Entertainment Reviews


Sirius Satellite Equipment
Sirius Satellite Equipment (Audiovox SIRPNP2)

MarksFriggin Review of Sirius Satellite - 11/30/2004 (Updated 05/05/06)

On Thursday, November 18th, Howard Stern gave away 500 Sirius radio boomboxes to some lucky fans. There was a huge turnout for the appearance and Sirius was giving out vouchers to the thousands of other people who missed out on the free boombox giveaway. On that voucher was a code to get a ''Free'' Sirius plug and play tuner and either a home or car kit to go along with it. To get the ''free'' unit you had to purchase a year long subscription to Sirius radio. I figured this would be a good time to get to know Sirius, before Howard makes his move in January 2006.

There were some logistics I wanted to work out anyway so I went for it and placed my order that day. The next Tuesday I received my ''free'' Audiovox SIRPNP2 receiver and both the home and car kit. I paid an extra $50 for the extra kit since I wanted to test this thing out in my car and at home. I opened up the kits a short time after they showed up. The first thing that caught my attention was the size of these things. They're not exactly ''compact'' units. They're actually quite bulky. Not a problem in the home but I had a feeling it might be an issue when putting it in the car. More on that later.

Once I had everything hooked up to my home stereo, which is in the east end of my home, I turned the unit on for the first time and got a fairly weak signal even though the antenna was outside and facing in what I thought was the right direction. The antenna has to be facing in the general direction of the satellite depending on where you live. In my case, it's supposed to be facing West. I couldn't figure out why the signal was weak until a few days later when it dawned on me that it was facing North! Idiot! I fixed the problem a few days later. Now it's much better.

I had some issues getting my receiver to work but that turned out to be a problem with the ID number listed on the back of my unit. It was off by a digit on the printed label so they couldn't get my unit to work. We fixed that the next day and I was tuned in and listening to music within seconds.

I have to say I was very impressed with the range of music available under the ''Rock'' category. Seventeen stations under that category alone. It ranges from Classic Rock to Reggae. I quickly found my favorites, Octane (Pure hard rock) and Alt Nation (Alternative Rock). I switched between the two loving the fact that there were no commercials and the selection of songs was great. The quality wasn't bad either. It's not ''CD Quality'' though. It's more like MP3 quality. Not bad, just fine in the car.

There are a lot of talk stations available on this service as well. I switched around between a few to hear the quality of the talk stations. Now here's my only real complaint. The digital quality of the talk stations seems to be a little bit lower than the quality of the music stations. So, it basically sounds like you're listening to a low-bit rate internet radio station through your home (or car) stereo. It's kind of like AM radio without the high pitched whine, pops and static. It's only slightly annoying but I'm sure I'll get used to it once Howard is there.

Now, about that bulky receiver... I was going to hook this thing up in my fiancee's Honda Accord so she can try out the service driving back and forth to work. The only problem is that there's no easy place to mount this thing. With the mobile cradle it's about 5 1/2 inches wide by almost 4 inches high by 2 1/2 inches deep... without the optional mounting base! We're looking into some other options as far as mounting it with a windshield mount or something for the console. I'm eventually going to get some other units, maybe an FM modulator (which should mount easier) and another home unit. This ''free'' unit is going to be relegated to being the slave for recording the show every day once Howard makes the move.

UPDATE: 12/11/04 - I've installed the portable unit in my fiancee's car so we can test out the reliability of the signal on the roads here in Hunterdon County, New Jersey. So far there have only been a couple of hiccups. Not surprisingly, the satellite signal is lost when under overpasses, but it's nothing to complain about really. My fiancee also said she had an unreliable signal while driving on Rt. 287, a major North/South route through Jersey. Other than that, the radio has performed flawlessly and she's enjoyed Sirius so far.

UPDATE: 12/31/04 - Me and my Fiancee took a trip from New Jersey to Massachusetts over the Christmas weekend so we took her car so I could see just how well the equipment works. The signal was strong and clear for just about the whole trip. Even going under a bunch of overpasses in the New York City area we picked up a signal. There were just a couple of quick interruptions in service in areas that looked wide open. The only thing I can imagine that was blocking the signal was the tall sound-blocking walls along the highways where we lost the signal. It was never lost for more than a few seconds though. Once again I have to say that I love this service. We were able to listen to any of the 120+ stations we wanted to for the whole 300 mile trip. Sirius really is better than FM.

UPDATE: 05/05/06 This tuner finally died on me. It gave me a good year and a half of service though. I started having a couple of issues with the unit cutting out a couple of months ago. I'd turn it off and let it cool down and it would come back no problem. Then one morning it was just completely dead. I was lucky enough to have my Starmate Replay test unit laying around gathering dust after the 3 month subscription ran out. I called SIRIUS and asked if I could swap the old 1 year subscription to the Starmate Replay. They transferred the subscription no questions asked... and no additional fee. Nice!

There was only one disconcerting thing about the phone call to SIRIUS customer service. The rep told me that he was surprised that the Audiovox unit lasted as long as it did. He said that the usually fail much sooner. I hope that's only true for the older units and not the current crop of tuners.

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01/10/05 - Reader Mail - JK writes... Mark,
I love your website and refer to it when I am overseas or cannot listen to the show. Please keep up the good work.

I saw your articles about Sirius and have a couple of websites that should explain the technical side of the satellite radio business. These should help:

And for XM:

These are the ''footprints'' or the ''signal strength'' indicators if you will (the higher the number - the more power toward the earths surface). In these pictures both east and west coast have better reception than the middle of the country.

Take a look at the technology section around Page 7 it should be very helpful to understand the satellite part of their operation.

I can tell you that both satellite systems put a very powerful signal down on the earth's surface - thus the ability to use the smaller antennas on the cars (the more power being transmitted, the less antenna you need to receive).

Geostationary versus Highly Inclined Orbit Satellite Operation

A geostationary satellite (XM) is great for your Direct-to-Home (or DTH) services like DirecTV and Dish Network. The DTH home antenna is ''fixed'' on the satellite and the satellite appears to stay in one location in the sky.

A Highly Inclined Satellite Operation (Sirius) means the satellite does not appear to stay in one place in the sky and actually moves very slowly across the sky. Since the satellite moves, more of the higher power is spread across a bigger part of the earth's surface.

I listened to both before I chose my system and immediately signed up with Sirius after I heard the programming. Plus I now feel comfortable knowing that I could go anywhere from upper Canada to Mexico and still have a great signal all along the way.

I hope this make the technical part of satellite radio easier to understand.

12/11/04 - Reader Review - Philip from Alabama writes...


I enjoyed the review of Sirius and the Audiovox hardware. I'm a HS fan in Alabama (I sent you a check once a long time ago) and can't wait for the switch to satellite so I can finally hear the show live (not downloaded from a.b.h-s). I did my research on the hardware during the weekend before Thanksgiving. I concluded that the Audiovox that was being given away per the HS promotion was outdated equipment. In fact the 3rd generation Audiovox hardware is already out and is a departure from the equipment being given away. The guys at Best Buy said they no longer carried it and had many returns from unhappy customers. They described it's bulkiness and occasional poor reception. Although it was VERY difficult for me to turn down the free hardware I ended up going with another plug-and-play receiver.

I'm writing to give you my review of the Sirius Sportster hardware in case you decide to upgrade in the future. I am very pleased. Best Buy ran a special offering the receiver and the car kit for about $120 (after rebate) and I went ahead and purchased a home kit as well. It's much more compact and I easily switch between my home and car. They also have a boombox designed for the Sportster that looks pretty cool. Here's what sold me on the Sportster:
(1) Compact size
(2) Has all the feature of the other PNP receivers PLUS some NFL-related stuff.
(3) Comes with an FM booster which boosts the FM signal transmitted from the Sportster to your car radio.
The FM booster is ultimately what sold me on the product. I had read far too many negative reviews about the Audiovox hardware on the Internet related to poor reception in vehicles.

I'm in general agreement with your statement on the audio quality. However, I have noticed (and I guess this goes without saying) that the quality is definitely related to the signal strength. The Sportster has a feature that displays graphically how strong the signal is and I've found a correlation with the displayed signal strength and the quality of the audio. Sure, when I'm driving through a big city with a cluster of radio stations, I might get a bit of static. In those cases, I can simply set the Sportster to transmit on a less crowded FM frequency. I assume the Audiovox can do this as well. But like I said before, I'm very pleased with the Sportster and the Sirius transmissions and have absolutely no regrets.

BTW, I also considered getting the Audiovox free equipment and then buying the Sportster has a second receiver. I changed my mind when I realized that Sirius charges a fee (7 bucks, I think) for each additional receiver. I decided this was not cost-effective for my situation.

12/21/04 - Reader Review - Rick writes...

On November 20th I ordered my free Audiovox PNP2 and car kit from Sirius using the free code you posted here. Thanks pal! I also bought the boombox so I could a) record the show thru my computer, as I do now, and b) take the radio with me when I go to Vegas so I can listen to the show in my room. The boombox worked fine right away, and the night I activated my service I was up 'til 3:45AM listening to the rock/jazz/comedy channels. My living room faces north, but the antenna is near the inside (south) wall, and 99% of the time I get a useable signal. Unlike Phillip's experience with his Sportster receiver, I don't hear much difference related to signal strength - whether it shows a 1 or a 3, it sounds about the same. I live in Phoenix AZ, and there must be a lot of repeaters here.

A few days later I decided to try testing the car dock out. Since I work at home and use the car mainly for trips I decided I wouldn't do the ''permanent'' install of the antenna, but, like an ''undercover brother,'' I'd store it under the seat and run it thru the back door to the roof when in use. I connected everything up, and found out very quickly that the FM transmitter in the car dock was useless here in the city. There are stations on 2 of the 4 frequencies available, and all I got when I turned Sirius on was bleed-thru from one of them, even with the unit held up on the dash like a foot away from the car antenna. A call to Sirius led to a call to Audiovox to get a hard-wired modulator (SIRSWB - part #112C3159 for the PNP2 and CK1&'2). The price was $14.25 + $6.50 S&H = $20.75.

It arrived last Friday, and I tried it out on Saturday. Perfect!!! It's a small box, and you just take the antenna out of the radio and plug it into the box. There are 2 wires coming out of the box - one plugs back into the radio, and the other one (which is about 5000 feet long!) plugs into the FM Out jack on the car dock. I had already discovered that even under the carport the unit was pulling a 3 (max) on the signal strength meter. I drove around the neighborhood, and found the reception great, but thus far I haven't driven under any overpasses or downtown around any tall buildings. I'm also interested to see how it performs on the drive to Vegas thru the mountains and away from ''civilization.'' I'll be going again in January and I'll let you know how it does.

I was able to use the mounting base vertically under the dash, but it's really too short - I can reach the unit, having long arms, but the ashtray/cupholder obscures it when open. Also, the friggin coiled power cord lays right over the display. I searched the internet for solutions and found a company called Panavise. They make both rigid and flexible cellular phone mounts in lengths up to14'' that may solve many car installation headaches. I ordered a catalog 2 days ago and will let you know more soon. You can see what I'm talking about here: and here's one that you can get in 14'' length: From what I gather, the car dock mounts should attach to these with little or no modification. There are no prices listed either, but hopefully they're in the $20 range.

I do love the programing, and I find myself listening to Sirius most evenings, but it's doubtful I would've made the investment if Howard hadn't been moving there - certainly I wouldn't have done it anytime soon. I took a gamble and bought the lifetime membership - if the radio lasts thru the next 6 years (and it should), it'll be worth it, especially since there's already talk of raising the subscription rates (how much can they get away with charging for RADIO???). The PNP2 may be an ''old'' model, but it works fine and has enough features to make it enjoyable to use. In a few years we'll probably be able to get one implanted (hopefully not up our asses), and then all of these will be ''old'' models.

We've e-mailed a couple of times over the last couple of years - love your friggin' site, Mark! Keep it up, an BabaBooey to y'all!

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