Introduction

Kawai’s CN39 is the latest advancement in home digital piano technology, and represents the highest-level model with plastic key action. It’s equipped with a 4-speaker amplification system, GM2 soundbanks plus the Progressive Harmonic Imaging sound engine including the SK-EX Concert Grand Sample (the same type of piano found in concert halls, now comfortably in your living room). Users can record both MP3 and WAV to USB memory, enjoy popular playing modes like concert magic, four hands, split keyboard, two-layer, and SMF playback as well (up to 16 tracks). The line in and line out 1/4″ ports provide excellent versatility, and the automatic mono mode for just left out is also handy for live performance. It is an authentic piano playing experience for a similar cost to a basic used acoustic piano, and will leave you more than satisfied.

We hope you enjoy Stu’s video review and accompanying article.

Kawai CN39 Digital Piano Review Video Transcription

Kawai CN39 Digital Piano
Kawai CN39 Digital Piano

Hi, everybody, and welcome to another digital piano review here at Merriam Pianos. My name is Stu Harrison. And today, we are talking about Kawai’s CN39 digital piano, a fairly new entrant to the digital piano market and something our customers are really excited about. We’re gonna be talking about its action, its sound. We’re gonna be covering all the connectivity options, how you can link it up to the iPad and the tablets, everything you need to know to help further your research.

Sound and Tone Engine

We are here in front of the CN39 digital piano, as we mentioned. And let’s start talking about the sound on this instrument. It is, of course, the big brother to the CN29. So, often, when we’re talking about CN39, I inevitably wind up comparing it to the CN29. And so, from a sound standpoint, right away, there’s a few differences that are really worth noting. One of them is the speaker system on the CN39. We go up to a four-speaker system from a two-speaker system, which makes a really big difference for if you’re just playing this instrument using the onboard speakers. You’re not plugging into a stereo, you’re not using an amplifier, you’re not using headphones. This is something that you’re just gonna have set up in a room, whether a practice room or a living room, and you just want to get a really great sense of piano tone directly off the instrument. Those two extra speakers are right on the back and they’re facing up, they’re two tweeters. And so, that’s just gonna help with clarity in the treble / high frequencies and a little bit more projection may be in the mid or the upper mid. You can definitely hear way up in the treble the detail that you’re getting.

Diving into the tone engine or the sound engine, the CN39 is equipped with its progressive harmonic imaging engine. It’s sort of the same type of algorithm that they’ve been working on for many, many, many years. harmonic imaging has been around since, I think, the early 2000s. This is their latest version. And it comes with a polyphony of 256, which for a sample-based tone engine is on the high side, just basically means you’re never going to run out of the ability to create new notes and have that engine simultaneously processing multiple notes. So, if I hold the sostenuto pedal down and do this, there’s still lots of room for me to go back down and then back up, you know, several times, and every single one of those notes is gonna still be individually processed without maxing out the tone engine. So, that’s a kind of cool bonus the Grand Feel pedal system offers. Just adds a layer of authenticity, especially for people who are playing a lot of classical. So, it’s got a polyphony of 256, 355 voices including 9 drum kits. It’s the progressive harmonic imaging and it is equipped with the SK concert grand sample series. That’s individually sampled, 88 notes sampled off their nine-foot Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand piano, which is notably warmer and more colorful than their previous EX concert grand piano, which almost sort of had a CFX type of a sound. It’s a little brighter. It’s a little sharper, very dynamic. But this SK-EX concert grand is just beautifully rich, and done with unrivalled 88-key sampling.

In addition to the core sample, the Harmonic Imaging adds all sorts of nuance to the tone like let-off simulation, reverb, cabinet resonance, damper resonance, fall-back noise, key-off effect, hammer delay, topboard adjustment, undamped string resonance, as well as the ability to adjust stretch tuning, minimum touch, decay time, and half-pedal adjust and soft pedal depth. All in all, there are a full 19 parameters that you have control over:

  • Touch Curve (incl. User Touch Curve)
  • Voicing (incl. 88-key User Voicing)
  • Damper Resonance
  • Damper Noise
  • String Resonance
  • Undamped String Resonance
  • Cabinet Resonance
  • Key-off Effect
  • Fall-back Noise
  • Hammer Delay
  • Topboard Simulation
  • Decay Time
  • Minimum Touch
  • Stretch Tuning (incl. 88-key User Tuning)
  • Temperament (incl. User Temperament)
  • Temperament Key
  • Key Volume (incl. 88-key User Key Volume)
  • Half-Pedal Adjust
  • Soft Pedal Depth

This instrument is also equipped with over 350 additional sounds that are all onboard – that includes additional grand piano sounds, but dozens of other categories as well. That’s a huge leap up from what you get on the Kawai CN29. And a lot more consistent with what you’re getting on some of the comparable role in product for this type of a price range, getting way up into the 300. So, you’ve got a set or subset of very high quality, let’s call them proprietary sounds that are built-in plus the entire General MIDI 2 sound bank, which is what really runs those numbers way up into the stratosphere. So, that’s pretty cool as well. In terms of the authenticity of the other sounds once you get out of the acoustic piano range, because I have no complaints whatsoever when it comes to the acoustic sound here, lots of detail, and really lots of tonal range and dynamic range. Kind of a tiny Rhode sound.

Think they’ve done a really nice job with their electric piano signs as well, making them very dynamically reactive. So, you’re getting a really clear punch, almost a bit of a distorted sound that you get authentically on a real Rhodes. Seems to be represented here pretty well, or you let up on the velocity and you get this lovely bell sound. And, of course, you’ve got Wurly with a lovely tremolo on it, a DX7. So, it sort of has all of your classic EP categories covered which is great. The organ sound.

I have to hand it to Kawai when it comes to the organ sounds, both in terms of the pipe organ sounds and the electric organ sounds, like your hand and stuff. When we’re in the range of the home digital pianos, so we’re not getting into, like, high-end stage pianos like Roland’s RD-2000 or Yamaha CP4 or anything like that. We’re just talking about home digitals. For the price, I have to give Kawai the number one prize for having the best organ sounds out of the box and especially because it’s pre-configured so that your left pedal acts as the on and the off switch for your Leslie speaker, sort of rotary simulator.

You’ve got the standards like harpsichord, and harp, and strings, and choir. They’re pretty good. Actually, I’d say they’re more than pretty good. And then, of course, you’re into the General MIDI bank where you’ve got everything from helicopter sounds to synth leads and heartbeats. Whenever you need those sounds, they’re there for you. Now, driving all of this between the speakers and the harmonic imaging engine, there’s a step in between that is brand new to the Kawai lineup. And honestly, it’s a really big difference, it’s worth mentioning, and that is the addition of the Onkyo circuitry.

Onkyo is a Japanese company, and they’re known as a high-end audio file company. They make amplifiers, they make a lot of spatial / audio processing circuits for the industry. They sell them OEM. They do them through their own product. And so, this has a whole bunch of Onkyo’s stuff under the hood, which is adding some, I guess, just sort of structuring to the waveform as it’s coming out. It also gives you the ability to set the type of headphone that you have, and how much sort of a sense of space around (they call it specifically “spatial headphone sound”), or your perception of space when you have the headphones on, so it’s got some really cool headphone processing. But again, just when you go back and forth between the previous CN37 and the currency CN39, or same thing on the CN27 and 29, there is a distinct clarity and a structure to the sound. And I have to assume that that’s a good part of the Onkyo that’s bringing that value. So, we’ve covered all the sound on CN39, we’re gonna move on to the action next. But before we do, we’re just gonna hit you up with some of the critical specs on the screen.

RHIII Piano Action with Counterweights

The CN39 is equipped with Kawai’s RH3 action, it stands for Responsive Hammer III Keyboard Action. And it’s the third generation, they’ve been at this now for about 10 years they’ve been working on this design, and it’s the third iteration. It comes with escapement or lead off sometimes is what it’s referred to. That’s that little kind of hiccup that you feel about two-thirds of the way down, simulates what happens on an acoustic piano where the jack lets off of the knuckle as you’re pressing down – true realistic movement. So, it’s still a little puzzling to me why they’re doing this in the digital world since on the acoustic side, you were never really supposed to feel that in the first place, it was kind of just a mechanical anomaly that they never really found a solution for. And, of course, you don’t feel it at all when you’re playing at kind of a medium velocity or higher. It’s really only something that shows up when you’re playing in the lower volume ranges on acoustic. Anyway, all the digitals are starting to simulate this now, of course, it does add to the authentic feel of you being on an acoustic but it’s sort of weird that it’s an imperfection that’s being mimicked, go figure. Anyway, so it’s got that. It also comes with a triple sensor. That is just kind of increases the accuracy of the MIDI put, whether you’re using this to trigger a sound on a computer or piece of software, or even just its own internal sound, you’re gonna notice that the accuracy is super high. And you’re never really gonna get a note that’s just kind of sticking out for no reason or you think you played it hard enough, but for whatever reason, the sensor, the single sensor didn’t pick it up properly. So, you’ve got these three sensors that are sort of constantly talking to each other and making sure that it’s really nice accurate readout that it’s getting. It also features counterweights within each of the black and white keys to help lighten the touch of the keyboard.

There’s also a texture on the key, Kawai has obviously made the decision on the CN series to include their famous ivory touch key surfaces. But this is more close to what they’ve done on the acoustics with NEOTEX, where it’s a micro-texture, but the micro-texture is not trying to look like ivory at all. It’s actually just looks like a porous material that’s there to absorb a bit of moisture, and also just to create a little additional texture, other than just giving it a nice, completely clean sheet of white plastic. So, that’s what you’ve got here. And that’s on both the white and the black keys. The RH3 (Responsive Hammer III Keyboard Action) is something that the industry has really embraced as one of the best designs out there. How do we know this? Well, the RH3 is now shown up on the Nord grand which is a brand new product that everybody is just going, you know, crazy about and the action is definitely something that they’ve been talking a lot about in regards to the Nord grand. The RH3 is also something that you find on the CN29. And I expect whenever the ESA replacement shows up, it will also be equipped with an RH3, the MP7 I believe has the RH3, could be the RH2. Anyway, it’s a beautiful action. And now you’ve got the rundown. Triple sensor, we’ve got a nice textured feel on both the black and the white keys. And, of course, we’ve got escapement and just a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful responsive feel overall, I really love the weighting.

Yeah, it’s a nice action to play on. Okay, so let’s move on to features and conductivity. But first, we’re going to splash up just the critical features of the action so you can get a quick visual of it.

Other CN39 Features and Cabinet

Let’s get into the features of the Kawai CN39 digital piano because there’s some really cool stuff here and some of which people kind of skip over or go months and months or sometimes their whole ownership of an instrument like this and never really realize that it can do this thing. So, let’s just start at the top of the list of stuff that I find…or I really appreciate the Kawai’s included here and we’ll just go down the list. One of them might seem basic, but it’s worth noting there is on the bottom here, and you won’t be able to see it, but, you know, if you were in front of one, it’s easy to see, there are stereo quarter-inch audio line ins and line outs (these act as both stereo jacks as well as mono if required). This is really great because if you’ve got some type of a small mixer, let’s say you’re in a home studio or you’re in a classroom, and you’ve got some audio inputs coming in from an electric car or some sort of an auxiliary audio input, who knows, anywhere you’ve got audio that was just going through some piddly little set of speakers or headphone, you can use the onboard speaker system, take advantage of that Onkyo processing that’s there. Fact that it’s like really high fidelity four-speaker system and 40 watts, which if you’re in a relatively small space is plenty of juice. I know some amplifiers, guitar amps, and bass amps that are only 30 watts and producing all kinds of sound. So, 40 is gonna give you a lot.

Bluetooth Audio

On top of the physical audio jacks that you’ve got underneath this also receives Bluetooth audio from your portable smart device. And I’ve got my phone here, it’s an Apple phone. And just to kind of show you just how easy it is to take advantage of this feature. So, I just have the Bluetooth screen up here. And if I go into the Bluetooth devices CN39 audio is one of the devices that’s sitting here waiting for me to connect. So, I’m just gonna press that right now. And now CN39 is connected. That means now I can go into my music app and select something to play. Yeah, why not? Let’s play some Bill Evans. And there we go.

And so, I’ve just turned my Kawai CN39 into a really high-end wireless stereo. And the range on that Bluetooth is quite good, I can be completely on the other side of the room. I’ve tested this up to like 60 or 70 feet through a wall, and it’s working just fine. So, if this is sitting in your living room, and let’s say it’s a room that your TV is not in and you don’t have your main stereo there, you can actually use this as your main, like an entertaining stereo when you’ve got company over or whatever. Of course, tons of obvious applications within a lesson, or when you’re practicing by yourself, if you don’t have an audio cable, you can just be playing along with an audio track of your choice using that Bluetooth connection. Now, I’m gonna mention something that’s really critical because we get this question a lot. If you can send Bluetooth audio in, can you send Bluetooth audio out, i.e. can you use a set of wireless headphones? No, you cannot do this. Do not buy a set of wireless headphones, you know expecting this to work just because it says words Bluetooth and audio on the spec sheet, it doesn’t work like that. One of the issues with Bluetooth audio is there tends to be a latency issue. And so, for something with it involves immediate live playback where there’s not an ability to buffer a little bit, what you’re gonna find is you’re gonna press that note, and then you’d be hearing the note like a split second later, it virtually makes it unusable. So, I am not at this point aware of any digital piano company that is making…giving the ability to use wireless headphones off a piano. That might change in the future as the technology improves, or the speed of the process has improved, but at this point, not a thing. But certainly in terms of sending Bluetooth audio in, there’s no issue at all, and it’s a great feature.

Wireless Apps

While we’re on the Bluetooth MIDI front, Kawai also makes two apps themselves which utilize the BLE protocol (bluetooth low energy midi specification). Those apps are named “Sound Museum”, as well as “Virtual Technician”. Now, Sound Museum allows you to basically remote control the instrument. So, we’re just going to pull that up right now. So, connecting the Sound Museum essentially allows me to get a visual of all the onboard sounds. And there are a lot as we’ve mentioned. It also allows you to put it into split-mode, to dual-mode. Dual-mode, of course, meaning that you’ve got two sounds at once, split mode, meaning that the two instruments are split between the left and the right hand. You can also have two-player mode where the top and the bottom are the same range, really good for students and teachers if you’ve got one instrument. And so selecting the sound is very, very, very simple. You just pull it up, of course, I’m not sure if you can see that. But we’ll try and get some B roll of that just to quickly show you, but very, very easy to select between the various sounds.

Super easy to use, and it’s also nice and visual. I think they’ve done a nice job. At this point. I think it’s only available for iOS. That’s an important question because we will, of course, get some comments asking whether it’s for Android. At this point, whatever it is, we’re in October of 2019, not a thing, but could be a thing literally any day, I know that it’s something that they have been working on releasing.

The second app is their Virtual Technician app. And that gives you control of 19 different parameters. That’s something that you can control onboard, but you can also use the app to do it. And the Virtual Technician app works really, really well. I know on the iPad, it’s particularly well suited, so clear exactly what all the parameters you’re editing. This would be like how far the lid is open, the string residence, how much you hear the damper noise when it comes back and touches the string, like all these tiny little microscopic elements that our ear detects as a you know, a difference between an authentic piano sound and you know, digital piano sound. It’s all there, which is really great because I think 19 parameters from them is close what you get even with the Roland V-Piano, with all of their parameters, and that’s a full modeling engine, whereas this is sampling with some modeling on top. So, we’ve got the apps, we’ve got the Bluetooth audio, we’ve got the audio jacks in and out, which is a really great feature, we have things like the transpose, the dual-mode, the split-mode, of course we’ve already covered the sounds. You can access more of the Kawai CN39’s music apps from the 128×64 pixel OLED display such as the metronome function or integrated piano lessons from Czerny, Burgmüller, Beyer, Chopin or Alfreds Basic Piano Lesson Book.

The complete list includes:

  • Burgmüller 25 (25 Etudes Faciles, Opus 100)
  • Chopin Walzer (1-19) lesson book
  • Czerny 30 (Etudes de Mécanisme, Opus 849)
  • Czerny 100 (Hundert Übungsstücke, Opus 139)
  • Beyer 106 (Vorschule im Klavierspiel, Opus 101)
  • J.S. Bach: Inventionen
  • Sonatinen Album 1
  • Alfred’s Premier Piano Course Lesson 1A
  • Alfred’s Premier Piano Course Lesson 1B
  • Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1A
  • Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1B
  • Alfred’s Basic Adult Piano Course Lesson Book Level 1

The CN39 is also equipped with a USB Audio Recorder similar to the ES8

Cabinet

And last but not least, let’s talk about the cabinet. The Kawai CN39 comes in three different colors. The one you see here is called premium rosewood. It’s beautiful. I mean, we sell all three colors, which is the mahogany, the satin black, and the rosewood. The rosewood by far is the most popular amongst our customers anyway. I think because of its versatility. In a room where it’s a lot of warm tones, the browns kind of seemed to come out. And in a room where it’s surrounded by more cool colors. It does seem to feel neutral. So, it’s a bit of a chameleon. It’s great. But the satin black is available, as well as mahogany, which is a lighter tone wood, goes really well with cherries and maples and oaks and things like that. It also comes with a dust cover. And it’s actually a really…like it feels substantial. This is not a flimsy little piece of wood that feels like it’s gonna break every time you move it. It rolls really nicely. It’s pretty satisfying. And then you’ve got legs on the toe block. So, very, very sturdy. And it comes with a bench right out of the box. You don’t have to worry about picking the bench up. So, it’s kind of a complete package straight out of the box. And then, of course, we’ve got an adjustable music rest. So, we’re just gonna review the features right now and then we’ll be back in a quick second with the comparables and of course a final sum up of what we love about the CN39.

Conclusion

So, the instruments the CN39 is going to kind of compete directly against, on the Roland side this is going to really from a wattage standpoint, polyphony standpoint, quality of the piano sound, quality of the action, the DP603 is a really good comparator on the Roland side. It’s one that we sell quite a bit of as well and the CN39 and the DP603 often get compared to one another. I know on the Yamaha side, there’s gonna be some CLP products, some of the entry-level Clavinovas starting to creep into the mid-range. Clavinova is gonna be often compared to this. Again, with any of these, try to make it into a showroom so that you can compare the action and you can compare the sound. The sound is starting to get so good on all of these that there is no such thing as a bad digital piano when you’re ready to drop $2,000 or $3,000. But the differences are becoming nuanced. They’re becoming subtle. And so I think people’s expectations are becoming higher. And it’s worth spending the time to really figure out what’s gonna give you the most satisfying experience.

For me, the CN39 is essentially the CN29 with all of the frills that they’ve kept off the 29 to keep the price lower. You’re getting substantially more sound, you’re getting a beefier amplifier, you’re getting the two tweeters for added definition, all of your in and out ports, you’re getting the Bluetooth audio, which is a really great feature. And you’re also getting a slightly nicer looking cabinet. But you have to get into a showroom, you have to try these things side by side.

Who’s the ideal customer for this? Well, I think an advanced student who doesn’t have the space or desire to maintain an acoustic piano, I think everyone except maybe an advanced classical student is gonna be thrilled with an instrument like this. I could see an adult who’s had an acoustic piano and sort of plays at a hobbyist level, their downsizing, could see them being very, very satisfied with the CN39. And, of course, one thing that I didn’t mention but for educators who are using the CN39 as not just a practice instrument, but as a teaching aid within the lesson, this is equipped with 12 different book series, all programmed in so that you can playback the repertoire within those books series as reference points as you’re going back and forth between the books, I could see that being a really big benefit.

So, a super-wide audience for this CN39. Very versatile instrument, very well made instrument, and something that’s been evolving over many, many years. So, virtually no kinks left to be ironed out of a piano like this.So, thank you, very, very much for stopping by, and supporting us by watching, supporting us by subscribing. I hope you’ve enjoyed this look at the Kawai CN39 digital piano. And by all means if you’re in the Toronto area, and you have a minute to come and say hi, we’re open seven days a week. We’d love to meet you. Thank you so much for your support. Happy shopping. We’ll see you soon.

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