Katherine Boehret

Belting Out Beyonce’s Part on Your iPod

A few weeks ago while riding the subway, I unintentionally discovered the musical talents of a fellow passenger. With iPod in hand, eyes closed and earbuds in place, he bobbed his head while listening to one of my favorite new songs, Beyonce’s “Irreplaceable.” I recognized the song because he was singing the chorus loud enough to be heard by every commuter within earshot.

Now, there is a better way to use your iPod to release your inner Beyonce, in the privacy of your own home, without bothering strangers or enduring loud karaoke bar crowds and Neil Diamond wannabes.

Griffin Technology, www.griffintechnology.com, a company that sells accessories for Apple‘s family of iPods, recently released iKaraoke, a $50 gadget that turns an iPod into a karaoke machine, without the need to buy or use special versions of songs. IKaraoke is a basic microphone that attaches to any iPod with a dock connector. It transmits your iPod’s music and your microphone-enhanced voice through nearby stereo speakers or earbuds, and lowers the lead vocal line of each song in most cases so your voice can stand out.

The $49.99 iKaraoke by Griffin Technology lets you use your iPod's music for karaoke.

The $49.99 iKaraoke by Griffin Technology lets you use your iPod’s music for karaoke.

I tested iKaraoke with a friend at home and in a car and was highly entertained. It was easy to set up, after some tweaking, and worked consistently well overall. But it has three downsides: It depends on you to manually add song lyrics; those lyrics won’t automatically scroll across the screen as they do on dedicated karaoke machines; and it taxes your iPod’s battery. Even with its flaws, I found iKaraoke fun to use and unintimidating enough for any singer.

For more serious karaoke lovers, other iPod-related sing-along products exist, including docks with heavy-duty microphones, jacks for guitars and options for plugging into your television. Some companies also offer videos that display song lyrics on the iPod screen, like a real karaoke machine. But Griffin Technology’s iKaraoke offers a straightforward and simple option for a reasonable price.

IKaraoke’s microphone measures about the length of a pencil, and is rather thin. Four buttons on its sides offer controls for playing, pausing, skipping ahead or back through songs and lowering the volume of the lead vocal line. This mic has a four-foot cord that connects it to an adapter that attaches to the bottom of an iPod, and the adapter has its own line-out jack, for connecting to a stereo or earbuds.

I bought an $8 cord at Radio Shack to connect the iKaraoke with two different stereos — an older Sony and a Bose Wave Music System. If you would rather go cordless, iKaraoke has a built-in FM transmitter, so you can blast your voice and songs through the speakers of an FM radio.

A minimal menu appears on the iPod’s screen when you hold down iKaraoke’s Play/Pause button. Here, settings can be quickly adjusted, like switching from line out to FM transmitter or specifying the FM channel onto which the iPod’s music will broadcast. Music and reverberation levels also can be adjusted on this screen; an instruction manual suggested lower reverberation levels for smaller rooms and vice versa.

I tried iKaraoke using a 30-gigabyte iPod and a two-gigabyte iPod Nano — both produced roughly the same results. I got different results when comparing the FM transmitter with the wired connection option on the Bose stereo: The FM transmitter connection was clearer, with much less static than the wired connection on the same stereo. On the basic Sony stereo, the wired connection sounded better, even when I tried different FM radio stations with the wireless transmitter.

IKaraoke doesn’t require batteries, but instead uses your iPod battery. Griffin says this can decrease your iPod’s battery life about 20%. And iKaraoke plugs into the same port used by the iPod’s AC adapter, so you can’t charge your iPod while singing.

We kicked off our testing with Shania Twain’s “That Don’t Impress Me Much,” and followed it up with a song well suited for the tone-challenged: Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone.” I had manually added the lyrics to this Dylan classic using iTunes on my computer, and they appeared on my iPod’s screen after pressing the iPod’s center button a few times.

The lyrics appear on the iPod screen, in fairly small type, and you have to manually advance them using the iPod’s scroll wheel.

I knew the words to most songs, so I kept the microphone’s Vocals switch in Off mode — lowering the song’s lead vocal line to a faint whisper. When I forgot the words or wimped out midsong, I used the switch to turn on the lead vocals.

While singing along to Justin Timberlake’s “Rock Your Body” (not an easy karaoke song), the Vocals button didn’t work — the lead voice stayed loud no matter what. Griffin explained that not all songs’ lead vocals can be lowered. During “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, turning the lead vocal off caused the whole song to sound distorted.

We didn’t have any trouble with at least 30 other songs, laughing out loud during quite a few performances. My friend even got caught up in Frank Sinatra’s “The Way You Look Tonight,” swinging the microphone by its cord in a nod to Ol’ Blue Eyes. For some songs, we didn’t lower the lead vocal line’s volume and instead just sang along. I did this with Aerosmith’s “What It Takes” so I didn’t have to hit Steven Tyler’s high notes without him.

I liked singing along with the original versions of my songs instead of the cheesy versions often found on karaoke machines. And the FM transmitter worked from as far as about 75 feet away from one of the stereos.

I tried both iPods in two different cars using the iKaraoke’s FM transmitter, and had to turn down the bass to improve the sound quality. Each song sounded slightly fainter in the car than on the home stereos.

Though iKaraoke has a few kinks, this gadget is a good combination of simplicity and fun. And its $50 price is low enough to encourage regular people and karaoke lovers alike to give it a whirl.

–Edited by Walter S. Mossberg


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