Review: XM or Sirius – Which is better?

by Doug Felteau on June 14, 2005

Review: XM or Sirius - Which is better?

Why would anyone pay for radio when it comes over the air for free? First, satellite delivers 65 or more channels of music not to mention a large number of entertainment and news channels. More importantly, with XM going commercial-free earlier this year, all the music channels are commercial free. Another great feature is being able to drive across the country and listen to one channel! Finally, satellite radio streams the music in digital-quality sound and static free.

Satellite radio was first introduced in 2001 and has garnered over 1.5 million subscribers by the beginning of this year. The two competitors in this industry are Sirius (backed by Dish Network) and XM (backed by DirecTV). Currently, XM Radio has the lion share of the market with close to five times the subscribers as Sirius.

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To compare the different satellite radio providers, we’ll look at the following: Pricing, Programming, Service, Technology and Partners.

Pricing
XM Radio is priced 30% cheaper for month to month and yearly subscriptions. Both Sirius and XM Radio charge their subscribers $12.95 a month. XM gives discounts on multi-year subscriptions as well. For two years, XM charges $271.95, three year subscriptions are $359.64, four year subscriptions are $479.52 and finally their five year deal is $599.40. Sirius gives you a lifetime for your radio plan for $499.99.

Both services allow you to have multiple receivers. Sirius allows you to buy three additional receivers each at $6.99 per month. XM lets you buy up to four additional receivers for $6.99 a month so pricing is the same but XM allows for one additional receiver.

The various receivers (home and car receivers) for both providers run roughly the same amount of money.

Sirius wins on pricing as their lifetime of your radio subscription equals roughly that of XM’s 4 year plan. Yes, that’s of your radio so if you like to update or have to replace your radio with a new radio within that four to five year period, pricing is a push.

Programming
You can view the different programming line-ups from these links:
XM Radio
Sirius Radio

XM Radio has two premium channels including High Voltage ($1.99/mo) and the Playboy channel ($2.99/mo).

Sirius is the official satellite radio provider for NFL and all NFL games are broadcast from both home and visitors radio broadcasts. Also, there are 40 NHL games broadcast weekly. There are 8 sports channels and over 50 news, sports, talk and entertainment channels in addition to 65 music channels. Sirius is the exclusive NPR satellite radio carrier and has two religious stations and a channel called OutQ for 24/7 nationwide news, information and entertainment for the Gay/Lesbian community. In addition, Howard Stern has signed on to Sirius.

XM Radio has 68 music stations and is the NASCAR exclusive provider for satellite radio. XM has 5 sports channels and 33 news, sports, talk and entertainment channels.

Both providers now provide instant traffic and weather channels for certain metro areas including Boston, New York, Atlanta, Los Angelos and Chicago to name a few.

Really, the winner here depends on your preferences. For instance, if you’re a sports fan that tends to listen to sports channels or you love to listen to NPR you need to choose Sirius. If you like listening to decades music (40’s, 50’s, 60’s, etc…) or you like listening to radio classics which replays old radio broadcasts such as Gunsmoke and Jack Benny, you need to go with XM Radio. Check out the programming links above to see which is a better fit for you.

Service
Sirius wins this category. Sirius provides 24 hour customer care via a toll free number while XM Radio’s customer care department is only open 13 hours a day.

Another reason Sirius wins this category is the fact that they allow subscribers to listen free online to over sixty channels via the Internet while XM Radio does not. The streamed channels are not delivered in quite the same digital quality as what is received from the satellite signal due to bandwidth constraints.

Technology
Again, Sirius takes the category as they have three satellites at high-elevation geosynchronus orbit while XM Radio has two geostationary satellites at low-level which would allow more obstruction. From what I can see though, both Sirius and XM receive good signals and seem to work nicely.

So why pick Sirius? Because they use statistical multiplexing which allow channels that need more bandwidth to use it giving the user clearer highs and deeper bass.

On a side note, XM Radio’s satellites are named “Rock” and “Roll” (just thought that was cool).

Partners
Sirius partners which the follow automobile manufacturers and car rental companies:
Aston Martin, Audi, BMW, Chrysler, DaimlerChrysler, Dodge, Ford, Hertz, Infiniti, Jaguar, Jeep, Land Rover, Lincoln, Mini, Mazda, Mercedes-Benz, Mercury, Monaco Coach Corpo, Nissan, Volvo and Winnebago.

XM partners with the following: Acura, Audi, Buick, Cadillac, Chevrolet, GMC, Honda, Hummer, Infiniti, Isuzu, Lexas, Nissan, Olds, Pontiac, Porsche, SAAB, Saturn, Scion, Toyota and VW.

XM’s radio manufacturing partners include Alpine Electronics, Inc., Blaupunkt, Bontec, Fujitsu Ten, Hyundai Autonet, Panasonic, Pioneer Electronic Corporation, Sony Electronics Inc., Audiovox, Clarion Co. Ltd., Delphi Delco Electronics Systems, Mitsubishi Electronics, Visteon, Pana-Pacific, and Sharp.

Sirius partners with Audiovox, Clarion, Delphi, Kenwood, Panasonic and Visteron.

Sirius content partners include:
ABC, American Academy of Achievement, BBC, Bloomberg Radio, C-SPAN radio, CNBC, CNN HEadline News, Car Talk, Court TV, Dave Ramsey Show, Discovery Networks, E! Entertainment Radio, ESPN, EWTN, Fox NEws, Live Broadway, NPR, Online Tonight, Playbill, Public Radio International, Radio Disney, RadioClassics, Sports Byline USA, The Weather Channel, The Word Network, WSM and the Grand Ole Opry, Webster Hall, Wisdom Radio and WRN.

Content partners for XM Radio currently are:
Bloomberg, CNN en espanol, Discovery Radio, LA Theatre Works, National Geographic Channel, National Lampoon, Salem Communications, WorldSpace, C-SPAN, Clear Channel Communications, Country Music Foundation, Radio One, Motor Racing Network, NASCAR, Performance Racing Network, Sporting News Radio, The Weather Channel, Associated Press and BBC.

Depending on which car manufacturer or content provider you prefer would depend on if Sirius or XM Radio is right for you.

Overall
Overall, satellite radio is a cool technology that gives you static free digital quality commercial free radio with 65 or so music channels from different genres providing better content than standard radio.

While Sirius outright won more categories we judged satellite radio on, you should choose the satellite provider that providers you either the music or sports that interest you!

In addition, Sirius only had 261,061 subscribers at the end of 2003 while XM Radio had 1,360,228 subscribers and in the first quarter of 2004 XM Radio gained more subscribers than Sirius has total so if you purchase the lifetime subscription for Sirius, you are taking a chance they may not be around in five years (my opinion is that there will be two satellite radio providers as there are two satellite television providers).

Overall
5 Stars