Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Karaoke Review: Bar + Karaoke Lounge

December 12th, 2006

This place was set up by the owner of one of Toronto's first premium karaoke boxes, XO. I was told by a senior manager that this new place was set up to attract “westerners”. (As opposed to the Korean population at Bloor & Christie. Someone told me there is some Korean gang activity in Koreatown so perhaps this was also motivation). Although I had loved XO for 10 years the fact that much of the original furniture was badly broken and ventilation systems were mostly non-functional (especially in the summer) left me longing either for a major repair at XO or a new venue of the same selection and equipment. When I was told about the “plasma” screens I was drooling as my mind envisioned the ultimate karaoke box in the center of downtown Toronto. Imaginations can run away with you very quickly when you are looking for the ultimate karaoke box. With a 30 minute free trial this was going to be the a easy review for my wallet.

The Good
: Well the plasma screens were there, brand new of course although I quickly recognized them as low end. (plasma is less expensive than LCD which has clearer images) The look of the place felt like karaoke box meets night club feel to it. The looks of the interior was actually very nicely thought out. The selection was identical to XO which is to say it was decent.

The Mixed: I wish I could say that the spirit that created XO was preserved but unfortunately all the effort appeared to go into initial looks. The mikes were cheap and easily overloaded and I was picking up residual noise noise from the receiver. It turned out to be a radio signal coming in over the speaker. I quickly pointed this out the staff who told me the receivers were lower quality from Korea and they would be replaced eventually. The other thing that caught my attention was that there were no key changers in ANY of the rooms. What I was hoping to be an awesome experience was turning into a bad dream: The owner got extremely cheap on the equipment: all you had to do was scratch the surface of that pretty exterior for the poor quality beneath to show. XO was the top karaoke box in its day and for the owner to get cheap on equipment was a real let down. I told the staff what I had observed and even told them how to get key changers for <$200 each. 13 rooms for a total of ~$2600. For a small business this is not a big investment. For 6 weeks I kept checking in to see if key changers were going to be added. Every time I check out the place it was fairly empty. I asked about food availability. They said there was food available at a nearby restaurant but no menu was available. This looked like a minimal beginning as well as a cheap one. The rates are slightly less than XO which I'd like to say was good but given the quality of the equipment that was there (no key changers) I felt the customers could do better for the money.

The Bad: The service when I was there was pretty poor as well: People often weren't at the desk when I was checking out the place as late of 9 PM. Kind of scary. Other times people seemed more occupied with playing video games on a computer than attending the desk. Very unprofessional work ethic ½ the time. The crowds may not be there yet but they should at least look like they cared. I've already said my peace about the receivers there which were outright bad as well as the mikes.

Summary: The owner of this place perhaps should consider a career in interior decorating (or refer the person he hired) because he seems to think “westerns” have no knowledge of what karaoke is all about or what quality equipment is. Let's start with basics: People have different song ranges, so key changers are ESSENTIAL. Yes, ESSENTIAL so that everyone can participate comfortably. Not having simple key changers that will work on any analog audio system is, frankly, very discouraging considering the great work on initially done with XO. Not only that but cheap Korean equipment and radio signal feedback on the audio (when there was no radio component on these receivers or perhaps I should say preamp) also suggests that the owner was doing everything to get this operation up on the cheap using excellent decorating to hide the fact. After six weeks of telling them they should have key changers and even telling them where to get them with no results show lack of attention the customers. Every time I went to the place (generally Fridays) I didn't see much of a crowd. Perhaps its just as well given the lack of respect for Karaoke lovers. Perhaps this is why he has let XO become so run down it is now dangerous to go to in the summer due to lack of proper ventilation and working air conditioners which had not been repaired properly for at least 2 years. I had to stop bringing the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group as a result. There may be a general trend of business and Karaoke Box owners trying to avoid initial business costs with the invent of computer based Karaoke song changers, but just because a computer can do the rotations doesn't mean you don't provide the basics if you are going to be in the karaoke business at all. Anyone looking to start a karaoke box be aware there are those of us who have been to Asia, know what standard karaoke is supposed to provide and we will let people know who respects their customers, and just as importantly, who does not.

Summary Scores

Facilities: 9.0 (Nice rooms, really clean, furniture in amazing shape)

Equipment: 6.5 (Cheap receivers(radio noise), mikes and no key changers. People do notice when karaoke boxes cheapen the experience. At least the computer song changer worked well. The 0.5 bonus for plasma screens but they are no substitute for proper karaoke equipment)

Location: 8.0 (Block north of Dundas Subway. Parking will cost you a pretty penny at Yonge/Dundas however)

Food Prices: NA (Prices on drinks are average, but only snack food)

Service: NA (staff seemed to be killing time a lot so perhaps its for the best they only serve drinks)
Selection: 7.0 (~7000 English songs, lots of Korean, Chinese, some Japanese, same as XO).

Wait Times: 9.0 (Its a computer AVI/MPG server. So this is expected)

Room Prices: 7.0

1-5 people: $25/Hour

6-10 people: $40/Hour

50 Large Room: $50/Hour

Final Grade: C (Given the equipment quality and lack of basics this is a gift)

New Info: Since my original visit I've been informed that there is a Korea Midi system with limited key change capability but still no real key changers. (2007-02-21)

PS: Some actually asked about this place and when I told them my findings they asked if I could carry around a key changer for the Toronto Karaoke Meetup Group. People notice, people care, and people have to carry basic karaoke equipment with them, better off going elsewhere. Why would a karaoke box customer pay to bring proper equipment?

Venue Information:
Bar + Karaoke Lounge
360 Yonge Street
Toronto, ON M5B 1S5
(416) 340-7154

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At 2:25 PM, Blogger Jayne said...

Hi~! I'm a XO Karaoke fan. I've been reading your articles and summaries about most karaoke bars. First off, it's not too nice to write negative comments about a business which owners are too cheap to spend the money, you don't know how heavy their wallets are so opening up a new business from scratch will cost a lot. XO Karaoke, yes isn't well ventilated but only due to the way the old building was built. But I do know for a fact that all the air conditioners in every room have been repaired which you are advertising that it is not. I have many friends who still go to and love XO Karaoke because of their song selections, customer service and not go because of poor ventilation. I think that if you write a bad review that you should inform the business owner before you go blabbing about their misfortunes on the internet. Just think how you would feel if you bought a business (ei/XO Karaoke) then the first 6 months of owning it.. someone comes and writes a horrible review about it. Would you want to pay over 10 grand to fix the ventilation just because of a bad review? Which I don't even see any signs of vents anywhere in that particular building, but I've seen many businesses without any ventilation or central air or practically nothing up to code. Just I want you to be fair with all business owners and if you write a bad review just let them know. Thanks.

At 7:27 PM, Blogger Jonah A. Libster said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 7:45 PM, Blogger Jonah A. Libster said...

I've publish this comment because this is an excellent example of someone who thinks they know more. 6 months..hmmm. I've watched XO, its raise and fall for 10 YEARS. back in the late ninties and early 2000's, XO was the envy of the city. Rated many times rightfully as the best karaoke box in town. Starting around 2002, as damage and wear/tear took its toll, little of the broken air conditioners or funiture was fixed. I also observed that the little of damaged equipment that was replaced was of really poor quality. You asked whether someone would pay 10k just because of a bad review? How about to avoid a lawsuit because of a hospital trip triggered by improper ventilation? How about to keep paying customers happy and healthy? You just spelled it out for my readers why my reviews can actually be important. At least important enough for your in depth response and my ind depth reply. As to the new business at Yonge + Gerrard, when a new business is cheap in audio equipment (and I've talked to them on it several times) I have to take that into account. These reviews are written from the user's prospectives. If its not convenient for the owner to address these concerns, then the owner should address them or they can ignore my comments and do what they like and my reviews will stand as is. For the record I've talked to management several times on my concerns before I published my reviews.


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