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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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ImageSatellite television has been at the epicenter of the home theater boom for more than a decade and now enjoys over 20,000,000 subscribers between the two major services. Satellite radio is banking on following in DirecTV and Dish Network’s path. Anyone who watches Wall Street or has been to a car dealer lately now knows XM and Sirius are the two primary players in the satellite radio market. XM reports having over three million subscribers. Sirius recently topped one million. Many car radios support one of the two satellite radio services, if not both. Portable XM radio players, as small as the size of a deck of cards, are available to consumers at all sorts of mass market consumer electronics locations. With the unquestioned boom in satellite radio, the consumers who have been forgotten are the serious audio enthusiasts. Until now.

Polk Audio has been a lauded brand name in home and car loudspeakers for over 30 years. Now they are expanding into consumer electronics in the form of standalone XM radio tuners for audio and home theater systems. The XRT12 is the first attempt at a XM satellite tuner for the enthusiast who truly cares about high-quality sound. The XRT12 retails for $299.

The XRT12 is a slick-looking audio component. At 17 inches wide and 10-and-a-half inches deep, this black beauty will fit right into the most sophisticated of systems ranging from guys with receivers to massive racks of gear designed by the most technically advanced CEDIA installers. Weighing only five pounds and sized at only two-and-one-third inches in height, the XRT12 is the most petite component in my rack. No complaints from me about that detail, frankly it is a welcome relief to finally have a component that does not need a sumo wrestler as a spotter to pick up. I actually had a TiVo that was less than seventeen inches wide and much shallower than the XRT12, making it tough to stack other components on it. Polk managed to avoid that issue with this tuner and features some nice rubber feet to allow for convenient stacking.

The construction is true to Polk standards. Like my reference LSI15 loudspeakers, this tuner is made with durable parts and has a sexy finish. The aluminum chassis and case fit together snugly and the front buttons are firmly seated with no excess wiggle to them. The buttons are divided into two sections. The first features gray buttons that control the method of display, menu, memory functions and selection (enter). The second section is for the two black plastic two-way rocker switches that control the category and manual tuning functions. The power button is integrated with a cool blue LED to match the blue display for an added “wow” factor. As a bonus, my amp and preamp rock the stylish blue LEDs as well.

The front panel of the tuner is surprisingly useful and one of my favorite parts of this player. The front panel buttons allow you most of the same functionality that the remote does and is complemented with a large blue monochrome display. I am a big fan of companies that put all the functions of the remote into the front panel, since remotes tend to get eaten by couches. There is no greater AV blunder than a shameless act of couch diving for a remote when you have a VIP guest over. The four-line blue display will communicate the channel name, channel number, the artist names, song title and XM signal strength in its default state. If you wish to see the information presented larger, you can tap the display button and it will enlarge the aforementioned information and scroll it across the display. At eight feet away, you can still make out what is playing without issue. Unless you have better than 20/20 vision or have telescopes for eyes, I would suggest using the scrolling version if you are surfing channels from the couch. The third option is to use the composite video out on the back of the unit to connect to your TV, so you can display the information there instead. The content will scroll up your screen and you will feel like you are watching a Bloomberg ticker tape, but with Flock of Seagulls floating across instead of Google stock prices.

The input and output connectors are well organized on the back of the unit and offer the basics to getting the XRT12 dialed into your home theater system. As mentioned before, a composite video output is provided to connect to your TV. For those with home theater control systems like Crestron or AMX, a RS-232 connector is provided on this tuner to allow for easy integration. Analog audio outputs are provided to pump two-channel XM radio to your preamp or receiver. Although premium grade D/A converters are used in this tuner, both a coaxial and an optical digital output are offered, just in case you want to use an external D/A converter instead. This is a great option, considering there are thousands of older D/A converters in the hands of enthusiasts around the world that have been shelved since the inception of multi-channel media.

Polk has carefully selected high-grade audiophile components within this tuner, which is not to be confused with the more cost-constrained portable XM tuners. A Burr-Brown D/A converter proves that this tuner is designed for audio enthusiasts. Each significant function (such as the power supply, display, preamp, tuner, etc.) is allocated its own separate circuit board, so crosstalk between them is minimized. The high gain preamp is not only quiet but also offers negligible distortion to the sound, so you are hearing only what the artist (and XM) intended. The preamp can also match (using the analog outputs) the output of your other audio sources. This line out level function allows you to minimize the noticeable change in volume when switching from one source to the next.

The tuner hooks up just like a normal radio tuner would. The exception is that you need to use a special high-gain XM home antenna, which is included with the Polk tuner. The antenna has a black square face that sits on an adjustable stand. In my set-up, I just had to place the stand on top of my amp and I got enough signal to party. The 20-foot of antenna cable allows plenty of flexibility if you needed to mount the antenna in an adjacent room or screw it into a wall. You do not need to place the antenna outside, as you do with car stereos. There is an antenna locator option in the menu of the tuner that is very helpful in figuring out where to place the antenna in the house. The easiest way to configure and use the device is by using the remote. The remote is very functional and the buttons are intuitively laid out. The “XM” button is the “enter” button for the remote. Apart from this curious anomaly, the remote and front panel buttons were both consistent to use. The remote adds a number pad to jump quickly to your favorite stations. The category arrow buttons were my favorite to use, since I could skip to all the rock or hip-hop station groupings, rather have to memorize their channel numbers. If you really like a station, there are 20 presets that you can use to lock them into memory. There is also a feature I liked that stores the last 10 tracks that you listened to into memory, so that you can see artist and song title and go buy the album later. This feature is great for those who listen to and/or buy a lot of music and don’t have a scratch pad handy at all times. Within months, you can become unbeatable in Name That Tune with this tuner in your system.


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