on December 6, 2006
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.
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.