All those plastic guitars and drum kits from Rock Band and Guitar Hero games of years past may be gathering dust in millions of basements, but karaoke remains. Plenty of bars still let folks get liquored up and belt out an endless supply of tunes -- and plenty of people never realize that "Gimme Shelter" is best left to the pros until it's far too late.
Now, however, there's an app for that: StarMaker: Karaoke + Auto-Tune offers over 500 song choices ranging in genre and decade with crowdsourced competitions for real prizes, while different single and multiplayer battle modes keep the momentum of the virtual stage. And to amplify the home StarMaker experience, Philips has created karaoke hardware: the AEA7100 Wireless Speaker Dock and Bluetooth Microphone. Here's my problem with it, though: a couple of puny 5-watt speakers and a plastic battery-powered microphone might be acceptable specs for a children's toy, but it's a tough sell at $180 -- especially after I tell you that the songs are all sold separately.
Strip away the fun of the StarMaker app (which you can download for free from iTunes and use with any iOS device anyway) and the AEA7100 struggles to justify its price tag, especially compared with other Bluetooth speakers that offer a rechargeable battery or built-in speakerphone, neither of which is found here.
Design and features
I'm always down for karaoke. Don't judge me, but I get some kind of sick catharsis out of screaming Top 40 song lyrics into a microphone with friends. I will admit, though, that abasing yourself in front of a bunch of strangers isn't fun for everyone, which is why I was looking forward to testing the Philips AEA7100.
The hardware functions on its own as a Bluetooth speaker with an integrated 30-pin connector dock in the middle on which to seat and charge your compatible iOS devices, but it also comes with a wireless microphone to use with the real star of the bundle, the StarMaker: Karaoke + Auto-Tune app by StarMaker Sing & Share. (In some parts of the world, the hardware is instead tied to the app The Voice: On Stage, which is basically a version of StarMaker rebranded to tie in to the hit NBC TV show "The Voice.")
I won't spend too much time going over the app, since this is a review of the Philips hardware, but it's a free download that tests your singing acumen in a simulated performance of popular sings from the Billboard charts. Players sing along and harmonize with the lyrics as they scroll across the screen, and points are tallied for harmonic accuracy, rhythm, and enthusiasm. At the end of the song, the app prompts you to name the track to save and share with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and the StarMaker Studios leaderboard site.
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.