The Truly First Karaoke Machine Was Made 53 Years Ago And It Still Works

Dhir Acharya - Jun 29, 2020


The Truly First Karaoke Machine Was Made 53 Years Ago And It Still Works

The karaoke machine was invented independently at least five different times in Japan, but the very first one was created by this 95-year-old man.

Karaoke is one of the most popular exports from Japan, it quickly became a common form of entertainment around the world. But do you know who invented the very first machine that lets you sing along to your favorite track?

It turned out that karaoke was invented independently at least five times in Japan. Daisuke Inoue, a musician-businessman, has been given credit for inventing the first karaoke machine in 1971. However, the first machine actually dated back to 1967 with an electronic factory owner named Shigeichi Negishi, his factory made 8-track tape decks.

Shigeichi Negishi
Shigeichi Negishi

This fact was revealed in a book called Pure Invention by Matt Alt, who tracked down the 95YO man and visited him at his home to see his invention. It’s called the Sparko Box.

One day in 1967, Negishi asked his head engineer if he could hook a microphone up to a tape deck so he could hear himself singing over a recording without lyrics. Three days later, he received the machine. He turned it on, slotted an instrumental tape of an old Japanese song from the 30s, and started singing. His voice came out of the speakers with the music, marking the first karaoke performance ever.

Then, Negishi had the engineer build a case for the machine, wire in a coin time to measure. He knew at that moment this was something he could sell. He named the machine Sparko Box.

The Sparko Box - the first karaoke machine ever
The Sparko Box - the first karaoke machine ever

Essentially, the Sparko Box was a cube, each side measuring 45 centimeters, edged with chrome, and a beige Formia finish. The machine had a rectangular opening on top for a tape, knobs for volume, balance, tone control, as well as a coin slot. On the front panel, there was a sheet of corrugated translucent plastic that hid multicolored lights strobing in time with the music.

The Sparko Box - the first karaoke machine ever
The Sparko Box - the first karaoke machine ever

Negishi held the first karaoke party of the world in this kitchen. He then printed songbooks containing lyrics for singers. Negishi wanted to sell the machine but didn’t have any experience in the field, so he reached out to a friend that worked at the NHK national television channel. After hearing the explanation, the friend said “Karaoke. You want karaoke tapes.”

Negishi found a distributor, but he didn’t approve of the name “karaoke machine,” so it was sold under various brand names such as the Night Stereo, the Music Box, and the Mini Jukebox.

Shigeichi Negishi and the Sparko Box
Shigeichi Negishi and the Sparko Box
53 years later and the machine still works
53 years later and the machine still works

Later, through another friend, the karaoke machine was sold for us in dance halls or those who simply liked singing. Before the Sparko Box, if you wanted to sing a song, there had to be a band playing the music for you. However, the machine was returned by clients after those bands complained and forced bar owners to get rid of it.

Eventually, Negishi and his partner decided to stop investing in the Sparko Box after considering the cost and the trouble they had to go through, not to mention to long process to obtain a patent.

And guys, that’s how the first karaoke machine was born.

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