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Discussion on XM vs. SIRIUS article


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#1 of 97 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 02 2003 - 10:34 PM

This thread is for feedback/discussion of the
XM vs. Sirius article.

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#2 of 97 Chris_Morris

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Posted December 02 2003 - 11:19 PM

Great article Ron.

Sounds like XM=Widescreen, and Sirius=MAR

To each his own, but I don't think I would give Sirius the honor of $13 a month to butcher songs, even if the equipment is slightly better.

Question: How does the antenna attach to the car?

Chris

#3 of 97 Chris

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Posted December 03 2003 - 01:37 AM

*laugh* Obviously, Ron, your article is from one set of viewpoint, and is devoted primarily to assessment of the decades channel. This also seems to ignore, and not mention the fact that other forms of music are divided in a way some of us do appreciate; 70s "P-Funk" is moved into Backspin and other "classic" rap and other channels, while 70s "Country" esque titles are moved into areas such as "Classic Country"

While it is a difference of opinion, there are of course, those who view the eras here as properly divided. I would be one of them. I think a big part of it regards musical taste. I am personally not a major fan of 70s rock or country, however, I am a large fan of "old-school" rap and other formats. With Sirius, I have "Backspin" completely devoted to old school rap; on XM, I have nothing similar. (The groove mixes in R&B and soul). Let me add one other factor here related to the MAR & OAR type reference above, which is really out of place with the radio comparison. On Sirius, with regards to the urban channels, I get the unedited, "Parental Advisory" type lyrics every time. On XM, more then once within a 3 hour audition, I had to listen to radio-friendly edits of songs I knew had different lyrics.

Sirius divination has also worked well in dividing out, at least for us, decades into portions I find listenable and not-listenable. Sirius "first wave" (21) which stays focused on a slot between about 1981-1985 (with a few variances) with invasion alternative manages to cull out most of what I don't want (ala disco, etc.) and focus on alternative tracks I'm not hearing on XM. Sirius "Dance" channels tend to play the actual street mixes, while XM often overplays radio or album edits, minus both the profanity and fluidity of performance.

I think a lot of it is tied to this comment:

Quote:
As I stated above, XM Radio plays album version and extended cuts of ALL their songs. In fact, I went out and bought a few CDs after listening to longer versions of songs that I never knew existed.

My conclusion is that XM Radio is for music lovers, where great respect is given to the music that is played. Sirius is for people that don't mind the AM/FM radio cookie-cutter mindset and an onslaught of repetetive "hits."

** These comments are based on my experiences and Sirius member feedback regarding the decades channels and may not be applicable to other channels.

I think this greatly depends on the channels you listen to. As I will openly admit, I don't think I've listened to the 70s channel more then 10 minutes Posted Image But I can say the comment about XM playing "Album Versions" of all songs is absolutely incorrect. In comparing their urban and alternative channels, I was dismayed to here Nine Inch Nails "radio edit" of "Closer" play rather then the album version. That was one of the moments that came over me in the store where I realized which service I would chose Posted Image

There were, realistically, a few things that bought me over to Sirius:

(1) Sirius has NPR.. all the NPR stations, XM does not.
(2) They keep PRI & NPR XM does not.
(3) Urban and Alternative channels, all of them, play the uncut, unedited originals. XM does not. No radio mixes on Sirius.. XM prone to them.
(4) Sirius offers political commentary and a diverse news oriented profile; XM does not. Sirius has channels divided into "Liberal Radio" and "Conservative Radio" for talk, so you can take your pick.

I spent several weeks debating, and that's where I ended up. And I'll be honest, the two most used stations on my dial are still A&E & CNBC, neither of them I could available on XM. I think both services have some solid pluses and minuses. But I wanted to make sure we didn't get into a "this service butchers, this one does not" debate, because, by and large, that is not the case. I don't know and can't comment about the decades channel; but I can definitely comment regarding other channels on what I listen to and compared Posted Image When we went through the debate, and we listened, the one notice my wife had was the variety and mixing of older music into "KidStuff" comparison to the Disney-fied/cartoon heavy of the XM childrens offering. (with two toddlers, 4 & 2, those issues come up, and when we listen to music, it's mostly that) ..

And that's what I think you'll run into. Both services have such a large wading pool (hundred+ channels) that every person has the ability to find the right one for them and what they are looking for. So it largely depends on what you are looking for. But without access to the financial news and NPR, I probably wouldn't have picked up Sirius.

I'll be honest, when I'm local, I often turn off Sirius and listen to local sports talk; which occupies a fair cut of my time.. AM. Posted Image

Both services have great moments for the right listener. It is apparent from Ron's point of view, if you are a decades listener, you should go with XM. If you're a sports radio or news listener, I think Sirius runs away with it (MLB, NBA, and others on Sirius.. not XM; more news oriented sources).

I think a lot of people favor one or the other. "Hey, XM has Y" "well, Sirius has X" both have a few things the other doesn't. And they both have pluses and minuses the other doesn't. Both services will have devoted followers because odds are the music on one or the other adequately fits the user.

I'd advise everyone to do pretty much what I did. Go in and spend the day and listen to one, then the other. Use your own musical tastes and preferences to decide which one is better for you. Posted Image
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#4 of 97 Mark Bendiksen

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Posted December 03 2003 - 01:42 AM


Fantastic article, Ron. Thanks for taking the time to give the straight scoop to some of us Satellite Radio newbies. After several days of sitting the fence, I'm going to Best Buy today and taking the plunge into XM Radio. I'm very concerned about sound quality, so I'm most likely going to go get a hardwired unit. However, I'm a little unclear about one thing: I know that both FM modulated systems and plug-n-play systems are inferior, but would you say that they are equally inferior? Or do the plug-n-play units sound a little better than the units that work by FM modulation?


#5 of 97 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 03 2003 - 01:50 AM

Chris,

Excellent reply!

I was very careful in my article to point out
the following....

1. The opinions are based on my personal music
tastes and the channels that I managed to listen to.

2. Everyone should do their own research, including
visiting the XM FAN and SIRIUS BACKSTAGE forums that
have forum areas for specific channel choices.

There are 100 channels on each service. There is
no way that I could listen to all of them, nor
want to. In my 1-year with XM Radio I think
I only listened to 15 of those 100 channels.

I am still a little saddened that there is a
huge amount of backlash going on over at the
SIRIUS BACKSTAGE message board concerning the
programming on the decades channels and the
revoking of the '90s channels. There have been a
handful of email complaints sent to management
and according to the messages I have read, no-one
has received a reply to their complaint.

Sirius is a subscriber-funded service.
If I were management, I would jump through hoops
to immediately respond to programming concerns.

There is also no doubt to me that repetition
runs high at Sirius. They play the same
songs over and over again at Totally '70s
and Movin' Easy. It's almost as if they
have a limited record library.

I am happy to hear that your experiences on the
other channels are much better than mine. It gives
people something more to ponder over when deciding
which service will suit them best.

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#6 of 97 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 03 2003 - 01:55 AM

Quote:
I'm a little unclear about one thing: I know that both FM modulated systems and plug-n-play systems are inferior, but would you say that they are equally inferior? Or do the plug-n-play units sound a little better than the units that work by FM modulation?

This is a tricky question.

I had an FM modulated unit for 1 day before
I took it out. The signal was very strong, but
the quality was FM. I needed something that
sounded closer to CD.

My brother has Delphi SkyFi via a cassette adapter
in his car. He loves the sound.

I have read over on XM FAN that cassette adapters
give a slightly better response than FM modulated
hookups.

Both FM and cassette hookups CAN introduce car
noise. I have heard this complained about many
times. I have also read the ocassional complaint
that the cassette adapters can "squeek" from time
to time.

I think these issues at best are minimal when
you consider the entertainment value you are getting.

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#7 of 97 Chris

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Posted December 03 2003 - 02:04 AM

I think the best advise is to go and listen for yourself. Most Best Buy & Circuit City will allow you to listen for as long as you want to either. Compare the kind of channels you know you will be listening to, and look for the kind of qualities you like.

I'll say this though, for sports junkies, just so you know:

NASCAR: XM broadcasts full races with in-car effects. Sirius No.
NBA: Sirius plays NBA pass, up to 8 games a night.
MLB: Sirius plays ESPN Pass, which is World Series & Playoffs but not regular season.
NHL: Sirius has NHL Pass, full games, including playoffs / Stanley Cup.
Rugby: Sirius -does- play, on time delay this year; XM No
MLS: Neither
WNBA: Neither
World Cup Soccer: Both companies trying to work it out.
College Bowl Games (BCS) Both companies in negotations.
NFL: Neither! Though both are purportedly in negotations.. we'll see who lands ESPN's Sunday Night Game and Monday Night Football from Westward One, which is what's up for grabs. Realize, under a legal agreement, if either gets it, they both get it.
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#8 of 97 Joshua Clinard

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Posted December 03 2003 - 02:19 AM

Great review Ron. You make a lot of good points. Regarding the backlash about the 70's channel at Sirius Backstage, it might be said that there is an equal amount of backlash about Dance channels at XMFan.

People should also know that they can sample all of Sirius' music streams online for free, before they buy.

#9 of 97 DennisF

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Posted December 03 2003 - 04:24 AM

Interesting review, Ron. But there's a disconnect between your page two statements and your page three statements concerning Sirius programming.

On page two you analyze the Decades channels and whether the programming fit you conception of what "Decades channels" should be. Fair enough. I have issues with those channels too.

But on page three you indict the service as "playing only the hits over and over", a charge that seems completely unrelated to what you say on page two. If you mean it as a further indictment of the Decades channels, than that's simply an extension of your issues with the programming of those channels. (They apparently play what got played on AM/FM, which *were* only the hits. Like it or not that's how most of us experienced the music of those decades, so such a programming practice is understandable - if not our particular cup of tea.)

But repetition is an unfair criticism of the most of the rest of the channels. Sure you'll hear repeats. The playlist is finite. If there wasn't repetition, they'd exhaust the "hits" in a hurry and fill the time with second-rate cuts. And people just tuning in (average listener periods are short) would wonder why Sirius (or XM for that matter) "never plays any hits"?

Obviously a balance must be struck. To evaluate how well they do that, you have to get beyond the problematic streams like the Decades. Try 17JamOn. Try First Wave/Alt Nation. Try Organic Rock. Or The Bridge. Swing Street is a good standin for a '40s stream. And the Folk stream up at 94 plays a lot of good stuff too. I've had the service for nearly a year and I'm still finding streams I hadn't really listened to and now like a lot (Planet Jazz for fusion; Bluegrass; The Border for alternate country).

In fine, the way I would summarize what I read of your review is thus:
* Sirius has better sound quality than XM
* you liked the Sirius hardware better (head units)
* you preferred some XM streans, and preferred some Sirius streams
* Sirius had a lot fewer interruptions (commercials/promos)
* XM is less expensive - by the cost of a Happy Meal per month

Yet your conclusion gave it all to XM. What am I missing?

#10 of 97 Shawn C

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Posted December 03 2003 - 05:26 AM

Quote:
Yet your conclusion gave it all to XM. What am I missing?

Not to speak for someone else, but I think that music selection on XM was the biggest reason for picking XM over Sirius.

I can take a few commercials here and there if the rest of the programming is quality. Heck, anything is better than the local radio in Las Vegas. I get sick of hearing nothing but Ozzy on the local "Classic Rock" station.

#11 of 97 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 03 2003 - 05:40 AM

Dennis,

I'm trying to figure out what sort of answer
I can give you to your concerns.

Let me try to put it this way....

For the past year I have become accustomed to
XM programming, particularly on the decades
channels.

While I don't expect an exact copy of XM
programming on Sirius, I don't expect within
a few couple of days to find:

The same "A Hits" music played over and over
and over again. On XM there were never this
many repeats because the station mixed more obscure
songs in with the hits. Yes, back in the day repeating
hits was the way AM radio worked. It worked back
then because all of that music was NEW. But those
of us that stick with a few favorite channels don't
want to hear the same recycled songs day in and day out.

Quote:
If there wasn't repetition, they'd exhaust the "hits" in a hurry and fill the time with second-rate cuts. And people just tuning in (average listener periods are short) would wonder why Sirius (or XM for that matter) "never plays any hits"?

Not so. There is so much music in one decade that
it would take you over a week to exhaust all the songs.
XM cleverly mixed the hits with obscure. It
made for a more diverse selection of hits.

Do you know how many times I have heard Sirius
play Maybe I'm Amazed and You are the
Sunshine of my life
in the past 12 hours? It
sounds as if their music library is lacking.

The songs on the decades channels are butchered.
In fact, they take the SINGLE versions of songs and
either cut out the first few bars of the song or
re-edit the song. On XM we always got the
album versions of the songs.

Quote:
Yet your conclusion gave it all to XM. What am I missing?

You need to re-read all my remarks on page TWO
about the programming. Most of it I have just
repeated. In my opinion, the head units and
their output quality is better than XM. The
programming on Sirius is so sloppy, however,
that I'd rather go back to the commercial play
on XM because at least I know I'm going
to hear better music, full-length versions and
less repitition.

Thanks for your thoughts on this.

Ronald J Epstein
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#12 of 97 Shea

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Posted December 03 2003 - 06:05 AM

As someone who has no interest in listening to decades channels, and musically am almost only interested in rock from the late 80's to present, does Sirius butcher songs in those categories also? And do the rock channels play much other than hits? For example if I'm on a 4 hour car trip, will I hear a lot of repetition listening to one of the rock channels, and will I hear much other than singles?

Also how often do they add channels? I think as far as channels are concerned the only things XM has that I'd be interested in that Sirius doesn't would be Fox Sports Radio and Sporting News Radio. Would you think Sirius might add those anytime in the near future?

#13 of 97 Joshua Clinard

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Posted December 03 2003 - 06:39 AM

Sirius is very focused on getting more sports programming. They will add/change several channels after CES in January, and according to the recent shareholder's meeting, they will add something to the sports lineup. I can't say exactly what will change though. I would not expect to hear any reapeats in 4 or 5 hours on any of the rock streams either. I think the most someone has reported hearing a repeat is the next day.

#14 of 97 Ronald Epstein

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Posted December 03 2003 - 07:33 AM

Shea,

You won't hear the same songs in a 4-5 hour
road trip. That's excessive.

I hear a few repeats on some of Sirius
channels within a 12 hour period.

Thus far, the 80's channel is more
"A" list hits orientated than XM which
mixes deeper music in the line-up.

Sirius seems to be very big on sports
so that would be a big plus for you there.


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#15 of 97 David-S

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Posted December 03 2003 - 07:59 AM

Shea,

I don't listen to the decades channels, but do mainly listen to the rock channels (~15-> 23) and I don't think i've ever heard a radio edit, and they'll often play "full" versions (i know they've played a few 15 minute Led Zep jams on the rock, and other stuff like that)

#16 of 97 Chris

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Posted December 03 2003 - 08:00 AM

On the other hand, Sirius "First Wave" and Alternative/Rap streams for the eighties are deep and play songs that I haven't heard for a while; in an 8 hour drive, I can't remember hearing repeats Posted Image The same is true of some of the alternative/rap channels. Like I said, I listen to mostly A&E, sports, etc. However, I drive about 16 hours a week. So I get to listen to a good mix of stuff. I can't comment on the decades, don't listen. My wife is much more the music listener then I, and being a Jamaica native, she has her own appreciation of music on the dial Posted Image

I can tell you that the Reggae, Alternative, and Rap networks mix it up really well, use unedited album releases and in many cases, street (single release) releases over album releases. If you're a fan of those genres, there are cuts on here that flat out, I can't find almost anywhere else. Posted Image It is one of the few places I know that played the Live From Berlin (8:31) version of "No Woman No Cry" complete with chanty; as well as some NiN club mixes that outside of UK CD Singles don't exist elsewhere.

I can't comment on the decades channels, but very happy with the content on other channels.

I think everyone will have things they like.

But I can say with pretty much certainty if you are a sports fan, you should take Sirius over XM every day of the week Posted Image
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#17 of 97 Scott Greczkowski

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Posted December 03 2003 - 08:07 AM

Ron great review.

For me I chose XM over Sirius as well. I like the DJ interaction, I have actually been called a few times and put LIVE on the air, which has been fun.

But not only that I like that XM accepts requests and most of the time my request is played with 2 or 3 songs.

On Sirius I requested a song via their website and was told in an email that they would TRY to play my request within 48 hours. (Yeah like I am going to wait 48 hours to hear my song) On Sirius you cant call the DJ's they dont have phone numbers and are all mostly voice tracked.

Listening to Sirius was like listening to a MP3 Player, it has no personality.

As far as the arguement that Sirius has PBS and XM does not, well that is correct, but I don't really consider the PBS that Sirius has to be PBS radio I know, where are All Things Considered? Where is Car Talk? The most popular PBS Radio shows are not on Sirius.

Now XM is in no way perfect. During part of the day on the 80's channel the station is unmanned. Its all automated. I would love to see a live DJ there.

Again Good review Ron!
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#18 of 97 TheLongshot

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Posted December 03 2003 - 09:09 AM

Some thoughts from someone who is a Sirius listener, who may move over to XM:

Decades channels: I mostly hang out on the 80s channel, but from what I could hear, 70s didn't sound like classic rock to me. 80s sounds like a decent mix of hits. I do know the brief moment that I was on XM's 80s station, I heard Frank Zappa's "Valley Girl", which I probably haven't heard since it was played on the radio years ago.

Both classic rock stations are pretty good. The Vault has pulled some good ones out, including some progressive rock.

The Trend is a nice idea, but there is too much repitition. It can be a mixed bag.

Big Rock is excelent for what it is, which is mostly 80s hair metal. I've been told that it is better than Da Boneyard, but we will see.

Left Of Center just recently went under a facelift and seems to be much better. It used to be almost totally esoteric and I wouldn't recognise a song. Now, they have inserted some more popular acts that kinda fit the format.

As for the 'popular' slant of Sirius, the people there seem to like it like that. The population seems to think that XM digs too deep, playing stuff noone has heard of. There is also the commercial free aspect, which is one of the things I really like about Sirius.

As for communication, XM seems to have that problem on a few streams. There is a thread on XMFan about people having problems with XM Music Lab listening to input.

Why am I switching over? It is the content. XM seems to have more of the genres I'm interested in that Sirius doesn't cover. Special X, Cinemagic, XM Music Lab, and Fine Tuning are the ones I'm most interested in. Whether or not the comercials bother me is another issue. I've already twitched a little at it, being so used to Sirius. Luckily, a lot of the stations that I'll be on are commercial free.

Also, as far as hardware, I'd like to point out that XM has a severe limitation on the text fields. I think it is like 20 characters, which cuts off a lot of songs. Sirius's is much larger and rarely hit their limit. Also, I have yet to see an XM display to match the Audiovox car tuner that I have. Unless you get a Skyfi, you can't have Channel Number, Channel Name, Artist and Song Title all displaying at the same time. Also, the Skyfi is a beast (as are most PnPs, for that matter), while my Audiovox fits in the small dash space I have.

Just some thoughts.

Jason

#19 of 97 Sean Moon

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Posted December 03 2003 - 11:17 AM

Ron, thank you for the wonderful and informative article. I started working for a major retailer a year ago around the time the sattelite radio boom was taking off and I always got the questions on which service to go with. I always was fair and subjective about it, and it seems like you and I share the same opinions on how these services work.
I agree that I prefer XMs programming, how can you not love a movie soundtracks station? But I prefer the Kenwood decks for their build and sound quality. (I currently have a Kenwood hooked up with their wonderful Music Keg). But usually at work, the XM is the music I fire up to listen to while working in the mornings. Their Deep Tracks classic rock station is wonderful.

Great article and a must read for everyone.
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#20 of 97 BobV

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Posted December 03 2003 - 12:57 PM

Ron, thanks very much for the review. I do have some comments though. They are on the 'negative' side, but I do ask that you see these as my opinion and not a rant nor a slag... and you did ask us to join in the dicussion, so here goes Posted Image ....

I think the review, and more specifically the final synopsis, is flawed in that it is so keyed on such a limited personal taste. Going into it, as a review for a large internet audience (10s of thousands), I expected it to gauge the product's worth based on all features/functions/programs/service/technology (which it bascially did). I also expected it be as fair and balanced as your excellent DVD reviews in the past. Unfortunately after reading it, with all due respect, I see a so-called 'one trick pony' (for lack of a better phrase)... the programming on their decade channels. In retrospect, as I type this, maybe it's just the one statement near the end I have an issue with... "I'm sorry that I even bothered going over to Sirius." It's a pretty harsh 'final-thought' statement in a review that is going to be quite an influence a lot of people... a lot of people who may or may not care less about the 'decade' channels. I do realize, and appreciate, that you mentioned 'for your music tastes', but I think it's pretty hard to unring that disgusted-with-Sirius bell that was rung in the reader's mind.

I'll be honest with you, if I did not already have satellite radio (in all my vehicles) and I was reading this review I would come away with the feeling that Sirius programming was poor pretty-well overall and I probably would have given very little to it in my shopping time. I'm glad I actually have it (and XM) because I've experienced differently.

I find, as opposed to one statement in the review, that XM is for songlovers and Sirius is for musiclovers. Maybe thats pedantic, but I think it rings true. You are pretty well spot-on right with the decade channels when it comes to the programming, XM plays the all the songs that you want to hear... while the songs that Sirius does play (admittedly more limited on the decades channels), they play them right... "There is more defined bass and the vocals don't seem to get lost". To me that is much more important. I don't care if some obscure song comes on from 1981, but what is playing, I want it to sound right... I can always change the channel if the actual song playing is not to my liking.

Again, I realize every review has to be based on opinion, and I do realize you stated that fact multiple times. I just feel, as already mentioned, that your 'endrun' was rather harsh and one sided based on the actual content of the review.

One issue I'd like to comment on as well which was mentioned but not really a focus of the review (and didn't necessarily need to be) is reception. Being in Canada, being in a very mountaineous location, and spending a lot of time in more rural areas, I find Sirius to be extremely more capable than XM. Not to get too deep into the technology, the Sirius satellites are much higher in the sky and that is so very key when travelling in areas where there is no terrestrial rebroadcasting going on. There are many mountain valleys around my home in which XM has no reception and Sirius does. Many times I can go up to a half hour with no signal from XM as opposed to Sirius with which I have never lost the Sirius signal even once, save going through a tunnel.

I debated whether to actually post this, but in the end decided to, because... aw heck, it's a 'discussion forum' ain't it? So why not Posted Image . Again, no disrepect intended at all and I do greatly appreciate the review. Thanks again.
Lillooet, B.C.
Canada's Arizona


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