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XM vs Sirius satellite radio... Which one?

25 Apr 2004 by Jason Fried

Another option in the new car is either XM or Sirius satellite radio. Anyone have any opinions on which one to go with? Even though Sirius is a few extra bucks a month, I’m leaning towards Sirius because they have nationwide NPR and better sports coverage, but I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts. Is Sirius going to be around in a few years? They are only hovering around 350,000 subscribers while XM is is close to 2,000,000. Thoughts? FYI, here are some other comparison reviews so far: Slashdot, Forbes, Detriot Free Press, and there’s even a Satellite Radio Blog.

31 comments so far (Post a Comment)

25 Apr 2004 | CM Harrington said...

Both have turned into good services. Sirius has better fidelity [fewer compression artifacts] and has NPR. That prettymuch clinched it for me. Although there are some stations that have adverts, none of them are as annoying as "normal" radio.

I do worry about Sirius' health as a company. I also worry about the continuing fidelity and "advertlessness". I can't imagine they'd be able to keep so much of their content advert free for much longer. Look at what happened to cable TV (in the very early stages, cable TV was entirely ad-free...just imagine that)

25 Apr 2004 | Dr_God said...

I would say that getting either built in probably wouldn't be the best choice for you. Knowing your driving needs (or lack thereof), I would say that one of the portable solutions would be best. That way you won't feel like you're wasting $10-$13/month by having it relagated to a car you're rarely in. You can pop it into your car, bring it with you to the office, and even plug it into your living room stereo. Best of all worlds.

Check out JVC's new Siruis model: JVC KT-SR1000


The classic Delphi model: SKYFi

25 Apr 2004 | Mark Fusco said...

CM -

If you take a close look at the 10-K information for both companies, I would argue that Sirius is in better financial health than XM. My feeling is that they'll be a merger eventually, and wouldn't be surprised if it's Sirius that buys XM.

25 Apr 2004 | JF said...

Dr_God, I have to get them built in (only way to get the "Premium Audio" option which includes the better stereo/speakers). Plus, I can't stand aftermarket crap in my car -- the interfaces for 3rd party car stereo equipment are way too bling bling.

25 Apr 2004 | G said...

I would probably go with XM right now... sure, NPR is a very big chunk of my listening time, but I mostly listen(ed) to it during the week for the commute to/from work, so you could just listen to the local broadcast around the city. (the car will still have a 'normal' radio, right?)

For those long road trips when regular radio cuts out, I think most of the time i would prefer music to talk anyway.

I guess it depends on your listening habits and how much you really listen to NPR.

25 Apr 2004 | G said...

Oh, and don't forget to have them put in an AUX input so you can hook up an ipod easily.

25 Apr 2004 | Mike said...

Save the money and purchase an MP3 playing CD head unit for your stereo. I was thinking about buying a DVD-player (sans monitor) so I could burn 4.6GB of MP3s to a disc and never have to worry about running out of music again, but I still have some more research to do before I buy it.

This Pioneer deck is really good, check it out.

25 Apr 2004 | Tubes said...

I don't have time to manage an MP3 collection so I went with a Sirius portable unit in my new car. After MUCH investigation I decided they had the best combination of programming and hardware for me. I've been extremely pleased, and now have docking units in 2 cars, home and work. $14/mo to never, ever hear the local shoe outlet blaring commercials every 3rd song... PRICELESS.

25 Apr 2004 | JR said...

My dad drives around the country for his job, so my sister and I decided to get him satellite radio for the holidays last year. I did a fair amount of research and comparision, and (more importantly) I queried friends who knew more about such things. In the end, we chose Sirius. He likes it so much that we got him an indoor boombox to hold the mobile receiver when he's not on the road.

I agree with you on the aftermarket bling bling factor. I'd like to have an MP3 player in my Jeep Grand Cherokee, but I'm not about to replace the Chrysler head unit with one that lights up like the Las Vegas strip.

25 Apr 2004 | ek said...

David Pogue did a nice, human-centered comparison between Sirius and XM a little while back in the N.Y. Times and, if I'm remembering correctly, though he liked both services a lot, he said he'd pick XM if he had to get just one. Unfortunately, the full article is now only available in the Times' for-pay archives.

One nice thing about XM is that they've done deals with some navigation systems providers to provide real-time traffic data on their nav displays. Both XM and Sirius provide real-time traffic reports, but I believe only XM has this nav system integration.

Still, given how similar they are, my guess is that you'll be happy with either.

25 Apr 2004 | brian w said...

Here's a blog-safe, non-expiring link to the Times article ek mentioned: Satellite Radio Extends Its Orbit.

25 Apr 2004 | Dan said...

I love my XM radio. Nationwide NPR would be nice, but it's never really been an issue for me since I'm almost always within reach of a public radio station. I doubt the market can support two satellite radio services for very long, so whichever way the chips fall, I figure it'll be available eventually.

XM recently went 100% commercial free, and added weather and traffic for select cities, including Chicago.

25 Apr 2004 | Bryan said...

I don't own either, but I used to own stock in both. I have since sold my 150 shares of XM prior to it skyrocketing to 25 bucks +. However, I have added more shares to my sirius portfolio and now have about 2700 shares of Sirius. At around $3.60 right now, thats not to bad, I am hoping for it to reach $10 by the end of the year, then I can sell it and put a down payment on a house. Thats my goal, but from what I understand, the quality of channels and music with Sirius is much better then XM, plus Sirius is hitting all kinda of major deals with NBA, NFL, Nascar, Hockey, and their are rumors in the mix Howard Stern might come aboard. That would be huge, because though Sirius has a subscription of only 350,000, Stern has a listening base of 18 million. I am pretty sure if he was to move to pay radio, he has die hard fans that would go with him.

just my 2 cents

25 Apr 2004 | Wade said...

I have been an XM subscriber since before Sirius was available. I've been happy with their service. XM has made adjustments to their service in what I see as reactions to competition. There are quite a number of their stations which have gone commercial free and their local weather/traffic stations were added this year.

I have a friend who went with Sirius and after a few months with it and is wondering if he made the right decision. I think for now, it's just a preference to what stations are available and your personal taste. Sirius has less subscribers now but I've noticed that most car manufacturers offer it over XM or at least in preference to XM. Not sure exactly why, but maybe someone here could answer that.

26 Apr 2004 | brian b said...

well if any of you are interested, there is a GREAT article about XM in business2.0 this month. it mentions how XM is teaming up w/Onstar to provide for downloads to the car, and they have already developed full-color video streams on their existing equipment.

I think XM's relationship w/GM will be its key to dominating, especially the fact that they have 2 million more subscribers. Remember better quality doesn't always win (i.e. vcrs, etc.)

however, does anyone know if you can use 2 receivers on one account? so you have a built in one in your car and then a home based boom box receiver?

26 Apr 2004 | brian b said...

btw, it says that XM is working w/GPS manufacturers to provide for updated traffic reports (another MAJOR reason to get XM)

26 Apr 2004 | ek said...

Too true about better quality not always winning.

Re: a second receiver, according to the NYT article, both Sirius and XM allow you to add additional receivers for $7/month/receiver on top of your base monthly fees. This fee may have gone up or down since the article was published, but it indicates that it is possible to add receivers.

Although both services sound cool, I can't see myself ever springing for either because they'd add yet another monthly fee to the already enormous assortment of monthly fees I pay out per month. I'm slowly, but surely trying to prune away my monthlies. First was cable, and next up are the all-too-many dial-up accounts I've accumulated over the years.

Either one of these services would have to be enormously compelling to get me to add another monthly fee, and neither seems to be there yet.

26 Apr 2004 | but that's just me said...

Man...I want your car.

26 Apr 2004 | David said...

I have XM and I love it. $29/quarter brings me a great cross-section of music, and I only notice repeat music when I listen to the same station a few days in a row or for an entire day. I still turn to the old-fashioned radio for news and talk, but the selection is good on satellite too.

I worked down the hall from XM's New York offices for a while and came away impressed with the operation overall. Sirius is decent as well, but I am 100% satisfied with my XM subscription.

26 Apr 2004 | One of several Steves said...

From people I've talked to, it sounds like it comes down pretty much to which service has the sorts of stations you'd listen to. If you listen to NPR most of the time, than Sirius would make sense. If you listen to music most of the time, and particular styles of music at that, find the service that carries more stations that fit your tastes.

As it is, neither service has much to offer in the way of the music I like, so I'm not going to be considering either one anytime soon.

27 Apr 2004 | Matt Haughey said...

While not for my car, I recently picked up an XM radio for my mac (you can find a PCR unit for $39). I originally got it to hear Air America radio, but use it mostly for the jazz stations now. They either have really good DJs or their djBot2000 AI is superb because their stations rival the best of the breed that I used to hear in LA.

My bling bling mp3 Kenwood head unit in my car only allows for sirrus, but I'm only driving it once a week now and can't see equipping it.

27 Apr 2004 | Chris said...

Is it really the comericals that bother everybody the most about radio? I hate comercials as much as the next guy, but it's the really the music played on mainstream stations that gets on my nerves.

The only stations I really listen to are either college stations (that hardly ever play commercials) or public stations (that don't really play commercials as long as you stay away from fund drives).

It looks like Sirius and XM only have one or two indie rock stations each, no underground (or even semi-underground) hip-hop, and the electronic stations seem to be all cheezy-dance and disco.

I listened online for a while and the only station that seemed like it might be listenable is was XMU. But even that seemed like a bland, glossed-over version of indie rock. They play the indie rock hits and a bunch of generic crap, but not much else.

Also, all the DJs seem like they want to be DJs and have that annoying as hell DJ voice. Give me some stoned college kids over those guys any day.

The only area I figured they might have some good music would be classical or jazz, but it looks like they only have one real classical and jazz station each, and I'm sure they are totaly devoid of personality and, like all the other stations, play only "hits" that won't offend anyone.

The problem with this kind of radio is that each station costs them money, so while they can go for certain demographics there's no wiggle room—everything has to be justified that it will appeal to as many people as possible. Nationwide radio can never be good because there are just too many people (most of who like really bland crappy music) they need to satisfy.

In summary: Don't give in to the blandness!

27 Apr 2004 | Chris said...

Ah!!! After I sent that message XMU played a Coldplay song! Jesus Christ! Have they no souls??!?!?!

27 Apr 2004 | Isaac said...

You might want to check out the following forums for comparison:

I have Sirius. I'd never go back to regular radio.

27 Apr 2004 | Isaac said...

As a follow up, I'd like to comment on Sirius' programming offerings....

They now have the full Air America lineup - no cut-ins or anything
The full NFL ticket - every game, anywhere

And of course, subscribers get to listen online for free. Interested people can listen online for free for 30 minutes. All live streams.

05 May 2004 | mike said...

Sirius has their satellites in orbits that place them more overhead than XM's geo-stationary equatorial orbits. That means that XM's signal is coming in at a lower angle and is more susceptible to interference (dropouts) from trees, hillsides, buildings, etc. when you are not in range of their terrestrial repeaters.

Having used both systems. Sirius is much less prone to signal dropouts.

Also, I like the programming better on Sirius and they are not in cahoots with Clear Channel, as is XM.

05 May 2004 | Taterman said...

So is it safe to assume that Sirius sounds better than XM ? Also I have listened to the Sirius on the Web. While the sound quality is good does it sounds better on the actual radio ? Thanks all

11 May 2004 | Joe Jensen said...

I found this forum in searching for information on dropouts. I rent with Hertz a lot and I get a Sirius equipped car 5 or 6 times a month. Most of these rentals are at the San Jose CA airport, and I've never had a Sirius equipped car that didn't have dropouts when the car is under a clear blus sk with no obstructions overhead. I was wondering if this is a nothern California problem or more widespread. My new BMW is prewired for Sirius, but the problems I've experienced in northern California worry me. I live in the Phoenix Arizona area.

My wife has XM in her Denali, great reception, never a dropout unless we are inside a garage or under some other physical obstruction.

Any experience with dropouts?...joe

12 May 2004 | ROb said...

I don't know for certain but I suspect some reception issues may exists because of aftermarket installs vs OE factory installs. I know someone with a Jeep liberty who has an aftermarket XM system and it does have occasional dropouts under perfectly clear skies. Overpasses frequently cause a drop. I know someone else who has an Acura TL with XM from the factory and as Joe Jensen said previously the only time it drops out is in a parking garage. I think the factory installs are more stringently tested and the antenna location is optimized.

19 May 2004 | Bob said...

I had a Kenwood after-market Sirius system installed in February. I'm experiencing a terrible problem with dropouts. I have a 22 mile commute south of Boston. It is all country roads. At six in the morning driving north, the signal is great with one, maybe two dropouts during the 40 minute drive. Coming home at six in the evening THE EXACT SAME WAY going south, it is unbearable to listen to. Dropout rates exceed 20 - 30 times per song! Neither Sirius or Tweeter (the installer) have an explanation. I've tried positioning the roof antenea in different directions and made sure it is located 3 feet away from the roof rack. Driving 25 miles south to Providence and back presents no problems at all. If anyone has any ideas what could be causing this, I'd appreciate it.

30 Jan 2005 | compatelius said...

bocigalingus must be something funny.

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