Karaoke machines give users something to sing about
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.
Best Karaoke Machines
For home karaoke machines, pricier doesn't mean better
Professional karaoke setups can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars, but for a basic home system, paying more doesn't necessarily get you better performance. In fact, one of the most highly recommended karaoke machines on the market is the budget-priced Electrohome EAKAR300 (Est. $70) . This machine includes both a CD+G player and an auxiliary input for an MP3 player, but there's no built-in screen, so you must hook it up to a TV set to display lyrics.
The Electrohome EAKAR300 gets 5 stars from both KaraokeMachineCritics.com and KaraokeMachineReviews.org, the two main sites we found for reviews of karaoke machines. One feature the critics especially love is the Auto Voice Control (AVC) Singing Coach, which prompts vocalists when they forget the words to a song. Reviewers are also impressed with the power the machine's small built-in speaker can pack. Users at Amazon.com agree that the Electrohome has powerful sound, and they like its easy setup. However, many say that the microphone isn't very good and recommend upgrading it. We also saw a few complaints about durability.
The Singing Machine ISM-1028Xa (Est. $180) is more feature-packed, but also much pricier. KaraokeMachineCritics.com describes it as a cross between a home karaoke machine and a high-end professional system. Like the Electrohome, the Singing Machine can play CD+Gs. It also has a dock for an older iPod or iPhone, but you'll need an adapter to use it with a newer device that has a Lightning connector; also, it doesn't work with other MP3 players. Features include the ability to digitally change the key of a song to fit the singer's voice. The scrolling song lyrics can be displayed on a built-in screen or sent to an attached TV. Both professionals and owners praise the sound quality from the largish speakers and ease of use, and owners especially like how easy it is to use the machine with YouTube. However, the Singing Machine gets more complaints about durability than the Electrohome, and users also say the two included microphones are of poor quality.
For young users, Memorex Singstand 2 wins out over kiddie machines
There are many karaoke machines on the market designed specifically for kids. These may include features such as flashing lights or tie-ins with popular characters, such as Barbie or Monster High. However, most of these kiddie machines don't fare particularly well in either professional or user reviews. A better choice for kids, according to our sources, is the Memorex Singstand 2 MKS-SS2 (Est. $55) . This karaoke machine is basically a microphone on a stand (with a jack for a second, optional mike) with a universal line-in through which you can connect an MP3 player, tablet or smartphone. There are two small speakers in the base, but you can also connect the player to a stereo system for better sound.
This is the top-rated karaoke machine for home use at KaraokeMachineCritics.com, and it also earns a decent review at KaraokeMachineReviews.org. The reviewers love the machine's AVC feature and the separate volume controls for the vocals and backing tracks. Neither site specifically identifies this as a kids' machine, but we found hundreds of reviews from users at Amazon.com and ToysRUs.com who recommend this karaoke player for kids of all ages. Its kid-friendly features include sturdy construction, ease of use and the ability to use it with any phone or tablet. Most of the complaints we found came from users who don't have the machine plugged in to external speakers; they say the machine's built-in speakers are weak and produce distortion at high volumes.