If you havenít yet heard, let me be the bearer of good news: Satellite
Once youíve lived with it, itís hard to go back to normal
radio (or terrestrial radio, as is the name now given to regular FM and AM radio).
When Heath Ledger says, ďI wish I could quit you,Ē he was really thinking about
his satellite radio subscription. Itís that addictive.
You So Good?
Sound quality, for one - When the signal is optimized,
satellite radio sound is akin to CD soundĖclean and dynamic, with ultra-quiet
background noise. By comparison, terrestrial radio sounds like, well, radio.
But, thatís only half the story. Where satellite radio really shines is in
the content. Terrestrial radio reduces programming down the lowest common denominator.
By design, it cannot offend. In order to stay commercially viable, it canít venture
too far from the mainstream. Hence, terrestrial radio suffers from the Ryan Seacrestization
Itís no coincidence that radio shock jock Howard Stern
ended up on Sirius satellite radio. With no commercial or regulatory programming
constraints, satellite radio programming has virtually no boundaries. With hundreds
of stations available, programming is naturally more inventive, more imaginative,
and just plain more enjoyable.
This is not to say that satellite radio
has no drawbacks. You do have to pay for it (albeit, itís the cost of a mere lunch
at a sit-down restaurant). Reception in underground garages, certain buildings,
and tunnels is mostly non-existent. And fiddling with plug-and-play units can
be a bit dicey when driving.
The new S50
is the first Sirius-equipped unit that tackles the major weaknesses of satellite
radio. It does so turning it into an MP3 recorder. The S50 allows users to capture
and store up to 50 hours of SIRIUS content, or a mix of SIRIUS programming and
MP3/WMA files, enabling listening on the go.
This allows the S50 to
continue operating in weak signal environments. So, if you want to listen to the
S50 inside your office or at the gym, simply switch to playback mode and listen
to MP3 files youíve downloaded or to satellite broadcasts that youíve previously
The S50 not only performs well, it looks good doing it. The
unit measures just 1.9 by 3.9 inches and 0.7 inches thick, and includes a full
color display, sleek black exterior and voice-assisted channel navigation. When
attached to a home dock, car dock or executive docking station, the S50 provides
easy access to live content, and captures and stores both scheduled and unscheduled
SIRIUS programming. This feature allows users to listen to SIRIUS' unique programming
The SIRIUS S50 stores content in
a variety of formats for listening on the go, including "My SIRIUS Channels,"
"My SIRIUS Songs," "Scheduled Record," and "My Playlists. The "My SIRIUS Channels"
feature automatically gathers and refreshes sets of programming from the user's
three most-listened-to channels. The "My SIRIUS Songs" feature allows the user
to save favorite songs or talk shows with the press of a button. The "Scheduled
Record" feature allows the user to set the radio to capture favorite shows on
a one time or recurring basis. The "My Playlists" feature allows users to supplement
SIRIUS content with their own MP3/WMA library when attached through the home dock
to a PC. The PC application also allows users to synch channel and image updates
automatically through SIRIUS' website.
The car and home kits utilize
a rotary "SIRIUS Media Dial," which provides quick and easy access to content.
Listeners can turn the knob to find their favorite SIRIUS channel, tilt to pause,
rewind, fast-forward or save a favorite song or show. In addition, voice-assisted
navigation tells the user what channel they've selected, eliminating the need
for the user to take their eyes off the road while driving. The radio also includes
30 channel presets; a jump button for one-touch tuning to traffic and weather
reports or to a favorite SIRIUS channel; a sports ticker that flashes personalized
sports scores; and a "Game Alert" feature which prompts when the user's favorite
NFL, NHL, NBA, or other sports teams are playing on SIRIUS.
out of the box, the SIRIUS S50 package includes wearable accessories (6-hour rechargeable
battery, ear buds, belt clip, armband, USB cable and AC adapter) and a car dock,
which includes an adhesive mount, custom cigarette lighter power adapter, a remote
control, ultra-low profile antenna, DC input and line output.
Hereís a tip for car
audio users: Donít bother with a complicated mounting in your vehicle. Just keep
the unit in your center console and access the controls via the easy-to-use remote
control. This way, you donít have to worry about tempting would-be thieves. Moreover,
itíll be a lot easier to take the unit out for home or pedestrian use.
A home dock, which includes audio mixing for PC sound pass-through, and connects
to speakers and PCs, a remote control, home antenna, USB cable, audio cable and
power supply is available for MSRP $99.99. A desk or wall mountable executive
system, including high fidelity speakers, will also be available. Replaceable
batteries will be sold separately.
The Sound of Music
There are many ways one can hear the S50. In a vehicle equipped with FM radio,
you can use the wireless FM modulator that comes with the basic package. If youíre
one of the fortunate few with a vehicle equipped with an auxiliary audio component
jack, you can wire the S50 directly to your sound system.
direct wiring route is the way to go for the best sound quality. That sound will
be comparable to a good MP3 player. On the other hand, the S50ís FM modulator
works surprisingly well, exhibiting far less reception-related unwanted noises
than Iím used to hearing from other FM modulators.
On a high end home
system, the limitations of the S50 become just a bit apparent. In the treble region,
there is more sibilance than used to hearing Ė indicating some subtle distortion
in the upper regions. Thereís a tab too much edge when compared with state-of-the-art
components or the real thing.
Of course, this is on a high end home
system. None of this was noticeable in vehicle operations or when using the supplied
headphones for pedestrian operation.
Overall, the system proved itself
well. The SIRIUS S50 represents a breakthrough in versatility and performance
for portable satellite systems. It clearly advances the state-of-the-art in hand-held
entertainment, and its presence on the consumer market bodes well for the future
of satellite radio.
If you can only have
one Sirius satellite radio player for both mobile and home applications, the portable
MP3-integrated Sirius S50 is the best show in town.
Editors' Note: This article also appears in LA Car, where it is
entitled, "Let's Get Sirius." LA Car is the automotive counterpart to LA Audio
File. To view LA Car, aim your Web browser to http://www.lacar.com/.