Karaoke machines can provide hours of fun for singers of all ages, and they offer feature sets ranging from the simple to the deluxe. How much you spend on a machine should depend on how much you plan to use it. If your house is party central, you'll want to spend a little extra for a more permanent setup with freestanding speakers and a monitor for displaying lyrics. Younger singers will likely be happy with a simple and inexpensive portable machine. In between those, we found an attractive all-in-one system that relies on an MP3 player or iPod as its primary music source.
If you want the highest-quality home experience short of springing for a professional setup (which can cost thousands of dollars), the Singing Machine STVG-1009 (*Est. $230) provides several upscale karaoke bells and whistles, including a 7-inch built-in monitor, two wired microphones, and voice and echo controls. This machine also features an integrated video camera that can pipe your live performance to its 7-inch display for standalone use or to your TV via the device's audio/video outputs. Whichever way you set it up, you'll also see your scrolling lyrics displayed onscreen.
Most customers posting reviews on Walmart.com say they'd recommend the Singing Machine STVG-1009 to a friend due to its ease of setup and overall usability. Buyers should note, however, that the STVG isn't very portable; it's better suited to a static in-home arrangement. The main device stands on a pedestal and is supplemented by two freestanding tower speakers. This karaoke machine plays CDs and CD+Gs (CDs with added graphic capabilities used to display the song lyrics), and comes with a CD+G sampler disc.
If you plan to take your karaoke machine with you to parties, portability will be a factor in your buying decision. The Memorex MKS-SS1 SingStand Home Karaoke System (*Est. $75) is a good solution that gets solid user reviews. An all-in-one microphone stand that weighs less than 12 pounds, this machine plays music stored on your MP3 player or iPod, which plugs in at the top of the stand.
Reviewers at Amazon.com say the Memorex SingStand is fun to use, and the sound from the two 4-watt speakers in the base of the microphone stand is clear and "realistic." Unlike the Singing Machine STVG-1009, this karaoke device doesn't display lyrics; ideally, you'll have a PC nearby to view online lyrics or you'll need to print out the song lyrics. This setup also can't connect to a TV or stereo, but it can connect to a keyboard for live musical accompaniment. According to owners posting at Amazon.com, the Memorex MKS-SS1 SingStand Home Karaoke System also lets users hook up to a guitar and amp for an enhanced musical experience.
If you don't care much about sound quality and features, you can get a basic karaoke machine for about $50. Inexpensive units are a good bet for kids who simply want to have fun with their friends. Weighing in at 11.3 pounds, the Singing Machine SML-383 (*Est. $50) is compact and ultraportable, with a single carry handle built into the top. However, there's no built-in monitor, so you'll need to either hook it up to a TV to display lyrics or read lyrics from paper, a potential negative for karaoke singers. Setup is fast and the machine includes one microphone, balance and echo controls, plus auto voice control. User reviews say the Singing Machine SML-383 is reliable and a good buy, but a significant number of owners say they got lemon machines that didn't work out of the box. That's why it's a good idea to test your unit before your first party. This karaoke machine plays CDs and CD+Gs (not included).
Keep in mind that although prices have significantly decreased over the years with the widespread availability of karaoke machines, the real costs may not come from buying the device itself. The real expense, according to most karaoke devotees, comes when you buy the music. Expect to pay anywhere from $10 and up for CD+Gs, the CDs that display the scrolling lyrics you sing along to.
For a setup like the Memorex SingStand that can play digital music, online music service Spotify.com offers a surprisingly long list of karaoke tracks. These are re-recorded versions of hit songs, done either as instrumentals or with nonoriginal vocals mixed down so they aren't as prominent as the backing music. Those songs don't include a way to transmit lyrics, so they may not be ideal for many karaoke users. You'd need to have the lyrics handy via a printout, for example.
BuyKaraokeDownloads.com offers karaoke music downloads starting at 79 cents per track, with new releases costing as much as $2.49. Every download from this website includes an MP3G, MP3 and CD+G (so you can burn your own disc) in the same zip file, plus an MP3 audio file and an MP4 video file that includes scrolling lyrics. Karaoke.com is another option that offers full karaoke albums on CD+Gs and Multiplex (MPX) CDs, which allow users to sing along with a lead singer or remove the lead singer by switching channels on a compatible karaoke machine. Album prices range from $3 for closeouts on up to about $350 for multi-CD+G packages that include hundreds of songs.
We couldn't find professional reviews of karaoke machines, but there are plenty of user reviews out there. Amazon.com has a larger volume of reviews than other sites, but we also found feedback for karaoke machines at Walmart.com and ToysRUs.com. Karaoke.com and The-Karaoke-Advisor.com offer excellent information about the history of karaoke, types of karaoke machines available, and some common features and specifications of karaoke machines.