Welcome to IRL, an ongoing feature where we talk about the gadgets, apps and toys we're using in real life and take a second look at products that already got the formal review treatment.

IRL: Singtrix karaoke machine

When the Singtrix karaoke machine made its debut at Engadget's Expand NY event, its creators boldly claimed the diminutive device could make "bad singers sound great." So what can it do for absolutely terrible singers like yours truly? I spent a few days with the volume set high and the shades drawn low to find out.

The company behind Singtrix is initially offering the vocal processor module as part of a $300 "Party Bundle." Inside a 27-pound box, you'll find the processor module, a 40-watt floor speaker, a mic stand, microphone, a collection of cables and a smartphone tray. A second microphone (for backing vocals), a tablet holder and additional pre-installed voice effects are also included as part of a first-run, limited edition bundle.

The front face of the Singtrix sports a backlit display and large controls, which should prove handy in places like bars where visibility and coordination may not be plentiful. A center-mounted knob lets users scroll through the hundreds of presets and adjust volume. While the module can be mounted to the mic stand via an adjustable clamp, access to the rear bank of cords can be a bit tricky when attached. Both the effects unit and mics feature a prominent "Hit" button that triggers an additional, usually more dramatic variant of whatever preset is in use. In several songs, the option proved useful during choruses or especially epic bridges.

Out of the box, Singtrix is loaded with 350-plus vocal presets (including spots for favorites), many of which are tailored and named after specific songs. Song-based names vary from immediately obvious (No. 156: "TGIF") to riddle-like (No. 313: "9x11 Problemz"). Despite the song-specific titles, singers are encouraged to mix and match effects and songs to find settings they like. Only a small handful of presets are hard-coded to a specific key signature, limiting their usefulness outside their intended songs.

The effects themselves range from subtle to dramatic. Depending on the preset, Singtrix can add a simple delay or reverb to your voice or crank things up with pitch correction or "Bohemian Rhapsody"-esque harmonies. I found comfort in many of the presets that added some stability and improved timbre to my shaky crooning. Many of the more pronounced presets are a great fit for modern pop songs that feature heavily processed vocals, giving live performances a more authentic feel.

As for song support, Singtrix works with basically any device with YouTube access and a headphone jack. An optional app (available on Android and iOS) boasts access to 13,000-plus songs, though most require a $12 monthly subscription and/or the use of in-app credits to stream or download songs. While some might balk at paying for karaoke content that could be found elsewhere, businesses in particular might value the consistency of the app's library over the hit-and-miss nature of manually searching YouTube.

Overall, the Singtrix makes good on its promise to improve bad singing. It's a digital security blanket for those of us not blessed with golden pipes. I'd personally be far more inclined to sing in public with the Singtrix on hand than without. At $300, though, you'd likely need to be more than just a casual karaoke fan to justify the cost. While other pricing tiers haven't been announced yet, offering the effects processor as a standalone product seems like a no-brainer, enabling those with existing karaoke rigs to incorporate the module into their setups. For early adopters, bars/restaurants or, perhaps, small businesses looking to spruce up company parties, the Singtrix will likely be a worthy investment.

-- Philip Palermo