The word karaoke comes from the Japanese for 'empty orchestra'. Essentially, professional musicians are hired to recreate the original instrumental and backing vocal tracks of popular songs, then producers add graphics containing the lyrics. Amateur singers can read these lyrics on a television monitor as they perform in front of an audience or in the privacy of their own homes. The hardware which makes this playback possible is called a karaoke machine.
When karaoke first became popular in Japan and later in the United States, only a select number of people could afford a karaoke machine. These early professional models were designed for use in nightclubs and other public venues, not for the average home. As the popularity of karaoke continued to grow in the 1980s, however, electronics manufacturers began to market the first models for home use. The first home karaoke machine was little more than a standard boom box stereo with a microphone feed, but it allowed users to play special karaoke cassette tapes and sing along with the radio.
As the technology behind karaoke improved, CDs with graphics capability (CD+G) replaced the earlier cassettes. A karaoke machine bought in the 1990s would most likely feature a cassette player, a radio and a CD player with extra software for reading graphics. A small television monitor may also be included on higher-end models, or the machine may have external plugs leading to a standard television screen. The idea was still the same mdash; the singer selected a track from the disk and the lyrics would appear on the screen as a guide.
Today, many karaoke singers seek the best karaoke machine models available for serious performers. Microphones are often mixed into commercial-level soundboards for better sound balance and vocal quality. The small speakers of a boom box have been replaced with 50 amp speakers capable of handling even the loudest vocalists. The new karaoke machine for both personal and commercial use looks more like a DVD player. Several CD+G disks can be placed in multiple trays, eliminating the downtime between selections. An electronic key changer can raise or lower the original pitch by several keys in either direction.