As a professional gigging musician, you are asking a lot from your instruments. They not only have to have the best sound and action, but are also built to endure constant transportation and the occasional accidents. Such a piano is not going to be compact and lightweight. Nor would it be cheap in price. One of the most popular models is the ES8 from Kawai. It is built like a tank and has wonderful sound as well as realistic key action. Honestly, what more do you need? In this Kawai ES8 review, let’s find out if this $2,000 premium model is worth the money.
The frame of Kawai ES8 is made from aluminum. Many gigging pianists have reported that the ES8 is built like a tank. You don’t have to extra careful while transport this instrument.
The strong frame also contributes to the playing experience. It’s very sturdy even when you are smashing the keys with all the emotion you can express. When you put the ES8 on a stand and start playing, you quite often forget that you are playing a portable digital piano.
The sides of the Kawai ES8 are equipped with curved wooden panel that gives the ES8 a classic and premium ascent. These panels also have practical functions as lifting handles. I think it’s a very thoughtful design, considering this digital piano is aimed at gigging pianists.
You can choose between two different colors depending on your region. There’s the Gloss Black and the Snow White. Both surfaces are matte finish.
The included music rest is not the transparent plastic one you have probably seen from marketing materials. That one comes with the HM-4 stand.
The included music rest is detachable and is made out of metal with an industrial vibe to it. It’s not ugly but I certainly prefer the transparent one that comes with the stand.
For $2,000, I would expect Kawai to put their best music rest in the package instead of selling it separately with the stand. If you buy the stand, you will end up with two music rest. I’d say this is a minor mistake from Kawai.
The good thing about the included music rest is that it’s quite big. It’s wide enough to display three A4 papers together and tall enough to support single paper sheet.
The best part of this music rest is that it’s very deep. You can comfortably put in iPad in front of your score book and still have the room for a marker.
The control panel you will find on the Kawai ES8 consists of one volume slider, 26 buttons and an LCD display. Each button also has its own LED indicator.
With so many buttons and a display, you can access all the functionality of the ES8 without combinations of buttons/keys, like many of ES8’s competitors do.
The buttons are well labeled. It is very intuitive and gives you the ability to change settings on the fly while performing on stage.
The Kawai ES8 comes with a full 88 keyboard.
The keys are plastic with synthetic Ivory surface, which helps with grip and absorbs finger moisture during long playing sessions.
Size & Weight
The sturdy build quality of the Kawai ES8 comes with a cost.
Thanks to its metal frame and wooden side panels, it is on the heavy end of portable digital pianos. A gig bag with rollers becomes almost a necessity for the ES8 if you are to carry it around.
It weighs about 22.5 kg (50 lbs).
After assemble, it has the dimensions of 137 x 37 x 15 cm (54″ x 15″ x 6″)
When you are shopping for a digital piano around this price range, The most important aspect you need to pay attention to is the key action.
And I have good news for you. The ES8 uses Kawai’s Responsive Hammer III keyboard action. It has all the feature you want and is probably the best plastic key action on the market right now.
There are actual hammers in the action to simulate a more realistic feeling. The weight of the hammers are graded. As a result, the bass is heavier and the tremble is lighter, just like an acoustic piano.
Kawai uses three sensors in this key action. It ensures fast repetition and more accurate control of the keys.
Being a top of the line premium instrument, the Kawai ES8 is also equipped with counterweights in both its white and black keys.
These meticulously calculated weights make the keys much more balanced.
You will notice the keys are lighter when you play soft passages. Meanwhile, when you want to express something stronger, there are more substance to your force.
Another feature that’s also exclusive to high-end digital pianos is the simulated let-off effect. It is to re-create that subtle notch feeling when play on a grand concert acoustic piano, also called ‘escapement’.
Overall, the key action of ES8 feels smooth and responsive. It certainly is one of the best plastic key actions available.
It’s no concert grand, but it comes really close. If you are practicing on an ES8, you will not have any trouble switching to a concert grand.
Being top of the line of the ES series, the Kawai ES8 has the best sound quality Kawai has to offer.
It uses Kawai’s most advance sound engine called Harmonic Imaging XL. This is the sound engine you can find on other premium digital pianos from Kawai, like the CA 98.
Each note is individually sampled and the Harmonic Imaging XL extends the sample duration up to 120%. The end result is a more natural and more detailed re-production.
And you are not just getting one concert grand with this advanced sampling. You get three world-class concert grand, the best Kawai has to offer.
- the 9 foot flagship SK-EX concert grand
- the medium sized studio grand SK-5
- the 9 foot EX concert grand
The Kawai ES8 is equipped with two 15 Watt speakers. They are located on each side facing upwards.
It’s a simple setup like many other portable digital pianos. Surprisingly however, unlike many of its competitors, the Kawai ES8 produces excellent sound quality with its speakers.
It is loud enough to fill a big living room and the volume is close to an acoustic upright.
And even at maximum volume, the sound quality remains detailed and natural.
In my opinion, the Kawai ES8 does not need external monitor/speaker except for the most professional performance.
If you ask me, the best features of the Kawai ES8 are the key action and the sound engine. These two combined makes the ES8 one of the best digital pianos under $2,000.
Here are some other features that you might find useful.
- Sound (34 total):
- Grand pianos x 6
- Jazz piano
- Upright piano
- Modern piano
- Rock piano
- Electric pianos x 4
- Pipe organs x 4
- Strings x 4
- Bass x 4
- Choir x 4
- Polyphony: 256
- Key sensitivity:
- Off (Constant)
- User 1
- User 2
- Reverb settings:
- Small Hall
- Concert Hall
- Live Hall
- Dual mode: two instrument sound simultaneously
- Split mode: split the keyboard to two different instruments
- Four hand mode: divide the keyboard into two identical halfs
- Internal recording:
- MIDI: up to 10 songs, each up to 2 tracks
- MP3 & WAV: to USB
- MIDI (IN/OUT)
- USB to Host
- USB to Device
- LINE IN STEREO
- LINE OUT (L/MONO, R)
- DAMPER (for F-10H)
- DAMPER/SOFT (for F-20)
- PEDAL (for F-301)
- Headphones x 2
- Virtual Technician: customize everything!
The Kawai ES8 comes with a music rest (metal frame), sustain pedal and a power cable.
The sustain pedal is Kawai’s model F-10H pedal unit with half pedaling support.
It is a decent pedal with realistic feeling. The resistance and weight of it does feel close to a real pedal from an acoustic piano.
If you want more than just one sustain pedal, you will need to purchase either a two pedal unit F-20 or a three pedal unit F-301. Do be careful because the three pedal unit F-301 only works with the HM-4 designer stand.
You will also need to purchase a stand and bench for the ES8.
Depends on your need, you can choose between a fixed stand HM-4 designer stand, or a portable one for gigs.
A good pair of headphones is always recommended for a digital piano.
Due to its high performance speaker system, you will only need external monitor/speaker for your most professional gigs.
One more thing you might need is a travel bag with rollers. Because the ES8 is actually quite heavy, you’ll stress your muscles if you carry it to a gig and those stressed muscles could be a problem for your performance.
WHO IT’S FOR
The Kawai ES8 is recommended for intermediate and advanced players, especially gigging players.
It would also be an excellent choice for home use. If you couple it with the designer stand and the triple pedal unit, it would look awesome in your living room.
For beginners, I can only recommend it if money is not an issue for you. Many advanced features will not be useful to you in the beginning of your piano learning journey.
If you are a beginner and is looking for a portable digital piano, check my reviews on the Yamaha P45, or the Kawai ES110!
If portability is not needed, I’d recommend the Casio PX870!
The Kawai ES8 is an excellent portable digital piano. In fact, it is one of the best digital piano you can find under $2,000.
It offers realistic key action with triple sensor and counterweights.
The best sound engine Kawai can come up with and the great speaker system gives the ES8 amazing sound quality both with headphones and its built-in speakers.
The ES8 is so customizable that it would take you a few hours to understand each setting. Once you fine tune the instrument, you can save your settings and switch to them easily on stage.
There are only two things I could want more with the Kawai ES8. Bluetooth would be nice to have. And the instrument is a bit on the heavy side.
PRICE AND AVAILABILITY
Kawai ES8 vs. Roland FP-90
The main competitor of the Kawai ES8 is the Roland FP-90. The Yamaha P-255 is somewhat inferior with a low price tag.
First major difference is in the key action. While FP-90 uses a combination of plastic and wood, the keys on the ES8 are fully wooden. The two instrument feel quite different when you play them side by side. The FP-90 is much lighter than the ES8. Although in my own opinion, the ES8 feels slightly more natural and real. The difference is minimal and subjective.
Sound wise, the FP-90 uses full modeling while the ES8 combines sampling and modeling. I still find the ES8 approach more natural but Roland has come a long way with their modeling technology and the result is very close.
Both instruments are highly customizable. The FP-90 has Bluetooth while the ES8 doesn’t.
The speaker system on the FP-90 is no doubt much better than that on the ES8. It has two tweets that the ES8 lacks and it has a much stronger output of 60 watt to ES8’s 30 watt.
The FP-90 also has a microphone jack that the ES8 lacks. You will be able to sing along on the FP-90.
Both FP-90 and ES8 are amazing instruments aimed at stage performance and they are similarly priced. You can’t go wrong with either of them. The choice in the end depends on your personal preference with the key action and sound engine.
For more details about the Roland FP-90, click here for my full review.
Let me know what you think of this review and if you happen to have some experience with the Kawai ES8, please share with us in the comment below.
Really appreciate your detailed and insightful reviews about the keyboards. I’ll probably end up getting one for my kid based on your reviews (quite likely it would be a Kawai).
Anyways I just found out that the ES8 has been discontinued, and is now superceeded by the ES920. Will you be doing a review regarding the new keyboard?
In the meantime, stay safe!
The review of the newer ES920, and many other new models, has been sitting on my to-do list for a while now. What happened is that due to the pandemic, many manufactures have stock issues and I haven’t been able to get my hands on it yet.
Once the new piano is delivered, I’ll write a detailed review as soon as I can.
Thank you for your kind words and wish you all the best!
I am an accomplished pianist , having played the piano since 1955 . I purchased my ES8 back in 2016 . What a wonderful instrument this has been , having paid for itself twice over . I am 73 years old and still have no problem moving it .
Built heavier than what it has to be , I don’t think you could wear this action out .
As for the tone of the SK mode , I only have one thing to say : ” absolutely stunning ” .
Thank you for sharing your thoughts and experience with the ES8 Daniel! It is built like a tank and one of the best portable digital pianos on the market.
Thanks Wei, your reviews are always excellent. I had to sell my MP11se as I was leaving the country. Now, back
In the US I am considering the ES8. Any prediction on when an ES9 might surface? I realize it is a total guess!
Maybe at NAMM this year. I have found an ES8 for $1299 plus tax… am wondering if the price might be coming down due to a new model release. Thanks, Mike
Thanks a lot for your kind comment. We’ve been waiting for the ES9 for a while now. There’s certainly a possibility that we’ll see it in 2020 but I would be rather surprised if that’s the case.
There hasn’t been much rumor about an ES9 release and currently, I don’t think the market position of ES8 is being challenged by any new model from competitors. Based on my limited understanding of the business world, I see no reason for Kawai to release a new ES model.
I could of course be totally wrong. This is at best a guess. If you have something to practice on, you can certainly wait a while for the NAMM. Otherwise, I’ll just go ahead and grab the ES8.
Great news no bluetooth for Kawai ES8 is no longer a problem with this unit that turns your MIDI output into bluetooth! So, you Kawai ES8 can have everything now. I have just bought one and it is truly magical to play. here is a link to the MIDI unit, if it’s too old just google Quicco bluetooth MIDI:
Thanks for your review on the Kawai ES8. I learnt piano when I was a child and I have a small electronic keyboard I dabble with playing it at times. But my children are showing interest and I have started their lessons. This little keyboard of mine isn’t doing the trick as it is not a good size for them. This keyboard the Kawai es8 sounds like a good investment for a family learning music. Its sturdy and as you said “built like a tank” which is good as the kids have friends over and they will always turn on the keyboard and have a play whether they learn music or not. I will definitely look into this for our little music learners. Thank you for your Review.
Thanks for dropping by and left a comment. The Kawai ES8 is an excellent choice if your budget allows for it. Although I would probably recommend something cheaper for your children to start the learning process. After they developed their own taste, you can then upgrade to a better digital piano to their liking. If you don’t need portability, the Casio PX870 would be a great choice. It’s cheaper with less features, but has a very impressive key action and sound, which are the two most important aspect of any digital piano.
Other even cheaper options would be the Kawai ES110. It’s also a portable digital piano like the ES8. It’s much cheaper although the key action and sound are less impressive.
In the end, I think it depends on if you want to upgrade later or do you want one that would last for the whole learning journey with your children.
And don’t forget, always try it in a store before purchase. Key actions are very personal.
This is a very comprehensive review of Kawai piano. I love the features you cited here. I currently play an electric keyboard and I am planning a buy one with a pedal.
Thanks for this review I will definitely include this one as one of my choices.
Thanks for dropping by. If you need more buying guide, come back for more review and best lists here.
Thanks so much for this detailed review!
My two daughters have been using an old baby grand which I’ve recently been informed cannot be tuned to the correct pitch anymore. I’m not in a position to buy a real acoustic piano and the Kawai electronic piano seems like a good option. How long can we use an electric piano when preparing for exams and competitions? At what stage would you recommend upgrading to a real piano?
Thanks for dropping by. The one advantage of a digital piano is that it never needs to be tuned. As for how long you can keep practicing on a digital piano, it depends on the particular model you choose. If you purchase the ES8 that I reviewed here or other high end digital piano, you actually won’t need to upgrade to an acoustic piano at all. These high end digital pianos now a days are really good at mimic the key actions of acoustic pianos. Your daughters can comfortably practice at home with digital piano and switch to an acoustic while taking lessons or exams.
I would advice you take your daughters to a store and try the key actions on different digital pianos and see which one they feel most comfortable with.