Review: XM Radio Comes to Bathrooms, Parks and Beyond

I vaguely remember the last time I listened to commercial radio; it was one morning about two years ago before I retracted the car antenna and activated my XM satellite radio.

The occasional reception problems notwithstanding, I can't imagine driving one mile or 1,000 without it. So this bona fide XMer approaches the review of two of the company's products as someone who doesn't need to be convinced of the merits of satellite radio content, as much as satellite radio functionality.

Let's start with the XM Compact Sound System, which makes the company's more than 170 stations accessible at home, the office or wherever there's a power source. As much as I enjoy satellite radio in the car, I'd never been inspired to bring it into the house — until now.

With a full voice that belies its pipsqueak dimensions, the sound system accommodates a variety of XM receiver models, including the basic RoadyXT that I've had in the car for some time now. I lift the old RoadyXT from the car cradle, pop it into the new dock and, prestissimo, satellite radio comes to the kitchen, or the bathroom, or the bedroom, or wherever there's enough space to rest something the size of a toaster. And, of course, wherever there's a clear signal.

The tabletop sound system also is equipped with a jack for playing an iPod/MP3, which I don't have, and a CD player, which is already part of my stationary stereo system that includes, yes, a turntable. The point is that one system fits all.

For the record, the XM Compact Sound System is no match for the aforementioned stereo system in the living room. It's not supposed to be. But its four full-range speakers and 16-watt amplifier are more than enough to fill any decent size room with plenty of music or talk.

As for a second comparison, XM's XpressRC equipment puts my RoadyXT to shame. It's the receiver that comes with full-color display, a split screen to see what's playing on multiple stations and the ability to repeat the last hour of programming you've just heard. And you can save up to 10 songs for playing later.

It also has a scanning feature to ease the search for proper frequencies when listening to XM through your FM radio.

The tried-and-true RoadyXT can't do any of that, although it can find songs when they play on any XM channel. Meanwhile, the in-car sound quality is only as good as your speaker system, with the factory-installed satellite radios in later model cars performing the best.

And, like all the XM receivers, the XpressRC is tight and lightweight, moving easily between car and home — in a purse or even a pants pocket if your hands are full. (By the way, XM officials promise that their existing products would survive the proposed merger with competitor Sirius.)

In short, the XpressRC is quite snazzy, as is the XM Compact Sound System, which are among the items XM officials are promoting as Father's Day gifts. I like the XpressRC receiver. I like it a lot. But I won't be running out to replace my RoadyXT, which retails for almost $100 less. The RoadyXT serves me well for the investment. Although if it ever conks out like the SKYFi2 model I originally bought, then I'd consider an upgrade.

If you know with some degree of certainty that the father in your life is committed to satellite radio and would appreciate the bells and whistles, then I'd splurge. Otherwise, I'd take a chance with less expensive "starter" models like the RoadyXT.

The XM Compact Sound System for the house is a different matter. For my money, that's the place to indulge, especially if dad already has a compatible receiver model like I do. I may not be a father, but I'll be treating myself this year.

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