As most folks know, karaoke (from the Japanese for "empty orchestra") means singing along to music while following the lyrics on a TV or video screen. A karaoke music track strips away Billy Joel's or Alannis Morisette's voice so you can substitute your own by singing into a microphone. The first karaoke machines were large and expensive, so they were used mostly in bars and restaurants, where users would pay a small fee to sing. Today, however, home karaoke machines are widely available, and many of the best-rated ones cost $200 or less.
Most home karaoke machines integrate with your home entertainment gear, playing through your stereo's speakers and scrolling lyrics on your TV screen. Some can also double as a CD or DVD player. In addition, there are now iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod touch) and Android apps that can turn a smartphone or tablet into a karaoke player.
Karaoke machines can get their music from a variety of sources. Some use CD+Gs (CD plus graphics), special music CDs with the vocal tracks removed and graphics added to display the song lyrics. Others have auxiliary inputs so you can plug in and play music from an MP3 player, smartphone or tablet. Some machines can turn songs from regular CDs or MP3 files into karaoke tracks by editing out the vocals, although you may have to supply your own lyrics with these. Another feature many users like is the ability to synch up with YouTube, where it's possible to find many songs complete with lyrics for free.
To find the best karaoke machines, we consulted both websites devoted to karaoke and reviews from users at retail sites such as Amazon.com. We looked for karaoke players that combine good sound quality, ease of use and durability with the features users appreciate most, such as the ability to accept music from a wide variety of devices. We also looked at professional reviews of karaoke apps from sources such as The New York Times and MacLife magazine, as well as overall ratings from users at app stores. We considered each app's features and ease of use, as well as the variety of music available to use with it.