Please mention you saw it in Monitoring Times!
By John Figliozzi
Sirius Satellite Radio is one of two active satellite digital radio subscription services (licensed by the FCC as Digital Audio Radio Services) available in the continental U.S. XM is the other and was extensively reviewed in March’s MT, along with Delphi’s SKYFi system. (Neither service has been licensed in Canada by the CRTC, so service is not “officially” available there though reception appears fine.)
XM uses geostationary satellites arrayed along the equator, 22,300 miles in space. Sirius takes a different approach. Its three Space Systems/Loral satellites form a geosynchronous inclined elliptical constellation staggered in orbits separated by eight hours (see Figure 1). This ensures that each satellite spends about 16 hours a day over the continental U.S, with at least one satellite over the country at all times. The satellites are 29,200 miles in space at apogee over Manitoba and 14,900 miles up at their low point. [Those interested in further technical information about the Sirius satellites may consult http://www.ssloral.com/html/products/prodserv.html#1300.]
Programs are beamed from the uplink site (Sirius studios in New York City - see Figure 2) to the satellites, which in turn transmit the signal to the ground, where a Sirius radio receiver decodes its 100+ channels.
This is a “line of sight” reception path. So, like XM, Sirius uses ground repeaters in areas where the signal from the satellite is likely to be interrupted by obstructions. However, Sirius can employ far fewer repeaters because its system places a satellite almost directly overhead at an angle of elevation always greater than 60 degrees, as opposed to a 30 degree maximum for XM’s equatorial system. Sirius’ signal, therefore, is far less likely to be obstructed.
There are two parts to the Sirius receiver: the antenna module and the tuner module.
The antenna receives the signal, amplifies it, filters out interference and passes it on to the tuner. The tuner module is an Agere chipset consisting of eight chips, which converts the signal from 2.3 GHz to a lower intermediate frequency or is adapted to allow conventional car radios to receive and play the signal. [A more extensive description of the technology and how it works can be found at http://www.elecdesign.com/Articles/Index.cfm?ArticleID=5603.]
Sirius offers 104 program “streams” clustered into twelve broad “categories.” They are: Pop (9 streams), Rock (13), Country (5), Hip-Hop (5), R&B (4), Dance (6), Jazz/Standards (6), Classical (3), Variety (9), News (16), Sports (8) and Entertainment (20).
The 60 music streams, all programmed by and originating from Sirius in New York City, carry no advertising. Just about every music angle is covered, including today’s top hits and pop music classified by decades, easy listening and adult contemporary; classic, alternative, modern, indie and Christian rock; blues to bluegrass; rap, soul, electronica, disco; swing, standards and show music; country to classical; folk to gospel; reggae to world music; latin to new age. Stream 100 offers daily live in-studio performances at 6 p.m.
The 44 non-music streams include news, talk and information from CNBC, Bloomberg, ABC, CNN, NPR, PRI and Fox; international perspectives from the BBC and the World Radio Network (see Programming Spotlight in this issue); regional weather services; streams for kids, truckers, the gay and lesbian community; a comedy channel and classic radio shows. Prominent brands including C-SPAN, Disney, WSM, E!, A&E, Discovery, ESPN, Speed Channel, Sports By-Line and Court TV program their own streams. Sirius also has concluded contracts with the NBA and the NHL providing live play-by-play coverage of up to 40 games a week from each league.
There are five Spanish language channels, including BBC Mundo and Radio Deportivo and two channels offering Mexican and Latin music.
The variety is breathtaking, to say the least.
The Kenwood “Here2Anywhere” KTC-H2A1 Tuner, KPA-H2C Car Docking Kit and KPA-H2H Home Docking Kit combine to form a shuttle system that allows the listener to transport the tuner between the car and the home and have access to the service in both locations, under a single subscription. (It can also be used with a marine audio system or a personal computer.)
The plug and play tuner is somewhat oddly shaped (like a pita pocket), but not unappealing. Its front face (see Figure 3) is dominated by a display, which shows the stream (number and name), category, artist, song and set-up information. To the right are buttons marked “DISP” (for display) and “MEM” (for memory). To the left are similar buttons arranged in a square each with a vector signifying up, down, left and right. Another button in the center of these four is marked “SEL” (for select). Beneath all this are six pre-set number buttons flanked by a “PWR” (power) button and a “PRE” (preset) button.
A remote is included with the tuner and includes all these functions plus a button market “DIRECT” that allows the user to enter a stream number and move “directly” to that program.
The up and down vectors select streams sequentially. The right and left vectors select categories sequentially, serving as a means of moving more quickly across the spectrum. There are many sophisticated functions, too numerous to describe fully here. However, the listener can select music (or other programming) by stream, artist and song (or program), set up to 24 presets (especially handy – if not essential – for use in the car), save and recall information for up to 24 songs for later reference. The display can be set for brightness, for normal and large fonts, or to show information by stream or by category.
The rear of the tuner has a recessed plug and the underside of the tuner has a push button release for removing the tuner from a docking unit.
The tuner must be mated to a docking unit. Two units are offered: one for home and one for the car. The car unit works with your existing OEM receiver. Each includes a cradle (see Figure 4) into which the tuner is plugged, an adjustable base, a weatherproof antenna module (with magnetic base on the car unit) and an audio cable. The car unit also includes a carry bag, a cassette adapter and a cigarette lighter power adapter. The home unit includes an AC power adapter.
The rear of each cradle has connections for the antenna, power and audio cables. With the car unit, there’s an option to use the OEM receiver’s auxiliary input (if available) or the cassette adapter. With the home unit, the audio cable connects to an auxiliary input on the home stereo system.
In car installations, Sirius and Kenwood recommend that the antenna (see Figure 5) be located on the roof (or the trunk lid on convertibles) on a metal surface at least 12”x12”, and at least 6 inches from a window. With home installations, the antenna can be placed outdoors or near a window facing roughly the north central portion of the country. The tuner includes an antenna signal strength display option that assists in proper placement.
This is line of sight reception, so anytime the antenna loses contact with the satellite for any significant period, there will be silence. Having said that, silent running is infrequent and fleeting -- occurring only in tunnels and unusually long underpasses, where high structures obstruct access to the satellites and under very heavy tree foliage. Cloud cover, fog and rain have no effect on reception.
Antenna placement also appears to be far more forgiving than the impression given by printed instructions. In the car, I experimented with the antenna on the front dashboard (not recommended for safety reasons) and on the inside deck under the rear window. In my wood frame house, the antenna is in the middle of the room nowhere near a window. In both cases, reception has been fine. However, because the satellites are in motion, reception strength at a given location varies somewhat from time to time. The home antenna sometimes required slight repositioning within the room.
The acoustic experience is pleasing, though it appears to have slightly less depth than that of a CD to these 50 year old ears (admittedly battered by nearly 40 years of shortwave listening and DXing). However, satisfaction with the audio also depends a great deal on the caliber of the car or home stereo system to which it is connected.
MSRP for the tuner unit is $99; for the docking units -- $69 each. However, Sirius and Kenwood offer a $50 rebate for those purchasing the tuner and both docking units -- making the final equipment cost for both home and car access $149.
Activation charge is $15 by phone; only $5 via online. The subscription charge is $12.95 per month, with up to three additional subscriptions $6.99 a month each. A one year pre-payment yields 1 month free; two years, three months free. There are other cost-saving options as well.
Kenwood, Audiovox, Clarion, Blix and Panasonic offer several other equipment options. Vendors include Circuit City, Sears, Best Buy, Good Guys, Tweeter, Ultimate Electronics, Crutchfield and other retailers and specialized consumer electronics distributors. Sirius also has arrangements with car makers placing Sirius-ready OEM receivers in many new cars. [http://www.siriusradio.com has all the details.]
There is no doubt that satellite radio offers a listening experience far superior to that of AM and FM radio. In essence, XM and Sirius offer services of similar quality; therefore, personal preferences will guide consumer choice. For me, the added availability of three U.S. public radio streams and the World Radio Network (with access to over 25 international broadcasters), along with the non-commercial nature of the music streams and the availability of free on-line access anywhere, brought me to Sirius despite its slightly higher monthly subscription cost. Your mileage, as they say, may vary.
The plug and play system is the least expensive and most versatile option. Access at home and on the road requires only one subscription and installation does not require costly professional help. Kenwood’s equipment appears to be well made and durable, although the tuner does generate considerable heat (which is effectively dissipated through an aluminum heatsink).
In sum, you can’t go wrong in my estimation. The car is an ideal radio listening environment. The Kenwood Here2Anywhere Sirius Satellite Radio plug and play system is affordably priced and presents another option for quality radio listening, not only in the car but also in the home -- for the price of a lunch per month. For international radio afficionados, Sirius offers – through the BBC and the World Radio Network -- many of the benefits of shortwave radio with better signal dependability and high quality audio.
So, what are you waiting for?
Back To: Reviews
The Grove Home Page The Grove Catalog