Yamaha and Kawai jointly represent the two largest mainstream acoustic piano manufacturers, and have for several decades both been highly regarded for their digital musical instruments as well. In the highest volume digital category, that of the ‘under $1000’ zone, the Yamaha P125 and Kawai ES110 are frequently compared and both deliver excellent features for their price. It’s a crowded field though, with Roland FP-30 and FP-10 and Casio’s PX-160 and PX-S1000 also fighting for attention. While both the Yamaha and Kawai have their advantages, they are by no means the same instrument and they deliver different playing experiences. We hope you enjoy this video comparison and accompanying article by Merriam Pianos, reviewed by Stu Harrison.
Kawai ES110 vs Yamaha P125 Review Video Transcription
Hi, everybody and welcome to another comparison video. My name is Stu Harrison and we’re here at Merriam Pianos in-studio with the Yamaha P-125 and the Kawai ES110 digital pianos. We’re going to be comparing their piano sounds, their electric piano sounds, what features they have, the touch, and the keyboard action that’s on them, and of course, all of the extra accessory options. Thank you so much for joining us. If it’s the first time to the channel, we’d really appreciate if you did subscribe. It will help you stay up-to-date with all of our new content, so let’s get started right away with the P-125 and the ES110.
So, let’s talk about the tone on the P-125 on my left and the ES110 on my right. Now, the P-125 is technically a newer instrument as it hasn’t been on the market nearly as long as the ES110 has, however, these both continue to stack up really, really well. We know this because if you do a quick sort of Google Suggest, there’s people all over the world that are constantly trying to find comparisons between ES110 portable digital piano and the P-125. It’s also been requested several times on the channel as well, and so, here we are!
Let’s discuss the speaker systems first. The Yamaha is equipped with 14 watts of power as is the Kawai. So, in terms of just the sheer wattage that the amplifiers are rated for, equal between the two instruments. But it’s not exactly apples-to-apples; where are the differences? Firstly, on the Yamaha, you have two tweeters that are facing up so that your ear is kind of getting that treble sound more directly. And then you’ve got two speakers on the bottom providing more of the reinforcement. On the Kawai, you’ve just got the two speakers positioned along the underbelly, but they are two-way speakers, so they do have a tweeter and a main squished into one speaker box.
So, on paper, it would seem as though the Yamaha has a bit of an advantage because of those tweeters that are facing you because generally speaking, that means you’re going to get a clearer sound. Now, what do you actually get in practice? Well, it’s definitely a very clear sound with a reasonable stereo image, and overall a pleasant tone. However, jumping to the Kawai, my impression between the two is that the Kawai seems to have a wider dynamic range. And I mean, both in terms of the timbre as well as the volume. But that impression is not likely due exclusively to the stereo speaker system.
We can analyze it precisely by opening up the waveforms in an editor, but the impression is that this is a little bit of a wider palette when I’m playing. So, on the one hand, that’s going to make the P-125 a little more forgiving for somebody who’s just starting out, but on the other hand, for somebody who is really trying to work on their craft, even as a young student, the Kawai’s more responsive keyboard is going to allow you to build that muscle control a little bit better, a little bit faster, a little bit accurately so you can switch back and forth between an acoustic with less trouble. The 88-key piano sampling also undoubtedly contributes to this impression of depth as well.
Now, in terms of the piano tone in your preference, I mean, this is, like, purely subjective. Yamaha has got a really nice satisfying tone to it powered by the Pure CF Sound Engine.
Kawai sounds a little thicker and it sounds a little more complex. I would say that it seems like the sample quality on the Kawai is probably slightly higher based on the EX-Concert Grand Piano sample set, delivered of course through the Harmonic Imaging Sound Technology that Kawai’s become famous for. (Harmonic Imaging is Kawai’s name for their additive synthesis tech that builds upon a sample with other smaller samples and generated sound for things like damper resonance, damper noise, cabinet and string resonance (not avail on ES110, but on other Kawai models), reverb, fall-back noise, etc).
But this is very, very subjective. So, I don’t want anyone to take away from this that I am casting judgment on which one has the more satisfying piano to play. Only you can decide that. Everybody’s ear is a little bit different. We’re, of course, just here to provide you the goods and let you make the decision at home.
In terms of the level selection of the sounds on the two instruments, the Yamaha has got the Kawai beat. Yamaha comes in with, I think, 24 different sounds available on it. The Kawai still has a very respectable, I think, it’s 17 or 19 sounds on it. But I will say this, the Kawai has a wider selection of grand piano sounds. So, it’s quite clear just off a few early observations that the Kawai is definitely trying to cater towards people who are going to be using this exclusively for piano playing rather than sort of piano entertaining or kind of hobbyist playing. That’s my guess based on what they’ve focused on.
On the Yamaha, you’ve got four acoustic piano sounds, four electric piano sounds; organ, clav, and vibraphone strings, and bass. There’s the Rhodes. There’s the Kawai Rhodes. That’s kind of the DX7 sound. Some Hammond B3. So on and so forth. So, you can hear that there are small differences between the two, but both have really high-quality samples that are loaded up on it. And one last point, because there are some people out there who really enjoy knowing this spec, they’re both 192-note polyphony which is very high for this price category. I have a feeling this is just going to become the standard in the industry, but certainly, these are, I believe, the only two in the price range that have a 192-note polyphony, so you’re not going to run out of notes to play on either one of these instruments. Now, let’s move on to action.
Comparing Key Actions
Both of these instruments are equipped with very similar actions. Now, this is not to say that they feel exactly the same, but from a specs standpoint, from a quality standpoint on paper, they are definitely worthy competitors. On the Yamaha side, this is called the Graded Hammer Standard (GHS). It’s an instrument that does not have escapement or letoff as it is sometimes referred to. And it’s got a shiny white finish on the white key and it does have a textured finish on the black key.
It’s, of course, touch-sensitive and you’ve got the heavier notes in the bass, the lighter notes in the treble, something that’s pretty standard when you get into this class of instrument.
Now, I’ve played a lot of Yamaha digital piano actions and I think Yamaha is probably a company that, across its whole lineup, has more diversity in terms of how its actions feel than any other company that I am familiar with. For example, the Kawai actions, whether you’re talking about the ES110 or the CN29, ES8 or even into some other wood key actions, they’ve really gone out of their way to try and make the feel pretty consistent. In the case of the Kawai ES110 it features Kawai’s Responsive Hammer Compact Action (RHC).
When I’m playing the P-125 or any of the instruments that have this action in it, it’s a nice forgiving action. The edges of the keys are rounded just like the Kawai, so that part I really enjoy. I would say the two things that I don’t necessarily like that much about the action is I don’t like the super-shiny white finish. I find that that texture is not quite the same feeling I get as when I’m on an acoustic, and there’s just a bit of a texture there, something to make my finger just slip a little easier, not so sticky.
The other thing is I like the down weight of the key, but for some reason, it feels like it’s not pushing my finger back up quite as much as I would like. So, even though it seems a little counterintuitive to say this, the action winds up feeling a little bit heavy because I feel that I’m actually having to do more work to pull my finger back up again. The repetition speed is good.
Over on the Kawai side, some of the differences are these white keys as I just mentioned, actually have a texture to them, and that’s easy to tell because I don’t know if the light is picking it up, but you almost get this glassy reflection on the Yamaha, whereas in the Kawai, there’s no straight reflection on the white key that’s because of that texture that I was just referring to. The key bed on the ES110 feels slightly deeper. And I get a bit of a pop back up, so I find it to be slightly less fatiguing. That may be something that you can actually play with with the touch curves on the Yamaha to possibly, you know, balance out or get rid of that impression that maybe it is a little bit leggy to come back up.
On the Kawai side, because I didn’t mention this before the name of that action, I believe it is the Grand Feel Compact or GFC action. So, this is a slightly more basic version than the RH3 that’s currently out in some of the more advanced models. This one, like the Yamaha, does not have escapement, and also just a single sensor on this, so that, you know, from an action standpoint, to sum up, these are two instruments that you really do need to just try yourself. You know, I’ve shared with you my impressions as a player, but of course, everybody’s experience is slightly different. And so, if you can, find yourself a showroom that has both of them in there. If you can’t, of course, take what I’ve said with a grain of salt. Maybe it will hopefully, you know, help you to piece together a more complete perspective yourself as you’re doing your shopping. Now, let’s move on to features.
Features and Accessories
So, let’s dive into the features. On the Yamaha, there are definitely some very fun, very cool features to be aware of. One of them that really is easy to use and it stands out right away is the rhythm or intelligent accompaniment is I guess sort of the industry generic word for this. And it basically refers to the ability to select a rhythm and then have a few extra harmonic instruments follow you around, accompany you, as you create sort of the sound of a band and it’s a ton of fun. So, I’m just going to press the rhythm button, and you’ll hear that a standard kind of, you know, 16th note on the hi-hat, and 4/4 rock beat. There’s no bass. There’s no any other accompanying instruments, but the minute that I start playing, it’s going to pick up what I’m doing harmonically and start playing along with me.
And there are quite a few rhythms in there to choose from, and those are easily selectable by just pressing and holding the rhythm button. So on and so forth. So, that is definitely a fun feature. It also has a basic recorder as the Kawai does, and it’s got the USB connection out to the computer so that you can wire this up and send MIDI back and forth to the computer.
So, where does the Kawai stand with this? Well, the Kawai does not have the onboard accompaniment, but it does feature a very good selection of drum rhythms. So, if that’s something that’s critical, the Kawai isn’t going to give that to you. You’d have to look at a different option if you were looking for a direct comparison. But what the Kawai does have, what the Yamaha doesn’t, is the Bluetooth MIDI which you can use to connect smart devices and make use of a wide range of apps. So, the Kawai is going to make a really great sort of controller companion if you were looking to, rather than have the rhythms be driven from internally if you were going to be using some intelligent rhythms through an app on your smartphone, on an iPad, using iOS or Android, then that Bluetooth MIDI allows you to do that. And of course, you can expand the functionality to literally, you know, whatever the app that you wanted to have it connected to.
The Lesson function on the Kawai is handy for beginners or teachers who have students using the ES110b. Three popular method books are baked right in: Burgmüller 25 (25 Etudes Faciles, Opus 100), Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1A, and Alfred’s Basic Piano Library Lesson Book Level 1B. Basically the books’ piano lessons have the repertoire baked right into the ES110 for easy playback. The Kawai also comes with a basic song recorder function.
Aside from the MIDI ports, the Yamaha and Kawai both feature line out jacks as well as headphone jacks, which gives plenty of flexibility for external audio connections. They also both reduce to mono signal when just the left output jack is used…a surprisingly useful feature that almost always gets overlooked. The basics are all here as well, including an easy-to-use metronome function on both units, split (aptly called “SPLIT MODE”) and layer/dual mode, transpose, and on/off settings.
So, there are some pros and cons to both, a little light in terms of the onboard features, but very flexible because of the Bluetooth connection, slightly more onboard features over here, slightly less flexible because you don’t have the Bluetooth connection. They both have discrete audio outputs out of these things which is worth noting because this is something that many don’t. It’s kind of a pain. And so, when they both have it, it’s a really nice feature. They both come with the music stands, which is also very convenient. They’re both fairly lightweight although I think the Kawai might be a shade lighter than the 125 but both quite portable. That’s a nice thing.
Pedals & Stands
I’m going to point out one more thing because you may have been hearing this clink on the floor. This is the sustain pedal unit that Yamaha ships with the P-125. You can, of course, upgrade this to a more expensive Yamaha pedal that’s a little closer to a real sustain, but we’ve all seen these. They’re a little bit annoying. They’re loud and noisy on the floor, and they skate everywhere. You kind of have to wind up taping them down. It would be nice to see this shipping with something that was a little more substantial. Of course, on the Kawai side, this is what’s shipping, the F-10h Damper Pedal. So, as a comparison, not really in the same camp. And this, I think, has a retail value of $80 or $90. So, the difference in price between these two instruments could almost be explained away just in the pedal unit that ships with it.
They also both ship with integrated (but removable) music rests. Both of the instruments are also available or have available stands with them (Kawai HML-1 vs the Yamaha L125B), matching stands as well as the Kawai F-350 triple pedal system or Yamaha LP1 3-Pedal Unit. So, on that respect, they’re very, very similar.
So, really to just wrap up the difference between these two, and of course, we are going to give you a video where all we do is play these back and forth, but to really wrap up the differences, what we have is an instrument that has probably a slightly more complex piano tone, and a piano action that is a little bit closer to an acoustic feel, but a little bit feature-light however with Bluetooth.
On the Yamaha side, we’ve got a really nicely conceived instrument, nice clear tone, very easy to use controls on the top with the rhythm, with discrete audio outs but missing the Bluetooth, and maybe a slightly slower or a slightly what’s going to feel like maybe a bit of a spongy or a sluggish action at least to my finger. Of course, that’s very subjective. You do need to go and try these both out yourself. But for anybody who’s looking for an easy-to-cart-around, portable instrument under $1,000, it’s really hard to miss these two on the marketplace right now. So, I hope that the video has given you some new insights or at least some helpful talking points to help you sort through all of this information and arrive at a good decision.
So, thank you very much for joining us for yet another comparison video. Once again, we’ve had the Yamaha P-125 digital piano versus the Kawai ES110 portable digital piano on my right. If it’s the first time to the channel, we’d really appreciate if you did subscribe. It’ll help you stay up-to-date with all things piano. I hope that you found the video helpful. Please do leave comments as well. We do our best to respond to each and every one of them.
You’ve been watching Merriam Pianos. My name is Stu Harrison. We’ll see you back next time.