Kawai are a long-established manufacturer of some of the finest grand and upright pianos on the market. They have almost 100 years of experience in manufacturing and developing the mechanisms of superlative grand pianos, so they’re supremely qualified to create instruments that are realistic to play and with a sound quality to challenge their main competitors, Yamaha, Roland and Casio.
The Kawai CN27 is a full-size digital piano that plays like a dream. The keyboard has a wonderful lightness of touch and the piano sounds are impressive, to say the least. With a limited sound-set in comparison to it’s rather quietly more flamboyant, more expensive brother, the CN37, there’s still plenty to fall in love with.
The main features of the CN27 are
Super-responsive sampling of the world-renowned Kawai EX and SK-EX concert grand pianos.
An amazing keyboard experience
Authentic foot-pedal response
8 great grand piano sounds and some of the best reproductions of electric pianos on the market
Kawai have developed their Responsive Hammer III keyboard action drawing on their experience of building the mechanisms for their acoustic instruments. The keyboard response is one of the most realistic I’ve experienced in a digital piano, with an amazingly light pianistic quality that makes playing the CN27 an utter joy.
An equivalent Yamaha would be the CLP535. One can’t help but notice a really significant difference in play-feel between a Yamaha and a Kawai. The Yamahas I’ve played have had a much heavier feel under the fingers, and a really distinctive key-off action which feels sprung rather than weighted, contributing to a fairly un-pianistic playing experience. You need to try both instruments next to each other to establish which is going to suit your playing style. In my opinion, playing the CN27 is like gliding through feathers, whilst the CLP535 is more akin to wading through treacle.
The CN27 has the same keyboard feel as the CN37. They both feel genuinely amazing to play and it’s easy to lose yourself in the instrument. There’s a very satisfying bounce to the key-off action when the depressed key returns back to its neutral position. You find this bounce with the best grand pianos, so as far as key-action is concerned, Kawai have got it going on.
This lightness of touch is coupled with one of the most authentic dynamic touch responses I’ve come across in a digital piano. This sensitivity allows you to play a perfectly skittish pianissimo and really belt out the fortes with great control. All-in-all, both the CN27 and CN37 offer a hard-to-beat playing experience.
There are 8 piano sounds, defaulting to the Concert Grand 1 when you switch the instrument on. The top end tickles the eardrums rather than pierces and the bass end of the instrument fills the room with a satisfying richness.
Concert Grand 2 has more attention to mid-frequencies, coupled with a richer bass response than Concert Grand 1. There’s an edge of the nasal to this sound, but the playfulness of the upper frequencies cut through the bolder bass, making Concert Grand 2 a pure joy to play.
Upright Piano has more middle frequency focus and less brightness at the top end, whilst Studio Grand has a richness of tone perfect for jazz. Studio Grand 2 is a brighter sound that verges on the electronic - there’s something a little too perfect in the roundness of the tone, as if the instrument has been heavily processed through a frequency compressor.
Mellow Grand has a slightly distant tone, with much of the brightness of the Uprights and the Concert Grands shaved away. The bass end of the instrument has a really satisfying push, making Mellow Grand quite a guttural, punchy sound that travels across the room with ease.
Modern Piano is an upfront, bright sound, heavy in the upper frequencies. This is the type of instrument you’d expect to hear on classic Joni Mitchell vinyl - warm, yet present enough to handle singer songwriters with little need for the filling out of additional band members.
Then we move into an amazing electric piano sound that would fit in perfectly into any funk jazz quartet. Classic E. Piano has a great rotating stereophonic vibrato that takes you to quite dizzying heights. Modern E. Piano, in contrast, contains more cheese than the deli counter - I suspect that you’re unlikely to have heard this instrument on a record since Michael Jackson’s ballad era of the 80s. There’s certainly a reason for its continued absence in the popular music soundscape.
A lovely crunchy Jazz Organ with a beautiful rotator speaker emulation is an utter joy to play. Church Organ is pretty realistic, but feels more like a funeral than a wedding celebration.
Then we come to the “other” sounds. Harpsichord is typically grating - with all the charm of a cat squealing as it’s claws are dragged down a blackboard - but pretty realistic nonetheless. The Vibraphone, being Harpsichord’s total antithesis, gives you the sense of being stuck in a lift where something rather hot under the collar is about to take place in classic 70s porno style.
The String Ensemble has absolutely no similarity to real strings and is a total waste of anyone’s time, I think. Slow Strings is a yukky piano / string pad situation that hasn’t been heard since Ally Sheedy was in the movies and is best kept there.
The “other” sounds aside, the CN27 boasts a great, if limited, sound-set that will provide a lifetime of enjoyment for the home player or learner. For another £400, the CN37 gives you a much broader sound-set of 370 sounds. Whether or not you would ever really use any of those additional sounds is debatable, so for what the CN27 lacks in instrumental variety, it easily makes up for in play-feel and in the quality of the on-board piano sounds.
The CN27 has most of the usual inputs and outputs - 5 pin DIN MIDI (IN/OUT), USB MIDI, 2 headphone sockets. There’s no LINE in or out, which is a bit of an over-sight I think. LINE is the most effective way of externally amplifying or recording your instrument - the CN37 has LINE in and out, so if you’re ever going to need to play the instrument through an external PA or connect other MIDI instruments to play through the on-board speaker system, you’ll need to opt up for the CN37. Having said that, the speaker drivers of the CN27 are more than adequate for most home-playing situations with a full 2x20 Watt speaker system driven with decent speakers housed underneath the unit.
There is the great addition of Bluetooth connectivity included in the CN27 which, for one great advantage, gives you access to the free Kawai Virtual Technician app (available on both Android and iOS platforms). This really brings the digital piano experience firmly into the 21st century, allowing you to edit many of the aspects of the sound that the slightly limited user interface struggles to accommodate. The Virtual Technician allows you to edit the piano’s tonal characteristics, including the string resonance, the foot-pedal response and many other elements effecting sound including lid position.
The previous CN25 has many of the same features of the CN27, but Bluetooth is a welcome addition to the CN range that the CN25 lacked.
It's got to be said that the CN27 has a very limited user interface in comparison with the CN37. You get a simple LED digital display capable of showing numerics only. There are just 6 physical buttons, most of which feel a little wasted, to be honest. One button allows you to control a feature known as “Concert Magic” which is a curious anomaly that allows you to control a pre-programmed performance by hitting random keyboard keys, the only skill requiring rhythmic accuracy. The novelty of this rather strange feature lasts for all of 15 seconds. What on earth were they thinking?
So “Concert Magic” gets its own button, whilst the much more useful instrumental sound selection is confined to a single button, requiring you to scroll through all the on-board sounds one-by-one. The sounds are indicated by a number displayed on the LED, which relies on you remembering which number refers to which instrument. Super clunky! This really lets the instrument down.
I favour the CN37 for it’s clearer LCD digital display and it’s broader choice of physical keys that offer greater control and faster access to the instrumental sounds.
The build of the CN27 feels sturdy and is housed in a nice cabinet. A really nice feature is the front leg that gives the instrument a traditional feel but also affords stability. There are three foot pedals that offer the traditional soft, sostenuto and sustain effects, which have been built to replicate the individual weighting of the pedals of a Shigeru Kawai SK-EX concert grand. This attention to detail contributes to a lovely instrument that doubles as an attractive addition to a room. There’s an adjustable music rest that allows you to alter the angle of hold which is one of those subtle factors that make Kawai electric pianos such great instruments.
For the money, it’s difficult to beat the CN27. If you want a great, reasonably priced digital piano then you don’t really need to look that much further. If you’re looking for an instrument that’s perfect for the home-player and will provide a perfect environment for the learner, especially with the ability to connect headphones, this is an instrument that will provide many hours of wonderful playing and the perfect canvas to develop skills. If you have a little extra in your budget, I’d recommend going for the CN37 with its better quality user interface, wider and more easily accessed instrumental sound-set, and top-driven speaker-set. But for my money, the CN27 is one of the best hammer action digital pianos you can buy.