pianos on the YDP-144 are particularly nice.
Other Instrument Sounds
The non-piano tones are equally good on both pianos, with basically all of the tones available on each instrument being pretty useable. After the core acoustic piano sounds, the electric pianos definitely stand out on both instruments.
Those looking for a huge selection of onboard tones including things like brass, woodwinds, and guitars will want to consider a different musical instrument.
Yamaha YDP-144 vs Kawai KDP-120 | Piano Action
Kawai’s Responsive Hammer Compact II Action
The Kawai KDP-120 features a newer version of Responsive Hammer Compact II Keyboard action with updated key cushioning. What does that mean? Well, the RHC II first appeared in the KDP-110 as a triple sensor upgrade to the original dual sensor RHC which first appeared in the Kawai ES-100.
This new version of the RHCII features upgrading cushioning, which changes how the key feels when you play a note. It feels more solid, there’s more responsiveness and there’s less flexing happening when you really dig in. It also happens to be quieter than the previous RHCII as another added bonus.
There’s no escapement on this hammer action, but the keys have a nice texture on the top which provides some nice glide.
Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard Action
The YDP-144 digital piano is using Yamaha’s Graded Hammer Standard or GHS action, while it is very functional, it’s been around for quite a while and is dated in some ways. That said, it appears as though Yamaha plans on continuing to use it for the time being, in which case, it would be nice if they could move past the current high gloss finish on the white keys and incorporate some type of texture like Kawai has done with the RHCII, and frankly, most other manufacturers have done with their comparable actions. Fortunately, the matte finish on the black key tops feels fine.
And this isn’t really a question of opinion – every single high-end digital piano action has texture keys, including Yamaha’s more advanced actions. The lack of texture on the GHSs can make for a sticky playing experience that is less than ideal.
The GHS action is also using a dual sensor, so from a dynamic output perspective, the RHCII is capable of more accurate output. If you’re getting into a more advanced repertoire, this difference can be quite significant. Beginners on the other hand aren’t likely to notice a huge difference here.
Final Action-Related Thoughts
On paper, there’s no question that the RHCII is a more up-to-date and advanced action as compared to the GHS, and most experienced pianists will probably perceive this, especially due to the more accurate touch sensitivity.
That said, touch is a pretty subjective thing, so there are certainly people who might still prefer the GHS action for their own personal reasons.
Yamaha YDP-144 vs Kawai KDP-120 | Connectivity & Features
There are definitely some notable differences between these two instruments when we compare the features and connectivity.
Without the adapter, you’ll have to use a USB cable to connect the YDP-144 to a computer, Smartphone, or iPad. We would assume Yamaha will update when the replacement for the YDP-144 is eventually released.
Piano Remote & Smart Pianist Apps
Both pianos are compatible with really useful apps for iOS and Android from the manufacturers – the PianoRemote app in the case of the KDP-110 and the Smart Pianist app in the case of the YDP-144.
Both of these apps are great and not merely an afterthought – being able to control your digital piano’s features and functions from the convenience of a Smart device is much faster and more enjoyable than using the standard cheek block control schemes each piano uses for a user interface.
Other Connector Ports
In terms of other connectivity, both pianos have dual headphone jacks out – on the 120 there’s a 3.5 mil stereo jack and larger quarter-inch while the 144 has two quarter-inch outs. Both pianos also have USB MIDI connectivity.
Features & Functions
As far as standard features go, both pianos pretty much have all of the essentials covered such as Layer and Four Hands Mode, as well as a basic song recorder and playback, transpose, a metronome, and some built-in lesson functions and lesson songs.
More notably on the KDP-120, they’ve really loaded this up with a significant amount of repertoire including things like Alfred books, as well as Czerny, Burgmuller, and Beyer etudes.
The KDP-110 makes use of Kawai’s Grand Feel Pedal System (sustain pedal, sostenuto, and soft) which weighs each pedal slightly differently just like on an acoustic grand piano, whereas the YDP-144’s pedals are weighed the same. This probably won’t make a difference to a lot of players, but those with acoustic piano experience probably will.
Both pianos are available in Premium Rosewood, Satin Black (Yamaha calls it Black Walnut), and Satin White, and both come with a bench in the box at no extra charge, as well as a built-in Key Cover and Music Rest.
Which One Should you Choose?
If you’re looking for a piano for primarily headphone playing, you’re essentially going to be choosing between the CFX sound and the SK-EX sound, as well as which touch you prefer. Both tone engines sound great, though the Kawai sample seems to be more complex and conveys a greater amount of sonic information.
That said, there are a ton of simply those who are going to prefer the CFX sample simply due to personal preference.
The only other consideration here if you are doing a lot of playing with headphones is that Kawai has equipped the KDP-120 with their Spatial Headphone Sound effect and adjustable headphone type settings, both of which enhance the headphone experience. Yamaha has not incorporated their own version of this type of technology into the YDP-144.
If you won’t be using headphones too frequently, the substantially more powerful onboard speakers the KDP-120 is equipped with could be a major factor in your decision-making. The extra speakers just provide so much more presence and bass power, especially with fortissimo playing.
On paper, it’s clear that the KDP-120 really makes a strong argument here and is probably better compared to the more expensive YDP-164 Yamaha digital piano, so we’ll be watching closely for Yamaha’s inevitable response when they announce an update to the YDP-144 and when it’s in stock.