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I took the plunge last week and bought the Sony portable XM satellite radio receiver with the RF FM modulator installed in my car. I also purchased a home reception kit and hooked it up to my home theater system. (See my Profile for system details.)


I made the purchase on the strength of XM Radio's appealing programming lineup and the excellent sound quality of their best-sounding channels (the channels don't all have the same sound quality) and a week later I'm here to report that I am very pleased with the XM service, but somewhat less-so with the Sony receiver, for reasons that have (mostly) already been well-documented in the media and on the web: a nearly impossible to read blue-on-blue LCD screen, only 5 channel presets and poor remote control functions. But for one receiver license for both in-car and in-home use the Sony is the only game in town. Welcome to life on the bleeding edge.


I purchased the unit at Best Buy because they were offering a coupon for $70 off the gear plus a waiver for activation and the first month of service, for a total savings of $95.


My particular Sony unit came with a defective RF modulator which the Best Buy installers went ahead and installed anyway. :rolleyes: I had brought the receiver home and listened to it with the home reception kit on the day of purchase and was pleasantly shocked at how good XM's in-house music and voice channels sounded, especially the jazz, classical and country channels. (While country isn't my cup of tea musically, I have noticed for years how much care seems to go into the recording process in Nashville...would that more pop and rock projects were approached with a bias toward clean, natural sound!)


At home, I decided to initially try placing the antenna in my home theater room. It can't see the satellite signals well from there, and outdoor antenna mounting is recommened. But I happen to know where the local terrestrial gap-filer repeaters are located in my area and was able to easily find a spot in the house that seems to be elying on a repeater transmission. As I moved the antenna around I could hear an echo come and go in the sound as the diversity receiver switched among signals from the two satellites and the gronud repeaters until I found a sweet spot. I haven't moved it since.


In the car, the sound was was midrangy, the right channel output was very low and there was loud buzzing noises. Blech! The next day I returned to complain about it, sharing my diagnosis of a defective RF modulator and the following day the installers replaced it with another one and all the problems went away except for a distinct lack of bass, which I'm compensating for by cranking the bass on the Alpine-built Mercedes-Benz head unit.


I suspect that there may be an impedance missmatch between the audio output of the XM receiver and the audio input of the RF modulator causing the frequency response problems but I haven't yet made any measurements to verify this. The Sony RF modulator looks like the standard off-the-shelf units that installers use to add outboard CD changers to car stereos via FM stereo modulation. (My car's Alpine in-dash head unit has no analog audio inputs...the trunk-mounted 6-CD changer feeds an optical digital input. A direct analog audio connection to the head unit from the XM receiver would have been preferable, of course, but this isn't posible with the Alpine unit, so I chose the RF modulator route.) The bass level is fine when listening to FM stations on the Alpine and there's no lack of bass on the Sony XM receiver when using the in-home kit, so I have to indict the Sony RF modulator for this flaw and as previously stated there might be an audio I/O impedance problem.


Overall, if you find the service appealing and can live with Sony's few flaws it's a worthwhile purchase. The XM programming is terrific. There are dozens of channels of commercial-free music channels for nearly every musical style imaginable. There are channels foe news, weather, business, sports, science and technology, the arts, talk, comedy and radio shock-jock programming. One radio show that's on XM Extreme, the "radio crazies" channel, is actually carried by an FM station in my area. Clear Channel Communications' RealRadio format, featuring funny radio personalities from around the country include the Monsters of the Midday show from Orlando, which is also on several Clear Channel stations around the Southeast. The show as heard on XM is delayed by one day and time-compressed by editing-out commericial breaks and replacing them with much shorter ones that are comprised of promotional announcements for Clear Channel stations around the country plus XM promos and spots for the U. S. Coast Guard.


You get something similar when listening to "LA KISS", channel 21. It features the music and air personalities of KISS-FM 102.7 in Los Angeles. But there are no commercials except for spots for the California Olive Growers and promos for every other pop/rock station in the country that calls itself "KISS"...despite what their actual call sign is. And once again it's avery low "spot load"...about 5 minutes an hour vs. up to 18 or so minutes on many local radio stations.


While LA KISS sounds excellent, XM Extreme and the other talk servics from facilities outside of XM's Washington, DC digs sound a little under-sampled, with poor high-frequency extension and "underwater" sounds on voices evident.


The very best sound quality on XM is to be heard on XM's own in-house channels, such as the commercial-free music channels. Here, the audio quality has to be heard to be appreciated...it's remarkably good. (They should consider some Popper Stoppers for the announcer mics, though!)


It's hard to imagine anyone ever getting bored with XM...there's always something great to listen to. Now if Sony can bring to market a second generation portable receiver that has a full numeric keypad and a readable LCD screen on its remote...
 
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