Kawai vs. Yamaha: Who Makes Better Pianos?

Yamaha

Getting ready to buy your first piano, but not sure which manufacturer to look into? Here, St. Augustine, FL teacher Heather L. shares a bit about two of the best piano brands…

 

Two of the first questions that I get from parents of my piano students are “What kind of piano should I get?” and “What are the best piano brands?” The facts of the matter are that our modern piano is a 19th century invention about which many people, even pianists, don’t know a lot about, and the current piano manufacturing industry is always changing. For many families, it’s one of the larger purchases that you’ll ever make for your home. It’s important to devote the same kind of careful research that you’d give to any big buy. Two of the biggest and brightest stars in the piano world right now are Kawai and Yamaha. So in a battle of Kawai versus Yamaha, who makes better pianos?

ThePianoBuyer.com is a great place to start before making your purchase. You can order a free, 280-page semi-annual publication from the website that details both generally unchanging aspects of piano buying and the ever-changing world of piano manufacturing. There’s even a classified section on the website where you can peruse the listings of those both buying and selling electronic and acoustic pianos. Most importantly, though, you can see what piano experts have to say about Yamaha, Kawai, and other piano brands.

Kawai

Kawai, as a company, has long spoken out in favor of building pianos with plastic and composite materials, instead of wood, which inherently changes the texture, tone, and touch when played. Kawai also boasts a longer key than is found on most pianos, including Yamaha’s. Their claim is that this aids pianists in the performance of passages requiring great dexterity, in other words, passages with lots of ornamentation or especially fast-moving measures. Unfortunately, though, Kawai’s tone sounds especially dead, metallic, and dark to me. The sound is so utterly clean that in a way it reminds me of a toy piano.

Yamaha piano

Yamaha is known for having a distinctly bright tone, and I think it’s true. It’s so distinct, in fact, that I think that I could pick out a Yamaha piano out of several played if I were blindfolded. The sound, however bright, is still full and well-rounded. Neither Kawai nor Yamaha, as with many pianos made in Asia, possess the kind of warmth that we hear from pianos made elsewhere. But some of Yamaha’s newer models actually sound a little warmer in the treble section of the keys than Kawai’s. Yamaha’s action (the way that the key respond to pressing) and sustain (how long tones last) are noticeably better.

The truth is, you can visit a piano store, play both Kawai and Yamaha pianos, and decide for yourself which sound is more appealing. But in the end, as a piano teacher and parent myself, my final and most important factor in choosing between two piano brands (or two brands of almost anything) is durability. For many of us, pianos come into our homes as part of a long-term plan to be passed down to future generations. For this reason, I believe that Yamaha is the builder of more solidly constructed and longer-lasting instruments. Many institutions, schools, and performing artists favor Yamaha for this very reason. Perhaps you should consider it, too.

HeatherLHeather L. teaches singing, piano, acting, and more in St. Augustine, FL, as well as through online lessons. She is a graduate of the prestigious Westminster Choir College in Princeton, New Jersey, and has performed with the New York and Royal Philharmonics, the New Jersey and Virginia Symphonies, the American Boy Choir, and the internationally renowned opera star Andrea Bocelli. Learn more about Heather here!

 

 

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Photo by DieselDemon, MIKI Yoshihito, Joann Wan

 

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6 replies
  1. Abhishek Srivatsav
    Abhishek Srivatsav says:

    Thank you for your review. I think, Sound & Touch are an individuals choice.

    By not taking too much turns and curves, let me get straight to the point.

    For the record, Yamaha & Kawai share a similar history of Piano making. Obviously, Kawai started much later than Yamaha, but as the history speaks, the both owners were Piano tech’s.

    Now about Technology: Kawai uses ABS carbon Styran [A carbon composite material that is suppose to be stronger, lighter and faster than wood] where as other brands use wood.

    Well, that does affect the touch and sound at all. Try it for yourself.

    To the above contrary, I do not mean that ABS is better than Wood or vise versa. But yes, ABS makes the instrument entirely is Tropical.

    Highlighting more towards KAWAI pianos, this brand manufactures only Pianos [No other musical instruments]. All focus is on the pianos. The ABS Styran was one of the first revolution that KAWAI brought in to the industry and to be noticed, it is patented.

    Now, about the longer keys in KAWAI Pianos, it makes the piano very expressive. Second revolution by KAWAI. Even if you play those piano from the bottom tip to the closer edge of the piano, you can put better expression when compared to present tech piano.

    About the sound: KAWAI pianos has warm, cheerful and bright sound. Some models are famous for mellow sound as well, like K200.

    Well, I am neither a KAWAI fan nor Yamaha’s but I understand pianos [as per my level of experience]

    Again, I am not saying that you are wrong but it choice of pianos totally depends on an individual. Let the piano speak to the pianist rather the sales people 🙂

    Cherio – take care.

    Reply
  2. Ryan P
    Ryan P says:

    While it is your opinion that you love Yamaha, have you tried the S. Kawai? Ask David Osborne a Steinway piano artist and it will make you trade your Steinway for the S. Kawai. And “dead, metallic and dark” is an insult to a solely piano maker which makes me think, you played an poorly serviced kawai. In fact, just last November, i helped my friend get a piano. And they picked a 1 owner kg-2d among 2 other choices – a Steinway and a C1 yamaha. I was inclined to the kawai too and my choice was also validated by the piano tech knowing cost was not an issue. It is making me think that you have not encountered a lot of kawais and that you have a deal with your local yamaha dealer. I know In the end, it all boils down to the choice of the pianist, but undermining a piano is an insult to a piano maker.

    Reply
  3. Paul S.
    Paul S. says:

    I have owned and played many pianos over the last half century.
    I respect both Kawai and Yamaha. I very surprised to read your comments on the Kauai piano. I owned a Kawai C6
    7 foot Grand and it had a phenomenal sound. Yes my 5’8″Mason & Hamlin was an
    overall better – more even- piano, but the Kawai did have warmth
    and depth of tone and amazing
    bass. Clearly you have not played
    many Kawai’s.My first piano in 1966 was a Baldwin console which was far better than any thing else at that time best the price. Not sure if modern Baldwins are still as magical, and are no doubt a small fortune.

    Reply
  4. Ben S.
    Ben S. says:

    I have to concur with other responder’s comments. First, I don’t agree that Kawai and Yamaha’s are always bright. Both makers are always evolving and adapting and refining their instruments, and both make a huge range of instruments from fairly budget to very expensive hand-builts. There are plenty warm-sounding Kawai grands, the RX, the GX series and each piano is different and depends on factors like acoustics and the technician that tuned and voiced it. Yamaha has really changed its sound going from their C to CX pianos and they certainly have a sustained tone and some warmth to them as well. I agree, stating Kawai’s are “dead, metallic and dark” is doing them a disservice. And we need to maybe get away from this idea of what “Asian” pianos sound like. Yamaha and Kawai are Japanese pianos, quite different than Korean or Chinese, and use materials from different parts of the world. Yamaha’s now have some Bosendorfer influence in them (they bought Bosendorfer about a decade ago) so are they really now just “Asian” pianos?

    If you want to buy a piano, there are other alternatives like Boston and Essex, the former built by Kawai but both designed by Steinway. There are plenty good pianos that are now made in China that they bought from German companies. Yamaha and Kawai should be just played and listened to without any pre-conceived notions of them being “Asian” sounding, “bright,” or any such characteristic. If they have a sound the students connect with, then they’ll be the piano for that student or parent. And different students will choose different pianos.

    Reply
  5. Jeremy
    Jeremy says:

    I have been in the market for a piano lately, and I have visited 5 or 6 dealerships in Texas and Louisiana, playing Kawai, Yamaha, Essex, and several other baby grand manufacturers. I have probably played 50 different baby grands in the past 2 or 3 weeks. I absolutely agree with the author that the Kawai is more mellow. Calling is “dead” is an overstatement, but I agree that the Yamaha was much more lively. I am sure that the tone of the Kawai would be perfect for lots of homes, so don’t get me wrong. But as someone who likes to play a lot of big, full romantic-era pieces, it was very hard for me to get any power out of the bass register of the Kawai. The Yamaha I played today was incredible and I will likely choose Yamaha.

    Reply

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