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Polk Audio XRT12 XM Satellite Radio Tuner Print E-mail
Tuesday, 01 March 2005
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Polk Audio XRT12 XM Satellite Radio Tuner
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About XM Radio
Satellite radio offers many advantages over traditional FM radio. There are more stations than FM and, in most areas, and the stations are far more creative with content than local FM stations. Additionally, XM features commercial-free music channels. Some of the syndicated talk shows have commercials, but I don’t really listen to those much, so it didn’t bother me too much. Another perk is that the music on XM is uncensored. It totally rocks not having to imagine all the “naughty” words removed from all my hardcore gangsta rap songs that I hold so close to my heart. Another huge advantage is that XM has terrestrial repeaters in most major cities, so when you are in city buildings, you still can get signal without problem. Some of these repeaters could be used to broadcast local programming, something XM says they do not plan on doing anytime soon. With more terrestrial repeaters, XM’s signal is stronger than Sirius for many users in many parts of the country.

The Music
I listened in on a Live Robert Cray concert in early February and got to hear the legend prior to actually going to one of his concerts. Attending one of Cray’s shows has long been on my to-do list, but the XM concert was a great substitute. While listening in on the Bluesville channel, I got to sample some Ruth Brown. On “5-10-15,” Brown invokes her best vocal performance to set audiences at ease. The sweet midranges of the lead saxophone and the classic walking bass line screamed out to me that I was listening to the blues. I sampled a local blues/jazz FM station to compare with the XM experiences I had. It was obvious to me that satellite was not only easier to use than FM, but also the sound quality was ultimately not sacrificed in the process. The sound of the XM versions of music was clearer and more linear. Music sounded more like CDs without the normal compressed sound of FM. After extended listening sessions with the Polk XRT12, I quickly realized I never really wanted to listen to FM again. Literally, it only took weeks to wean myself from traditional radio after 30 years of growing up listening to the media. To say FM radio is dead would be to understate the obvious.

XMLM-XL featured all-you-can-eat metal, 24 hours a day. As soon as I found this channel, I was in heaven. Slayer is certainly something you don’t hear on any stations in San Diego anymore. The fast-paced pounding of the double bass during “Threshold” was thoroughly impressive on my system at home. The chun-chun-chun moars of Kerry King’s guitar ripped through my MartinLogan speakers. Having heard the same song from my collection of Slayer CDs, there did not appear to be any large-scale loss of any pertinent metal grinding information via the XRT12. Perhaps you could hear a little glean on the high end with a bit of compression, but overall, the sound quality was nearly CD quality and far superior to most MP3s or terrestrial radio.

FM radio is the closes competitor to XM. Its advantages include being free of charge and easily received, even on very affordable hardware. The downsides are nearly too many to list. Commercial stop sets that last as long as 14 minutes (think Howard Stern), short playlists, no new successful formats in well over 10 years (‘70s rock oldies, Soul Oldies) and no local flavor, thanks to deregulation of radio in the mid-1990s.

Making your MP3 player work in your car is a breeze and the shuffle feature allows you to give a new world order to your favorite songs. What is lacking on an MP3 playlist is the human element of a DJ. While all radio suffers from DJs who get diarrhea of the mouth from time to time, much of what makes radio successful is that it is a companion. It has a human element and that keeps listeners tuned in.

Sirius is the best competitor to XM. Sirius has 65 channels (68 on XM) of music and 55 channels (39 on XM) of sports, news and talk radio. Prices are a little higher with Sirius at $12.95 monthly ($9.95/month on XM). Each additional radio you add service too is the same as with XM at $6.99 a month. There is a $10-15 set-up fee for each radio that is set up for both XM and Sirius. Some critics suggest the programming is better on Sirius, and Kenwood currently offers a Sirius component tuner. Overall, in terms of competition for the Polk XRT12, there are few. The XRT12’s audiophile-grade guts and innovative way of bringing new music into your life makes it a worthwhile component in a $2,500 theater, as well as one costing $2,500,000.


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