Philips StarMaker Wireless Microphone and Bluetooth Speaker review: Philips karaoke kit doesn't hit the right notes

StarMaker: Karaoke + Auto-Tune is available as a free download for iOS. Sarah Tew/CNET

The creators of the StarMaker app have a background selling creative promotions in the music industry, and they've used those connections to get song licenses from all the major record labels, including Universal, Sony, Warner, and EMI. The song list is impressively diverse, with tracks from all different genres and decades.

There are classic karaoke go-tos like Gloria Gaynor's "I Will Survive" and Elton John's "Crocodile Rock," but the StarMaker crew also updates the catalog on a weekly basis with modern tracks like "Diamonds" by Rihanna, "Thrift Shop" by Macklemore, and David Guetta's "Titanium." If yours don't measure up to the original vocals, you can always engage the autotuning feature that gnashes your off-pitch warbling into the vocal talents of a robot from the future.

The closest you'll get to seeing this reviewer in action. Sarah Tew/CNET

Of course, as with all dealers, only the first taste is free. There are a few free songs in the catalog, but you'll need token credits to access the hits. You can buy songs individually that range in cost from 25 to 75 cents, or you can purchase a "VIP subscription pass" to try all the songs for $1.99 a week or $24.99 for six months.

If you're not into the idea of buying tokens at all, you can use your dignity as currency by competing in community battles online: sing something, post the recorded track to the StarMaker site, and encourage others to give it a "star," which is equatable to a Like on Facebook. The song with the most stars earns tokens and small gifts like iTunes credits and autographed CDs.

An iPad feels prone to accidents on the flimsy dock connector, and the plastic build materials are disappointing for a $180 device. Sarah Tew/CNET

You can download the StarMaker app and play on any iOS device by singing into the device, but Philips recreates the true karaoke experience with the AEA7100 hardware. The box comprises a Bluetooth speaker dock with dual 5-watt drivers (the topside 30-pin connection is for charging older iPads) and a wireless microphone with a detachable base for hands-free or hands-on singing positions. Nearly all the parts on both the speaker and the microphone are cheap gray plastic, and mechanical shortcomings like a flimsy connector plug and loud, clicky track navigation buttons on top marred my first impression. It felt very much like a kid's toy.

All-plastic everything. Sarah Tew/CNET

The speaker and microphone are both Bluetooth-enabled, so the system should wirelessly pair with any iPad. However, in order to mount the iPad on the speaker's top, you'll need an older 30-pin model. Presumably, a 30-pin to Lightning adapter would work, but it could get awfully wobbly.

The setup is reminiscent of the plastic toy instruments that come with other musical games like Guitar Hero and Rock Band. The microphone uses AAA batteries for power, but you have to plug the dock into a wall and the Bluetooth mic takes a half-second to broadcast your voice from the speaker -- it's not devastating, just enough to be annoying. Regardless, those are bigger issues when you compare this with rechargeable Bluetooth "play anywhere" speakers from Creative and Soundfreaq that cost much less, and produce better-quality sound.

Sure, neither of those nor any of our favorite Bluetooth speakers come with a microphone, but you can get just as crazy singing into your phone (also wireless) and save a couple hundred bucks at the same time.

Dongle-only alternative
If you like the idea of the StarMaker but not the price, you might want to check out the $99 Philips AEA3000 StarMaker Wireless Bluetooth Microphone. It makes use of the same app and the same microphone, but features a Bluetooth dongle for the iPad instead. If the iPad's speaker isn't powerful enough for your crooning, you can use the line-out function to connect a larger stereo -- but it'll be a wired, not wireless, connection to the iPad.

Conclusion
Philips needs to lower the price of the StarMaker Wireless Microphone and Bluetooth Speaker if it really wants to push shy people with iOS devices into trying karaoke. Priced as is, die-hard karaoke fans can spend a lot less on a yearly StarMaker membership that gives access to all the songs in the free app and still have money left over to invest in a worthwhile Bluetooth speaker.

What you'll pay

    Pricing is currently unavailable.

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    Where to Buy

    Philips AEA7100 StarMaker Wireless Microphone and Bluetooth Speaker

    Part Number: AEA7100/17 Released: 15 Dec 2012
    Pricing is currently unavailable.

    Quick Specifications See All

    • Regional specs shown for US. AU specs are unavailable.

    • Release date 15 Dec 2012
    • Amplification Type active
    • Connectivity Technology wireless
    • Sensitivity 84 dB