Karaoke is absolutely fantastic regardless of where, how, or why you're participating. However, you can really take your karaoke fun to the next level if you spend a few extra minutes in making sure you're buying the best possible karaoke setup for your specific needs.
No two karaoke machine are alike, and for good reason – a bar owner looking to outfit his bar is going to have very different wants than a home karaoke enthusiast will. To make things easier, I put together this ultimate karaoke machine buyer's guide. Take a minute to read through it and you'll end up with the perfect karaoke machine for you.
If you're looking for advice on buying a specific type of karaoke machine, you can jump to that section by clicking on one of the blocks below:
Karaoke Hardware Vs Software
I'll start with the basics. When you're buying a karaoke machine, you have to aspects to consider: the hardware, and the software. Hardware refers to the physical components of the karaoke machine itself, from the microphone and audio input options to the CD player and speakers. On the other hand, software refers to any programs or digital interface that you use when operating the karaoke machine. Some machines may not need any software whatsoever if they don't have screens and so on.
For most karaoke machine, you want to spend more time digging into the hardware aspect of the setup – this is where you'll get the most bang for your buck, along with the best entertainment value.
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Kid's Karaoke Machine Buying Guide
The first sort of karaoke machine that I focus on throughout this website is the “kid's” karaoke machine. While there are certainly karaoke setups that were made specifically with children in mind, I'm also using the term as referring to a certain set of qualities you might associate with a kid's unit, like color, size, portability, and so on.
Kid's karaoke machines tend to be the most affordable of the lot, but will often lack advanced audio and video features that more expensive models can handle. Kid's setups are often fairly barebones as well – not necessarily in a bad way, they're just more simple units than you could find elsewhere.
When you're looking at buying a kid's karaoke machine, there are a few qualities you want to really keep an eye out for:
As per usual, price is at the top of the list when it comes to deciding factors for a kid's karaoke machine. Price is a little trickier when you're shopping for a kid-specific product, because you want to strike the perfect balance between paying for quality and not over-paying should the machine eventually break (a much higher risk when put in the hands of kids).
On the other hand, you could go the route of paying a lot for a truly indestructible kids karaoke machine. A lot of it depends on how “destructive” the kid in question is, after all.
Kids have better eyes than adults, but a karaoke screen should still be big and clear enough for them to read lyrics effortlessly. Some screens will also play videos and so on – make sure you know which one the kid in question wants as different types offer different karaoke benefits.
A proper kid's karaoke machine should definitely be an all-in-one, self contained unit. The more moving parts and pieces there are, the more likely something will get lost or broken, and kids really compound that effect. You want to look for a sturdy karaoke machine that doesn't really have any peripherals other than a microphone involved.
The second reason self-containment is so important for kids karaoke units is that kids will want to take their shiny new karaoke machine with them to friends' houses and beyond. The more compact and simple the machine is, the easier and safer lugging it around is.
Ease of use
Kids are kids, after all. The right karaoke machine for your kid needs to be pretty easy to setup and use. Kids have short attention spans and get frustrated quickly when something isn't working out. In general, the fewer controls, knobs, and levers on a kid's karaoke machine, the better. Fewer things break, fewer things go wrong, and your kid gets more uninterrupted enjoyment out of their brand new karaoke machine.
While you always want to dig into the warranty/replacement info of a product, you want to make extra sure you do so when it's going to end up with a kid. Kid's break things – it's a fact of life. You'll feel much better about yourself if you're sitting pretty with a two year warranty instead of a measly thirty day return policy.
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Home Karaoke Machine Buying Guide
Home karaoke machines are the “sweet spot” category for most people. There are the karaoke machines that you'll see at your friends' places, and maybe even at smaller parties and family gatherings. Home karaoke setups are usually “plug and play,” meaning they hook into existing speaker and TV setups with ease. Some do come with built-in screens, but they'll almost always look and perform better when used with your other A/V equipment as well.
Many home karaoke machines can double as Blu-ray players, DVD players, and can even record and playback audio. A decent home system will end up somewhere in the neighborhood of $200 - $500 but will last you for some time to come.
Overall, I'd say that home karaoke machines are called “home” setups more due to their pricing than anything else. Most of these units are solid performers that can be used in a variety of situations. They'll end up sort of like your DVD players, gaming consoles, and other peripheral A/V equipment. You can swap them in and out when you feel like using them, and they'll blend in to the background when you're not.
Here's how I tend to look at home karaoke machines when shopping for a new unit:
Low end home karaoke machines
“Low end” units are honestly what most people will end up buying. Low end in this context is not insulting at all – you can find some very good “low end” karaoke machines out there.
By low end, I really just meant those karaoke setups that are more bare-bones in terms of features, controls, and so on. Low end machines will typically run you less than $200 or so, but will also lack enhanced audio manipulation controls and might features less powerful audio and video input/output options.
Mid range home karaoke machines
Home karaoke machines in the middle of the pack will present you with significantly more features than a low end set up might, but still lack the power of a higher end karaoke setup.
These machines will land you in the $200 - $500 range, and work fantastically with other powerful audio/visual equipment like external speakers and TVs / projectors for lyrics and videos.
The build quality and longevity of mid range home karaoke machines should be fairly good across the board.
High end home karaoke machines
High end setups tend to be just as feature-rich as professional karaoke machines, except they often won't be as versatile – ie you won't be able to use them as PA machines or amps for your guitar.
In general, karaoke machines in this category offer many audio input/output options and formats, a wide array of audio manipulation effects, built-in recording options, and more.
These are for the serious karaoke enthusiasts out there!
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Portable Karaoke Machine Buying Guide
High quality portable karaoke machines will be the best of both worlds for many people. If you want to easily bring your karaoke setup between multiple houses, locations, or even just rooms, you probably want to check out a portable karaoke machine. While many people associate portability with reduced quality, you can get some absolutely fantastic, well-built portable karaoke machines that will last for years.
Many portable units come with integrated screens and speakers, but can also hook up to external speakers and a TV or monitor just like a true home system might. This is great for aspiring Djs and party planners, as it provides you with an easily-transportable machine that can power up a much bigger system if necessary.
Portable units tend to fall within the $300+ range, but you can definitely find units on either side of that figure as well. No matter your needs, there will be a portable machine out there capable of meeting them.
Just like most technology, you couldn't really buy a portable karaoke machine that was small, effective, and cheap before 5-10 years ago. Luckily that's been rapidly changing, and just about everyone can afford a decent portable karaoke set up these days.
There are a few key features I thoroughly check out whenever I'm shopping for a new portable karaoke machine:
Power output / wattage
This might be the most important factor to consider when shopping for the right portable unit, because it's probably the area where the most quality is sacrificed for portability. That's not to say you can't get a powerful portable karaoke machine – you just have to make sure you thoroughly check out the power output before you buy.
As a general rule of thumb:
- 5 – 20 watts works well for kids and smaller spaces
- 30 – 50 watts is what most adults will appreciate when listening to music
- 60+ watts is better suited for larger gatherings, parties, and so on
By definition, truly portable karaoke units come with integrated speakers. These built in speakers really run the course in terms of quality and dependability, so it's best to test them out before hand if at all possible (or just read other consumers' reviews if you cant).
You typically want to keep an ear out for sound distortion, any hissing, popping, or crackling, and just the overall quality and “richness” of the audio in general.
Portability means two things: size and weight. You want the core portable karaoke machine to be as easy to “grab and go” with as possible. This typically means weights of 20 pounds or less, and sizes not exceeding one cubic foot or so.
Obviously there are exceptions to those measurements, but the point is to be conscious of the mass and dimensions of whatever portable karaoke machine you're thinking about buying.
Audio input technology
What's the point of having a portable karaoke machine if you can't actually use it at your destination? You want to make sure your setup can accept as many different audio connections as possible. For example, you can still buy some karaoke machines that only work with cassettes. How many places will that come in handy for you?
This is another big one, although you can always buy additional or better karaoke microphones. In general, you want your portable mics to be well-built and durable. These will probably get knocked around a bit in transit at one point or another, and the last thing you want is to unload your karaoke machine at your destination only to find a bum microphone.
Voice manipulation features
Again, this is another area you should keep an eye out – many portable karaoke machines will cheap out on the audio enhancement features in order to cut down on price or save some space within the machine.
You have to decide if you truly need these features and are willing to spend a bit more on them, or if you'd rather have a simpler, cheaper, and more portable karaoke machine.
Last but not least, you should always check to see if your karaoke machine can record performances. I love having recording features built in to my portable karaoke units just because that's the easiest way to record your friends and family embarrassing themselves in the entire world.
These aren't a deal breaker, but just another potential feature you should keep in mind.
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Professional Karaoke Machine Buying Guide
These are the heavy duty karaoke machines, typically meant for karaoke bars, large venues, big tailgates, and so on. Most pro karaoke machines are component-based setups, meaning you're buying what's essentially a high quality receiver. These units might come with integrated screens although many do not. Most pro setups come with (or are themselves) high powered speakers, capable of delivering crystal clear audio to very large spaces.
The strength of pro karaoke machines lies in their versatility and sheer power – many of these can serve as stand-in amps for your guitar, speakers for your movie, and PA systems in addition to performing brilliantly as karaoke machines.
If you're seriously considering a professional karaoke machine, the cheapest you'll see a good setup go for is somewhere around $400. That's not saying much, though, as higher end models can easily reach towards the $1,000 mark.
Let's see what all of this money gets you, and what you should keep in mind when buying a professional karaoke machine.
Audio inputs and outputs
When you're paying this much for a karaoke setup, you want to make sure you're getting the absolute best of everything, and you want your brand new karaoke machine to do absolutely everything for you.
Truly professional-grade karaoke machines can serve as karaoke setups, instrument amplifiers, full-service PA systems, universal audio receivers, and much more.
For venue owners especially, you'll want to make a point of listing every single use case for your future karaoke machine / audio providing equipment – if a certain model doesn't meet your criteria, move on to the next!
Video inputs and outputs
Just like your audio options, professional karaoke machines tend to feature many different video inputs and outputs. A lot of these units won't come with integrated screens simply because they're meant to be part of larger A/V systems.
As such, you want to make very sure these units are compatible with any and all TVs, monitors, and projects you might want to use.
As another rule of thumb, the more you pay tends to correlate directly with how many (and how specific) controls you have on your karaoke machine. If you want a dedicated button that switches between audio inputs, you'll be able to find it!
Recording & storage
Almost every bar, pub, and venue out there has recording and playback built into it's entertainment system. It's the perfect way to run karaoke contests, maintain leader boards, or embarrass regular patrons.
When you're shopping for a professional karaoke machine, you want to make sure the level of recording and storage it provides is what you're looking for. You'll end up paying a pretty penny for high-fidelity, long-term recording and storage features, but it's well worth it if you have a lively venue that depends on your karaoke machine for entertainment.
Audio enhancement features
Beyond physical controls, professional setups come with a whole host of granular audio enhancement options:
This one's fun to mess around with. You know those black keys on the piano that make your “normal” sounding notes sound sharp or flat? That's basically what a key changing feature does. You can synthetically shift the key of your voice, resulting in some truly hilarious (and awesome!) vocal possibilities during your performances.
Similar to key changing, a pitch control feature can make men sound like women and vice versa. Maybe you have a tipsy, manly patron that's always wanted to sound just like Britney Spears – with pitch control, he can get up there and let his inner Britney run free!
Echo and reverb modulation
Echo and reverb are incredibly fun to play around with, but can also result in a truly professional karaoke experience when properly set and adjusted.
Plenty of professional karaoke machines have software built-in that can automatically set these levels in order to match with the current song.
Treble and bass controls
These are less voice controls and more “equalizing” controls that afford you a lot of control over the quality of the audio running through your professional karaoke setup. Is the bass too overwhelming, or the high notes too sharp? Dedicated treble and bass controls ensure you can always adjust your audio until it's perfectly “shaped” for your venue.
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