From Love to Hate

Let me just get it right out there in the open – I really don’t like SiriusXM for a number of reasons – but I didn’t always feel that way.

When the service was first announced in summer 2001, we were all very excited at our car audio shop.  What a cool idea! Digital radio, no static, a variety of music genres, news, talk, and comedy?   And we get free demo subscriptions for selling it??  Even better.

To really understand the excitement we experienced, you have to think back to a time when the iPod was still a relatively new gadget that came loaded with limitations.  Even if you did have the newfangled MP3 player, you still had very limited options for connecting it and playing it through your car stereo. Most car stereo’s were not capable of playing an iPod unless you wired it through an AUX jack and if you did do that, you were lucky if it stayed charged for more than 60 minutes.

XM Skyfi – One of the original XM Radio receivers

I’m just trying to remind you all that when satellite radio first launched, digital music was a pretty new concept.  It was a great way to have access to a variety of digital music in your car without worrying about transferring music from your computer onto a device and trying to figure out how to keep the dang thing charged up long enough to play.

As an early adopter of the product and service, I have seen satellite radio grow and change a lot over the past 14 years. Sadly, at this point, I see no need for the product and I honestly cringe when a customer asks for it.  I cannot stand selling and installing it for the reasons outlined ahead.

Siriusly Compressed

When satellite radio first came out it sounded pretty good.  It wasn’t exactly CD quality, but it was still pretty good. However, as the competition heated up between Sirius and XM, the compression increased.  Bandwidth was squeezed and each provider added more channels in an attempt to be more attractive than the other.  When service first started each provider had around 120 channels to choose from (from recollection – I can’t find an original channel line up).  Now the combined SiriusXM offers more than 175 channels.

So how badly is it compressed?  How about 32 kbps (kilo bits per second).  Let me put that into perspective for you. When you buy a CD in the store (I think they still exist) the CD relays 1411 kbps of information.  So let’s do the math.

Okay, so 32 divided by 1411 equals about .02 or we can call it 2%.  You’re listening to 2% of the original information. What does that mean?  You lose:

  • Detail
  • Nuance
  • Depth
  • Richness
  • Clarity
  • Body
  • Fullness
  • Warmth
  • 98% of the original audible information the artist intended to relay

That is why satellite radio sounds so tinny and hollow.  That is why it has no bass, no warmth, no punch.  Don’t get me wrong – It’s fine for news, talk, sports and entertainment, but PLEASE, for the love of God, do not listen to SiriusXM for music and then complain to me that it sounds bad.  This is why it sounds bad.  You can’t make 32 kbps sound good, you just can’t.  It’s going to sound bad.  Why would you want to listen to something that sounds bad?  I just don’t get it.

Inconsistent Audio Quality

You would think SiriusXM would sound just as crappy from vehicle to vehicle and stereo to stereo, but it doesn’t.  The level of crappiness varies based on hardware.  Your SiriusXM in your Chevy Tahoe will not sound the same as your SiriusXM in your Toyota Camry or your SiriusXM connected to your aftermarket Alpine stereo.

You see, some manufacturers utilize internal equalization adjustments within their stereos that are source dependent. This is a nice feature.  They do this so there is no large drop in output and quality when switching from various audio sources like CD, USB, Satellite Radio and FM/AM.  In reality, all of these sources will have different quality, different bandwidth and different compression rate.  In order for the driver to have a more pleasant experience, these stereos will internally adjust audio levels in order to provide a more seamless listening transition between sources.

Some aftermarket stereos offer this feature called Source Level Adjust or SLA.  Some even have different equalization memory per source.  This allows users with an aftermarket stereo to emulate the same kind of smooth transition between sources as described in the scenario above.

On the other hand, some stereos (stock or aftermarket) have none of these features. In that case, when you switch between your iPod or CD or FM/AM tuner and then over to SiriusXM, you will notice how compressed, tinny and hollow it sounds in comparison to your other higher quality audio sources.

Unfortunately, even with an advanced equalizer and source level adjust, there is still only so much you can do to help 32 kbps.  It will still sound bad compared to a song downloaded from iTunes in Apple Lossless format. It just won’t sound as bad with features like source level adjust and source independent equalization.  To the untrained ear, you might not realize this.  That is until you get into a car without these features and holy hell, you’re pissed and wondering why it sounds so bad in your new Toyota FJ Cruiser compared to the Chevy Tahoe you just traded in.

My point is if you think it sounds good in one car, that doesn’t really mean anything because it’s acoustical trickery. At some point in time you will encounter SiriusXM in it’s raw state. And when you hear that A/B comparison as you switch between your FM radio and your SiriusXM radio (without any internal equalization or adjustment) you will be disappointed. That is the true nature of the source.

This has been a very frustrating experience for many customers.  I’ve had people march into my shop looking for answers that they can take to their dealer after buying a new vehicle. These customers are convinced they have a bad tuner and believe the dealer needs to put in a new one.  Why? Because they had it in their last 3 Nissan’s and always loved it, but cannot believe how bad it sounds in their brand new Chevy Traverse. I have to gently explain to them how it works, why SiriusXM sucks and how there is really nothing they can do about it.

All of these examples I am giving you are from real customer experiences.  It’s all over the place.  There is no consistency in what each manufacturer does within their stereo, but the tuner is always relaying the same information.

Inconsistent Signal Reception

You would think there is one service provider so there is one type of tuner and one type of antenna.  Unfortunately that’s not the case and this can lead to very inconsistent signal quality from vehicle to vehicle and stereo to stereo.

At the moment, the universal aftermarket SiriusXM tuner is the SXV300 made by Audiovox.  This is a combination SiriusXM tuner which works off of satellites from both providers.  This is really helpful for coverage.  There was a time that I had service from both providers in my own vehicle.  During this time, I found that wherever XM cut out – Sirius would not and wherever Sirius would cut out – XM would not.  So it is nice that these newer tuners have better signal coverage.  However, I don’t believe they work off of repeaters like the older XM receivers and antennas used to.

The antennas that worked off of repeaters were awesome.  You could travel into New York City and go under tunnels, past tall buildings and the signal didn’t cut out because it was working off of both satellite and local area repeaters. These antennas typically had two connections. One was satellite based and one was terrestrial like the connection shown here:

Dual Style Sat Connection
Dual Style Sat Connection – Worked off local repeaters and satellite for better coverage.

The newer style antennas are just a single satellite connection.  However there are still some vehicles that have this style antenna and still operate off both terrestrial and satellite signal.  What does this all mean for you the subscriber?  You will have varying and inconsistent satellite coverage depending on what equipment your vehicle comes with.

In my experience, the factory Toyota/Lexus tuners and antennas seems to have the worst reception.  I believe they are have no buffer and work off of XM satellites only.  I seem to get the most complaints from customers with Toyotas and Lexus factory Satellite radio equipment.  These customers can at least install one of the newer combo tuners with an interface from VAIS Technology that will pull signal from both satellites.

Up here in New England, we have seasonal coverage issues.  I have customers that love their satellite radio in the winter, when the trees are bare, but as soon as the leaves grow in, coverage becomes spotty and inconsistent.  We have a lot of windy tree covered roads up here which can put a Sirius damper on your SiriusXM listening experience.  I bet the engineers didn’t really think of that when they decided to lose the terrestrial connector.

Poor Equipment Quality

So check this out – the SiriusXM tuner SXV300 sells for around $50 and it comes with a 90 day warranty.  You know how much an installer is going to charge you to put that in your car?  At our shop we charge one hour labor to install this tuner to a SiriusXM ready vehicle/stereo.  One hour with shop parts equals $86.63.  So what happens in a year when the flimsy antenna craps out and needs replacing?

Sirius XM antenna burial ground
Sirius XM antenna final resting place – this was at our old shop.  As you can see, we got sick of replacing them and it became kind of a joke. Photo credit © Mike Meken

It will end up in our SiriusXM antenna resting place and you’ll be looking at a bill for $120+ to replace it. That’s $30 for the antenna (another 90 day warranty), another hour labor to install it and local sales tax.  And when you live in an area like New England with extreme temperature/weather swings between Summer and Winter you can expect to replace your SiriusXM antenna at least once during your life as a subscriber.  Keep in mind, SiriusXM themselves only expect it to last at least 90 days.

Non Existent Incompetent Customer Service

If you happen to have a lifetime subscription that needs transferring, be forewarned they will screw it up.  I have had nearly all my lifetime subscriber customers experience this frustration.  As an early supporter, they bought in to a lifetime subscription years ago when Sirius and XM were offering these.  These customers shelled out over $500 when each provider was only charging around $10 a month for service.  They figured they would always have the service and it would pay for itself in 5 years.

However, most lifetime subscriptions included lots of fine print such as only being allotted up to 3 total transfers (should your tuner fail or you decide to buy a new car).  Additionally, you may be charged $75 per transfer.  Once you get past all that and pay your transfer fee to get your lifetime service swapped, you will experience one of two things.  Either you will not have your full channel line up or you will keep losing your channels as though it was never activated (preview channel and channel 0 will work).

When you call SiriusXM they will insist it is a hardware issue and want you to have the brand new tuner swapped out. Don’t drink the koolaid.  It’s not a hardware issue, it’s a programming issue and it will take you hours to find a customer service rep with half a brain cell that knows this and can complete the transfer properly.

Virtually No Profit Margin

I don’t know about you, but I don’t work for free and I don’t expect anyone else to either.  Apparently, SiriusXM expects its retailers to and for that they suck.  As a retailer, there is no mark up in this stuff – like none.  In fact, many SiriusXM products are below wholesale on Amazon Prime by a few bucks.  Sad, but true.

When the service first came out, hardware was being manufactured by car stereo manufacturers like Pioneer, Kenwood and Alpine. These car stereo companies are in business for profit like us.  They understand that we, as retailers, need to sell and install profitable items in order to make a living. So it made sense that these manufacturers sold satellite radio product to us at a wholesale price with a manufacturer suggested retail price that actually included a profit margin.  How thoughtful!

Additionally, as a supporter and retailer of Sirius and XM products we were given a Sirius and XM dealer account number. We even received a commission for each satellite radio we activated.  It wasn’t huge, but it was something. I would could call it a “Thank you for supporting our growing company” spiff.  Imagine this: Sirius and XM also provided us with a dealer support line so activating a customer’s radio was easy. Transfers were no problem. We always reached a customer service rep in a timely manner that could understand what we were trying to do and take care of it the first time we explained it.

Now?  Ha!  None of that.  There is virtually no profit margin in the product. As a consumer, you can buy it direct from SiriusXM well below wholesale when you include a 6 month subscription.    As a retailer, I have a long list of reasons not to sell SiriusXM:

  • No more profit margin.
  • No more dealer account number.
  • No more commissions.
  • No more dealer customer support.
  • No more demo accounts.

Summing up all the reasons SiriusXM sucks

Retailers and consumers alike who care about sound quality and product quality will probably agree with my list of reasons why SiriusXM sucks:

  • Incredibly compressed
  • Inconsistent quality
  • Inconsistent reception
  • Inconsistent hardware quality
  • Non existent customer support
  • No dealer support
  • Slim to no profit margin

With so many high quality music and radio apps available I encourage my customers to use their smart phone.  Pandora, iHeart, Spotify, Tunein, etc. all transmit at a much higher compression rate which means much better sound quality.  And with the generous data plans available, data usage really isn’t as much of an issue as it used to be.  My husband John and I share a 30 gig plan and we’re never over on our data usage and we listen to music apps and pull music from the cloud exclusively.  One last thing to note – in our hilly, tree covered area, we tend to get better cellular coverage vs SiriusXM satellite coverage. So I ask you, why bother with SiriusXM?  Is there something I’m missing?

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  1. I recently bought a 2017 Ford Fusion Hybrid SE with Sync3 from CarMax. It came with a 60-day free trial of Sirius. After I got it working, I don’t see the point of it, at least for me. I would want it for a variety of music, and I don’t see that. I liked the Jimmy Buffet Margaritaville channel but apart from that, found nothing to like. Am I not using it correctly?

    • Hi Malcom, I am in the same boat as you. I find the music they do play to be quite repetitive. The compression destroys the sound quality which I can’t stand. The only time I ever really use it is when my husband John and I are driving in areas without cell service and want to listen to something. But there are only a handful of channels we like and I feel like they play the same thing all the time. Personally I prefer to download podcasts or music to my phone using Apple Music with the lossless audio setting on. This way I have CD quality tunes wherever I go regardless of cell service. Some clients like SiriusXM more for the news/talk channels.

  2. Signed up when Howard came aboard but he stopped being funny, listened to music but the sound quality went bad over time. It was OK when I listened to 40s or 50s, but modern music sounded awful. Sirius sent me a 3-month offer to enable it in my jeep for free (no cc used!), but I have no plans in sticking with them. My wife still subscribes for her vehicle, so I can access the web app at work and home. In contrast, their web selection is pretty good. In my vehicle, it sounds abysmal…Ok when I stream it from the phone app though.

  3. Couldnt agree more except I think there might also be one other thing. Is it just me or has the service gotten worse and worse over the years as far as reception goes? On my goldwing the service is HORRIBLE just going under a small tree or even in the shadow of a tree will knock out signal. My theory is that these companies both launched the satellites almost 20 years ago. As far as I know there have been no replacement satellites launched since then (there may have been 2 backup sats launched at the original launch date though). 2 things degrade over time, transmitters and solar panels, I have to wonder if their signal power output is a fraction of what it originally was. Being that they are barely staying afloat, i doubt they have the cash to launch more satellites even if they desperately needed them.

    Also I agree that the sound quality is garbage for music. I thought something was wrong with my new radio but HD radio sounds AMAZING and then I switch to XM and its HORRIBLE, zero bass and depth, tinny as hell. With HD radio and living near NYC where there are so many good stations I think the monthly fee is worthless.

  4. I disagree with your article when it comes to sound quality. I’ve Sirius XM for four years on a built-in dash radio in a new car. The car has a 6 speaker Bose system, and the radio tunes in the stations perfectly. There is no reduction in sound quality whatsoever. I did a comparison to an opera that I have on CD “Le Bohemme”. During opera season, this opera is played often, so when it came on, I put the CD in and did a comparison. Actually, the audio on the radio was clearer and more concise, with bass, treble, the vibrato of the singers etc., was far superior than the CD. And, the broadcast on Sirius XM was a live performance. Then, I compared some rock and roll songs. Unlike the Opera channel, there is no schedule to when songs are played, so I compared similar genre. Once again, the recordings, in this case on Channel 26, Classic Vinyl sounded much clearer on Sirius XM.
    No sure what more I can say, other than I respectfully disagree.

    • Hi Bebe – I appreciate your comment and I find it very interesting because I think the vehicle you’re talking about has that internal equalization and boosting I’m talking about that helps to improve the sound. If you listen to SiriusXM with a stock radio using an aftermarket universal SiriusXM tuner (or aftermarket stereo and aftermarket tuner) it’s totally different because it lacks the same technology and equipment used by certain auto manufacturers and within certain model vehicles. I think you would find the sound quality of SiriusXM in other vehicles and other equipment to be quite disappointing when you compare it to the equalized and boosted sound quality you’re getting with your stock premium Bose radio. The experience is inconsistent from vehicle to vehicle, year to year and product to product, that’s kind of my point. You got lucky – just curious the year, make and model vehicle you have?

  5. Couldn’t agree more. I cancelled my sirius subscription last week. My reasons: 1) Tired of it cutting out on the highway. 2) Tired of “tinny” sounded channels, ie NHL channel 91 is horrible. 3) impossible to hear any of the comedy channels as there are so poor quality 3) Tired of hearing DJ’s interrupting my music with “their” commercials 4) Hearing the same songs over and over, ozzy’s bone yard loops about every 4 hours 5) so many channels have so many commercials, so much for commercial free!!

  6. I have a 2009 Acura TL – I’m very disappointed with reception. At fist there were drops at varying locations but is has been getting worse, more drops more locations, even in the middle of the highway, why?
    I hear that I may need to replace my antenna, how can I tell? Only reason I keep the subscription is because of
    the low cost and I can use it on my phone which never experiences a drop, at least in the areas I’m driving, but you lose the convenience of easily changing channels.

    Thank you

    • Hi Dan,
      It’s possible you have a defective antenna, but it would be hard for me to verify that without actually taking a ride and listening to it myself. We have a few known locations in our area where it will drop out in the middle of the highway too – I have no explanation for that since it’s supposed to be line of sight to satellite above so if you have a clear view of the sky, you should be good. It’s not common for factory satellite radio antennas to go bad, but if you’re talking about something that was installed aftermarket, it’s a common thing to replace and I would start there.

  7. Just installed a SiriusXM Stratus7 in my 2013 Subaru Legacy; connected to factory system (with high-end speakers installed in factory locations+sub) through AUX input. I had high expectations, hoping for CD-quality sound. Boy was I disappointed….absolutely zero dynamic range; sounds like a low-grade cassette deck from the 1980’s. I immediately called customer service to cancel my subscription (until my call was mysteriously cut off). Don’t waste your money on SiriusXM. I found this site after searching for similar experiences….didn’t take long to find plenty of unhappy customers. Wished I had researched this a bit more before wasting my time/money.

    • Thank you for your feedback Keith!

  8. I just bought a Lincoln MKX with the Revel Ultima package, which features 19 speakers and about 1200 watts. It has Clari-Fi technology which is supposed to enhance compressed signals. When listening to a CD or a thumb drive with music recorded at 320 kbps it sounds awesome. However, satellite radio is extremely garbled, rendering it unlistenable. I had 2 Grand Cherokees with the 825w Harman Kardon system, and SiriusXM sounded OK. Does the Lincoln have a bad EQ processor, or has SiriusXM gotten worse? The LIncoln rep has no answer.

    • Hi Tom, I would assume it has to do with how Lincoln designed the sound system. I think a lot of car manufacturers internally boost to try and fatten up what is lost in the SiriusXM compression, but perhaps they didn’t build that into their design. Even music recorded at 320 kbps is 9 or 10 times fuller (depending on what channel you listen to) than the SiriusXM. So I would guess the Jeep’s had better internal equalization to try and boost and fill in what is lost. It’s changed over the years. When it first came out and they were two separate companies, XM really sounded better than Sirius. But eventually they really both started competing and both started adding more and more channels and losing more and more sound quality. Also, it used to be that each brand made their own tuner. I remember the Alpine XM tuner sounded better than Kenwood’s XM tuner and then they started having Delphi make the tuners, and now Audiovox makes them for aftermarket systems. I’m not sure who makes the tuner in the Lincoln, but I think it’s still Delphi in the Jeep.

  9. Thanks for your post Annie. I google searched ‘honda satellite radio sucks’ and this appeared first, and it answered a lot of questions for me. I lose service terribly in the summer and badly the rest of the year, as you noted because of the leaves on the trees here in CT. Overall Honda’s satellite radio is horrible because of coverage drops. I had much better service with my old click-on the roof antenna years ago. My wife’s car, a Mercedes, does not have the same issue, so there obviously is a fix for it. It makes it very difficult to know what you will get when you buy a car with Sirius installed.

  10. Hi, Annie:

    That was incredibly depressing. On the other hand, I never knew about ground repeaters. You kind of blew my mind. I may have to write with more questions when my head stops spinning.

    • Lol – thank you for the comment Lew! 🙂

  11. What is the bit rate of the streaming service thru the app.
    This should come from the server’s unchanged as it goes online before being uploaded to the satellite?
    The app has 3 settings for streaming low medium high. I have Ting, which uses Sprint backbone and reception sucks but app streams with no buffering.
    Football collage and pro, NBA, ESPN, NHL, MLB, Opie radio, Ron Bennington, SRS, BBC and allot of on demand content and tons of shows that I’m not mentioning to keep this post short. Tune in comes close but buffers under poor quality reception and tidel to me isn’t worth 19.95 for just music that buffers between tracks even under 4g and doesn’t offer half the content as free tune in. I’ve been bugging Google music to offer flac streaming, I’d pay extra for that cause you get you tube red and you tube music with no ads and down load play lists for offline play. Going to use my broadband to test the high settings on the app tomorrow and post my results/opinion tomorrow

    • Hi Jim,
      I don’t know about the bit rate on the app, that’s a great question. I just assumed it was the same, but it may be better.

  12. Today is 4.6.2016.
    I have been receiving sirius xm free for 13 months.
    They offer a free 30 day trial via the internet you can use the app to listen. You sign up via email for your 30 day free trial.
    Just change your email every month. Trick before you log into the app for your new month delete the app then reinstall it.
    It has worked for the last 13 months for me after my one year car del expired.


  13. You can add that it is not possible to cancel your subscription online. You have to call, have all your numbers, passwords, mothers maid name etc. Listen to hard core sales pitches, on and on. If you could cancel online it would be tempting to do short term subscriptions for road trips and such. But no, they have to hope you never figure out how to cancel. Sucks!

  14. I have to say, even the online streaming sounds bad. I thought I could tolerate the service for music and a little Stern, but it’s so bad, it really takes me out of it. Canceling today.

  15. Wow! I found this article after googling that my XM sounded terrible. I bought an XM ready Pioneer head unit last fall and couldn’t wait to finally have satellite radio in my truck. It took a while to realize, but it hit me like a ton of bricks a month ago.. This doesn’t sound right. It sounds.. Hollow, missing something, lacking.. Couldn’t put my finger on it. That said, the unit works fine and the antenna/reception are not an issue. But, if I listen to a song on CD, then hear the same song on XM, it does sound a lot different. Not a high end stereo by any means, I’m not an audiophile by any stretch. Just a Pioneer head unit with Focal component speakers up front, a nice amp, and a sub in the back. I started to wonder before seeing this article if the music might be compressed enough to hear a negative effect. Your article confirmed my fear.. It is.. A lot as it turns out. Unless they make me a ridiculously cheap subscription offer, I’m going to cancel when my sub is up in 2 months. Sad, but I’m not sure if XM can fix this without increasing bandwidth or decreasing content to do so. If there is better technology they could update to, not sure they can afford it. I think sat radio has been struggling to compete with other new technologies(smartphones).

  16. From what I’ve read voice only broadcasts use low bit rate streams about 24 kbit/s, and music broadcasts get streams of 40 to 64 kbit/s. I’m assuming the more popular stations get the higher rates. I pretty much only listen to Octane. While it’s not CD quality it’s far from horrible. My current setup. 2 sets of Polk Audio DB5251 components. 1 Alpine Type R 10 sub. Polk Audio PA D5000.5 amp Pioneer DEH 80PRS. Onyx XM receiver connected via aux cable.

    • Hi Mike,
      Thanks for the comment, but I respectfully disagree. I think it’s pretty damn horrible compared to CD quality. I agree they give better streaming to more popular channels and less on talk/news. I got that 32 kbps number from a local customer of mine who happened to be an insider at SiriusXM. I bet if you tried it with the dedicated SiriusXM receiver for the DEH 80PRS compared to the portable unit you’d hear a huge difference in sound quality between the portable and the “pre-amp” straight up compressed garbage that comes from their standard dedicated SiriusXM tuners. Just another example of the varying quality from receiver to receiver and car to car.

      Some people have a better ear for this than others. For example, I have a hard time enjoying Pandora One sometimes streaming at 192 kbps compared to the awesomeness of an app like Tidal (Hi-Fi streaming at 1411 kbps). I think once you hear how good music CAN sound through an app like that, you would have a hard time going back and enjoying the 40 – 64 kbps of SiriusXM on the more popular channels.

  17. Hi Annie,

    I agree the quality of Sirius XM stinks. I have had it in my Jeep for a while. The only reason why I keep it is for the travel link and traffic. Being in Boston it comes in handy. I just have the most basic service. I only listen to it when I have my kids in the car and we are going skiing or traveling to Virginia for college. Other than that I will listen to music on the connected thumb drive that has 60GB of songs.

    Great read

    • Thanks for the comment Rob!

  18. Hi Annie,

    I have been having SiriusXM radio for a little over six months now. The reason I became a subscriber is that they have music not found on local radio. Also, I live in an area with limited cell phone streaming data coverage on the road but full satellite coverage.
    I installed everything myself in my car and a home radio as well. Technologically everything you say is correct, and a bit of a challenge to deal with if one has musically trained ears. I am shocked that SiriusXM will not let dealers and installers make a living. I have, however, found a way to make the sound quality work quite well for me, not as well as a high end analog audio system but mostly close to MP3 level quality.
    As you say it is all about the sound equalization in the car audio system. My setup is a SXV300 aftermarket receiver feeding into an Audiovox Silverline Duo connected to my factory BMW Harman Kardon audio system. The BMW Harman Kardon equalizer has memory settings for each audio input so I have special “SiriusXM settings” for that mode. And in the Audiovox I can set the audio volume level to match that of the factory AM/FM radio and CD player. The result is mostly fine music in the car.
    My favorite channels are Classical and Jazz (Symphony Hall 76, Met Opera 74, Watercolors 66) and the sound quality depends on the complexity of the music. Solo instruments play well but there is a drop-off in audio detail when an entire orchestra plays, data compression related.
    The only bad issue I am still working on is a very low level background alternator whine that rears its ugly head during quiet passages in classical music. I got power line and audio line filters for the Audiovox and a ferrite choke for the sat antenna cable and I still need to install those when it’s not so cold outside.
    One reception feat I accomplished: My home antenna is receiving the SiriusXM signal through a big tree in front of it. After a few weeks of detail adjustments at an accuracy level of +/- 1 degree for azimuth and elevation measured using satellite position information online, Google maps for aiming at close landmark proxies and a bubble level with a protractor I got the simple $29 standard antenna to receive 3 out of 4 bars most of the time, and 1 bar with active channels during heavy rainstorms.

  19. My wife recently installed a Pioneer 6100 NEX in her new Subaru Forester. The antenna was routed to the rear roof antenna. HD Radio reception is great, normal FM is great, Pandora is excellent too. We live in Northern NJ, drive around the tri-state area, and recently took a road trip to the Newport News area of Virginia. Overall, the satellite reception is terrible and unacceptable. My wife experiences regular dropouts while commuting through the tri-state area, and there were so many signal losses on the drive to and from Virginia that we had no choice but to turn off the satellite. And these constant dropped signals took place along I-95, 113 and 13, a great deal of which passes through fairly open country. This, coupled with the horrible audio quality due to increased signal compression, makes me regret having signed up for two years at auto renewal. I can assure you that I cannot wait until my contract is over as I will not be resigning unless SiriusXM dramatically improves signal strength and audio quality. There are simply too many other choices out there now.

  20. I found this site when searching for bitrate on xm.

    I just got a Chevy.

    I have been a subscriber of xm for 3 weeks. The sound is awful.

    I have been involved in the technical side of multimedia transmission over data networks for 20 years. Based on the sound quality of what I heard, I am not surprised to find that the data rate is 32 kbit.

    Less then 16 kbit a single voice becomes difficult to understand.
    At 24kbit, 2 people can have an understandable conversation.
    At 32 kbit you can have 2 pleasant voices, i.e. A singer and a guitar, and have them both be pleasant. Adding a drum, or second instruments causes the audio to Cecile clipped and loose warmth. A band sounds awful.

    I plan on canceling as soon as the trial is complete.

  21. You forgot one thing that earks me the most, you never here more than one “good” song in a row on SiriusXM. I spend most of my commute changing stations just to hear a “good” song.

  22. I am one of those that actually drive an Infiniti. My XM service sounds decent enough to not be an issue. Most people don’t have 30gigs of shareable data. My family of four shares 10 gigs and we all drive. To get to the data level you have of 15gb per person I would have to go from $80 to $450 under Verizon’s new plans. Plus if I had data to spare I would just use the SXM app to get the increased bit rate that you discussed.

    No other music service comes close to the variety that XM offers. Shade 45 with the all out show, Sway in the morning, best interviews across the board of artist, Howard Stern radio, world class DJ’s spinning music live, every Sports package you can think of in house and in your car. While I will agree certain stations sound horrible, overall our cars all have factory units that other than mine are substandard anyway and between us we have only purchased 3 CD’s in the last three years. Plus have you ever really listened to Bluetooth, and 128bit audio? Horrid! I grew up on full range speakers and albums, Cd’s and home theater systems speaker systems sold today don’t impress me. Variety does, until internet radio can match what sat radio does and Verizon can lower data rates, I will stick with my XM. As a matter of fact I will still keep my SXM, I would just use the app for the 40 plus stations that are only available on the app.

    • Hey Don, thanks for the comment. By the way, your SiriusXM is streamed at 32 kbps but Infiniti and the other cars you own were just smart enough to consider this and have factored equalization and restoration processing to make it sound decent. If you ever got a car without it and wanted to add it, you would be extremely disappointed in the sound quality as the aftermarket SXV300 has no equalization or restoration processing. It sounds like 32 kbps. That’s my point, there’s no consistency across all the SiriusXM products. By the way – out of that 30 gig plan we have (they were running a special, same rate as 15 shared) we use less than 10 a month between two people.

  23. I don’t know what the basis is for the complaint of bad reception and bad sound quality. My radio is great! There are some dead spots, but they are very rare (I am in the NY-NJ-Conn region). Every channel has excellent sound quality. I have a built in car radio….maybe that’s the difference (?) I know someone who personally worked on the system when it was being developed, and one of the things that makes Sirius XM unique is the system of ground repeaters. This is ONE of the reasons why signal compression is required. But it certainly, in my case, has not diminished the sound quality at all.
    The REAL problem with Sirius XM Is, in my opinion, the customer service and the games they play when you renew. But I’ve learned how to overcome this by calling a couple of weeks before the renewal is due and bargaining for a better price, which is 6 months for $24.99. Customer service is awful.

  24. Am I the only one who remembers that Satellite Radio was promoted and intended to be commercial free?
    That was the selling point for me and then came the self promotions and then it just acted like any other radio staion on FM only I had to pay to listen…

  25. Have always wondered why my XM service was and is still so poor, thanks to you now I know. I am currently on a 3 month trial, when finished I will not be continuing service with XM. Thank you for educating me with this great article.

  26. I just searched this topic when I was so frustrated with my XM sound quality. I was listening to a favorite song that sounded so lifeless, I had to turn it up to get the right sound. Turning it up didn’t help. I turned up more. Still lifeless. No bass. And I don’t know what else was missing. It was crap, but crap that seemed like it refused to be played loudly. Sheesh.

    I subscribe to XM for Little Steven’s Underground and for other east-to-find variety. I push a button and there is comedy, blues, Soul Town. If I need to do that in a web browser while driving on a winding country, I’ll end up killing someone and myself as well. That sucks! If I knew how to get good sound from another service that is easily controllable, I would. I don’t see how I can. I would need to look at a phone, unlock the darned screen, then browse on the phone. I assume that’s true, unless there is some other option that is not driver suicide.

    Also, can I stream less-compressed channels over Verizon with reliable signals? I don’t know.

    As for some of your readers saying they don’t see reception problems, well, they must live in some open areas! My XM signal is only reliable for about 60% of my 45-minute drive home. The rest of the time the trees block the signal, then the buildings in some towns also block it. My commute is east-west, so it magnifies the problem – everything tall that is south of me is a problem! =:-( However, if I try the smart phone music option, I’m concerned. I know from phone call experience that I also lose cell signal for about five to ten minutes during my commute going through a national historic site lacking towers. Another section is also unreliable as the old country roads are sometimes quite sunken into the terrain. Also, I’m surrounded by NJ “horse country”, where the la-ti-da elites won’t tolerate cell towers. So, no matter what, I end up losing signal and switching my listening source roughly twice each commute. It’s frustrating. However, if Verizon (or another carrier) can stream music well and there are sites offering better sound, I would like to check it out.

    One more thing about XM sounding like garbage. One time I finished listening to a classic rock song on FM. It was great, but then ads came on. So, I switched to XM only to hear the same song. Well, it was *supposedly* the same song. It sounded criminally horrible. At that moment, the proverbial light bulb went on above my head and I felt horribly robbed of years of listening enjoyment. This is after I tried to adjust volume, treble, and bass, all to no satisfaction.

    Thanks for your insights. I look forward to hearing better music if I can figure out my options.

    • Hi Bruzote – thanks for the comment! Check out TIDAL for high fidelity audio streaming – it’s awesome. I use it for in store audio demonstrations and haven’t found an artist they haven’t had.

  27. Love your articles and videos, Annie. Unfortunately the time has come for me to partially disagree with you with respect to this article.

    For retailers, SiriusXM has never been about the profitability of the devices. Even back in the early 2000’s when it was fresh, the margins were weak. However, installing an SXV300 or even hard-wiring a stand-alone unit would bring in labor dollars and increase your average ticket price. Not to mention, a strong dealer has negotiated money back for activations. This inevitably resolves the issue of profitability on these units as it’s generally applied to new stock. Heck, we give SXV’s away during promo-days because we know what’s coming. These are also some reasons why I discourage the ‘over the counter’ sale of such units for retailers.

    Moving onto sound quality… Let’s face it, you’re absolutely right. However, there aren’t many people who know what sound quality is, neither do they make a real effort into optimizing and capturing quality music in their cars. Today, the majority are listening to music via iPods and MP3 devices that contain low bit rate music. They’re already used to listening to poor quality music. This does not mean we, as retailers, don’t have a duty to educate them, but most people can’t afford components that can reproduce quality music. 128kbps is not really impressive. It’s still lacking tremendously. I don’t know that I’ll see CD-quality streaming in cars in my lifetime.

    If I were a travelling man, on the road for hours and have nothing to do but judge my sound system, you better believe I would drop my SiriusXM account. However, I think I am like most folks, I drive from point A to B in town and I listen to my favorite channels on the way. I have AUX, USB and Bluetooth in my car, none of which I use because none will impress me. When I want to enjoy sound quality, I pop in a CD.

    Please keep in mind that I do not disagree that sound quality is poor, I just don’t think it’s low enough to cancel a subscription.

    I am not sure if this is individualistic, but dealer demo accounts and commissions are plentiful. Not to mention the constantly updated POP and web development tools offered. You are correct to say customer support lines are poor. I wish I could say otherwise about all other manufacturers/entities.

    The antenna issue hasn’t been a concern for us as of late. A decade ago, that was a real problem. Many of the antennas in that picture are quite old and obsolete.If that’s the case it makes sense.

    Signal quality has only been spotty (in my experience) only when going through a tunnel or under a bridge. Otherwise I never lose the signal. Several vacation trips from Texas to California and back without issues. But it’s satellite, and like satellite TV, it needs a clear line of site. It just depends on where you are at the moment and where the satellite is on it’s number-8-shaped track. I just don’t see a memorable number of customers coming back with signal quality complaints. A defective antenna may have been the case but that’s also super rare.

    Keep up the good work, Annie. Still a fan and will remain a fan. There aren’t too many people left with car stereo passion like yourself.

    • Hi Fadi,
      Thank you for the very well thought out comment and response! I will definitely have to look into getting a new dealer account. I had one for both Sirius and for XM and for a while both were assisting me, but they suddenly cut off commission checks and then the next thing that happened is I’d try calling on behalf of a customer and they’d flat out tell me to stop calling that number, it was only for car dealers now, etc. etc. So I basically got cut off with no explanation other than they’re merging and changing the way they do things.

      I’m curious as to where your shop is located, Texas I gather? In the Northeast, we have a lot of tree covered roads, a lot of mountains and despite explaining how the signal is line of site, people are still pretty disappointed. Especially if they just upgraded to a new vehicle that lacks that terrestrial antenna that their old vehicle had. We also get pretty diverse weather up here. Upper 100’s in dead of summer down to -8 in dead of winter. And I swear the extreme climate does a number on the cheap little antennas that come with the SXV300 (not the old ones in the picture). Maybe with the freezing and thawing? Whenever possible, we use the OEM antenna because, well, it lasts longer.

      I do respectfully disagree with you on the customer’s awareness of sound quality regarding use of iPods/compressed music. I really wrote this because of the amount of complaints I was getting from average every day customers despite my best efforts to educate on sound quality and compression. That’s what pushed me over the edge and inspired me to vent. And these aren’t high rolling customers, they’re not audiophiles and they’re not traveling for a living, but they do own iPods, iPhones and Androids (like almost everyone these days) and they can definitely tell the difference in sound quality between 32 kbps streaming SiriusXM and 320 on Pandora (depending on if they’re paying for it), Spotify, Google Play or Beats not to mention what they’ve bought and downloaded in Apple Lossless onto their iPod.

      And if you’re really into sound quality, now we’ve even got head units that will play FLAC audio files. How cool is that? So the choice for sound quality is there on most head premium head units. The thing is – if you’re buying and downloading music from iTunes at 320 kbps in apple lossless, it’s going to be pretty indistinguishable to CD quality. I think this is where most of my customers are. And maybe it’s a weird market where I am, but these people want sound quality and convenience. Now if someone comes into my shop and wants to play a song from youtube off his iPhone, I agree, yeah, they just don’t know any better and again, it’s an opportunity to teach. Whether or not they’ll take it is another thing.

      But I have had way more than a handful of customers infuriated about the sound quality (not to mention the spotty reception and poor customer service). As a small business owner, I’m more than happy to make money off the install as long as the customer is aware of the limitations of the product. What I don’t want to do is charge a customer to put this product in and disappoint them. I’d rather not sell a product or service if it’s going to upset or disappoint someone. Sometimes I forget to do my educating to the customer who assumed it would be exactly like it was in their last car, or a customer who thought that it was CD quality (as SiriusXM liked to advertise, not sure if they still advertise that way). So with each and every SiriusXM request I do my best to go through my spiel to make sure they’re aware of the limitations. I just don’t want to see anyone else disappointed or frustrated with SiriusXM. I take my customers frustrations personally because I feel along the sales process I failed to confirm they were aware of these limitations.

      Thanks again for the comment.

      • Thanks for the reply, Annie.

        We are a chain-store in Texas, Missouri and Illinois but mostly dominant presence in Texas. You are correct in that we have plenty of ‘open land’ with clear line of sight. Clearly I didn’t think much about other areas of the US where mountains and trees impact the signals significantly. Makes perfect sense.

        I also failed to consider drastic climate change and its negative impact on antennas (or anything for that matter). Lastly on the antenna issue, I completely agree that factory antennas are best practice.

        I wish SiriusXM would make an effort to increasing sound-quality. Even a single unhappy customer would be frustrating for me.

        In closing, regardless of how my customers’ experiences differ from yours, we can both agree that SiriusXM sound quality is likely the poorest of all the common sources that we listen to today.

        Thanks again for your time and effort put towards the industry.

      • Annie, I want to gripe about another thing. First, the **number one reason** by far that I quit XM for a couple of years is their crappy equipment options. I’ve ownded four other radios that all broke. Sirius XM cares not a whit about quality by its licensees. I think you need to look at how many people are affected by this before you assume music quality is the number one problem with Sirius-XM.

        I also think it sucks that I bought a car with XM, and they won’t give me free access to the built-in radio. It’s not like I can use XM more by paying for a second device. However, I must use my inconvenient and messy mobile setup in drink holder. I’ll be d*mned if I pay for another account when I am single customer. This is something Sirius -XM should remedy. Expecting me to pay for two accounts – that ticks me off. Maybe I’ll cancel again this ticks me off so much. I have a built-in XM in my car and I can’t activitate it without paying more every month. That is senseless.

  28. Hi Annie,
    I stopped into your shop yesterday… based on our conversation and the above article, plus a little research on music app compression rates, I just:
    a) signed up for Spotify
    b) cancelled my SiriusXM subscription
    The only drawbacks I see are
    a) less convenient switching “stations” on the iPhone vs. steering column-based controls
    b) harder to see info on the phone display vs. the car display
    But, still think it’s the right move because of the audio quality. Thanks for the advice… obviously got me thinking, and acting!

    • Hi Randy,
      Thank you so much for the feedback, I appreciate it! We can always do a vehicle and phone specific mount to make it easy to see station and safely change channels. I like to use a Pro Clip holder (phone specific part) with a Panavise bracket (vehicle specific part – can search by vehicle on top part of page). Makes for a really clean and convenient cell phone holder. Which is also great if you’re using a GPS app like Waze.

      OR – We could take out that stock stereo and install an Apple CarPlay stereo that would in fact allow you on screen control and steering wheel controls. Just a thought.

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