Sunday, 5 August 2012

Quick review: X-Factor pack

I was showing a couple of Dutch friends around London recently and came across a cheap box set that my favourite music store Fopp were selling. It's an X-Factor branded Karaoke set (despite the Lucky Voice logos everywhere, only this is designed to be used with a laptop and internet connection. For a fiver, I thought it would be worth messing with, if only for a few cables and a microphone.

So what do you get in the box? A metallic red coloured microphone, an XLR to 6.35mm jack cable, two stereo 3.5mm jack to jack patch cables, a 3.5mm jack to L/R Phone cable and a powered mixer. For the cables alone, these are sometimes quite expensive and £5 is hardly a large amount of money, so I feel that I've justified the purchase.

The set is designed to have a music input from your computer plugged in to one of the 3.5mm connectors at the back of the mixer, together with up to two microphones plugged into the front 6.35mm connectors. A further 3.5mm connector at the back provides the output to a pair of speakers. The mixer has three volume knobs for each of the channels (mic1, mic2 and line in), together with a fourth knob that adjusts the volume of a delay effect for the two mic channels, for that authentic karaoke sound.

Having tested the unit, the mixer can only be truly described as a bit of a toy. I had thought to use this as a cheap way to control volume with a physical device from my computer, but I have found that it tends to artificially distort the output sound when the input volume is a bit high. This is a shame as I would have thought that it would just act as a simple volume control and not affect signal and probably reflects the cheap components internally.

A few words to the delay effect – it's a nice effect to have for the microphones and works well for singing. Unfortunately, I'm a bit more demanding than that and after having played with a Korg Monotron Delay, I wish there was a way to adjust the delay amount in the mixer effect for greater or smaller delay time, but this is only a cheap bit of kit and not really that necessary for Karaoke. While the cables are nice and long, this belies their cheap quality and some are a little temperamental when plugging them in to other devices, sometimes losing a channel.

The microphones, however, are perfectly usable (provided you groove on the sparklingly metallic red paint job) and no doubt will be fun to use in the future if I ever want to play with vocals or something like a Kaossilator.

Would I recommend this? For a fiver, it's a good bit of fun and for production, you get some usable cables and a microphone thrown in for good measure. As for the mixer, it's wholly useless for anything other than its original purpose and I will be looking at opening one of them to use as a DIY synthesiser box.