XM or Sirius for indie rock fans?
November 15, 2005 8:25 PM   Subscribe

XM or Sirius?

My wife is thinking about getting either Sirius or XM, but had a few questions. Basically, we want to know which service people think is better and which receivers (we want to use it in the home and the car) are the best combo of value/features. She's more interested in music (specifically indie rock) than anything else, and if one station had a channel similar to KEXP, that would probably be enough to recommend it.
posted by mdbell79 to Technology (26 answers total)
previous on AxMe.

I have a Roady2 in my car (XM) and plan to buy a new car with XM soon.
posted by kcm at 8:28 PM on November 15, 2005

Thanks for the quick response, kcm. I did search and find the previous tag, but figured since it was a year old and a lot may have changed that it would be ok to ask again. I'm still pretty new here, and at the risk of hijacking my own thread too early, I wouldn't mind someone telling me if I was wrong on the etiquette here. Thanks again.
posted by mdbell79 at 8:36 PM on November 15, 2005

It probably would have done to indicate you already searched and that the information may be stale, et al. No problems. I am happy with the XM selection of both the eclectic and near-unknown. Fungus and Music Lab are nice, as are the selections on the more mainstream stations. I tend to spend solo road trips listening to the comedy stations lately.
posted by kcm at 8:41 PM on November 15, 2005

One thing that wasn't mentioned in the discussion that kcm linked to is that Sirius has far fewer commercials than XM. Essentially, there's just the occasional 'ad' for another Sirius channel (to let you know when they add new channels, for instance). Oh, and of course the live feeds from TV stations (like CNN or whathaveyou) have whatever ads those stations have, but there's not much that can be done about that.

XM is much worse about commercials, to my understanding. Since I'm paying for the service outright, I put a lot of value in not having ads, so I chose Sirius.
posted by jedicus at 9:11 PM on November 15, 2005

I've had XM for over a year and am still pleased. I spend a lot of time listening to Fred, Ethel, XMU and the comedy channel. It is truly nice to be able to flip through the music channels and find something you like and be able to see the artist and song titles. It was also cool during Live8 when XM broadcasted all of the concerts live so you could flip from Paris to London to Toronto, etc. It is also nice that most of the stations do not edit the songs so you don't here the radio edits of some of the songs with more colorful language.

I entered the fray with a Roady2 and bought my new car with XM built-in a few months ago. When I had the Roady2, I went through the line-in on my car stereo instead of the FM modulator or cassette adapter for the cleanest sound. At the time I first got XM, it seemed that it had more choices for receivers and more car manufacturers offering it so I thought it would have a better chance of being around in the future. XM still has a lot more subscribers and support from car companies.

The only thing that Sirius has that XM doesn't that I'd like is NPR but I can get that over the air.

The big buzz is Stern is coming to Sirius next year but I could care less about that. XM has Opie and Anthony as its shock jocks that I've never listen to [except you're subjected to stupid house ads from them on the stations that do have commercials -- like the commedy channels, news and talk channels]. But I bought satellite radio for the music.
posted by birdherder at 9:15 PM on November 15, 2005

I'm told that Sirius (no word on XM) is pre-empting channels that have no relation to football in order to broadcast football games. True?
posted by Hildago at 9:16 PM on November 15, 2005

I went with XM for the baseball. There are a lot of ads. In general satellite radio feels like cable tv: 200+ channels and nothing's on.
posted by A dead Quaker at 9:23 PM on November 15, 2005

To follow up on jedicus' note about ads.... all of the music channels on XM are ad-free. Only simulcasts of TV channels like CNN and CNBC have ads as well as the comedy channel [about 1 minute of ads a half hour] and the talk channels like Air America which will have the same number of ads as if you were listening over regular radio [although instead of pure advertising or promoting other channels, XM will slot in some content like a business travel hints, or financial hints, or lazlow and his underground hard drive]

And Hildago, I haven't run into that problem with XM. They seem to have about a million sports channels for college sports, baseball, etc that can be used. I'm not into sports but I think XM has some types of sports exclusively, and Sirius has others. The only time I've heard programming pre-empted on music channels on XM happen was during Live8 so they could broadcast all of the concerts live. But I thought that was kind of cool.
posted by birdherder at 9:27 PM on November 15, 2005

Hildago, I've got Sirius, and they do occasionally take over up to 22 stations, in addition to the 8 existing sports stations, to broadcast sports. I've only had the radio for a few weeks though, and haven't run into this yet.

As far as indie rock, there is an Indie/College Rock station that I listen to a lot called "Left of Center" that she would like. There are also "Alternative Rock" and "Classic Alternative" stations that she may like. I believe you can listen for free on the Sirius website.

Hardware - I have the Starmate. It was super cheap (I can't remember how cheap, just that Radio Shack had the best price) and works fine.
posted by amro at 9:55 PM on November 15, 2005

XM hardware is WAAAAAAY ahead of sirius. and as far as ads go, birdherder hit it on the head. but good ol' mel is in charge over there now, so expect to hear A LOT of commercials soon, especially on howard's channels.

id vote for XM, nobody listens to football on the radio. yuch.
posted by hummercash at 10:31 PM on November 15, 2005

I only have experience with XM. I really dug its rap station and a classic rock station that played b-sides and rarities. There were some good but like dinosaur-old comedy routines and everything else was shite. YMMV but always be wary of more subscription services. Spend your money on something tangible and at least if you don't like it you have an asset you can sell for partial reimbursement. Spend money on a subscription and you have a liability and if you don't like it it won't do you a bit of good ever until you can cancel.

XM provides a login for online listening that you can probably borrow from friends or family to explore its offerings. I don't know if Sirius offers anything similar.
posted by moift at 11:21 PM on November 15, 2005

I went with XM almost two years ago and have been generally happy. I have the old-school Roady running through my car's cassette player.

Note my Sirius comments are based on a non-subscriber's understanding; don't bet the ranch on them.

I don't know much about KEXP but XM has a channel featuring unsigned artists as well as a college rock channel, a Europop channel and several "alternative" (whatever that is) channels. Plus Pete Fornatale, a NY radio legend, does a show on their acoustic rock channel which includes interviews and live performances.

If you like punk, XM has a great programmer named Lou Brutus in charge of Fungus (channel 53). Lou previously programmed a great channel called Special X (anything from Zappa to the Del Rubio Triplets to Wesley Willis to bird training records) which sadly was taken off but is still available in a somewhat neutered form on the XM internet feed. Hopefully they'll run Special X-Mas again this year -- Special X takes over a station and replaces its programming with off-beat holiday numbers.

I wouldn't be surprised if Sirius has similar programming. Like others have said, the major differences between the two are the sports coverage (Sirius has some sports, XM has some others,) the public radio offerings (Sirius has NPR -- which I have no problem picking up on the radio anyway -- while XM has The Bob Edwards Show plus PRI stuff including This American Life), the left-wing talk show lineups and the Stern vs. O&A thing.

As birdherder pointed out, the commercials issue on XM is pretty dead; they used to have ads on their music channels but dropped them about a year ago. You'll hear some ads on the channels carrying non-original programming, but fewer than if you were listening on the old Philco.

If you're a NASCAR junkie XM carries scanner frequencies on a separate channel from their race coverage so you can hear the driver/pits chatter. The Roady displays the car number as they're talking.

One thing that others haven't mentioned is an issue here in lovely, tree-filled Fairfield County, Connecticut: the signal will cut out if you're in an area with dense arboreal growth. Around here the trees are leafy and often grow to within a yard or two of the shoulder on secondary roads, overhanging the asphalt. I haven't found this to be a problem in other parts of the country with newer roads, nor is it an issue in the winter when the leaves are off the trees. It's also never a problem on major roads around here.

The same problem will occur if you're driving in a canyon or area surrounded by very steep hills (steep enough to block your view of the celestial equator). Sirius uses a different satellite technology that results in a higher-altitude signal (geosynchronous vs. XM's geostationary orbits) so it might not be as big an issue with them.

Signal blockage in major cities has never been an issue with XM as I think they have a pretty extensive set of repeaters.

If you're an audiophile the sound quality of XM might get on your nerves (I can't speak for Sirius here); the sound is digital but compressed and I find an annoying reedyness to it. Maybe it's my speakers or just my ears but I don't know if I could put up with it if I was listening to orchestral music in my living room. Since I listen in the car and mostly to either talk or punk/pop it isn't really an issue for me, but I recommend "test driving" both services in the store and listening closely to each to see if there's anything about either's sound that bothers you.
posted by Opposite George at 11:35 PM on November 15, 2005

I think XMU (the 'indie' type channel) was much better when they had a little more human interaction/programming - now it is very much on autopilot. It does at times have the feel of a good indie/"college rock" station but sometimes trips on its own two feet since the effective departure of live action.

Doesn't mean I stopped listening to it.
posted by kuperman at 6:09 AM on November 16, 2005

My uncle had XM and decided to switch to Sirius. I think he enjoyed Sirius's programming better. His use is in-car only.
posted by lorrer at 6:16 AM on November 16, 2005

For indie rock, go with XM. XMU is generally terrific, and Fred, the classic indie/alternative channel is great as well. Stumbled across a BBC recording of a live Talk Talk concert the other day that was amazing.
posted by Heminator at 6:47 AM on November 16, 2005

To clarify, the BBC recording was on XM.
posted by Heminator at 6:48 AM on November 16, 2005

I have Sirius. I use the Alpine reciever for my SAT-ready deck. The sound quality of Sirius is so-so, though I've never heard XM so I can't compare. Needless to say I have an excellent connection between the tuner and the head unit (Ai-Net), so that shouldnt be the issue. It's good enough, certainly.

I got it mostly for the rap and electronic stations. The rap selection is pretty good (Backspin rules, all old skool), the electronic is lacking, in my opinion.

Sirius offers a 3 day trial of their streaming internet service, although at a low (32kbps WMA) bitrate and a limited selection.
posted by kableh at 7:46 AM on November 16, 2005

we have sirius and the one indie station was pretty good. (along the lines of spoon, decemberists, death cab)

i also liked the comedy and npr channels
posted by chuckforthought.com at 7:50 AM on November 16, 2005

Sirius is coming out with a TiVo-like receiver dubbed the S50. You can record any song or show, and then go inside (say, the gym), and listen to the recorded content. It is also an MP3/WMA player. More here.

I really enjoy the programming on Sirius, and I'm excited by their new BBC Radio 1 channel, but hummercrash is right--their hardware to date has sucked hard (in my experience; avoid the XTR1 like the plague). Hope that trend is finished with the S50.
posted by CaptApollo at 8:18 AM on November 16, 2005

I'm a huge indie rock fan, and spent a really long time researching XM vs. Sirius. I had a long commute and can't stand broadcast radio, they never play anything that I want to listen to. I ended up going with XM (Roady2) b/c I liked the programming better.

Indie rock: XMU is really great. I've been able to compare it ti Sirius' Left of Center, and like it a lot better. Ethel and Lucy also both play a lot of indie music (I've heard Spoon a lot lately on one of them, I guess Britt's going mainstream). Fred, the older alternative station is FANTASTIC and brings back good memories, and UPOP occassionally plays excellent Britpop. My understanding is that Sirius doesn't have as many options.

NPR: XM has a public radio station. It is not specifically NPR, but if you want good news either turn your dial to your broadcast NPR station or listen to the BBC station on XM. XMPR has Bob Edwards in the morning, and plays re-runs of This American Life every night at 6:00. Love.

Commercials: The music stations on XM have NO commercials (other than the occasional "doo doo doo XM"), and the other stations have short ones not very often.

Anyway...let me know if you have more questions -- it sounds like I got satellite radio for the same reasons as you did, so I might be able to answer more questions.
posted by echo0720 at 11:11 AM on November 16, 2005

Have both, prefer Sirius. Seems to depend a lot on your specific taste in music. DirecTV adopted the XM channels just yesterday, so you can take a listen if you know anyone with.
posted by trevyn at 5:47 PM on November 16, 2005

Preview them: Dish Network has Serious channels, DirectTV has XM...

I got my Sirius Radio two years ago, and have loved it ever since... When I made my decision, I was apalled that XM made you pay subscription AND listen to commercials, but evidentally they dropped the commercials (good for them!)

I love the stations offered on Sirius, and the awesome part is that they add new channels regularly. They just added a bunch a couple weeks ago which switched around some stations, but they sent out an email a week before hand to let you know what was going on.

oh, and no, Sirius doesn't take down music stations to air football games.

I love a mix of #8 the pulse, #21 Alt Nation, and (new)#30 The Coffeehouse. these three channels fit most any mood I'm in, but I've been known to change it to the Musicals channel (oh come on, it's fun!), or the comedy channels when I don't want to hear anyone sing...

I'm not much of an indie music fan, so I can't comment on that, but as far as I know, Sirius only has one pure indie station, Left of Center, and they have a jam station (I can't remember what that one is called, but I think it's #17) that has Phish, OAR, Dispatch, and other stuff you'd never find on FM.
posted by hatsix at 8:01 PM on November 16, 2005

Howard Stern in on Sirius, XM=clear channel. 'nuff said?
posted by dipolemoment at 8:24 PM on November 16, 2005

dipolemoment, XM <> Clear Channel. They do own a very small piece but that's it.

I was wondering how long it would take for that piece of "common knowledge" to pop up...
posted by Opposite George at 9:22 PM on November 16, 2005

To be more exact, when XM started up, Clear Channel was one of several investors given the right to appoint one member to XM's Board of Directors (out of a minimum board size of seven).

Clear Channel lost that right in 3Q05 (complicated explanation involving hedging skipped.) It's possible they don't even own any XM stock any more (oh, for a Bloomberg...) In any event, CC ceased being a related party in 2Q04.

It's all in the latest 10-Q and here.

CC does provide some programming under contract, primarily through their Premiere Radio subsidiary. I think some may be exclusives (Rush, I think) but that just means that XM has to look harder to find repulsive radio hosts. From what I can tell neither service has a shortage of those.
posted by Opposite George at 9:59 PM on November 16, 2005

I don't know about Sirius, but XM has relegated a few channels to "web-only" status (not very useful in a car) without warning. Just a week or two ago, they did this to both the African music channel (Ngoma) and the world music channel (World Zone). Not indie rock, I know, but I'm annoyed, and since they could do the same to your favorite indie channel next week, I figured I'd mention it in this slightly stale thread here...
posted by klausness at 6:03 PM on November 22, 2005

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