Introduction

The ND-21 is a Kawai Upright Piano that has been a disruptive and hugely successful force in the piano industry – one that has filled a previous gap in the marketplace: a 48″ upright piano from a Japanese manufacturer that directly competes against its own used products as well as those of Yamaha, like the Yamaha U1 or Kawai BL, US, or K series. While it lacks some of the more recent developments of Kawai’s upper level K series, the ND21 is by all accounts, a reissue of the Kawai K25 / K30 upright pianos of the 1990’s, done in a stunning monochrome design of nickel and ebony polish – and most importantly, using the same craftsmanship that Kawai continues to invest heavily into.

It makes it an incomparable value on today’s piano market, and a welcome alternative to the age-old binary option of selecting a digital piano or a 40 year old used Yamaha U1 if you’re shopping for a beginner student.

We hope you enjoy Stu Harrison’s video review and accompanying article on the instrument, and thanks for checking out Merriam Pianos.

Kawai ND-21 Upright Piano Review Video Transcription

Hey everybody, welcome to another piano review. I’m Stu Harrison. We’re here at Merriam Pianos, and we’re in our Oakville showroom today, just outside of Toronto, Canada, and we’re looking at Kawai’s ND21. This is a limited release 48-inch upright model that is not necessarily going to be available in all markets. Brought to market based on overwhelming demand for this type of product, as well as a full-throated response to Yamaha’s B3 model, this has become perhaps the best alternative that I’m aware of on the market to a used 48-inch used Japanese piano.

Background on the ND-21

Kawai ND21
Kawai ND21

We all know that if you’re a parent and you are just getting into lessons, you’ve probably had a piano teacher or a friend along the way say, “Go find a used Yamaha U1” or, “Go find a used 48-inch Kawai____” (all of the different model names that they have). And of course, it feels like if your budget is floating in and around that $5,000 price point plus or minus $1,000 or so, there isn’t a lot else out there if you want to keep it at a 48-inch level. Perhaps you’re not feeling like you want to kind of go with a lesser-known name or get something made from China, if that happens to be a concern for you.

If that sounds familiar, it’s certainly a common occurrence here in Toronto as well. We have a multitude of parents that come to us looking for just that. They’ve spent hours on Google trying their best to discern good from bad, but it’s complex and virtually impossible to evaluate a used piano based on description alone. So we do of course accommodate those customers by making sure we stock good quality used product, but we always felt that it would be great to be offer a credible alternative to a used Kawai or a used Yamaha.

So the ND21 was something that Kawai approached the piano world with as a low-cost SKU with outstanding sound, back posts, wooden keys, solid spruce soundboard, and ABS action. I know it’s available in a few different markets. But certainly, right here at home, this is proving to be just an absolute home run with the market because here we have a 48-inch piano, meets all the criteria for most piano teachers looking for something of that size just so that the dynamic range is there, and the tonal palette is there.

It is made at Kawai’s Indonesian facility, which is the same one that makes the GL10 baby grand piano. Also the same factory that finishes the assembly for their K200, also makes some of the Boston pianos for Steinway, so a fantastic factory with a fantastic reputation, putting out great products already.

Moving into some details on the piano, let’s start at the beginning: where did the ND21 come from? From discussions with Kawai insiders as well as studying the internal structures and scale design, this appears to be essentially a re-issue of the K25, a widely produced 48″ piano from about 20 years ago. It was sort of one of the predecessors to Kawai K3, which was the very first piano to be equipped with the Millennium III action.

This makes the model extremely efficient from a cost standpoint: they don’t have to invest in new gear; they don’t have to invest in new stamps, new jigs, new scale designs; it’s using their first generation ABS action which had 30 years of proven performance in the marketplace. And so… poof…here we are with what appears to be essentially a brand new model. But really, it’s like if you just opened a time capsule, and you were able to find a brand new 1990s era Kawai piano with a full 10-year warranty, and what quite a few people have really appreciated is an alternative to the traditional brass color. We’ve got chrome both in the hinges, the logo, and also the pedalboards. So besides that, you’ve got an instrument that really looks and behaves very much like a mint condition, perfect ’90s used 48-inch Japanese piano.

Musical Comparisons to the K300 and Yamaha U1

Musically speaking, one of the things I noticed on the ND-21 is that there’s a ton of sympathetic resonance that you get out of this instrument. That’s typical of a lot of the Kawai’s. And I think it’s one of the trademark things that separates a Kawai sound from a Yamaha sound. Besides the fact that for the same size cabinet, Kawais tend to have a slightly longer bass string, I also find that the Kawai cabinets just tend to resonate a little bit more, and so you get a bit more warmth and you get a slightly bigger acoustical envelope around the whole instrument.

Action

Another thing I really like about having an ND21 on the floor next to our K series, because we get the question all the time, “Well, this is great. You’re saying wonderful things about this piano. Why would we spend any more and get the K300, which is also a 48-inch piano?” well, when you’ve got them side by side and you can play them, you actually do notice that there is extra value that you do get for your money if you go with the K300. Can you feel the difference between this Kawai Ultra-Responsive Action and the Millennium III action? Yes. For a really advanced player who’s looking for an action that’s going to be as responsive as a grand, is this going to give it to you? No. I’d give that probably like a 7 out of 10 in terms of delivering something that’s going to have as responsive an action, whereas I would give the K300 probably more like a 9 out of 10. K300 you’re getting longer keys than you get on the ND21. You’re getting a different action design, which does produce a faster repetition speed and a little bit more accuracy when you’re playing really, really softly. And you have different key surfaces – in this case, the key surface is acrylic.

So what this action is ideal for is somebody who’s just starting out, or an institutional or teaching situation where you want to get an acoustic piano with lots of good bass, you want it to be well built, with low maintenance, servicing players at a beginner or intermediate level. This is just perfect for churches or public schools. And I have been loving this model too. We’ve used this model in several classrooms in our own school. And of course, parents who are just starting out and want an acoustic versus a digital for the first instrument in the house, I mean, this is literally a perfect solution.

Hammers

Kawai ND21 Hammers

Second thing, K300 comes with double felted hammers. The ND21 has got single felted hammers. So does that make a difference for, let’s say, the bulk of your playing? No. Where is this going to make a difference? Well, again, your advanced players who really are going to be starting to push the upper range of their dynamic capability as players. So, you know, pushing into the fortissimo, or even the triple fortissimo range, and you’re starting to develop the ability to control those tones and those overtones. Well, single felted hammer isn’t really going to give you that. It’s not supposed to. It’s never going to. So if you push this piano hard, it is going to start to distort a little bit. You’ll hear it. But again, who is this going to affect primarily? Well, your advanced players who really have developed that touch, and that palette, and that ear. It usually takes anywhere from 5 to 10 years to develop. But again, are you going to get that out of a 20 to 30-year-old used pianos that this has been compared to? Not even a chance. You’re often dealing with highly compressed hammers that are past their prime. They’re still functional, but they’re going to distort even quicker than this is.

Soundboard

Solid Spruce Soundboard
Solid Spruce Soundboard

Another thing that’s really great to get on a piano of this price, a brand new solid spruce soundboard, super unusual, and this is exactly what Kawai is putting on here, solid, spruce Sitka soundboard. And so you get really beautiful resonance, but the sustain is fantastic too. I know we’re talking about a new instrument. But again, when you get this type of performance for an instrument that, like I said, this is hitting right around the $5,000 U.S. mark.

Casters & Fallboard

That’s great. Now, another thing that’s going to be, I would say, more of a feature for semi-professional or commercial buyers or users of this instrument, it’s got rugged double rubber casters. This piano is easier to move than the majority of our $20,000 uprights here that are supposed to have primo casters. We can move this with one hand all around carpeted floor, hardwood floor, no issues. So for users where that’s even a factor, it’s a really nice thing. It is very easy to move around, an ND21. And it’s easy to get it on and off a coaster as well. So something to keep in mind, it’s not going to be a value point for everybody, but it, you know, might be something of interest for some of you. The ND-21, like most new pianos these days, also includes an adjustable bench

Another thing to be aware of, the ND21 is not going to give you that slow fall. So, it depends on your parenting philosophy. You’re going to have some people say, “Well, I don’t want my kids anywhere around this because they might slam their hands.” Other people might say, “Well, it’ll only happen once, and then they’ll learn their lesson and likely won’t slam ever again.” So not sure where you fall in that spectrum, but it is something to be aware of. This one doesn’t have the slow fall, and that may be a factor as well.

Nickel Cabinet

One last thing I am going to mention because I think it’s kind of cool, the inside of this instrument, they’ve really gone for quite a unique contemporary look. So just on the outside, as we said, they’re not using the brass coloring, they’ve actually decided to color the iron plate this really interesting matte black finish. It’s almost like kind of a gun metally engine block type of thing to match the overall sleek black and chrome look of the outside of the instrument. There is no difference in material whatsoever. It’s not like this is a different type of plate or some sort of a synthetic, same iron plate just like Kawai is going to be using on any of the others. Of course, it’s nice, easy to access, and you can see that it’s got that felt for a mute bar that also makes it really, really easy.

Conclusions

So, to wrap up, here we’ve got, like I’ve been saying throughout this review, in my mind, quite possibly the most ideal and straightforward alternative to a used Japanese 48-inch piano that you are going to find certainly in the Canadian market. This has found a really wide audience with first time buyers, parents who aren’t looking for digital and really are looking for a safe, low risk option that doesn’t involve hunting through Kijiji, through dozens and dozens of Yamaha U1 listings in the $4,000 or $5,000 range, and really never knowing what the ownership history of that instrument has been. This has proved to be just a kind of a magic boat solution for many, many of those people.

So whether or not it works for you, ultimately up to you. You really do need to decide. Every once in a while, you do find that used instrument that just is a absolute gem, great price, great music, and we find them too. So I’m not suggesting that that not be a part of your search, but what I am suggesting is it doesn’t need to be the only part of your search. Make sure you put this on the list. Check it out. And of course, if you’re in the Toronto area, come by see us. We’ve got an ND21 on both of our floors in Oakville and Vaughan all times, ready and waiting to be played. So I hope this has been helpful. Good luck with your search. Come see us if you can, and we’ll see you back next time for another piano review soon. Thanks very much.

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