Listening to OTA (Over the Air) radio hasnít been a
rich and rewarding experience in my house for a long time. With the new
digital services available from both satellite and cable television now
providing music channels, I can honestly say Iíve listened to more
However, as I was still not satisfied with either the quality
of the music or the selections available, I would rather fire up the CD
player and make my frequent changes as the day progressed.
I wonít get into a dissertation about the future of public airways radio
versus satellite radio, after all the comparison most often used is when
cable television first introduced us to commercial free television. It was for the most part uncensored and plentiful, and most
importantly, the images from our TVs were like never before, and sans
rabbit-ear antennas sitting on top.
When I inquired about the success of the new XM tuner from Polk Audio, Paul
DiComo their Marketing Director, responded with sending me one and saying,
XM Radio, like satellite and cable television, has
standard and premium channel packages. For the purposes of this review, Polk Audio
generously subscribed for me three months of the standard package.
I was impressed from the moment I opened the box that contained the new Polk
Audio XRt12 XM tuner. What you get for your $329.00 is an XM Satellite Tuner
component, various cables, and a shiny silver remote control. An adjustable
antenna with a 20 foot cable is included, but can be augmented with an
optional 50 foot extension cable.
Solidly built, the tuner is a true component, designed to stack in your home
system. The face panel is very simple, with a series of larger toggle type
controls. Included are: Menu Selection, Category Scan, Memory, Channel Scan,
and an Enter button.
A nicely lit center screen tells you whatís
playing and whoís performing. Enlarging the display scrolls a
one-line display of artist and song. If that is still not large enough for
you, you can view the selection on your TV through an S-Video output.
With over 130 channels available from XM satellite, the XRt12 gives you the
option of 20 Preset, or your own favorite channels. I found this amount very adequate,
using barely 8 or 10 on a regular basis. A truly innovative feature is a
Memory button for up 10 entries, storing artist and song for later
retrieval, for those who donít have a great memory or a pen handy. (You
might use this if you wanted to buy the CD.)
On the rear, youíll find connections for an antenna, analog audio/video
outputs, as well as digital outputs. There is an RS-232
connection for whole-house distribution. Lastly on the back is a 12V trigger
(these are for turning on an entire audio system using trigger outputs from,
say, your receiver).
The remote is simply laid out and easily understandable. It reminds
me of the early days of remotes with on/off, volume and channel change,
(refreshing actually considering the new universal trends).
Set-up was so simple it took but minutes to begin hearing the clarity of
digital satellite music.
Attach a supplied optical cable to your receiver, and an S-Video cable if you want
to see the selection on your monitor. After you Attach the antenna, the tuner
allows for antenna alignment with on-screen calibration. I had no problems
zeroing in on a solid alignment. I also recommend standing out of the way of
the incoming signal.
Although the on-screen menu is rudimentary, it nonetheless gives all the
information necessary. A preview feature allows you to scroll through titles
playing on the other channels while still listening to your current
selection. The Category Scan feature lets you peruse the many channels in
various categories, such as rock, classical, talk, etc.
Even if you decide to change channels, the unit will first preview your
current location before allowing you to switch.
The digital connection on the Polk tuner is unlike FM reception; either you
get the signal or you donít, so that annoying static is gone. For digital to
analog conversion, the XRt12 uses a Burr-Brown DAC. I found the unit dead
quiet, no hum, and with very low distortion.
I wonít say the quality of sound approaches CD level, but it is far superior
to FM radio, as my own receiver struggles with reception. I did find the
fidelity varied from channel to channel; however all channels were clean and
intelligible. In our age of MP3 acceptable sound quality, the Polk XM tuner
is more than satisfying. Iíve noticed that itís playing in our house for
background music constantly, telling me we are enjoying it. The only problem
is the fight for which channel.
Programming on XM is a nice balance of music, talk, comedy, weather, sports,
traffic, and childrenís programs. For under $10/month, you get over 130 channels,
and also available for additional fees, premium channels such as Playboy. A
complete listing is available on their website.
Radio is back! The Polk Audio XM Satellite Digital Radio Tuner definitely is heads and tails above
any music service Iíve experienced. The Polk Audio XRt12 is now a permanent
component in my system.
- Piero Gabucci -