"How about the radio?"

So, after I ranted about the poor quality of the XM website, someone asked me what I thought of the radio and the service...

Radio

I got the older "SkiFi" module, not the newer SkiFi 2.   The radio attaches to a cradle; the cradle connects to power, antenna, and your car stereo -- I've got the output set up via a cassette adapter widget into my car stereo.  (There's also an FM modulator available).

The radio UI is relatively straightforward.   The one big knob is for channel selection; it does not have a real volume control (though youcan adjust the line out level to match your CD or AM/FM levels with a half-buried menu item).

Surprisingly, unlike virtually every other bit of consumer electronics I've owned over the past 10 years, it doesn't have a clock.

Service

The service is OK, not spectacular.  Not quite enough variety in the Classical department for my taste - just three channels: classics, vox, and pops.  Pops seems to be misnamed as it's more of a "classical greatest hits" channel (playing symphonic movements and the like) while the "classical" channel does somewhat less obscure works.

I also am something of an obsessive news-hound; there's a good selection of news & talk channels, but some of them (CNN, Fox, MSNBC) are just the audio of the cable news channels, and rather than inserting more newsy content during the TV commercial breaks they insert advertisingfor xm radio.

Different channels are clearly getting different data rates -- the music channels have high quality, the talk channels less so, and the traffic/weather channels sound like their microphones are underwater.  My inner geek would like to know what the bit rates of each channel are but the radio doesn't provide that info.

Reception

They warn you to install the antenna externally but so far it's been working well (full-strength signal) just sitting on the rear shelf area of my car under the rear window.

As a partial stress test, I drove through part of the underground section of the Big Dig with the radio on.  It kept working far longer than I expected it to but eventually cut out; either they have part of, but not all, of the tunnel covered with local transmitters/repeaters, or they're doing some very impressive FEC games.

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