Popsical reached to me to review their cloud-based karaoke system. It received crowdfunding through Kickstarter, supported by Mediacorp Mediapreneur incubation program.
My Karaoke History
All of us would have experienced a karaoke singing session at some point of our lives. I got hooked to karaoke back in the early 1990s when I was working in Taiwan for a year. That period must have been the golden era of karaoke, when there was a massive interest in this form of musical entertainment and where thousands of pop songs are converted to karaoke laser discs the size of a vinyl. Although I can hold a tune, I’m not quite a pop singer and my choral trained baritone vocal range cannot get me the high notes. But it was a healthy social event that everyone enjoyed.
I still remember back then that when each of the KTV room enters their song request, the control room would have to frantically find the disc and track number. Sometimes we even had to wait for a while before the songs started playing on the screens.
Fast forward over 20 years later, we now have cloud-based karaoke system that everyone can enjoy at the comfort of their home, a massive library of 120,000 songs (and growing daily), 14 languages and dialects including English, Mandarin, Cantonese, Hokkien, Berhasa Melayu, Berhasa Indonesia, Japanese, Korean, Thai, Tagalog, Tamil, Hindi, Vietnamese and others.
And in case you wonder what happened in between the 20 years, well, there are many bulky solutions for home karaoke, ranging from procuring hundreds of discs to installing a local storage based system complete with audio controls, amplifiers, screen interface, etc. You can only imagine the hardware investment, not forgetting the need to update the song library regularly (be it free or paid updates).
Compact Karaoke Solution
Popsical karaoke system simplifies the means of enjoying karaoke at home without the hassle of equipment investment and maintenance. It is a small circular device that resembles a Wi-Fi mesh to connect to the Internet and costs S$249. A separate speaker system with wireless microphones is also available separately, or purchase as a bundle, or you can plug the Popsical into any audio source. The HDMI port can be plugged to any HDMI display.
Every Popsical owner gets to enjoy 15 minutes of free daily access to the karaoke database, or pay a monthly subscription of S$9.99 with first 30 days free for unlimited access. If you think you won’t be singing more than 2 times a month, then purchase a 24 hour pass for S$3.99 one time fee.
I don’t think we can avoid paying a subscription service when it comes to accessing licensed content. No doubt there are systems out there that offers zero subscription charge, but they do not offer such extensive song library or latest songs. If I do own a Popsical, I won’t pay the monthly subscription because I don’t sing that often, hence Popsical’s 24-hour pass is a great option for owners who organise karaoke singing sessions once a while. Best of all, the content never gets outdated because Popsical is constantly updated with new and latest songs.
What kind of karaoke content is available from Popsical?
All the videos are legally licensed from the copyright owners through COMPASS (Composer and Authors Society of Singapore) and RIMSS (Recording Industry Music Services Singapore), and comes in various formats, like original music video, lyrics video, third party cover versions, and mix (original video with cover audio, or original instrumental on cover video). Basically, as long as a licensed karaoke version is available, Popsical will have it. Even if they don’t, you can submit your request from the app so that Popsical could put more effort to acquire the license. I was surprised they even have karaoke version of Sing! China performances, and even the latest soundtrack from The Greatest Showman.
How does Popsical work?
After plugging all the cables correctly, the Popsical signature pink setup screen should appear on the TV. First the Popsical device must be connected to the home Wi-Fi, then using the TV code provided on the TV display, enter it from a web browser in the computer or smartphone. Go through the sign up process to link the Popsical to a valid user account, so that you can manage the subscription. Once all is done, you will see the TV showing a simple starting page.
To better interact with Popsical, install the Popsical app on the smartphone. After successful login, it will ask to enter the Party code that appears on the TV screen. Several users can join one Popsical session by installing the app on their own smartphone and entering the same Party code. From their own app, they can add songs to the queue and manage the karaoke session. The TV screen will also display the songs added and the user name who adds them. The app keeps a history of the songs so that the user can recollect and select them again in future.
The app allows you to search for tracks and artists, or browse the curated genre playlists, hottest playlists, discover playlist, event playlist (like the recent demise of Cranberries singer Dolores O’Riordan), National Day, Christmas, Disney, Children, as well as featured artists. It has the same remote buttons as the physical one, so there is no need to fight over the remote control. Adjusting speed and song pitch is also a button away from the smartphone.
After finding the song that you want, click the add button and the song goes into the queue. The next song turns out instantly without any loading delay. At the queue management, you can choose to push the song to the top or to start the next song immediately, but not before warning you that someone might still be singing. All these are done through the individual smartphone app and not on the TV, so there is no disruption to the singer or friends watching the TV. The app is designed such that everyone in the same “Party” session will have full rights to managing the queue. I suppose it’s no different from a traditional karaoke setup, where anyone can just make changes. And since this is a closed group session, I assume every user has the basic courtesy.
If you find any problems with the karaoke track, you can send the feedback via the app, so that Popsical can investigate and improve on the content.
Popsical Sound System
The speaker system can be purchased separately for S$250 or as a bundle with the Popsical. If you already have a microphone sound system, then you need not buy the speaker bundle.
It’s very solid, reminds me of the traditional amplifier. The rubber legs and big, round with generous thickness to elevate them off the table top. It supports several inputs like RCA AUX, co-axial, optical, 3.5mm, as well as Bluetooth 2.1, though the Bluetooth audio has occasional breaks and distortions. In front, it supports 3.5mm output, microSD card and USB storage for recording and playback.
When there is change in input options, toggling setup menu, starting a recording, or when microphone is turned on, a female voice prompt will read out. It can get rather irritating especially when you are trying to change speaker settings while singing is ongoing.
The included wireless dynamic cardioid microphones are distinguishable in red and blue colours with matching LED power indicators. The body is made of plastic, so it’s likely to chip or crack if dropped. The mic head is sturdy like most microphones, so that is going to survive hard knocks.
The audio quality of the sound system cannot match with the professional karaoke sound systems, but it offers adequate sound reproduction. I feel that the speakers lack focus and direction, giving it a room-filling result, as opposed to other speaker systems that deliver a more in-your-face audio power. It is possible to adjust the treble and bass tuning to your liking, but not able to customise for different mics. The microphones sound slightly muffled at soft volumes, works better when sung with moderate intensity, so do not expect the response like premium mics. There are several preset mic echo effects to play around, as well as fine-tuning of the echo level for each preset. The mics are also generally resistant to feedback loop thanks to noise gate.
Both the Popsical and the sound system does not come with any cable accessories or batteries for microphones nor remote controls, so you need to purchase them separately.
As mentioned earlier, the sound system can do recording as long as you insert a memory storage device. To record, just press the REC button on the remote control. Here are some samples recorded with the Popsical Sound system, mono 44.1KHz 96kbps MP3 format. The mic volume has to be set before recording, and cannot be adjusted during recording. It might not be the highest quality, but it’s an easy and casual solution to record the singing instead of plugging through a separate recording system.
On the whole, the Popsical Sound system is a compact single-unit mic-speaker amplifier to get you started quickly on karaoke singing, with sufficient volume to annoy your neighbours. If you have higher expectations on the audio quality and mic mixing controls, you should look elsewhere.
A good karaoke system is determined by the number of songs, the quality of the tracks, the ease of searching for songs, and the quality of the sound system. Popsical’s key advantage is its extensive song database (though there are repeated song titles in different production versions), where the audio and video quality depends on the acquired source content. Searching of songs are based on standard search box by tracks and by artists, without the in-depth categorisation like by gender or keystrokes or character count of the song title.
I cannot fault the quality and authenticity of the karaoke content because Popsical is only a content licensee. But Popsical did say they might produce their own karaoke tracks in future. I like the ability for multiple users to join a “Party” session using their smartphones and choose songs without fighting over a single remote control. Popsical has made home karaoke a lot more compact, convenient, and affordable.
Popsical costs S$249, or as a bundle with sound system at S$499. Enter promo code POPCNY18 to enjoy S$100 off.