Karaoke Review: Twister Karaoke Box
November 1st, 2006
Recently I had a reader recommend a karaoke box for a birthday party. Being eager to inform my readers I set out to expand my thin karaoke box reviews section. This place I had been to before years ago and had stuck to the downtown core for reasons of convenience. That time has passed and I'm now covering a wider territory. This place had been good years ago but many karaoke boxes have changed their technology and in many cases it has not been for the better. Read on to see how things fared here.
The Good: The rooms at this box were very clean. Probably the cleanest I've been to so far. Not only were all the walls, doors and equipment nearly spotless but the mikes and speakers were in pristine condition and the sound was no exception. There was a bit of a catch with the sound which I'll get to in a bit. Selection is very wide and includes the widest mix of languages I've seen yet: English (of course), Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Spanish, Russian, Vietnamese, Korean (TONS of those as the place is Korean owned as are many places in this neighborhood). Once could argue that the selection (with no other considerations) was the best of any karaoke box out there.
The Bad: There is no real food here, just chicken wings at $10 and instant noodles at $3 plus of course drinks (no outside drinks allowed).Aside from lack of food the only other bad thing was the fact that the rates were not posted anywhere I could see. That represents a somewhat unprofessional attitude. I asked them to tell me the rates verbally which I'll list here. I don't think they will increase them on any unsuspecting customers. More likely didn't get around to posting them (which I'd strongly recommend) but just in case here they are:
1-5 people $25/hour
10-14 people $50/hour
14-20 people $60/hour
They have only one large party room for which I didn't get the rate.
The Mixed: The rates as you can see are average. Remember I said earlier that the selection COULD be one of the best for any Karaoke box but....(you knew there was one coming) there are a variety of problems. First is the equipment. The speakers and mikes were in great shape but this place has TWO karaoke systems in each room. (Yes, you heard me right, two). I'll explain exactly what they are. Apparently these systems were purchased from Korea. One made by Taijin comes with books (By title only) and computer box and a remote controller. The sound tracks are all MIDI (its good midi but still midi) and selection is limited to English (4600 songs) and Korea (didn't get count). The upside of this is you can change the pitch, the tempo, mix male/female voices and get a cute (although not accurate) score on your "performance". (strictly timing with music). I know that an English controller for the Taijin system is available but this place didn't have any. Only the Korean controllers. If, like me, you don't read Korean its a REAL pain to use. Its okay once you figure it out. The second system has a LOT more songs, converted to MPEG format from original LDs so the the sound is much better. They try to indicate which have original footage from the artists (one didn't work) which is a nice touch. All the languages I mentioned above are available but at a price: No books. This make is REALLY awkward. Karaoke Box owners, I WILL take points off for no books, okay? There is just no good reason for it except to be cheap. Computer system selectors are not that good yet. Also the computer navigation system here is awkward because if you select song by title (your best option) you can't skip pages. So if your song is at the end of the "c" list for example you have go page by page.(mind you it may be possible to go backwards but the middle you are still in for a long scroll. Song by author has a serious flaw: Not all the groups are listed. For example, saw a good selection of the Bee Gees, but the closest they had to a "Bee Gees" group was "Barry Gibb" which had only one song. Radiohead wasn't even there but I saw several Radiohead selections by title. You get the idea. Oh, and last but not least: there is NO TRANSPOSITION on the 6k (English, 14k others I estimate as owner guesstimated 20k songs) selection list. This is a major let down because while you have an impressive selection of songs, you are limited by your vocal range. Or you have to use the MIDI Taijin system and limit your songs available. To switch between the two systems have issues as well. Its easy to do but.. you could lose your sound output because Twister uses cheap 3 way video/audio switches in many of their rooms with circuits that cut in and out. They actually moved me from room #2 to room #1 because of this problem. While I saw another one of these cheap 3 way plastic switches it appeared to have been bypassed to a quality toggle switch which worked properly. Hopefully they will replace those cheap switches to quality ones by the time you've read this. But if you see a triangular plastic switch near a monitor, tell them what you read here. It would only be an extra $10 to get a better 3 way switch. A quality 3 way video switch is between ($30-$40).
Summary: Twister has a good deal going for it: Rooms and furniture in near perfect condition, wide selection of languages (perhaps the largest in the GTA) and great mikes/speakers. Unfortunately, attempts to be cheap in certain areas detract from the experience there. The great equipment is plagued by cheap connection boxes and a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Consequently I had to be moved to a room with a better junction switch. While the selection is potentially great, the lack and books for the system with the larger selection and its awkwardly and incomplete configuration hampers one's ability to find songs easily. Lack of transposition is a serious let down which is easily corrected by getting the modulation boxes often used in karaoke boxes. I actually encountered one at a second karaoke box that was still connected to a Taijin system (because they hadn't bothered to move it) and it transposed the pitch so I know this works on ANY sound input running through it. Its an investment, but very worthwhile and essential to the Karaoke experience. In Japan I didn't find ANY karaoke boxes without this ability as its essential for the great number of people to participate and enjoy the experience. This simple investment would make this one of the best karaoke boxes in the GTA. But as it stands I can only say its has the widest selection of languages. If you are willing to put up with MIDI sound, learn the Taijin system controller and/or learn Korean and settle for only 4600 English songs rather than ~6k, you can the transposition need for all voice ranges to have fun. One thing about XO for which I will stand by it is when it comes to selection and the ability to participate, they have it all. (if only they could replace some of the mikes, funiture and almost dead air conditioners). Oh posting the rates in plain sight would also be a good idea. They do explain how their system and they try to please. But if they really want to be a TOP karaoke box, they need to get modulation boxes and replace the cheap plastic junction boxes. Then they wouldn't need the Taijin system at all. On that note, an English remote, PLEASE. If you want to host people with a wide taste in languages (prefect for an ESL class) this place would get my top recommendation with the understanding you'll have navigation and transposition limitation. Its still a reasonable place to have a fairly enjoyable karaoke event. Wit an investment in books and modulation boxes, it would be more than just fairly enjoyable: It would be fantastic.
Facilities: 8.5 (Nice rooms, really clean, furniture in amazing shape)
Equipment: 7.0 (Great Speakers, Mikes but plagued by poor junctions boxes and transposition on limited number of songs which are in MIDI. For this system reading Korean is advised)
Location: 8.5 (plenty of parking, 5 minutes from Finch subway station)
Food Prices: 7.0 (Prices on food/drinks are average, but VERY limited food)
Food Quality: 7.0 (Average, what little there is)
Service: 8.5 (they are very attentive and try to please)
Selection:7.2 (Better than XO, but worse at the same time. Come on guys, Books, modulation boxes. This is all you need to truly have the best selection in the GTA and be one of the best Karaoke boxes all in town)
Wait Times: 8.5 (Have to adjust because for transposition you have to switch between 2 systems)
Room Prices: 7.0 (average)
Final Grade: C+/B-
5586 Yonge Street (Finch Subway)
North York, ON