Satellite Radio: One Year Later

By Mike on 12:57 pm

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New music sucks. I'm sure there's a lot of people who would disagree but I just can't stand the long list of wannabe punk rockers belting out off key ripoffs and hiphop artists who all sound identical. I'm a fan of classic rock and old school jazz. In Toronto, there are only two radio stations that offer that. Jazz FM 91.1 and Q107 for rock. While Jazz FM is commercial free for the most part, other stations offer a deluge of boring commercials to break up your day. When driving, you could end up hearing more commercials than music. That's where satellite radio really shines. Music stations are 100% commercial free. All you pay is a base fee of $14.99 per month, which is about the price of one CD. Sounds like a good deal right? Lets take a look into depth of my first year with satellite radio.

There are only two services available in Canada right now, XM and Serius. Both are American owned but with separate Canadian divisions. XM offers 120 channels to its Canadian listeners. Sirius offers 110 channels to Canadians. Listeners in Canada will not get all channels that US subscribers do. This is due to CRTC regulations and not the satellite radio companies. Both have their strengths and weaknesses. Also, channels are different. For sports fans, XM has an exclusive NHL deal while Sirius has the NBA. Music line ups are nearly identical and are 100% commercial free on both services. Talk and sports channels are not commercial free since many are feeds from other TV and radio stations, and to pay for the talent.
Both offer a wide variety of talk stations. On XM, you'll get Opera and Opie & Anthony, while Sirius has Martha Stuart and Howard Stern. If you're into talk, Sirius has a much wider variety than XM does. However, XM's higher audio quality makes it more ideal for music.

I went with XM. For music and also because I can't stand Howie. Opie & Anthony are much funnier than the washed up Stern in my opinion. Setup was easy. I purchased an Audiovox CX9 receiver. It's a plug and play receiver, meaning that it's not hard wired. You have two audio out options with plug and play setups: an FM transmitter or a 3.5'' audio out jack. If it's for your car, the FM transmitter works fine, even if you have your antenna in the back. Range is about 8-10ft. Plug and play systems are ideal because of their flexibility. You can use the same receiver in the car and around your home. The receiver cradle mounts to any smooth surface in your car with strong double sided tape. I mounted mine just above the cup holder in my '05 Civic since it's out of the way but still within reach. It was also close to the plug. The radio runs off the standard 12v power from your car's cigarette lighter and comes with the appropriate adapter. The antenna is small, with about a 1'' square foot print. It mounts to the roof of your car using a powerful magnet, so there's no risk of it falling off or being stuck permanently. Each car is different so just follow the installation instructions in the manual for the best way to route the antenna wire. From there, you can turn on the radio, go into menu settings, and select the frequency for the receiver's internal FM transmitter. Try to set it to an empty station or else you'll get static while listening. Right now, all you'll get it channel 1, which is XM's preview station, and channel 0, which simply shows your Radio ID on the display. Remember your radio ID because you'll need it to activate.

Activation is simple as pie. Simply go to (or Sirius's website if your using that service). Click "activate" and follow the instructions. There is a one time activation fee plus your monthly fee. The base plan is $14.99 per month, charged to your credit card quarterly. XM offers other multi-year plans. They will save you money but I highly advise against signing up for these. I'll explain why later. Once you've activated, XM (or Sirius) will send a signal to your radio receiver to let it know you're a customer. You'll begin to start receiving stations. It can take a while for all stations to load. This is pretty normal for these services, even with satellite and digital cable TV.

Sound quality varies depending on the receiver and the method you use to connect it to your audio system. Using the FM transmitter will give you FM radio quality sound. Hard wired systems are close to MP3 quality. Listening to music on your satellite radio is very enjoyable. I usually listen to Top Tracks 46 or Real Jazz 70 on my XM. I also frequently listen to The Virus, which airs Opie & Anthony and Ron & Fez, XM's big name comedy duos. It's great for longer drives or just the commute. Something new all the time without having to carry around CDs, and the sound quality is excellent.

One of the biggest let downs with XM is customer service. Should you wish to terminate your subscription, they're going to give you a hard time. This is unfortunately a sign of the times, and it's not just XM doing it. However, it doesn't make it right. During the now infamous Opie & Anthony 30-day suspension in May 2007, many fans of the show canceled their subscriptions only to find XM was still charging them. XM got in a lot of hot water for this. If you try to cancel, you won't be taking to XM's offices in Toronto or Montreal either. The US parent company has a call center based in, you guessed it, India. If you have a problem, that's who you'll be speaking too. I can almost see you cringing. It's a risk you have to take when buying almost any product these days since so many businesses have adopted a "customer is always wrong" policy.

I've had XM for just over a year now and I'm enjoying it despite its drawbacks. It's definitely worth checking it out if you're tired of listening to terrestrial crap on your drive.

Music Quality and Variety: 9/10
Talk Quality and Variety: 7/10
Hardware Options: 8/10
Customer Service: 2/10

Overall Experience: 7/10

1 comments for this post

You made an error, you've put "On Q3 2008", don't you mean E3?

Posted on 9 August 2011 at 23:38