|Sirius Satellite Radio|
|Home Theater Feature Articles Other|
|Written by Bryan Dailey|
|Sunday, 01 February 2004|
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Let me cut right to the chase and say up front that in my experience with two XM systems and two Sirius systems, XM sounds better. It sounds less compressed and the sound of the DJs and talk radio stations on XM is superior. According to Siruis they have made recent advances in their technology to improve sound and I have noticed that is a bit better as of late but I'd still have to give the nod to XM for sound quality on the systems I have heard. Of course, there are an almost an infinite number of variables that affect the sound of both systems, so the only real way to compare the difference between the two is to test them out in the exact same car with equipment of comparable quality.
Surely you’ve heard the commercials for both services that tout the music as being crystal-clear, near CD quality from coast to coast, when the reality is that it’s more like really well-encoded MP3-sounding quality from coast to coast. This is not an audiophile product and anyone who expects audiophile quality from it is going to be disappointed. To me, the slight tradeoff in sound quality is worth it if the programming is more entertaining.
Sirius has 60 music channels and 40 talk/sports/news channels. XM comes in at 100 basic channels, 70 music and 30 talk-oriented. XM has about 30 premium channels, which require additional subscription fees. Each has its own ‘50s, ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s channel; XM also has a ‘90s channel and a ‘40s channel. I can certainly appreciate big band music, but when I’m fighting traffic on my way to work, I can’t imagine wishing I could hear the “The Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” or something by the Glenn Miller Orchestra. The Spin Doctors and Toad the Wet Sprocket were big in the ‘90s, so I don’t need a channel full of that, either. You can get plenty of ‘90s music in other places on the Sirius dial anyway, including Channel 2, titled “The Pulse,” which is actually a combination of ‘90s and current pop music hits.
Rock comes in many forms, and on Sirius there are enough rock stations to cover virtually every genre. Classic rock on Channel 14 called "Classic Vinyl" is similar to your basic, run-of-the-mill local classic rock statios minus the commercials. Channel 15 called "Classic Rewind" plays classic rock from the '80s and beyond. If jam bands such as Phish, the Grateful Dead or the String Cheese Incident are your thing, then Channel 17, “JamOn,” will be right up your alley. I didn’t think I liked this station until last night, when I heard Les Claypool’s Frog Brigade doing a cover of Jethro Tull’s “Locomotive Breath.” I quickly added it to my list of presets.
Heavy metal is the genre where Sirius really starts to shine. On Channel 20, titled “Octane,” you get heavy bands mostly from the ‘90s and today, like Deftones, Faith No More, Incubus, Queens of the Stone Age, Tool, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and more. Channel 23, titled “Hair Nation,” transports you back to the mid-to-late ‘80s, when bands like Poison, Motley Crue, Whitesnake and Scorpions ruled the rock world. When you want really hard metal, Channel 27, dubbed “Hard Attack,” is full of death metal and hardcore metal from bands like Sepultura, Pantera, Slayer and more. XM has a station called XML that is similar, yet it features death metal that is so absolutely hardcore that even metal fans like myself and Del Colliano have stopped trying to listen to it in his XM-retrofitted Benz.
The feeling I’m left with after listening to both systems for an extended period of time is that Sirius seems to just have a better handle on what people want to hear. It seems as if there is almost always a Sirius equivalent for most of the XM channels and, almost without exception, there seems to be a bigger hit song on the Sirius version at any given time. When you think of the band Duran Duran, most people want to hear “Hungry Like the Wolf” or “Girls on Film.” If you hear Duran Duran on XM, you might hear something more obscure like “The Chauffeur” or “Tiger Tiger." Sure I’m intrigued by the hunt for that cool obscure song by some artist who I have forgotten about, but while I’m driving, I would prefer to just set the tuner on one station for more than one or two songs before having to find something new.
Audio purists will poo-poo the fact that often times you will hear the shortened versions of some longer songs. However, if the Sirius programmers decide to play the radio edit of Billy Idol’s way-too-long song “Dancing With Myself,” I’m quite okay with it. The only problem I would have with Sirius is if they began to edit the content itself for language. I enjoy the fact that I can listen to programming that is not restrained by the same FCC guidelines that bind terrestrial FM and AM radio. This is particularly beneficial on the Sirius rap and comedy channels. Yes, kiddies, there is cursing on Satellite radio.
A few months ago, when I told people that I had installed Sirius in my car, I often got blank stares. Today, when I tell people that I have Sirius in my car, the reaction that I get more often than not is ”Oh wow, now you can listen to NFL games in your car!” Yes, this is the biggest news for Sirius and, being a big Miami Dolphins fan, I will have a new reason to go for long drives on Sunday mornings and afternoons when the Dolphin game isn’t being broadcast on TV at home. I ultimately don’t know much I’ll really listen to football games in my car, but having the option is one of the coolest things Sirius has going for it.
Besides the football package that is coming to Sirius next year, sports fans will be thrilled to know that Sirius has already done deals with the NBA and broadcasts practically every pro basketball game. Their NHL deal ensures that you can catch your favorite hockey team every time they drop the puck, as long as you are in your car or have your home kit hooked up at your office or home. It’s these kinds of content deals that make Sirius’ programming so much more compelling than XM.
Paying the Price for No Commercials
Aside from the programming, the fundamental difference between Sirius and XM is the fact that Sirius is commercial-free and XM has commercials some of its non-music channels. The convenience of having commercial-free service comes at a price of $2.96 more per month on Sirius. Knowing this, Sirius has created aggressive pricing packages that lower the effective cost per month. If you are certain that you want to have the service for one year, you can pre-pay a year for $142.45, lowering the monthly cost to $11.87. If you have more than one car and want to add a second account, for only $6.99, it brings the price for each car to $9.97 per month. Two years of pre-paid service for $271.95 lowers the monthly fee to $11.33 and the granddaddy of all offers is a current special that gets you unlimited service for the life of that receiver for $499.99. Beginning February 15, 2004, subscribers who pay for a year's worth of service will receive an additional three months free. XM’s pricing advantage isn’t such a big advantage when you consider that some of the XM programming requires an additional subscription fee and you constantly have to deal with an ever-growing amount of commercials on many of the stations.