Toronto Karaoke Review: XO Karaoke Box
** THERE IS CURRENTLY A HEALTH ADVISORY ON THIS VENUE DUE TO LACK OF PROPER AIR VENTILATION! **
For those of you who may not know, many karaoke people who are either shy or want more singing time opt for the karaoke BOX rather than the karaoke bar. There are many advantages if you want to be with people you know or want to practice before standing up before a possible vocal agent. I've been frequenting XO for quite sometime and currently the Toronto Karaoke Group hosts its meetings there. Does that mean it gets top marks? Lets find out...
The good: XO's greatest strength is its song selection. I haven't counted but its quite huge. And that's just the English. Their Chinese collection isn't too bad although I'm told by my Chinese friends that its selections are a bit old. Of course it has LOTS of Korean, being a Korean owned establishment and a modest selection of Japanese. You do the math. Wait times for singing are first rate because they changed their systems a LOT: All their old laser disks have been converted to MPEG movies and stored on a Server (inexpensive I grant you) and uploaded to client computers in all the rooms, so when you punch in the selection into the computers, it comes up within 10-15 seconds. Food is available from the bar downstairs and the prices are very good indeed. Drink prices from the box are a bit on the high side. (This is a recent change) They have a large number of rooms ranging from small to large. (Prices scale according to size) Location is first rate: half a block form Christie Subway with Street parking available without meters.
The Bad: Unfortunately someone at XO got the idea that use of computers means they can cut back in services, basic equipment and courtesy. Starting with the food: Until recently you could simply order food just like in many other karaoke boxes. now, you can't order food until 9 PM. And the drinks are now somewhat pricey. Somebody forgot what the serious karaoke boxes provide but there are other boxes in Toronto who still remember(will be reviewed shortly). When I asked why the change they said "Why bother when we don't make money on it?". The answer to a seasoned karaoke box owner is "To keep the customers happy and stay longer hours". Who wants to stay for a 4 hour session with no food until 9 PM? (May as well eat elsewhere) The furniture is in sorry shape: Broken sofas and chairs that have been there at least 8 years and mics which only work about 60% of the time (I had developed a trick of hold the wires at certain angles to keep the mics working). They now even search your bags going in as well because they worry about you having alcohol, even if you reserve a drinking room. (1st floor only). If you want a drinking room, be prepared to get shifted around if they think they will make more money on a room they already gave you. I wasn't sure if someone reserved our room, but moving a party without warning is just unprofessional.
The mixed: The computer indexing has one serious disadvantage: you have to scroll through song titles. Don't bother searching by song authors unless you know EXACTLY what you want: The song writer lists are incomplete. With Japanese and Chinese songs, there is no proper order at all and with no song books for Chinese (after 1.5 years), you are forced to scroll which means people wanting to sing Chinese songs may have the remote for at LEAST 10-15 minutes. New systems are all very well, but one has to be prepared to full implement them, or you may be worse off. Also, the audio has an undocumented BUG. Some selections you have to press a special button to get the sound enabled or you won't hear the music. After repeated complaints about songs with no audio they explained this to me. Not Good. Not only is the system migration incomplete, but workarounds are not explained to the clients. So if you go to XO, ask about this. They may get around to documenting it if pestered enough.
Facilities: 6 (broken furniture in many of the rooms, poor ventlation: Old A/C Units, many barely function)
Equipment: 6 (many mics often not working properly)
Food Prices: 6 (poor drink prices and poor food polices)
Service(Karaoke Box only):4 (poor food policies, 1st floor groups moved without warning)
Wait Times: 10
Room Prices: 7 ($25/hour for small room, $45/Medium, discount available with VIP card)
Final Grade: C
Now magazine may have voted it best Karaoke Box years ago, but its many steps shy if it now. While it has selection, location and wait times in its favor, the decay of facilities, equipment and services are recently leaving a bad taste. If anyone from XO is reading this, I strongly suggest you review the serious karaoke boxes from the motherland of Karaoke, Japan and other karaoke boxes in the northern GTA. A neat computer system (which isn't properly implemented in Chinese & Japanese languages) is no substitute for good old fashioned professionalism. That means broken furniture and equipment is replaced, systems quirks/operation are documented in plain view, and making the customer comfortable in their establishment comes FIRST not second. (or last as in one case I experienced). I have been coming to this place for over 8 years now and its decline deeply saddens me. It used to be first rate establishment worthy of Now magazine's praise. Now, even with its large selection, easy access location and instant song retrieval, it is now only an adequate karaoke box...JUST. I can only recommend XO to people who only care about a large English and Japanese selection at the expense of everything else. I'm currently looking for a new venue for the Toronto Karaoke Group that will allow the maximum number of people to attend.
Update note October 2006. I noticed XO had started replacing SOME of their furniture. so I bumped the grade up a notch. If they can REPLACE their air conditioners I can upgrade it again. I'll speak to the manager on this later.
693 Bloor Street West, 2nd Floor
HanJoon Kwon, Manager
Note (2006-11-02): Some funiture is being replaced so I gave one more point on the Equipment. They are also seeing about getting a central heating/cooling system but its an expensive process. Apparently the owner has opened up a new place 3 weeks ago at Yonge and Gerrard called "Bar + Karaoke Lounge". I visited the place and will be publishing a review on it shortly