Most of our opinions on iPods and their accessories are found in our reviews section, organized neatly by product and distilled down to a single page per item. But today, we’re making an exception for a new accessory from a company you’ve probably never heard of: CAVS, maker of the IPS-11G Karaoke System, which we profiled in a First Look piece last Friday.
IPS-11G might not have the typical iName, sexy packaging, or huge marketing dollars to support its introduction, but there’s no denying that it’s actually and surprisingly fun. We test gobs of iPod accessories here, but very, very few of them qualify as “fun” – headphones, speakers, cases and the like keep your iPod safe or make it sound better, but they don’t push the envelope on features. In fact, it’s unfortunately unusual to find anything these days that makes the iPod do more than Apple has sanctioned it to do: voice recorders, photo transfer add-ons, and almost everything else has required new iPod firmware. The only exceptions we can think of are gimmicky toys – Griffin’s iBeam Flash Light and Laser Pointer for old iPods, and BlueBox’s various not-iPod-specific miJam musical instruments. They’re good for kids or for a quick laugh, then easily forgotten.
At the core, CAVS’ Karaoke Station concept seems simple: using the new dock and microphone found in the box, your iPod becomes a full-fledged karaoke device, complete with on-screen menus, in-tempo lyrics, and an initial collection of 200 songs. Your iPod stores the music and the IPS-11G helps you perform it, just as you would with a normal karaoke machine. Songs are played with or without an assistant singer who sounds sort of like the original artist. An included remote control lets you mute the assisting vocals, change the song’s tempo, and select new songs from a distance; the dock itself lets you set the mic’s volume level and an appropriate amount of echo to give your voice extra power.
The fun part begins when you actually sit down – or stand up – with the mic and a big television set, pick a song, and start to sing. By nature, karaoke creates smiles and laughter – mostly “at you” rather than “with you” – as you try to mimic or destroy the vocals to familiar background music. As great as it is to listen to your iPod’s music, the experience of actually trying to perform it can make for an entertainment league of its own. We tried familar tracks from Frank Sinatra, George Michael, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Jackson on CAVS’ sampler, and the included 200 songs included plenty of other genres and artists.
Here’s the twist: the Karaoke Station lets you tote your own karaoke songs along – of course, on your iPod. A buyer planning to do karaoke in the privacy or his or her home might not care about this, but if you’re hosting a party or using the dock in a bar or restaurant, imagine the possibilities. People can show up with their own favorite tunes to sing, rather than relying on the dock’s owner to provide all the music, or carrying around CDs full of songs. The dock also can output other non-karaoke content from the iPod, including photos and videos. It could be the iPod DJ party phenomenon all over again, except with different (ahem) vocals.
So why is all of this detail in an editorial rather than in a review? Two reasons. First, we wanted to call this product out for a bit of special attention because its developers have gone the noble, “Think Different” route at a time when it’s a lot more convenient to just release something everyone’s already seen before for the iPod. We’d like to see more of these novel types of iPod accessories, even if they’re risky and a bit imperfect at first.
Second, and necessary to presenting a balanced picture of IPS-11G, there are a few noteworthy bummer factors in the CAVS design that are frankly begging to be done right by a successor or competing product – ones that are going to obscure the final rating of an otherwise cool new offering. The on-screen menuing and music selection features of IPS-11G don’t work with Mac-formatted iPods, so it’s really for PC users only.
And besides the price of the Station – it sells for $229, including all of the aforementioned pieces – you need to buy new music for the dock. CAVS sells karaoke-ready tracks, complete with synchronized lyrics, from its own website at www.ipskaraoke.com. They’re 99 cents or $1.99 each, and encompass many popular songs of all sorts from different eras. You can’t just strip the vocals on your iPod’s existing tracks and sing along to lyrics stored in the files with iTunes, nor does the CAVS library reside inside your iPod’s standard music collection – it gets its own folder. Similarly, it’s unclear as to whether people with existing karaoke discs have any way to transfer their contents to an iPod for use with this system.
Will these factors inhibit the Karaoke Station’s success? Quite possibly. But we freely admit that we had more fun playing with this accessory than virtually any that we can remember in the past few years. Regardless of its flaws, IPS-11G brings a little much-needed spunk back to the iPod. Expect a full warts-and-all review soon – in the meanwhile, are there any iPod accessories you’ve had lots of fun with?