Product Review (August 2006) - SIRIUS
S50 Portable Satellite Radio Player with MP3 Recorder

By Roy Nakano


If you havenít yet heard, let me be the bearer of good news: Satellite radio rocks.

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.

What Makes 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 of programming.

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.

Quantum Leap

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 recorded.

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 anywhere.

Working It

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.

Straight 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.

Mounting The Unit

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.

Clearly, the 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.

Conclusion

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.

- Roy Nakano

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/.






OPPO BDP-103 Blu-ray Player




Review - At a Glance

SIRIUS S50 Portable Satellite Radio Player with MP3 Recorder

Features

  • SIRIUS Media Dial pauses, rewind and fast-forward through your favorite content
  • 1 GB/50 hours of mp3/WMA and/or stored SIRIUS content
  • Voice feedback announces paused channel
  • Full color display
  • 30 channel presets
  • ďMy SIRIUSĒ channels auto-generate custom content based on your listening patterns
  • Sports Ticker shows scores from SIRIUS play-by-play broadcasts
  • Game Alert prompts you when your favorite teams play and score
  • One-touch access to traffic and weather reports
     

    Specifications

  • 3.9 x 1.9 x 0.7 inches
  • USB-Rechargeable battery lasts up to 6 hours
     

    Package Contents

  • Full Function Remote Control
  • AC Adapter
  • Ear buds
  • USB adapter
  • Car kit with wireless FM modulator
  • Low profile antenna
  • Belt clip
  • Vehicle power adapter
  • Universal mount


     

    Company Information
    SIRIUS RADIO
    1221 Avenue of the Americas
    New York, NY 10020

    Source: Manufacturer Supplied
    MSRP: $299.99

    SIRIUS S50 Home Kit
    MSRP: $99.99

    Consumer Care Service: 888-539-SIRIUS

    URL: http://www.sirius.com/ 
     

  • Any comments or questions regarding the LAAF Web Site should be forwarded to webmaster@laaudiofile.com

    Copyright © 1985-2006 L.A. Audio File.