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How to Build a DIY Karaoke System

Is your idea of a good time belting out the lyrics to your favorite songs? No need to haunt the bars or buy an expensive device; you can build your own karaoke machine.

By Terry Sullivan

Karaoke was popular long before James Corden hopped in his car and began pestering Adele, Elton John, and Bruno Mars to join him for a ride and sing along to their own hit songs. At the very least, Corden’s musical antics reveal that karaoke is still popular.

There was a time when you’d need to head out to a bar or club in order to belt out your vocal renditions. But technology can help you avoid the bar scene with your own karaoke setup, which can be a blast at a family get-together or party.

There are a number of ways you can get up and running with karaoke. When you use an app, you can sing in the privacy of your bedroom or basement without the pressure of a crowd. But of course, some of the fun of karaoke is impressing your friends with your awesome pipes (or amusing them with your tone-deaf stylings).

Some methods let you sing along to songs that have most of the vocal track removed, while others keep the original lead singer in the audio mix. Here’s how to get started.

The Voice: Sing and Connect

One of the easiest methods of getting up and running with karaoke is to download a mobile app. There are lots of them out there, and most are available for both iOS and Android.

Two popular karaoke apps are Sing! By Smule and The Voice: Sing and Connect. In many ways, they have similar functions: They let you sing along with a large catalog of songs and apply different vocal effects, including reverb and echo, to make your voice sound better. You can even use your phone’s microphone and record your voice along with the music. Each app also has a social media component, which lets you share your cover song with others on the site.

With Sing! By Smule (iOS and Android), you can also record a video as you sing and apply Instagram-like filters to the footage. You can set various echo settings, which lets you to adjust the percentage of reverb and the room-size of the echo. Once you start the recording, a graphic display of each note (similar to the display you’d see on an older karaoke video game, such as Karaoke Revolution Presents: American Idol) appears at the bottom of the app, corresponding to each vocal note and corresponding lyric, which appear at the top.

You can use the app for free, but purchase VIP access for an ad-free experience, access to 2 million songs, special vocal effects, and more. It’ll cost you $7.99 per week, $19.99 per month, or $99.99 per year.

Setup for this app is similar to that of Sing! By Smule. You search for songs from the library, choose whether you want to sing solo or collaborate, and then sing along and record. While the song is loading, it provides you with advice on techniques such pulling back your shoulders to sing better. If you plan on using The Voice: Sing and Connect app (iOS and Android) for just a week or a month ($6.99 per week, $16.99 per month), it costs less than Sing! By Smule, and you get more or less the same features. But three months costs $39.99, which over the span of a year, is $159.96 — pricier than Sing! by Smule.

Streaming Music Service on a Laptop

You can use your computer as a karaoke platform too, either via a streaming music service or simply a web browser. Several streaming music services offer lyrics, including Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Deezer, and Pandora. But you’ll hear all the vocals on almost all streaming services. If you’re setting up your computer to use at a karaoke party, consider connecting it to a larger monitor so everyone can see the lyrics on the screen better. To find songs that have the vocals removed, try searching YouTube for “karaoke.”

When you’re entertaining a small group, you can hook up your computer to a wired or wireless speaker and simply sing along to the music right over the speaker. If you want to set up a microphone, too, you’ll need a mixer so you can mix the input of your own voice (via a microphone) with the input of the audio track coming from your computer’s line out. Then you’ll have a line out from your mixer that will plug into or be wirelessly connected to your speaker. Karaoke mixers start at around $100.

Amazon Fire TV Stick

If you own an Amazon Fire TV Stick, there’s a fun way you can use it for karaoke: Press the mic button on your Fire Stick remote and say, “Alexa, play Karaoke Night.” It brings up a playlist from Amazon Music and displays each song’s lyrics on the big screen while playing your song. You can also search YouTube and other sites for songs to play your TV.

Software, Accessories, and Karaoke Machines

If you have special songs you want to sing to and you want to remove the vocal tracks, you can do that with audio-editing software.

For instance, if you subscribe to Adobe Audition CC and use its Central Channel Extractor as well as other features, you can drastically lower the lead vocal track and save it as a new file. You can manipulate and adjust the audio frequencies in various ways to reduce the vocal track without affecting too much of the other audio in the song. But if you don’t want to spend money on audio-editing software, Audicity is a free software package that offers some of the same vocal-removal features.

Other audio-related accessories and gear you may want when you’re having a party or plan on using your karaoke system often with family and friends include microphones, wireless speakers, headphones, computer monitors, and mixing boards.

Last, if you’re truly serious about karaoke, you might consider buying a karaoke machine. They start at around $100 and can go for over $1,000. An all-in-one karaoke machine includes microphones, speakers, a mixing board, a preamp, a microphone, a speaker stand, and other accessories in an integrated system.

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