Antex XM-3000 Triple Play Satellite Receiver 
Home Theater Accessories Accessories
Written by Matthew Evert   
Wednesday, 01 February 2006

Introduction
Satellite radio has been gaining lots of attention the past few years, as millions upon millions of consumers continue to discover its benefits over traditional radio broadcasts. Nationwide availability, commercial-free music stations and vast amounts of talk shows are just part of satellite radio’s attraction. XM and Sirius are the two major companies providing satellite radio content for a combined population of nearly nine million subscribers in the United States and Canada. Many of the satellite radio products have been focused on portable and car deployments of the technology until recently, when Polk introduced one of the first home audio systems. Antex Electronics saw this vacancy in the growing satellite radio portfolio and produced a high fidelity XM radio receiver of its own.

Based in Torrance, CA, Antex is no stranger to the audio industry, boasting over 20 years of experience. In fact, Antex introduced the world’s first PC soundcard with 16-bit stereo CD quality sound back in 1987. Using this experience and today’s technology, Antex has delivered the world’s first multi-zone satellite receiver called the XM-3000 at a MSRP of $1,999.

What is the difference between the XM-3000 and other XM tuners like the Polk XRT12, you ask? For one, the Antex has three XM tuners instead of just a single one. Each of the tuners’ XM channel information can be separately displayed on the large LED screen and all three can be controlled from the included remote. This allows the XM-3000 to feed three unique XM channels to three different rooms or zones in your home. The kids can be listening to Disney, your spouse can be listening to CNN in the kitchen, and you can be jamming to speed metal in the living room. Second, Antex took great care to enable this tuner to be easily integrated into a distributed audio system, such as Crestron. Using the RS-232 serial port on the back of the XM-3000 and the programming codes provided on the Antex web site, this tuner quickly integrates into a home audio system of any degree of complexity.

About the Tuner
At first glance, the XM-3000 resembles your typical home audio component. At 18 inches wide, 12 inches deep and only three-and-half inches tall, the XM-3000 has little trouble merging with your existing system. Easy rack mounting for a component like this is key, since the primary usage for this product will be with higher-end distributed audio systems employing Creston controllers, etc. Unlike the contending Polk XRT12, this receiver is hefty at 16.5 pounds. A heavy black steel chassis encloses all the vital electronics, while a black-brushed aluminum face plate houses all the user controls and display. Black is the only finish available for the XM-3000; the Sirius radio version (SRX-3 TriplePlay) of the XM-3000 is only available in a shimmering silver finish.

Silver finished control buttons feel sturdy and are snugly housed in the black-brushed aluminum faceplate of the XM-3000. The flat circular buttons are comfortable to touch and don’t give you the feeling like you are bruising the tips of your fingers like those employed by the rounded hard buttons of the Sherwood receiver I reviewed a few months ago. The Polk XM tuner used plastic rocker switches, which are very functional but do not have the refined look of the XM-3000 controls. This may seem a silly comment, but wait ‘til you start using this baby; changing channels will be a common activity for you and it better be comfortable. The top section of buttons control features such as navigating channels, channel categories and selecting the active zone you are trying to change. A silver bar at the bottom of the faceplate houses the preset and number keys used to directly navigate to a specific channel or to a preset channel. The power button can be held for several seconds to enter the set-up menu, where the user can access features such as parental controls and configuration controls.

The front faceplate utilizes a bright blue LCD display for presenting all the vital XM channel information for each of the three zones. Each partition of the display shows the category name (like country or news), channel name, channel number, title of the track and artist for each of the three zones. The three-inch display looks large at first glance, but when you power the tuner on, it quickly fills up with white text to display all the aforementioned information for each of the three zones. The screen is unmistakably bright, so much so that I have been fortunate not to have jets from the nearby airport making their final approach on my house.

The back panel of the XM-3000 has both a set of RCA analog audio outputs and an optical digital output for each of the three zones. Again, this Triple Play tuner was intended to be treated like it was three separate tuners, each with its own outputs. A RS-232 connection is provided to interface with your home audio distribution system. A detachable power cord, a hardwired IR input and an output for the included 20-foot XM antenna are also present. The remote is ergonomically designed, with contoured housing and soft rubber buttons, a simple unit that still allows the user the same capabilities that the front panel buttons provide.

Venturing inside the XM-3000, we find three separate XM tuners, each with its own high fidelity Cirrus Logic digital to analog converters for the analog outputs. The optical digital outputs use the well-respected Burr Brown converters. These two components are the most significant in terms of replicating the most pleasing audio experience. As pointed out by one of the knowledgeable engineers at Antex, satellite radio uses compressed audio due to the limited bandwidth of the satellites they employ. The result is that there are practical limits to the audio performance attainable by XM and Sirius. CDs do not compress audio and therefore are not subject to the same restrictions on audio quality as XM is. This said, both satellite providers are continually improving compression algorithms and Antex is committed to optimizing their tuners to take full advantage of these changes. I would be really impressed if XM and Sirius provide multi-channel audio at some juncture in the future. Today, that is a rather large “if.”

Set-Up
Getting the XM-3000 into your home is very straightforward. Antex built this tuner with the intention of integrating it into your existing home audio distribution system. First, Antex only requires one antenna to supply all three of its internal tuners. A 20-foot antenna cable is included; larger lengths are available from Antex. As with all XM antennas, you do not need to have line-of-sight orientation to the satellite by mounting the antenna outside as you would with DirecTV. Instead, you can place the antenna on a wall or on a shelf inside your house. You will want to place it so the XM logo faces south or southeast, depending on whether you are on the East Coast or the West Coast of the U.S. By accessing the set-up menu, you can find a signal strength meter that will tell you if you have positioned the antenna in a good place. Upon placing the tuner and the antenna where you want them, the next step is to get out your credit card and call XM to get your three XM tuner IDs to activate each of the three tuners.

Once all the audio outputs are connected, you are now ready to plug the RS-232 cable into a module compatible with your audio distribution system. Fortunately, Antex only requires one RS-232 connection to control all three tuners. The modules for Crestron systems are pricey, so this can make up for the hefty price of the Antex in short order. A complete list of configuration codes and supported distribution systems are easily attainable on the Antex web site. AMX, Crestron, Elan and Niles are among those already supported. The interface modules for Crestron, AMX, Elan and Niles support bi-directional feedback of title, track, artist info. Custom installers will rejoice at a product like the XM-3000 that was designed with them in mind, instead of having them as an afterthought.

About XM Radio
I listen to a couple local San Diego FM radio stations in my home and in my car. My biggest complaints are hissing static noises, signals dropping out of range, unfocused programming and simply too much talking. XM solves all these issues with 68 channels of commercial-free music that pull from a database of over two million titles. Boneyard is one of my favorites, since it plays exclusively my beloved heavy metal and very little of the commercial made-for-the-masses crap. They stick the prime cuts. There are live DJs for most of the music stations who answer song requests via a toll-free phone number or email. Talk and news shows like Larry King are great to keep up with current events, while the traffic channel tells me whether I should sleep in or not. In total, there are over 152 channels of sports, news, traffic, weather and, most importantly, music. The talk and sports shows do have commercials, so don’t be surprised to hear the latest advertisement for tuning in to “American Idol” this week. The basic monthly fee is around $13 per month and that is for one tuner. To activate all three tuners in the XM-3000, you will need to add another $14 per month to the basic $13 per month. XM Online allows for your computer to access XM content for an additional monthly charge. Also, for an additional charge, you can pimp out your ride with the XM NavTraffic service, which delivers up-to-the-minute traffic information directly to your vehicle's navigation system. What will they think of next?

Sirius is the other competitor to XM in the satellite radio business. Sirius has the same monthly rates for basic service and the additional charges of adding the extra tuners. The programming is similar to XM and offers 121 channels of music, talk, weather and sports shows. Sirius has 65 music channels and now has an exclusive contract with the Howard Stern Show. Finally, Howard has his wish and can have uncensored content for the first time without fear of the FCC. On the other side of the talk show spectrum, Martha Stewart has her own finer living show exclusively on Sirius as well. Sirius is still smaller in its subscriber base as of the beginning of 2006, with about three million listeners to XM’s nearly six million. This said, the sound quality and programming are comparable, so it really comes down to personal preference. If you are more interested in Sirius, Antex does make a Triple Play tuner nearly identical to the XM-3000 called the SRX-3 that is offered for the same price.

The Music
The Real Jazz channel is packed with the legends in modern jazz. A prodigal example is the late Cannonball Adderly. Cannonball played in a quintet with his brother, Nat, in the ‘60s, then later joined a sextet with none other than jazz great Miles Davis. Cannonball’s alto saxophone carries a warm yet spirited sound that quickly pulls the listener into a world of unspeakable bliss. Even newbies to jazz will find themselves tapping fingers on their chairs or toes on the floor to Cannonball’s swinging solos. In “Blue Funk,” a walking bass line supports an involving sax performance by Adderly that spills over from the midrange to test the high frequencies. I noticed that, although the high and low frequencies were apparent, they were noticeably laid-back in presentation compared to my SACD version of the song. Imaging, openness of sound and high-frequency performance were far superior with the SACD version of the track. This degradation is to be expected with the compression of audio signals to squeeze more channels into the limited satellite transmission bandwidth. With that in mind, the XM-3000’s selection of quality high fidelity components in the tuner hardware is especially important in getting the most out of the XM signal.

  The KISS channel featured a track by R&B artist Baby Bash called “Baby I’m Back.” The sweet midranges from both the male and female vocalists were devoid of any signs of grain. The lack of harshness with the hand-clapping sounds and the deep punchy bass drum demonstrated that the other parts of the frequency range were not lagging behind the midrange. Larry King Live on CNN featured an interview with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales regarding the renewal of the Patriot Act. The deep voice of King and the higher-pitched voice of Gonzales were lush and warm at both extremes of the midrange frequencies. On the MSNBC channel, Tucker Carlson had an interview with a guest that resulted in a less impressive experience. The entire interview sounded like it was conducted in a subway tunnel. Echoing effects and a very distant presentation left me wishing the programming across XM was a little more consistent in recording quality.

Alternatives
Numerous players populate the satellite radio tuner category today, where there were really only one or two products a year ago. This would make sense, seeing that the subscriber base for both XM and Sirius has doubled from last year. ADA Tune Suite, Crestron C2M-TXM and the Krell Trio all make multi-zone XM tuners today, ranging in price from $1,100 to $4,000. I felt the Elan XM-R3 Triple Satellite Audio Receiver was the closest competition to the XM-3000. It has all the same features and has the added benefit of seamless integration into Elan audio distribution systems. Touch panels, which can be installed in each room, can display the track and title information for the current song playing. This would definitely impress anyone lucky enough to stay in the room. Although I have not had the opportunity to listen to the Elan model, it might be worth checking out given that its MSRP is $1,550 versus $1,999 for the Antex.

The Downside
Surprisingly, there are some basic features missing from the XM-3000. There is no video output on this unit to display the three tuners currently playing tracks or to view the configuration options. This means the only real way to see what station you are enjoying is by reading the front panel display of the unit. The display is not readable beyond about four feet and if it is mounted in a cabinet in the back room (remember, this is supposed to be hooked into an audio distribution system), there is no easy way to see information on what you are hearing. They need to add an S-Video or composite out to display the basic information that is currently only visible on the front panel of the XM-3000. The other thing they could do is add a scrolling text option and allow the user to enlarge the text for the active zone where you are changing channels. This zoom feature would allow a user from six to 10 feet away to see the channel if the unit is located in the same room as the listener. The remote would be more useful if it had backlit buttons and an LCD display on it for night viewing. The remote LCD would also solve the issue of not being about to see what is playing on each zone when you are not close to the XM-3000’s front panel display. Speaking of the front panel display, it is so bright that a dimmer option is completely necessary unless you want to have a permanent night light in your home theater rack. The frustrating part of these complaints is that the Polk XRT12 XM tuner implemented all the missing features above and is less than one fourth the cost of the XM-3000.

Other welcome improvements include the ability to cache the recently played tracks and artist names so that you can review what you heard for the past hour. I like the idea of being able to find out what the name of an unfamiliar track is just in case I want to go buy the album. Instead of having to hurry to the display to read the track name while it is still playing, you can finish chopping the carrots, then review the track history later. Lastly, it would be swell to not have to fork out an additional $14 per month just to add the extra two zones. I guess XM is in no danger of running out of money soon if Antex sells a lot of the Triple Play tuners.

Other distributed audio systems like ones from Crestron allow for easy integration of both XM and Sirius in the same system. While you could always drop $4,000 on two Antex tuners, which would allow for six discrete channels of satellite radio throughout your house, even to me, that seems like overkill. With the Crestron distributed audio system, you can have the best of both worlds, but that of course is part of a more elaborate home automation system, as opposed to the Antex which can be plugged right into many more diverse systems.

Conclusion
Satellite radio is here to stay, with its numerous advantages over FM radio. Vast amounts of commercial-free music, talk shows and sports coverage expand the current coverage of FM in most metropolitan centers. If you are in Boondock, Alabama, then XM is your only chance at getting comprehensive listening content at home or in the car. While in the home, why not spend a little extra money on a quality tuner that will easily integrate into your existing audio distribution system? The ability to have three different channels playing in different rooms throughout the house makes sure that the entire family stays happy.
Manufacturer Antex
Model XM-3000 Triple Play Satellite Receiver
Reviewer Matthew Evert





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