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Kawai ES120 review: The best no-nonsense stage piano

In this review, I’m discussing the Kawai ES120, the successor to the popular ES110 stage piano.

When a new model comes along, I want to see clear improvements, not just the same instrument rebranded. So, as I discuss what the ES120 offers, I’ll make relevant comparisons to the older ES110. Since I liked the older model, I have high hopes for ES120; let’s get into it.

testing Kawai ES120 digital keyboard piano
Image: Higher Hz
  • 88 weighted keys
  • 192-note polyphony
  • built-in speakers
  • 25 voices
  • dual headphone jacks
  • USB/Bluetooth MIDI

Final verdict on the Kawai ES120 4.8

I love the sound of Kawai digital pianos, and if you can get that for a decent price, it’s always worth considering. The ES120 is a fantastic, lightweight, and value-for-money stage piano that sounds and feels great. It’s better than the older ES110, not by as much as I’d like, but it’s better than something already excellent.

What I like

  • Outstanding piano sounds.
  • Realistic hammer-action keyboard.
  • USB/Bluetooth MIDI.
  • Useful apps.
  • Lightweight.

What I don’t like

  • Not all sounds are of the same quality.
Buy Kawai ES120 at: SweetwaterAmazon

Why you should trust me

James Nugent, author and contributor at Higher Hz

I’m a producer, composer, and multi-instrumentalist with over 20 years of experience in the music industry. As a professional pianist, I’ve played and tested everything from a Bösendorfer Imperial concert grand piano to budget-friendly beginner keyboards.

Contents

Use these jump links to navigate to the desired section of the review.

Sound quality 4.9

I scored the sound quality so highly for two reasons. First of all, I love the sound of a Kawai piano, and Kawai’s exclusive Harmonic Imaging technology captures grand and upright pianos in stunning detail. Secondly, I have to consider the price, and at under $1000, it will be tough to find a more realistic sound.

There are 25 voices, a few more than the ES110 offered (19), but not a significant increase. The acoustic piano voices are typically the most important to players of this kind of keyboard and are stunning.

I’m not as impressed with the uprights, but the grand pianos have incredible depth, especially when you really dig in; you get that bite like it’s a real instrument rather than a digital recreation.

The classic Kawai concert grand sounds are ideal for classical and jazz, and there are slightly softer variations that are perfect for ballads. Other sounds include electric pianos, organs, bass, harpsichord, and synths.

I’d have liked to hear better jazz or Hammond-style organs, and while the electric pianos are OK, they are good enough and not much more. It’s a shame that the other sounds don’t hit the same level as the acoustic pianos, but the pianos are so good I’m comfortable keeping my high score.

The ES120 has a max polyphony of 192 notes, the same as the previous model.

Built-in speakers 4.8

Here, we have the first clear upgrade from the previous model in dual 10-watt amplifiers (previously 7 W) powering a pair of 4.7-inch speakers.

The increased power will be a welcome addition for anyone who has small practice sessions with other musicians without an external amplifier. The built-in stereo speaker system delivers clear sound and enough volume for any sensible use; it won’t be enough for larger gigs, but it’s not meant to be.

Keyboard feel 4.7

Kawai has made some improvements in this area, and considering the ES120 is such a lightweight instrument (27 lbs), the keyboard feel is outstanding. I’ve kept the same score as I gave the ES110 because, while I like the improvements, they aren’t huge improvements on something that was already very good.

The ES120 has a graded hammer-action keyboard with 88 keys. Being graded means the lower keys are heavier, and the higher ones are lighter, just like a real piano. I really like the weight of the keys, and again, it’s more impressive in such a portable digital piano.

As well as a suitable weight, I expect the keyboard to be highly responsive for dynamic and expressive playing. The ES110 already did that, and the ES120 introduces new cushioning material and more consistent upward/downward motion, which allows you to get comfortable with the keyboard very quickly.

Ultimately, it was already good; now it’s a little better, not enough to change my score, but it’s a lovely keyboard for pianists.

Features 4.5

The ES120 isn’t a keyboard that’s packed with features, it’s a keyboard that keeps it simple but aims to do simple things very well.

Keyboard modes

You have Dual and Split keyboard modes, which means you can layer two sounds together or split two sounds between two keyboard zones. It’s handy if you have to play some bass with your left hand and melody/chords with the right.

Built-in recorder

The ES120 features a built-in single-track recorder that allows up to three songs. I say it often, but built-in recorders aren’t just for song ideas, they are a very underused practice tool.

One of the best ways to improve is to record practice sessions and then do some critical listening where you can identify problems before they become bad habits.

Effects

The built-in effects are limited but no less than expected for this type of instrument. You get onboard brilliance control, EQ, and six reverb types.

Apps

Kawai has developed the PianoRemote and PiaBookPlayer apps for Android and iOS. These apps allow you to do everything from controlling the ES120 externally to playing along with interactive lessons.

The apps won’t appeal to every player, but they are certainly a good starting point for beginners.

Lightweight

The weight perhaps isn’t a noteworthy feature for everyone, but I think it’s worth highlighting again because it’s rare to find such a great piano sound on such a lightweight keyboard. At approximately 27 lbs, the ES120 should appeal to performers sick of carrying heavy stage pianos.

Bluetooth

I’m jumping ahead before we even get to connectivity, but I want to highlight Bluetooth as a feature because it makes many things possible. You can stream music from your mobile device, which is a lot of fun for beginners and a convenient way for working musicians to learn/practice new songs.

In use 4.9

Any comments I have here almost mirror everything I said about the ES110: the minimal design and simple controls make the ES120 easy for players of any level to navigate. It still has a horizontal volume slider that I don’t like, but others might not care.

I do have one fairly significant change to report: the addition of USB, which means the ES120 is now a plug-and-play controller for home studio use, and that’s amazing!

Now I can say the ES120 is an ideal choice in the following situations:

  • you want a lightweight stage piano with simple controls;
  • you want a lightweight instrument to function as a gigging stage piano and a home studio controller;
  • you want a home practice piano with straightforward functions.

Build quality 4.4

I’m not mad about the buttons/controls on the ES120; they don’t feel great to me. But that’s more about personal preferences than concerns about being robust enough.

Kawai ES120 design and build
Image: Higher Hz

As with the older ES110, being so portable comes at the expense of a more rugged exterior, and that might be an issue for anyone planning to use the ES120 on stage. However, it’s nothing that should be a problem unless you plan to drag it upstairs or drop it from windows on the way out.

What impresses me most is that you forget the plastic exterior as soon as you start playing.

Connectivity 4.8

As I already mentioned, the main talking points here are the addition of Bluetooth and USB MIDI – both awesome. You also get a pair of 1/4-inch headphone jacks, and that’s great for silent student/teacher lessons.

It has two 1/4-inch audio outputs and a single sustain pedal input (F-1SP pedal included). An optional wooden stand with a three-pedal unit is available for a more traditional digital piano appearance.

Compared to other stage pianos

All things considered, the ES120 is one of the best stage pianos under $1000 on the market right now. If you aren’t convinced yet, here are a few alternative options worth checking out.

Kawai ES120 vs ES110

The ES120 is better than the ES110, but not by miles. So, if you are considering upgrading, don’t; if you are buying either for the first time, go with the ES120.

Kawai ES120 vs Roland FP-30X

I have a thing for Roland piano tones, and the FP series is as tried and tested as any. However, in this case, I prefer the ES120, but I’d suggest listening to the FP-30X at least.

Kawai ES120 vs Yamaha P-125

The Yamaha P-125 is almost an industry standard for musicians who want a budget-friendly, simple stage piano. If it’s for stage use, some might prefer the P-125, but at home, I think the ES120 is better.

Kawai ES120 vs Kurzweil SP1

I added the SP1 because Kurzweil is too often forgotten, and the SP1 is excellent value for money.

Who is the Kawai ES120 best suited for?

The ES120 suits players of all levels for home practice and performers who need a lightweight stage piano.

Buy Kawai ES120 at: SweetwaterAmazon
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