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What is a Karaoke Machine?

Michael Pollick
Updated May 23, 2024
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The word karaoke comes from the Japanese for 'empty orchestra'. Essentially, professional musicians are hired to recreate the original instrumental and backing vocal tracks of popular songs, then producers add graphics containing the lyrics. Amateur singers can read these lyrics on a television monitor as they perform in front of an audience or in the privacy of their own homes. The hardware which makes this playback possible is called a karaoke machine.

When karaoke first became popular in Japan and later in the United States, only a select number of people could afford a karaoke machine. These early professional models were designed for use in nightclubs and other public venues, not for the average home. As the popularity of karaoke continued to grow in the 1980s, however, electronics manufacturers began to market the first models for home use. The first home karaoke machine was little more than a standard boom box stereo with a microphone feed, but it allowed users to play special karaoke cassette tapes and sing along with the radio.

As the technology behind karaoke improved, CDs with graphics capability (CD+G) replaced the earlier cassettes. A karaoke machine bought in the 1990s would most likely feature a cassette player, a radio and a CD player with extra software for reading graphics. A small television monitor may also be included on higher-end models, or the machine may have external plugs leading to a standard television screen. The idea was still the same mdash; the singer selected a track from the disk and the lyrics would appear on the screen as a guide.

Today, many karaoke singers seek the best karaoke machine models available for serious performers. Microphones are often mixed into commercial-level soundboards for better sound balance and vocal quality. The small speakers of a boom box have been replaced with 50 amp speakers capable of handling even the loudest vocalists. The new karaoke machine for both personal and commercial use looks more like a DVD player. Several CD+G disks can be placed in multiple trays, eliminating the downtime between selections. An electronic key changer can raise or lower the original pitch by several keys in either direction.

Musical Expert is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Michael Pollick
By Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide range of topics. His curiosity drives him to study subjects in-depth, resulting in informative and engaging articles. Prior to becoming a professional writer, Michael honed his skills as an English tutor, poet, voice-over artist, and DJ.
Discussion Comments
By popcorn — On Jun 25, 2011

If you want to buy a karaoke machine for your home I would say go for it, but just be aware of your options first. The karaoke machines nowadays aren't as expensive as they used to be but there is now new software and technology that allows you to get away with not buying a dedicated karaoke machine.

There is a lot of software available for computers that can turn your laptop into a karaoke machine, plus if you have a television on demand service there is a good chance you may have a karaoke channel.

Shopping around for a karaoke machine is a good idea and I am sure you'll be able to find something affordable that suits your needs.

By letshearit — On Jun 23, 2011

If you ever get a chance to travel to South Korea or Japan you will find that karaoke machines are an entertainment staple.

I have spent a lot of time in South Korea and they have dedicated singing rooms where friends can rent a space and sing. This can be great fun, with each individual room set up like almost a living room. There is usually a huge screen for the karaoke graphics, sofas and a table.

What was interesting to me is that you could order anything you wanted from the installed phone on the wall and that drinking and singing seemed to go hand in hand.

By whiteplane — On Jun 22, 2011

Has anyobody seen the movie "Stepbrothers" with Will Ferrel and John C Riley? It is hilarious. One of my favorite gags comes at the end of the film when the two stepbrother decide to open a karaoke company that only allows good singers to sing. I was rolling on the floor when they were explaining it.

Its so funny because I know exactly how they feel. Karaoke is open to all but the vast majority of people can't sing a single note. Sometimes when you are listening to a strangled cat sing Tom Petty you wish the experience was a little more like American Idol. Good singers only!

By kylee07drg — On Jun 22, 2011

Karaoke inspired the "Rock Band" games available for Playstation, Xbox, and Wii. With those games, though, you are actually rated on your performance.

I sang along with Rock Band while my friend played the fake guitar. You have to hit the notes precisely in order to get a good score. The bad thing is that the game does not account for tonalities in your vibrato, so even a good singing voice could come up with a less than perfect score.

Nevertheless, it was at a Christmas party, and everyone had fun. We even got a little old lady to sing a rock song!

By StarJo — On Jun 22, 2011

I went to a club a few weeks ago to sing karaoke. The man who ran the karaoke machine was serious about his gig. He had a mixing board, two microphones, a small monitor placed in front of the mikes for the singer, and a large projection screen to project the lyrics onto the wall behind the singer so that the audience could see the lyrics.

This club is kid-friendly. One of my friend's kids used the karaoke machine. He sang along to the Spiderman theme song. He especially loved all the applause he received. Now his mother is seeking a home karaoke machine made for kids.

By indemnifyme — On Jun 22, 2011

@Monika - I'm glad your family has fun with the karaoke machine. I also wish karaoke machines would stay at family gatherings and out of bars. I feel like every bar near me is always doing karaoke on the night I decide to go out and I hate it! I think it's awful.

I feel pretty certain that pedestal karaoke machines are never going out of style but I dearly wish they would.

By Monika — On Jun 22, 2011

Karaoke is so much fun! One of my cousins has a DVD karaoke machine and he always brings it along for family gatherings. Everyone is usually too shy to sing at first but as the night goes on everyone starts to get into it. The kids really love it too.

I'm glad karaoke machines aren't as expensive as they were when they first came out because I can't imagine family gatherings without it!

Michael Pollick
Michael Pollick
As a frequent contributor to Musical Expert, Michael Pollick uses his passion for research and writing to cover a wide...
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