Help me with my Sirius problem
July 11, 2010 3:07 PM   Subscribe

Help me with my Sirius issues (haha.) No, really- my old radio died, luckily I still had my Best Buy warranty, but my options for replacement seem to suck. So I am looking for advice on a) which new radio will fill the hole in my heart that the old one dying left behind, and b) how to work this out with my Best Buy warranty.

My radio that just died was a Sportster 3. I loved it so much! My favorite features were the little wheel that you can use to scroll through stations, and the dock that had an Aux-in so I could run my ipod through its more-powerful-than-an-iTrip fm transmitter. (the reason i got it in the first place was because my tape player died and i was no longer able to run my ipod through the cassette adapter, and trying to use the iTrip in chicago is a joke, especially in my old POS car.) i'd been toying with the idea of getting sirius anyway, so i finally decided to do it, and its been great ever since. til it died :-(

Anyway, I go to Best Buy and they replace my old radio with an XM Onyx. Off the bat I don't really love it because it doesn't have a wheel. There's an aux plug-in thingy in the back but I don't know if its for out (to the car) or in (from the ipod) or both. When I ask the people there, they don't seem to know. I get it all installed in my car and call my dad, who took over paying for my subscription as a graduation gift, and he tries to switch service to my new radio. They tell him they can't, because it's an XM radio and not Sirius. I am confused because I thought they merged and it wouldn't be an issue (it says XM/sirius right on the box) but I guess it is. Now I want to try to take it back and get a Sirius radio, but there are issues with that too- the model I want (Sportster 5) they don't carry, not even online. The Starmate looks ok, but it has the clicky button instead of the wheel. And, they only carry it online. The most frustrating part is that the people who work at Best Buy, as well as the people you get when you call Sirius, don't seem to know much about the radios either. So I am hoping some of y'all have experience and can help me answer the following (any or all):

1. Is there a dock available for the latest models of the Starmate or Sportster that I can run an aux cord into so I can listen to my iPod through it?
2. The clicky center button on the Starmate looks like it will be really annoying compared to the wheel I am used to. Did you make the switch and find it annoying?
3. If I take my Onyx back to Best Buy, will they let me fulfill my warranty by ordering the Starmate for me through their website?
4. Can I just return the Onyx for store credit use it for something else (then I will just buy the Sportster with cash)
5. I also heard that, sometime between when I bought the radio in 2006 and now, the FCC had a problem with the radio signals being too strong, and now the new models have weaker signals. Is this true, and if so will there be a noticeable difference in quality with a new model compared to my old one?

sorry. i know this is a ridiculously complicated post for something as unimportant as a radio, but i just absolutely loved the one i had and don't want to have to settle for something suckier. thanks, everyone!
posted by lblair to Technology (8 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know for a fact #5 is true. It will only matter if you're running your satellite radio through an FM transmitter. Sounds like you have it hard-wired though, so not too important I'd say.

I would suggest calling Sirius directly and seeing if they will give you a new radio you like. It's been several years but their customer service always bent over backwards to keep me a customer. Best Buy on the other hand, well, they're usually assholes.
posted by CwgrlUp at 3:58 PM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: yep, #5 is true. I've been an XM subscriber for years, not sure if I can apply heart-balm on all the sore spots, but here goes:

- I have an XM radio in the same family as the Onyx. Uses the exact same cradle. The aux port is an OUTPUT jack - 1/8th male-on-both-ends cord should go from there to an aux INPUT on your stereo, or else you're going to use the FM transmitter in the Onyx, but it's not going to help you play your iPod, unfortunately. It's rare to have an AUX input in a peripheral device, especially nowadays where they increasingly assume the car has an AUX input.

A car stereo installer can put an AUX input adapter in most later-model cars (most in the last 5-10 years). It usually works by spoofing the CD changer controls (which could get complicated if you really have a CD changer, but I'm betting you don't, or you don't use it, since you have an iPod or XM. Unless your car is just really wretched and on its last legs, you might look into this. LIFE-CHANGING sound quality diff. vs. FM modulation, IMO.

As has been said, XM /= Sirius. Both companies under common ownership and share a lot of programming, but still two different satellite systems. You'da thunk they'd consolidate billing departments and afford opportunities to transparently combine subs between units, as some people have both anyway (ex. if you have a Ford and a Honda in the driveway with factory units), but noooo. So depending on your pain about having to open an XM account (which could be substantial if you lose an opportunity to hang a Sirius radio onto an existing family plan), you may indeed have to return the Onyx for a Sirius radio. The Onyx is an okay radio if you're on the XM network, but the Best Buy people are disingenious and/or idiots for fobbing it off on you as a replacement for a Sirius unit.
posted by randomkeystrike at 8:05 PM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: It will only matter if you're running your satellite radio through an FM transmitter. Sounds like you have it hard-wired though, so not too important I'd say.

no, i am running it through an FM transmitter. that's why i am worried about the quality with the newer models.

A car stereo installer can put an AUX input adapter in most later-model cars (most in the last 5-10 years) Unless your car is just really wretched and on its last legs, you might look into this. LIFE-CHANGING sound quality diff. vs. FM modulation, IMO.

:-( My car is more than 10 years old. It's pretty wretched . . . but I am in no position to buy a new one anytime soon, so I am going to drive it til the bitter end. it's a toyota, so no matter how crappy it looks on the outside, people keep telling me the engine will probably last a while. i hope it will run for at least a few more years. so . . . worth it?

so . . . if i don't feel like anything in the store is an appropriate replacement, will they give me store credit to fulfill my warranty, or tell me to go @#$ myself? i mean, the onyx was really the only one they claimed was comparable, but i am just going to go tell them that i am on a family plan and need a sirius radio.
posted by lblair at 8:51 PM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: While XM and Sirius did merge, they did so more for corporate reasons than to benefit us (the subscribers). The technical incompatibility between the two systems means that SiriusXM must operate both separately, and the company has not yet figured out a reliable way to integrate billing. If there's one thing SiriusXM needs to avoid, it's delaying any sort of inbound cash flow.

I would take the Onyx back as it is not a suitable replacement under the warranty. You need a radio that operates on the Sirius system, and the Onyx does not. If they are unable to offer you a Sirius radio as a replacement (which should be hogwash as I know for certain Best Buy carries Sirius radios), then I would get my money back and use it to buy a Sportster 3 off eBay. A quick search over there shows at least a couple Sportster 3 units.

If you want to stick with the XM side of the house and use the Onyx, you can get three months of free service by using the long-standing (it's worked for the past 5 years) activation code XMSCION03. XM supposedly also offers a $77/year promotional rate if you call in and ask for it, but I went the lifetime subscription route and never tried for the promo.
posted by fireoyster at 10:26 PM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: oops. i googled it and apparently the one i had was a sportster 4 . . . and it's going for more than i bought it for originally! oh my goodness . . . to get it with the aux in like i used to have is like 200 bucks!!! (originally bought it for 135.)

thanks for the good idea, fireoyster. it crossed my mind to look for the old model online, but i assumed they would all be used (and therefore probably on the verge of death like mine apparently was.)but i think i better suck it up and buy the one i love . . . so the question is, what happens to my warranty when i return the onyx? do i just lose out, or will they give me store credit?
posted by lblair at 11:13 PM on July 11, 2010

Response by poster: crap . . . nevermind i read the fine print on the page and apparently they are out of stock. argh! why didn't they take the page down then??
posted by lblair at 11:14 PM on July 11, 2010

Best answer: My boyfriend works for Sirius. He says:

I work for "Legacy Sirius" SiriusXM engineering and while I don't work in product engineering, I do get my hands on a number of radios....

1) No; I've been told we stopped making those awhile ago... you could use something like this on your headend to emulate the functionality.

2) I find the click-wheel is much nicer to use. It's a very gentle click and doesn't interfere with tuning quickly and the tactile feedback is pleasant.

3) That's Best Buy's call... If they sold you a "Legacy" XM radio to replace a "Legacy" Sirius one, they screwed up. Consolidated billing on the two platforms is not here just yet (soon I understand... how soon I don't know).

4) Probably... again BB's call.

5) There was an FCC consent decree regarding the output level of the FM transmitters built-in to radios. So yes, more recent models will have lower level FM output. Quality differences would depend on the particular environment the FM modulator is setup in as well as the FM receiver in the car. Nine times out of ten, it won't make a difference.
posted by rosethorn at 9:47 PM on July 12, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks everyone. Here's what happened.

I returned the Onyx to Best Buy and got store credit with no hassle. Now I have ~$140 in credit there.

I managed to buy a new Sportster 4 (my old radio) online for $120. It was the last one in stock on some random electronics website I'd never heard of. I was a bit skeptical, but I went for it, and it just arrived and it's perfect and lovely. I still can't believe that having an aux-in was a feature that disappeared from the radios. I found the whole setup to be a perfect solution for my old junk bucket car- it gave me a way to listen to radio AND my ipod, but it isn't permanent (so when the junk bucket dies, I just unplug sirius and put it in the next junk bucket.) so anyone who happens across this thread and is thinking of getting a Sirius for the same reason I did- as a good music solution for an old car- I totally recommend this old radio, if you can find it. Due to the aux-in jack and also what was discussed earlier about broadcasting a stronger signal.

So it turns out that the Best Buy warranty wasn't such a bad deal either. Something like $17 for a four year plan. So I basically bought the radio, used it for 4 years, it died, and I got my money back (in the form of store credit, which is good enough for me.) I ended up buying the new one for a little less than the original, so even when you factor in the hassle, i pretty much broke even. Also, throughout the years I've been able to replace things here and there (power cord, antenna) through my warranty. I did get lucky, though, that my radio actually died within the 4 year plan. I am sure the plan was getting close to expiring- to be honest, I thought it already had, but I asked them to look it up for me anyway (glad I did!)
posted by lblair at 11:03 AM on July 21, 2010

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