I recently went through the exercise of setting up a karaoke system for home use. Here are my notes, in case someone finds them useful.

There are a few “set top box” style systems out there around the $200-300 mark. As far as I can tell, they are all crap. They are cheap DVD players with mic inputs and a bit of crappy software. They may work ok for you if you just want to use CDG disks or DVD karaoke discs, but if you want to do the whole MP3+G thing, then avoid at all costs.

Usually the companies that make the cheap systems also make big expensive systems, in the multi-K’s of dollars range that comes with amps and speakers and the whole lot. Maybe those work well, but I wasn’t willing to spend that much.

The best solution I came up with was to re-use my HTPC. There’s a fairly solid piece of free software out there, called KaraFun¬†which looks like a modded Winamp, but is very capable at playing MP3+G files. So this works well for playing back files, but getting your voice into the mix can still be challenging. Some versions of Windows (like Vista) make it especially hard to even play back what’s coming in on your PC’s microphone input in real time. There are some ways that you can get something to sample that input, then send it out again, but this introduces latency which can be hard to deal with.

The easy solution I found was a hardware device. The Behringer Mini Mix 800. It’s basically a small cheap ($65) mixer, but built for Karaoke applications. Take the line out from your PC, hook it into this device. Plug in a couple mics, and plug the output into your TV (or other speaker system) and voila! It even has some mic echo and reverb effects which are waaay better than the one on the set-top unit that I tried (the RSQ nk2000u). It’s also got a basic Mic EQ setting, which is essential if your voice tends to come out blaring on your TV speakers. A voice canceler feature is thrown in for good measure, but it’s really more of a gimmick.

This whole setup is kind of cheating if you look at the fact that I’m using a HTPC as the karaoke player, and that any decent HTPC is going to cost more than a set-top box. But this really feels like one of those cases where a $200 set top box is just too good to be true. You’re making big compromises with those systems, and there aren’t other solutions where you can pay $500 and get as much flexibility as a PC would give you. Plus, if you use your HTPC for other things, then you can spread the cost a bit. KaraFun doesn’t seem to require much, so you can probably just get away with an old system, or use your laptop if it came down to it.

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