PC Karaoke and Soft Karaoke. (Software Review) (Evaluation)
These days, nightclubs are famous for their karaoke machines, which encourage fun-loving (and often alcohol-sodden) folks to get up in front of a crowd and bark out a hit song, all to the recorded accompaniment of a full ensemble and background singers. Now, two new software products, PC Karaoke (Sirius Publishing, 602-951-3288, $99.95) and Soft Karaoke (Tune 1000, 800-363-8863, $49.95), let you do your crooning at home. And while both products do a great job of replacing the standard karaoke machine, they're as different as Frank Sinatra and Nirvana.
PC Karaoke is, from an options point of view, the simpler of the two products. A CD-ROM-based Windows program that features 256-color graphics, studio-recorded music, and action video sequences, PC Karaoke synchronizes onscreen lyrics with the beautifully arranged and professionally recorded songs.
When you run the program, you see a full-screen graphical menu depicting the songs on the current disc. To choose a song, simply click on its picture. The song's graphic then fills the screen, after which the song loads and begins to play, highlighting the lyrics on the screen as it goes.
If you want to sing along with all 12 of the musical selections on the disc, you can click on KJ's Top 12 Countdown. This brings up a karaoke jockey (the karaoke version of a disk jockey), who gets you started on your musical tour and pops in now and then with some humorous silliness.
Extra song discs are available from Sirius for $15.95 each. The current catalog features 40 discs that cover all kinds of music, from Broadway show tunes and movie soundtracks to hard rock and rap. The disc that comes with PC Karaoke features a wide range of selections, including "You've Lost That Lovin' Feelin'," "Twist and Shout," "Everything I Do," and "Friends in Low Places"--12 songs in all. The package includes a certificate for two additional discs.
While PC Karaoke's CD-ROM format offers greater sound quality, Soft Karaoke's MIDI format (no CD-ROM drive required) offers greater flexibility. When you run Soft Karaoke, a tape player-like control panel appears. Using the control panel, you can not only load and run song files, but also manipulate the files in various ways.
For example, you can change both the tempo and key (changing the key is especially valuable for people with a limited vocal range). In addition, the volume control panel lets you set each individual instrument's volume, and the instrument control panel lets you assign any one of dozens of different instruments to any instrument track in the song. Of course, with the main control panel's controls, you can play, pause, fast-forward, and reverse the current song, much as you can with a tape deck.
To get this manipulative power, however, you have to give up a certain amount of sound quality. This is because MIDI files aren't actual sound recordings but files that control MIDI instruments. To put it simply, all the sounds you hear with Soft Karaoke are generated on a synthesizer, either your sound board or some other external MIDI instrument. The actual quality of the sound depends on the quality of your synthesizer. (It's worth pointing out that much of today's natural-sounding music is actually created with MIDI synthesizers.)
Soft Karaoke comes with five song files, including such favorites as "Dust in the Wind," "Stand By Your Man," and "The Way We Were." Additional disks containing ten songs each sell for $19.95 per disk. In its current catalog, Tune 1000 offers 28 disks; these include the usual assortments as well as collections by specific artists such as Fleetwood Mac, Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and Elton John.
Which product is better? That depends on what's most important to you. PC Karaoke is a sound and graphical delight (with a price tag that reflects this), but it allows no manipulation of instruments. If you like to fiddle with your music, and are willing to forfeit some sound quality and the fancy graphics, Soft Karaoke's powerful control panel will keep you busy for hours.
The bottom line is that both are excellent products, differentiated enough from each other that they will appeal to different segments of this niche market. Both products install easily and work right out of the box--as long as you have your Windows multimedia drivers and mixers set up properly. Both include a starter set of songs (although Soft Karaoke includes only 5, compared with PC Karaoke's 12), and both include microphones (although PC Karaoke's microphone is of a higher quality).
Whichever program you pick, you'll be able to enjoy the karaoke experience in your own home--which will go a long way toward making your next party the hit of the block. But do your friends a big favor: Practice in private first.