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JVC K-99 Karaoke

Soundcheck

Article from International Musician & Recording World, May 1985

The keystone of Japan's national sport comes under the oriental gaze of Martin Moody


Two cassette decks and an extremely useful eight-track!


Half the Western world seems to get its kicks these days from playing with Eastern (specifically Japanese toys: videos, TV games, musical instruments) you name it. But what do the Japanese do to relax after a hard day's exporting?

According to popular mythology, they like to do nothing as much as sink a few sakis down at the local, and then belt out a lachyrmose ballad or three to the accompaniment of a taped orchestra. It's called Karaoke, and it's taken the Land of the Rising Yen by storm.

JVC have now decided that the UK is ready for the Karaoke concept, and are backing that belief with a comprehensive range of products. Basic requirements for a system are; a mike; an amp; speakers; and the all-important backing tapes. (Usually, but not always, of the lush instrumental easy-listening type.) It's also handy to have a second tape deck to record your efforts on and funnily enough, JVC manufacture just such a package; the Karaoke Multipack Home Recording System, based around the popular RC-W3 Stereo Radio Double Cassette Recorder. For £225 you get the ghetto blaster, a mike, headphones, a lyric sheet, and three cassettes of backing tapes.

By now, you might be wondering what any of this has got to do with you, the dedicated musician. Well, quite a lot, actually. For JVC also manufacture the K-99 machine, an altogether more serious proposition — with a few tricks up its sleeve.

Visually, the main unit and extension cab resembles a small combo — which essentially, it is. Measuring 529 x 633 x 300mm (speaker unit, 521 x 396 x 300mm) it weighs a respectable 19Kg, making the recessed handles on either side a welcome inclusion, but why isn't there one on the speaker units?

Both units are finished in black with silver edge trim, which together with the black cloth over the speaker enclosures gives the whole system a very professional look. This is somewhat dented by a survey of the rear, however, which reveals the unfinished chipboard/hardboard construction. A raked top and recessed controls would seem to protect the machine's important bits from casual knocks, but the lack of edge protectors does not bode well for the cosmetics of either unit.

Front Panel Controls



Couldn't be simpler really. The top row of pots are chromed plastic with colour-coded surround and consist of, from the left, a mixer section (green) of three pots for Line In, Mikes one and two; and the associated BBD Echo knob. The echo is simply on/off on all three channels simultaneously with a fixed rate just short of slapback and repeats variable from zero to about eight. Unfortunately it's very noisy offering a very authentic 'Can you hear me at the back?' club echo.

Next to that is the Tape Speed (yellow) control, with centre detent, giving about 10% pitch shift either way. Intended to let singers shift backing tapes into their vocal range, it can also be used to play, say, a complicated guitar part slowly, and then overdub at the correct speed. Headphone Volume (also yellow) is next, then the centre-detent Balance control (blue) — as per domestic hi fis. A double size Master Volume control (white), flanked by a further pair of blue center-detented knobs for Bass and Treble (again with about as much Boost and Cut as a domestic rig) wraps it up for the knobs, leaving only a large push on/push off tablet power switch to be described, before moving onto...

The next line down; a green Power On LED sits next to a pair of rectangular selector buttons for Echo On/Off and Input One Instrument/Mike select. A white legended box marks off the Music Scan System, consisting of a Reset to zero button, a red LED programme number display, and a Set button. Simply push the set button the required number of times to select a particular track (from one to eight), fast forward, and the tape stops at the chosen point. A pity it doesn't drop straight into play, I think. It'd make for much smoother use of this facility.

The next two buttons are curiosities. Bilingual on/off, originally intended for conversational language teaching, takes out one side of the main stereo output, leaving a full mix in the headphone out alone. As yet, there are no plans to release language software here, but JVC are planning to launch some tapes that make use of this facility. First releases are likely to be popular songs with a 'removable' vocal, allowing you to listen to the pro over the phones, whilst belting out (and recording) your own version live. The concept will eventually be extended to instrumental 'minus one' recordings, allowing fledgling bass guitars, guitarists, and keyboard players to 'sitin' on a pro session.

The second, and almost totally useless button, is the Endless Play select for the machine's eight-track. Yes, that's right — eight-track... a fairly standard version of the beast that I won't bother to go into here. Rounding off this section is a very pretty but fairly useless line of green and red 'Peak Recording Level' LEDS, which seems to leap into the red at anything above a whisper. Still, I suppose you get used to them.

Below and to the left of the redundant eight-track are the two cassette decks, featuring raked, chromed plastic 'soft-touch' transport controls, and damped eject. As is standard in double deck set ups, Deck A, on the far left, is a play-only machine, whilst Deck B both records and plays, as well as boasting a mechanical tape counter. One surprising omission, given the overdubbing possibilities of the machine (and the noisy echo) is a total lack of any kind of noise reduction — a big mistake, I think.

Finally, tucked under the speaker enclosure at the bottom left of the unit are two mono jack sockets for mike/line in, and a stereo headphone out.

The incredibly strange Martin Moody brushes up his 'act'


Rear Panel



At the bottom left of the unit, a small steel panel offers L and R phono line sockets in, sprung clips for the external speaker connection (duplicated on the rear of the extension cab, and constituting the only thing you can say about it), a voltage select window, and a tethered mains lead.

In use, seen purely as a combo, it's nothing special. With a maximum output of 54 watts from its two eight inch woofers and four two and a half inch tweeters — main unit and extension unit — it's loud enough to annoy the neighbours, or to serve a small club, but it won't be giving Motorhead's PA any competition. The combination of mike and line inputs worked well, handling a variety of sources, including drum machine, synth, vocals, and record deck via the rear panel phono's without distortion up to about three quarters maximum volume, where it started to clip. The mixer section performed well, and the echo, though coarse, was better than nothing. purely as a combo then, I'd place it above a domestic hi-fi, but below a typical budget PA.

As a tape machine, it worked fine, with overdubs of up to three or four generations still keeping the hiss at an acceptable level. Pity about the noise reduction though...

The mike supplied with the unit, a JVC MD-380A dynamics (sold separately for £34.50), is of better quality then you might expect. Solidly built, and with a 'professional' XLR lead, it didn't seem overly prone to handling noise and responded to 'P's and 'S's with reasonable facility. It'd provide a good introduction to the art of microphone technique.

The pack of 10 tapes also provided with the unit tended for the most part to consist of 'Golden Oldies' played Muzak-style by the wonderful JVC Orchestra — though there was one tape of Beatle songs. Still, with eight tracks to a tape, you've got plenty to choose from. New releases are being produced at a rate of knots, with 180 available at the moment, and no end in sight. Recent titles include numbers like Every Breath You Take and Flashdance, so you're not condemned to an eternity of Doing It Your Way. Additional tapes cost from £13.50 for three to £107 for 20 and all have been cleared for copyright, so no problem there, (see ads in IM, ES&CM and What Keyboard? for further info.)

Summing up



Quite clearly, the UK lacks the kind of social structure that made Karaoke such a hit in Japan. The obvious market here must be solo or cabaret performers, drag acts and the like. But the flexibility of a portable recording/playback and PA package, capable of simultaneously recording three inputs and an onboard, perhaps overdubbed backing tape, should not be ignored out of mere snobbery. As a tool for songwriters, those wishing to improve their technique, or even as a Jack of all trades for the increasing number of 'Small, highly mobile' electronic bands, the Karaoke concept has a lot to offer.

Whether you actually want to pay so much money for a unit which incorporates a useless eight-track, and is guilty for its lack of noise reduction, of at least one design oversight, is another matter entirely.

JVC KARAOKE K-99 — RRP: £580



Previous Article in this issue

Vesta Fire Effects Pedals

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Yamaha DX5


Publisher: International Musician & Recording World - Cover Publications Ltd, Northern & Shell Ltd.

The current copyright owner/s of this content may differ from the originally published copyright notice.
More details on copyright ownership...

 

International Musician - May 1985

Donated by: Neill Jongman

Gear in this article:

Cassette (Stereo) > JVC > K-99 Karaoke System

Review by Martin Moody

Previous article in this issue:

> Vesta Fire Effects Pedals

Next article in this issue:

> Yamaha DX5


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