Satellite Radio FAQ
I've been a huge fan of car audio ever since I tried (semi-successfully) to build my own custom truck speaker enclosures as a 16-year-old. I joined the Crutchfield car writing team way back in February of the year 2000, and proceeded over the years to write about nearly every product category we carry. In 2007, I assumed my current role of Car A/V Editor for our catalog, a position that helps me channel my passions for both music and driving.
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A: Satellite radio is a subscription radio service. It's similar to cable television, in that it provides a wide range of programming not available on traditional AM/FM radio for a monthly fee.
A: A totally new radio experience that includes:
Unparalleled programming variety:
- multiple music channels, including rock, country, hip-hop, R&B, electronic, jazz, classical, Latin, world, christian, and pop channels;
- national news, sports, talk, and entertainment channels;
- traffic and weather channels for select metropolitan markets;
- freedom from censure — satellite radio is not subject to FCC regulations for terrestrial radio.
- Commercial-free music: most music channels on both XM and Sirius are commercial-free.
- A clean, digital signal: no static or interference, near CD-quality sound, and the ability to transmit text information like stock quotes and sports scores alongside musical signals.
- Coast-to-coast coverage: satellite radio is available across the contiguous 48 states, plus parts of Alaska and Puerto Rico. You can even get a signal up to 200 miles offshore.
A: Satellite radio provides variety that you'll rarely hear on earthbound radio. Music channels offer a wide range of programming, including classic rock, classical, jazz, modern rock, alternative, world beat, and Latin. Most musical styles are represented in depth, and all music channels are commercial-free. You'll also hear a wide range of entertainment, sports, news, and talk programming.
A: No. However, both XM and Sirius currently offer local traffic and weather reports for major metropolitan areas in the U.S.
A: XM and Sirius both offer over 60 channels of commercial-free music, more than 40 channels of news, sports, and entertainment, as well as traffic and weather channels for specific metropolitan markets. We think you'd be happy with either service.
Still, there are certain differences between Sirius and XM. The best way to evaluate the services is to take a look at their channel listings and compare them to your individual tastes and interests. You can compare them at SiriusXM's website.
A: You need 4 things to get satellite radio:
- A satellite radio antenna. Antennas are included in car and home kits, and come with portable boomboxes. Antennas must be purchased separately for in-dash receivers, home component tuners, and external satellite radio tuners.
- A satellite radio tuner. A satellite radio tuner passes the satellite signal from the antenna to the receiver. External tuners are only necessary for "satellite radio-ready" in-dash receivers.
- A satellite radio receiver. A satellite radio receiver is where the controls for selecting channels and categories, and displaying artist, channel, and song information are located. Receivers are built-in to Dock & Play tuners, home component-style tuners, and (obviously) car stereos with a built-in satellite radio tuner.
- A subscription. A satellite radio subscription to either XM or Sirius must be activated in order to receive programming.
A: Satellite radio products are designed to work in specific locations — in your car, your home, or on the go as a portable. So it's important to think about how you're going to use satellite radio in order to determine which product will best fill your needs. There are 3 basic types of satellite radio tuners:
- Dock & Play satellite radio tuners
- compact, portable tuners that may be transferred from one location to another;
- require separate accessory kits for use in the car or the home;
- many work with a portable boombox that can be used literally anywhere you can get a satellite signal (like the beach, camping, at a ballgame, picnic, etc.);
- require only one subscription, regardless of the number of kits or boomboxes you use them with.
- Satellite radio tuners for the car (3 types)
- Universal tuners can work with any in-dash receiver via an FM modulator, a cassette adapter, or a line output.
- "Satellite radio-ready" in-dash receivers will control an external satellite radio tuner.
- In-dash receivers with a built-in satellite radio tuner.
- Home satellite radio tuners
- These can be component-style satellite radio home tuners that look at home on your home stereo rack, or stand-alone boombox-style radios. You can also play a Dock & Play radio through your home stereo with the help of a home kit.
A: If you want satellite radio in your car, but demand the best sound quality, go with an in-dash receiver with a built-in satellite radio tuner, a "satellite radio-ready" receiver connected to an external satellite radio tuner, or a Dock & Play satellite radio tuner connected to your car stereo's auxiliary input.
The other options for getting satellite radio in your car, in order of descending sound quality, are via cassette adapter, wired FM modulator, and wireless FM transmitter.
|Cassette Adapter||Wireless FM Transmitter||Wired FM Modulator||Auxiliary Input|
|Installation||Easy||Easy||More difficult — you have to remove the radio to access the FM antenna connection on the rear of the receiver; requires power and ground connections||Moderate — you have to remove the radio to access the auxiliary input on some radios; however, many factory radios now have auxiliary inputs on the front panel.|
|Sound Quality||Moderate||Fair — susceptible to interference||Moderate — as good as your best FM station||Best|
A: Yes. If you lease your vehicle, you have several options for getting satellite radio in it:
- The easiest option is a dock-and-play satellite radio. You can move from car-to-car without any permanent installation. It'll connect to your car stereo's aux input or via FM transmitter.
- The other option is to install an aftermarket stereo that's "SiriusXM Ready" and the outboard satellite radio tuner. When your lease is up, just re-install your factory radio and move the new equipment to your next car.
A: Although it may sound like your "satellite radio ready" car is all set to get XM or Sirius, that's usually not the case. Typically, the car will have an in-dash radio that will work with a satellite radio tuner -- but the tuner itself, and the required antenna, are not yet installed. Your dealer may quote a price of several hundred dollars or more for the equipment and installation. That's the bad news.
The good news is that you don't have to go with a dealer-installed tuner and antenna; you can purchase aftermarket gear and install it yourself for great results and big savings. However, you will be giving up one benefit of the factory option: a very clean installation, with no visible hardware.
For a list of aftermarket hardware options, please see "Can I get satellite radio in a leased vehicle?" above.
A: Absolutely. If you have a tuner, a properly-installed antenna, and a subscription, you can receive satellite radio service just about anywhere within the continental United States. (Note: Satellite radio service is available only within the continental United States — not available in Hawaii, Alaska, or US Territories.) If you want satellite radio in your house, check out a Dock & Play tuner. They are designed for mobile and home use — simply transfer the tuner from a docking station in your home to a second station in your car — and pay only one subscription fee.
You can also install a receiver with satellite radio controls, an outboard tuner, and an antenna in an RV or boat. You'll enjoy the ultimate in programming variety on vacation or on the water. (Satellite radio has an offshore range of at least 100 miles, depending on your location, off the coast of the lower 48 states; service is not available in Alaska, Hawaii, or U.S. Territories.)
A: Sirius and XM offer up to 100 channels of service to their Canadian customers, including up to 8 channels geared towards a Canadian audience. U.S. satellite radio customers get access to virtually all of those "Canadian" channels, plus all of the other great programming that Sirius and XM offer.
If you live in the U.S., you can't get Sirius' Canadian service (requires a Canadian billing address). But you don't need to, since both Sirius and XM give you almost all their Canadian channels free with your U.S. subscription.
A: The merger between Sirius and XM is complete, and it is unlikely that you will see changes in your respective service, unless it is a programming change that was already planned. You will still be able to receive all the programming and music without any interruptions in service.