Orbitcast - The Ultimate Guide to Buying a Satellite Radio


Staff member
Oct 7, 2008
Satellite radio is without a doubt one of the most cost effective forms of entertainment on the market today.

Think for a minute about the amount of content that Sirius XM Radio makes available to consumers and the price that they are providing it at. It's pretty hard to find any other form of entertainment that can even come close to satellite radio when it comes to getting the most "bang for your buck."

But the amount of features packed into these radios can sometimes be confusing for consumers looking to buy a satellite radio. Have you ever bought a new device only to findout that you could have purchased something that did a lot more for only a fewmore dollars? I think we all have.

It's with that in mind that I've put together this "Ultimate Guide to Buying a Satellite Radio" to help sort though the confusion.

As new satellite radios come out, I will continuously update this article to provide and maintain a consistent point of reference for anyone looking to buy the best satellite radio receiver possible.

The Best Satellite Radio

But first, we need to cover one thing: there really is no such thing as the "best" satellite radio.

Satellite radio receivers have a variety of different functions and options because each one meets the different needs of a different kind of user. So the best satellite radio receiver really only has to do with what meets your needs as a consumer.

There's nothing more irritating than to read on message boards or radio reviews that one receiver is "the best" over another. It doesn't work that way - the decision is ultimately up to you and what suits you based on budget, features, usage, etc.

As such, I've split this guide into three different types of users - The Power User, The Intermediate User and The Light User - and then created comparisons of different receivers within those tiers to help you find the satellite radio that suits you best.

So... let's begin!

The Power User

I think the best way to describe "power users" are folks who absolutely has to have satellite radio all day long. Most people listen to Sirius or XM in the car, with the occasional listening at work or at home. But "power users" will have needs beyond what the average listener wants. Power users will demand advanced features like extended recording, portable "on the go" listening, etc. And for this type of user, you really can't go wrong with either Sirius or XM's portable satellite radios.

Let's first start with Sirius...

Sirius Stiletto 2
The Sirius Stiletto 2 is a portable satellite radio that is great for all-day listening because it provides many versatile options. The Stiletto 2 has an internal satellite antenna plus antenna headphones for listening "on the go," as well as built-in WiFi and the ability to record up to 100 hours of recorded Sirius content right on the device.

The internal satellite radio antenna is meant to make it a truly portable receiver, but the antenna can be unreliable unless you live in a metropolitan area where there is a strong "terrestrial" signal (I'll explain all about that in another article). To help, Sirius has provided a set of antenna headphones to help get that signal - but remember you need to be outdoors with a clear view of the sky for any satellite radio antenna to work.

If you are indoors and have access to WiFi, the Stiletto 2 has the ability to listen to Sirius through their online internet stream of channels (even if it's a secured network). I've found this particularly useful when the Stiletto 2 is paired with a boombox, so I don't need to run any additional wires.

The Stiletto 2 also has the ability to record and store live content as well as add MP3's from your personal digital audio library. And if there isn't enough memory for all of your MP3's, it had a built in micro SD card slot located behind the battery.

Now if your an XM fan...

You'll definitely want to check out the XMP3 if you're a power users. It's also a small portable satellite radio (smaller than the Stiletto 2) with an internal satellite radio antenna, but has some pretty outstanding features.

My experience is that the built-in antenna of the XMP3 is by far the best-in-class antenna out there for portable "on the go" listening. You still need clear line of sight to the sky, but the sensitivity of the XMP3's antenna is the best you can get.

The XMP3 comes with it's own home kit but not a car kit (a car kit is available for purchase though). Unfortunately, the XMP3 does not have a built in WIFI antenna like the Stiletto 2, so keep that in mind.

Aside from the superior portable XM listening capability, the unique function of the XMP3 is that it can record up to 5 different channels while still listening to live radio. That's a lot of content in a short amount of time.

MP3's are easy to add to the device through the included USB cable and software that comes in the box, plus there's also the expandable micro SD memory card slot is built into the unit to help expand your library. And much like the Stiletto 2, the XMP3 has replay functions available with the unit allowing you to pause, rewind and fast forward up to live content.

The Intermediate User

"Intermediate Users" need to have the advanced functions such as pause/replay, but don't need to have the portable satellite radio functionality like the XMP3 or Stiletto 2. They're not your average listener, and as such they need a bit more than the average radio.

For the intermediate user I would suggest going with a plug and playsatellite radio that has some replay functions as well as a lot ofaccessories available.

Sirius Sportster 5
For Sirius, the Sirius Sportster 5 is the right way to go. With it's full color screen, replay functions and sports ticker, it's the top of the line plug and play unit for Sirius today.

The color screen is also customizeable, so you can select the color that best matches your mood or the interior colors of your vehicle. The sports ticker also gives you live updates of your favorite sports team while still being able to be tuned into your favorite station.

If this is too much for you and all you want is the pause/replay functions and 30 presets, then I would suggest the Starmate 5. It has a small compact design that still carries all of the replay features of the larger plug and play radios. It's great if you are trying to stay cost effective too because the unit is also available to receive Sirius' A La Carte programming.

On the XM side, the dominating radio is definitely the XpressRC receiver. This plug and play boasts a full color screen with replay functions of up to 60 minutes as well as Multi Channel Viewing.

Multi-channel Viewing is a pretty unique feature that allows you to view the current channel and three other channels at the same time. The XpressRC also comes with a sports and stock ticker allowing you to get live updates of the game while keeping an eye on your investments all while listening to your favorite channel.

If this radio has a bit too much for you, you can take a step down to the XpressR. This radio has a split screen displaying option that allows you to listen to one channel and view six others. It also had up to 30 minutes of pause, rewind and fast forward functions as well as tune select, that helps you find your favorite songs when they are playing.

All plug and play units from both Sirius and XM come with car kits, but home kits and boomboxes are available for each model.

The Light User

Light users are generally consumers who listen to satellite radio in the car, and maybe sometimes at home or at work. But they don't really need the pause/replay functionality of their Intermediate brethren - and as such, they don't need to spend the price.

For the beginner or "Light User," there are several units available, all with great bang for your buck features.

XM SkyDock
The XM SkyDockis one of the newest satellite radios to hit the market, and itstradles the line between "Intermediate" and "Light" users. The greatthing about the SkyDock is its simplicity - all you need is the dockand an antenna - and, of course, an iPhone or iPod Touch.

The XM SkyDock uses the iPhone/iPod Touch as the interface to the XM satellite radio technology (which is packed into the dock itself). As soon as you plug in and turn on the XM SkyDock App, you can listen to live satellite radio.

It doesn't have pause/replay functionality, which is why I've classified it under the "Light" user category (though, I should note, it's priced more like the Intermediate category). If/when Sirius XM Radio Inc. is able to include pause/replay functionality into the SkyDock app, then this radio might get reclassified.

XM onyX
XM also has a great simple radio called the XM onyX (which is essentially an upgraded replacement to the XpressEZ). With it's simple functions of storing 10 presets and displaying artist, song and channel, it is a great introductory radio.

The OnyX brings the added bonus of being "customizable" - in that you can change the display with different selectable colors and add on customizable "trim rings" to match your vehicle dash lights and interior.

One huge benefit to the XM onyX is that it features the new PowerConnect FM transmitter. This is an incredible upgrade to previous satellite radios in that sound quality - and simplicity of installation - has been immensly improved.

Stratus 5
And for you Sirius lovers out there, they also have a small and compact radio available called the Stratus 5. It also has the ability to store only 10 channel presets and displays artist, song and channel.

(Tip: the Stratus 6 is coming out soon, so hold off on a purchase if you can. The Stratus 6 will have a better FM transmitter and the ability to get A La Carte subscriptions).

Do you have one of these radios and would like to share your experience? Add your own review in the comments and help others like yourself buy the best satellite radio for their needs. Sound off below!

View the original Article at Orbitcast or discuss it here.