Introduction

The Kawai K500 Upright Piano is a professional 51″ acoustic piano that is a part of the K-series of Upright Pianos, and one of the most popular models of new pianos from Kawai generally – eclipsed in sales only by the Kawai K300. Although there are several similarities between the two, the K500 does bring a unique sound and power that the K300 simply isn’t capable of, and has been giving the Yamaha U3 a series run for its money since its release in 2013.

In the review, Stu Harrison is going to be talking about the sound, as well as the design features that directly contribute to that tone specific tone. He will also cover the K-500’s piano action – the famous Millennium III action that introduces carbon fibre to the action parts of the piano, with extended keystick lengths, Neotex keytops , double-felted mahogany core hammers (sometimes called underfelted), and generally the same responsiveness at all velocities and dynamic ranges that have become characteristic of all of the larger K-Series uprights. We’ll also be discussing its sound; this isn’t simply a cookie-cutter piano designed to fill a price point for Kawai. The K500 genuinely delivers a rare combination of power, dynamic range and tonal richness. Stu will be sharing some thoughts on who he thinks this is perhaps an ideal instrument for.

In the above video, we’ve recorded the K500 with a pair of AKG C414 microphones, and there is no EQ or reverb applied to it whatsoever.

The Kawai K-500 Upright Piano Review – Video Transcription

Background

The K-500 is part of a class of instruments which fall into an interesting grey zone. And that grey zone is this: its one of the first professional uprights that delivers a similar musical experience to a baby grand of a similar price. So purchasing a K500 needs to be for reasons beyond budget.

Well, in the case of the K-500, which sits right around the low teens in terms of its price point. And, of course, that means on the Kawai side that could be putting you into kind of a GL-10 range, on the Yamaha side, you could be looking at a GB1K, there’s a few products from the Samick company, you know, in their Knabe line that you could be looking at for that price range too. So, you know, why consider something like this and what are you giving up? Well, first of all, in a lot of cases, with a 52-inch upright, you’re actually getting a string length that’s even longer than what you’re getting in your typical 5-foot baby grant. So, from a clarity standpoint, from a tonal standpoint, there’s actually some benefits to going with a taller piano like that. And so, for people and for teachers in particular, who are recommending these types of instruments, and always talking about how the longest string possible is gonna deliver that clarity in the base, well, this is actually not much of a compromise. This is actually a really strong option and it’s a way to actually get a longer string, well, without having to increase the budget.

Of course, a huge part of the cost of a baby grand or any grand piano is actually constructing that thick, sort of rounded body that surrounds the piano. So, if you don’t need that additional construction cost, which in this price range really is largely aesthetic, it doesn’t really actually serve much of a musical purpose until you get into the higher price ranges. This you could argue is a more efficient, more cost-effective higher value type of a purchase. In my musical opinion, honestly, the only knock against going with this type of thing dollar for dollar is that you do perhaps miss out on that aesthetic satisfaction that a baby grand might be able to give you. But musically speaking, especially if you’re able to play with the lid up or in some cases, even with the front panel completely off, you’re getting as much sound and in a lot of cases a slightly clearer sound than what you’re gonna get out of a 5-foot baby grand for in that $10,000 range.

Drilling into the details of where the K-500 originated from, it belongs to Kawai’ K-series professional upright pianos, which again has been out in its current incarnation for about five years. This was an update that saw a number of technical improvements to the instruments. The previous generation was made up of the K2, K3, K5, K6, K8 and now, of course, we’ve got the Kawai K-200, K-300, and K-400 which was a new addition, K-500, and K-800. And so, what are those changes? Well, in the K-500, what we have is additional key length, duplex scale, energy-absorbing key rest material, improved scale design, tapered soundboards, the addition of Neotex key tops to absorb the hand’s natural oils…in otherwords, a lot of improvements.

All of those improvements contribute major improvements in tone, touch, dynamic range, and overall aesthetic look and feel.

Piano Action

Let’s talk about the Millennium III Upright Action with ABS-Carbon. This is the same action ‘philosophy’ that is now found in their GL, GX, and Shigeru Kawai grand pianos, and is made up of ABS-Carbon Composites to strengthen key components, and eliminate extra mass out of the mechanism. Its been measured to have the fastest repetition speed of any piano model in the world, and the addition of the energy-absorbing foam on the rest rail has only increased that speed and added greater control.

Piano Tone

The second thing that they have done with the K500, which was a really unique addition of duplex scaling. For anybody who’s been researching grand pianos, you might know what a duplex scale is. That is essentially you’re adding a second length of string that is allowed to essentially resonate sympathetically and give more colour to the treble range. And it creates some extra harmonics, and it thickens and strengthens the treble tone out of the piano. Most grands from about the $20,000 range up will have that duplexing, but virtually no uprights. It’s actually an innovation that Steinway brought to the market well over 100 years ago, but it’s pretty rare to find it on an upright.

So starting from the bottom of the piano, the K500 features a longer bass string than an average 52″ (and specifically vs. what Yamaha offers), which gives a more pronounced that we talked about going to give you a bit of a grand feel, the treble is also now giving you that thickened strengthened tone that you would again expect normally out of the baby grand. And through the mid-range, agraffes give precise termination and nicely controlled overtones.

Moving to the top of the range, there’s a lot more colour up there than you typically get in an upright where normally it can certainly be clear and in tune, but feel shallow and glassy – not so with the K500.

Other Major Features

In addition to the longer bass strings, duplex scale and the double-felted mahogany hammers, the K500 features a tapered solid spruce soundboard that certainly contributes to an improved sustain and a huge dynamic range. The back posts give structural strength to assist in tuning stability but also increasing the sympathetic resonance of the frame.

There’s also been an update to the cabinetry as well, it’s something that you’re gonna notice and it’s certainly for the better. The K-series generally got a very nice aesthetic spruce up when they did the whole series; they went to the full panel opening on the top, which I really liked, they’ve changed the lines and overall style on the gables and toe blocks, as well as the fallboard and hardware.

The music stand is actually wide enough to hold five full sheets completely spread out. Anybody who’s ever had to be in a rehearsal or at home tackling one of these gigantic pieces of sheet music that just seemed to go on and on and on, are gonna get a lot of use out of this extra-wide music stand. When you compare it to what’s on most upright pianos, it’s pretty remarkable how additionally wide this actually is. It’s probably close to 10-inches bigger than what you’re going to find on a typical 48-inch Asian built piano, Japanese, Indonesian, or Korean piano.

Summary

So, all in all, the K500 from Kawai is a very capable instrument. Who is the ideal customer? I think the K-500 is really an ideal instrument for up-and-coming students who are in need of a very reliable, very consistent instrument that can deliver a big range of tone and dynamics. And quite frankly, there just isn’t the space in the house to accommodate it. Musically speaking, I would say that the K-500 is going to deliver a broader musical experience than a typical $10,000 baby grand piano, and I’d prefer it to a GL10 in many settings.

And of course, institutions who need an instrument that’s going to accommodate higher level players, whether that be students or professionals are also gonna get a ton of use under the K-500. Thank you so much again for joining us for a discussion and review of what we’ve got here on the K-500 Kawai piano. We’ve got the Kawai K-500 upright piano in both locations at our showrooms in Oakville and Vaughan all the time. So, please if you’re in the area, come and visit us. Otherwise good luck with your shopping. Thanks so much for watching and we’ll see you back for another review shortly.