Customer Review

56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Hit and Miss, December 6, 2006
This review is from: SIRIUS Sportster 4 Satellite Radio Receiver with Car Kit (Electronics)
Long story short - Nice radio and programming with horrible FM modulation. Don't buy this unless you're going to wire it directly to your car's antenna or radio.

I bought this device last October to listen to college football games during long road trips. It is my first introduction to satellite radio. I've got mixed feelings about the product.

First of all, the unit was fairly easy to get working. I plugged the power and satellite antenna, turned it on, and selected an open FM station in the unit's setup menu. It's pre-tuned to a test station (national weather). I got a clear signal from the satellite just leaving the antenna resting on the dashboard. I activated it online after a couple of tries (didn't have the unit powered up the first attempt).

However, the FM transmission from the unit to my car stereo was awful, borderline un-useable. Even after choosing a completely clear FM station, turning off the car, waving the unit around until I found a sweet-spot, and crossing my fingers, there was always noticeable and very disruptive static interference. Based on what I've read, apparently the FM transmission strength for this unit way below previous models. I'm told the SP-TK2 model has a much stronger signal. I've not been able to determine whether or not that had anything to do with FCC regulations.

For my vehicle, I've overcame the FM transmitter shortcomings by connecting the unit directly to the Ai-net/Changer input on my Alpine radio and using the AUX function. This step eliminated all of the outside static interference and bypassed FM modulation completely. However, part of my attraction to this unit was the plug and play function. My friends and I have taken several road trips this year and I brought the Sirius unit with me. The cars we used did not have A/V inputs, so we had to make due with the lousy FM transmitter. We were able to fight through the static for the sports and talk radio stations, but music was un-listenable.

The unit itself is ok. It's easy to use and the screen has a lot of info. It keeps track of all the scores in sporting events, show and host for talk stations, and song/artist for music stations. It's awkward to mount though, because all of the wires plug into the back of the dock, not the bottom. You need clearance between the back of the unit and the mounting surface for these wires. My two options were to use an air conditioning vent clip or the windshield suction cup. I chose the vent because I didn't want the unit in the sunlight. At night, the unit is very bright. You can turn down the brightness of the screen, but the buttons are backlit with a piercing blue light that can't be adjusted. The rotary knob is especially bright. It looks like I have a big blue glow stick in my car at night.

The programming is pretty good. Sirius carries every NFL game, and nearly all the college football games, which is exactly what I was looking for. They also play a lot of the NBA and NHL games, but I've not paid much attention to them. They have three comedy stations, and several talk/news (including the BBC) radio and sports radio stations. On the other hand, all of their music stations do not meet my sound quality expectations. I have a decent aftermarket stereo, and the music stations sound worse than local FM. They're not terrible, but the difference between listening to a song on Sirius and on a CD is jarring. That said, they have a fair amount of genres represented. You'll hear songs on Sirius that you'll never hear on your local radio.

I've had limited customer service interaction, but it's been all bad. I chose the three month program to start off with. Sirius doesn't give you a very detailed invoice on the billing screen. It simply shows Subscription charge, Activation Fee, and Taxes. The Subscription charge on the invoice did not match what plan stated it should be, it was about $1 more. The Activation Fee was what I expected. However, Taxes came out to the 15% of the sum of Subscription plus Activation. There's not a state in the US that has a 15% sales tax rate. I called them to find out why it was so high. The lady on the phone had no idea what I was talking about. First she tried to explain why there was a charge for activation. It took quite a few minutes to get it across that my question was about the taxes, not the activation fee. Next, she tried to tell me that the tax rate was based on the Houston rate where she was located. The sales tax in Houston is 8.25%, not 15%. And besides, you are supposed to be taxed based on your local rates, not the location of the service center. After trying to get this point across (another 5 minutes) she went to speak to a manager. She came back and offered me a $15 dollar credit for the activation fee, without ever answering my question. I was tired of the conversation, so I took the credit and hung up. I'll try again to get an answer out of them when my three months are up.

All in all, the unit has sort of worked out for me. It works fine in my car, but travels poorly. I can listen to all the sports I want, but the music sound quality leaves much to be desired. It was easy to hook up, but looks silly just clipped onto my air-vent. If all of the short-comings I've described were addressed I'd be very happy with it.

**Update 12/19/2006**
Warning: The unit is dying on me less than three months after I purchased it. Sometime after around 10 minutes of use, the receiver will become locked into "acquiring signal" mode regardless of actual signal strength. Turning the unit off and then on again fixes it, sometimes. I've researched this issue online and apparently it's becoming a common problem. The recommended fix from Sirius is to either re-activate the receiver on-line or return it for a new unit. If I could, I'd knock another star off this review.

**Second Update** I eventually got SIRIUS to send me a replacement head-unit, free of charge. The second radio works just fine. However, I had to ship the original radio back to the manufacturer. A word of warning: if you ship something to Sirius, keep your tracking number. They tried to tell me that they never received my original radio and charged me for the second. I got on the phone and used the UPS website to tell them who in their warehouse signed for the package. The charge was later reversed.
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Showing 1-5 of 5 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Dec 15, 2006 6:17:05 PM PST
KR12345 says:
THANK YOU!!! I thought it was me!! I just tried to install the radio today and spent 20 useless minutes on the phone with Sirius with some idiot reading to me information off of the internet to troubleshoot - I could do that myself. I couldn't even get a signal at all - nothing but static. I'm taking the radio back to Best Buy (don't ever buy there either - talk about horrible customer service and phone people who don't understand anything you're saying) and getting my refund. Not sure I'll even get Sirius after all this, and after reading this review. Thank you for your well-written and intelligent review.

Posted on Dec 22, 2006 7:11:32 PM PST
D. Razorsek says:
I also want to thank you. I have an older Sirius unit which all of a sudden devloped the same problem you are having with acquiring a signal. I thought it was time to replace my unit becaus it was two years old and it must have "died" due to old age. Two calls to Sirius customer service was pretty much useless. I was researching for a replacement when I saw these two reviews. Now I'm beginning to think it might not be my unit after all. I think I'm going to wait a few days and see what happens.

In reply to an earlier post on Jan 5, 2007 8:50:03 AM PST
Last edited by the author on Jan 5, 2007 8:50:54 AM PST
W. Houghland says:
Hi, you're welcome. I think it may actually be your unit; the problem is it's not just your unit. Based on some Google-browsing, the "acquiring signal" error is common place among Sirius owners. Whoever they have contracted to manufacture these things needs to improve their quality control. As for myself, I'm in the process of going through the warranty service. Apparently the warranty department is a separate division from their sales department, because they didn't have any access to my account information. I had to take a screen print of my account summary from the Sirius website and fax it to them! What a ridiculous process to put upon the customer!

Posted on Jan 2, 2008 10:20:55 AM PST
D. Marshall says:
Thank you for your coherent and well written review. Unfortunately, I did not come across it until AFTER I spent 20 minutes on the phone with Sirius tech support. They walked me through changing FM stations, moving the antenna, and ensuring the cables were connected properly (gee, never would have thought of that on my own!!! - idiot) before finally putting me on hold (I hung up at that point). I explained my wife's non-sportster model works in my car with all the same settings and that the Sportster model worked fine in the boombox, but apparently that did not trigger any lightbulbs to go off in his head. I find it hard to believe they wouldn't tell me my issue was a well known and well documented problem with the Sportster model - especially with all the reviews and comments on the Internet saying the same thing. I'm going to try the cassette adapter (I see it all over the Web for $5 - $10). Hopefully that will work. For the aggravation they caused, they should include that as standard equipment with the Sportster. Good luck to all fighting this battle!!!

In reply to an earlier post on Jul 6, 2008 6:20:52 PM PDT
I know what you mean as far as the FM modulator is concerned. I live in the NYC area where it is absolutely impossible to use. In my car it's not a problem becuase my radio has a tape deck so I just use a cassette adapter, which I HIGHLY recommend if you have a tape deck radio, and the problem is solved. But in my girlfriend's car we have to use the mod. We took an overnight trip to Atlantic City on a Saturday night about a month or so ago and once we got farther away from the city and closer to South Jersey, it worked perfectly. We were able to listen to the entire Cousin Brucie show all the way down.

I'm sure the last thing the FCC and companies like Clear Channel want is for satellite radio to be easy to use with a terrestrial signal.
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