When senior mobile editor Chris Velazco and I go to California to cover Google I/O, one thing keeps me sane -- our in-car karaoke (caraoke?) sessions. We're both showtunes nerds, so belting out songs from Wicked or Les Miserables really makes our time stuck in Silicon Valley traffic more tolerable. So naturally, when I heard about a product aimed at improving these vehicular singing sessions, I jumped.
Gallery: Carpool Karaoke The Mic hands-on | 6 Photos
Karaoke equipment maker Singing Machine designed a microphone that makes you feel like you're hosting your own episode of the popular James Corden show. The device is called Carpool Karaoke The Mic, and it serves as a sort of lasso that brings together all the different components you need for a karaoke session in your vehicle. The Mic isn't a standalone system with a built-in library; it's just a microphone that broadcasts your voice and your tracks to your car's speakers.
Though you can use it pretty much anywhere thanks to a standard ⅛" auxiliary port, The Mic is designed to be used by passengers in cars (and not by drivers). The easiest way to get your songs played on your car's speakers is by looking up an open frequency on the radio and tuning the mic to that channel. During our demo, a company rep surfed to 89.7FM, tuned the Mic to the same channel, and the two devices were connected, and Corden's voice played over the speakers, saying "Do you mind if we listen to some music?"
That, and the device's branding, are the only references to Carpool Karaoke. I spoke into the mic and my voice played over the car's sound system, but I also noticed some static and distortion over the radio. Singing Machine reps attributed this to us being in a more building-dense neighborhood. Once we got closer to the slightly more open west side of NYC, I stopped hearing the crackling.
Setup's not done yet, though. To play a song, you connect the mic to your phone over Bluetooth. Then, you can play from basically any music app and it will stream to your car's speakers. We used Spotify during the demo, and searched specifically for karaoke tracks (that is, without the original vocals). The mic itself won't do anything to remove vocals from music, so if you can't find an instrumental version of the song you wanted, you'll have to sing along with the artist. I was a little disappointed, as I was hoping the mic had its own built-in repertoire of songs, though to be fair Spotify or YouTube Music probably have more comprehensive libraries.
On the mic is a control panel that lets you adjust volume, echo, lights, Bluetooth connectivity and the channel you're playing on. The light effects are supposed to flicker in sync with the music, though I didn't test that during my demo. You can also adjust volume via your phone or your car's dashboard. Despite packing a battery that the company says will last four hours, the Mic was surprisingly light, especially compared to the sticks I'm used to holding at typical karaoke bars.
Once you've loaded up your song and hit play on your phone, you'll still need to find song lyrics. This to me is the biggest challenge the company has to tackle. It's simply not as fun to read lyrics off your phone while holding up a mic. If your vehicle has a tablet built-in or propped up somewhere, this might be a bit easier, but you'd still have to go through the tedious process of searching for lyrics, then zooming in so the words are big enough for everyone to read. If there was a companion app that could recognize the song you were playing (a la Shazam) and automatically displayed the lyrics in large font and scroll in time with the song, I could see this setup working so much better.
Gallery: Carpool Karaoke The Mic press pictures | 11 Photos
My other gripe with the mic, and this is a minor one, is that it makes karaoke such an individual event. Sure, you can huddle with your friends so you can all shout into the mic together, but when you're in an enclosed space like a car, you don't really need a mic to hear each other. Plus, if you wanted to perform a dramatic duet of Against All Odds with a friend, it might be cumbersome to share the mic in such an enclosed space. In future, though, Singing Machine said it's considering making microphones that would allow multiple people to sing along to the same song at once.
Road trip karaoke isn't an activity that needs much improvement: Singing with your friends and being silly is about 90 percent of the fun -- it's not really about hearing your voice over the radio. But kudos to Singing Machine for trying. While I was hoping for more of an all-in-one experience, I could see this working in a limo or RV where there's plenty of room to also have a screen for lyrics. If you already want one for your upcoming road trip to Vegas for a bachelorette party, you can pre-order The Mic on July 1st for $60.
All products recommended by Engadget are selected by our editorial team, independent of our parent company. Some of our stories include affiliate links. If you buy something through one of these links, we may earn an affiliate commission.
Popular on Engadget
Suspected ransomware attack hits one of the largest hospital networks in the US