Introduction

The ES8 from Kawai, first introduced in 2016 and re-released in late 2019 with some minor engineering improvements, is one of the most well-liked digital pianos on the market today. It’s popularity stems from the RHIII action with triple sensor and let-off simulation, the unique and highly efficient onboard speaker systems, its extremely attractive gloss black finish and available designer stand, the onboard accompaniment styles, and world-class piano tone generator onboard.

It’s a digital piano that’s extraordinarily well equipped for any musical occasion, whether on stage, in your home, or in studio.

We hope you enjoy this video review and accompanying article by Stu Harrison of Merriam Pianos.

Kawai ES8 Portable Digital Piano Review Video Transcription

Hi everybody and welcome to another digital piano review. My name is Stu Harrison, we’re here at Merriam Pianos and today we are taking a look at the Kawai ES8 digital piano. We’re gonna be covering everything on this instrument, talking about its action, talking about the sound, and all of this beautiful luscious tone that we get out of this instrument, and of course discussing and reviewing all the features that you get with the ES8. If it’s the first time to the channel we’d really appreciate it if you subscribe. We love the support and of course, we like to keep you up to date with all things piano. So let’s get started right away and dive into the Kawai ES8 portable digital piano.

Sounds and Tone Generator

Hey everybody, so let’s get into the sound of the Kawai ES8 digital piano. This instrument is loaded up with Kawai’s Harmonic Imaging XL technology. That sounds very fancy. What does it actually mean? Well, this is about the 5th or 6th generation of Harmonic Imaging chipsets or, you know, algorithmic updates or enhancements that Kawai has come out with since their Harmonic Imaging technology hit. And I think the mid-2000s is when this really first came about. So they’ve been working on this for a while. And the ES8 was one of the first instruments to receive that chipset as well as the updated Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand sample set. So this was a big leap forward in terms of sound technology when the ES first came out and quite frankly the ES8 is still standing up to even the most stiff competition from Roland and Kawai – and that partially is owing to the fact that we have 88-note piano sampling, a rather unusual feature for a stage piano. We actually have also just done a Roland FP-90 versus a Kawai ES8. You can hear the direct comparison there. You’d be surprised even a few years after this ES8 has been out of the market how well it continues to stand up to the competition in terms of the realism of the sound, in terms of how complex that tone is. It’s equipped with a 256-note polyphony capability or potential which for acoustic piano playing you’re really never gonna run out or max out 256. Even with a basic accompaniment track that’s running through sort of a MIDI triggered accompaniment track it’s gonna be very difficult to run out 256. So you got plenty of polyphony and you’ve got this lovely SK-EX sample set.

It’s a very dynamic sound, and that’s one of the first things you notice when you’re playing it, is when you’re really down in the lower volume ranges it’s this dark, very luscious sound. But the minute you start to build some volume… you start to get all of these upper partials out of it, it brightness the sound up. Now, this is something that happens to an extent with almost all really good high-quality digital pianos, but I notice it more on this than most. This dynamic nature of the tone. This has a few dozen sounds on it. It’s not an instrument that comes with like these 300 or 400 sounds that you might be looking at or, you know, researching with something like the Roland FP-90. The number of tones is quite low but the quality of each of the tones is really quite exceptional. There’s only a few patches on here where I would go, that’s, you know, a bit of a poor effort. But for the most part, you’re looking at sounds which are really lush, very, very believable. Wow, that’s got such a nice broadness to it. That’s the EX concert grand sample we were just listening to right there. Jazz piano, warm grand, pop grand, it’s nice. SK5. Oh, that’s gorgeous. Not quite the same overtone complexity that you get out of the full SK, but still quite lovely.

The other instrument sounds beside the acoustic piano options are well done and very believable. Specifically, the electric piano sounds on here I love. They’re thick, they’re very warm. The phaser, chorus and tremolo effect, accessible through the effects and amp simulator on here is quite believable, to be honest, and the reverb engine is also very well executed. It also includes rotary speaker for drawbar organ patches, and guitar/keyboard amp simulations

Then you’ve got harpsichords, and mallet strings, choirs, and a couple of bass tones on there as well. It’s also very easy to match two sounds together in a layered blend. You just press and hold the two categories you want, you get there. It’s also easy to split the keyboard into two so you get one sound down here and one sound up there, and the four hands mode which is great for teaching or duets.

Speaker System

Driving all of this is this beautiful onboard speaker system. Now, on paper, this is not that powerful. I think it’s 30 watts in total, 15 watts aside. That used to be considered pretty beefy. These days when you’ve got like an FP-90 coming out with 60 watts you’d think, okay, the ES8 might now start to feel underpowered compared to what other companies are putting out there. This is really not the case. And I think it owes to the fact that Kawai has designed the speaker boxes in here to be really super efficient. And we’ve got like air inlets on the bottom of the machine. You can sort of see them, it almost looks like it’s kind of a subwoofery looking air inlet. I don’t know speakers that well, but I know that that looks fancy when you look at it from the bottom of the ES8. So the speaker boxes are designed sort of as self-contained units and it’s got two two-way speakers in there and then these sort of air ports on the bottom. I don’t know how that contributes to the sound, but what I can tell you is that for 30 watts this thing generates a ton of sound, enough that if you’re in a small or even a medium room and you’re playing for yourself you do not under any circumstance need an extra amplifier or to plug it in to a stereo to reinforce the tone. We’ve got plenty here. Yeah. Anyway, so that rounds out our discussion on sound for the ES8.

RHIII Hammer Action

The action on the ES8 is what they call their RH3 action or Responsive Hammer III keyboard action. It is fashioned after similar plastic counterweight actions that are graded heavier in the bass and lighter in the treble. This is an action which they have installed in a number of their digital pianos. Think you can also find now a modified version of the RH3 from Kawai in Nord’s new grand model, which is really cool but not surprising because you are talking about a very satisfying and a very accurate piano action. So it’s got all the basics covered. We’ve got a nice micro-texture on the white key, sort of similar to like a NEOTEX as well as the blacks thanks to Kawai’s ivory touch key surface technology. So you’ve got good grip on there and it also helps to absorb a little bit of extra moisture. It has the escapement in there to add that extra little kind of flip about two-thirds of the way down, a little bit more realism. And it’s got the triple sensor. This is a big deal for anybody who is using this for production or recording because when you look at the MIDI output from Kawai’s triple sensor system and you compare it to other MIDI outputs it is really accurate. So you’re gonna have to do less velocity editing if you’re taking a MIDI feed off here for any sort of tracking or recording, which just is gonna save time but it’s also more satisfying. It’s just it does add to the sensitivity and the realism of the overall piano playing experience. So top points for the action, I would say that this action is designed or is going to feel a little better to people who already have some acoustic piano experience because there is a bit of an intentional sponginess to the bottom of the key bed that simulates what actually does happen on like a real grand piano, which you might not be used to if you’re only coming at this with prior digital piano experience. You get used to it very quickly but it can initially give you the feel that it’s kind of a heavier or a slightly slower action. It’s really not the case, it’s just your finger getting used to that extra little cushion at the bottom.

Other Features, Stands, Options

Now let’s talk about the remaining features. We’ve already discussed the fact that it’s got a nice selection of sort of fundamental piano patches or tones, your pianos, E-pianos, organ, yada yada. In terms of other functionality on here, Kawai’s Virtual Technician allows you to go into the piano sounds and edit various parameters like how much the lid is being simulated open, string resonance, you know, hammer sound, damper resonance, let off sound, you know, key off sound, all those kinds of things. It’s really quite interesting and it’s fun to get in there and play around and edit them a little bit. Other functions, it’s got a basic recorder, you can record USB audio straight into like an MP3 or WAV format with a USB key plugged in. That’s handy. But it also has intelligent accompaniment. And what’s nice is you can access that very easily without having to get into a menu or hook up like a peripheral device like a tablet or smartphone. So you just press rhythm section right there, it gives you the option of selecting your accompaniment mode. I personally find that one finger mode is actually the most useful if you’re gonna be, you know, playing with some more complex harmony because it gives you the most amount of control. And then you’ve got the option to select through various rhythms and then there’s sort of a AB rhythm mode. So I’m just gonna play this really quickly so you can hear it. And then you can flip into the next variation.

So you can have some fun with that as well. This has the USB port so that you can connect this to the computer, and you can also record to USB drive in either MP3 or WAV – high quality audio files straight to USB stick…it’s actually pretty handy. It also has discrete audio line out so that you can run this into an amplifier or PA without defeating the local speakers. There’s also a dedicated line in (mini stereo jack) that makes it easy to send audio from a portable device through the ES8’s speaker system. That’s separate from your headphone jacks, of course. And you’ve got two quarter-inch headphone jacks on either side at the front. That’s kind of handy. And the ES8 also comes in two colors (black polish and snow white) and the option for a full furniture stand with a triple pedal system or just the slab as you’re seeing now with the single pedal system.

And finally, it has all the basics as well: metronome, transpose, included high-quality sustain pedal (with available triple pedal system and designer stand), auto switching mono out to eliminate any weird phasing effect,

Conclusions

So there you have the Kawai ES8. It’s been out for a few years, but an instrument that’s still delivering tremendous value and a great musical experience to people out on the market. I recommend this to a wide variety of customers and a wide variety of settings. It’s great for people who need an all-in-one portable piano, who are really focused on the piano experience and don’t need a huge amount of power like to fill up a large room or they’re gonna be tying into a PA. Works really, really well for that. I think this is perfect as well for small spaces, apartment, living condo, living townhouse, living where you have the occasional need to relocate it. Because, yes, you can get digital pianos out there that are, you know, in a similar price range and deliver similar specs or maybe even slightly better but they’re in these big bulky cabinets, tough to move around. The ES8 stays portable, it makes it really easy to either change locations or just move it from one room to another. And of course, for people who are thinking about using this in some sort of a production setting even if it’s, you know, semi-professional or professional, this action and the triple sensor, the MIDI output on this is good enough to be used in absolutely any pro setting. So lots to like here, hope you’ve enjoyed the review. Good luck with your shopping, and of course, try and get to a showroom and try one yourself.

Please let us know what you thought in the comments. We’ll do our best to respond to every single one. We’re here at Merriam Pianos. My name is Stu Harrison, and we’ll see you back for more reviews shortly.

Shop all Kawai Digital Pianos