Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Polk Audio "home" XM satellite radio receiver

I got into satellite radio the wrong way.

Unlike almost everyone else, I didn't care about better reception in the car. And I wasn't particularly interested in getting music without commercials.

I wanted good reception in the bedroom, for late-night talk radio.

I've been a night talk addict since age 13. Later on, when I was evaluating potential wives, a critical requirement was willingness to sleep with me with the radio on.

Until 2001, I lived in Westchester County, New York. I spent decades listening to Long John Nebel, Barry Gray, Barry Farber, Jean Shepard, pre-TV Larry King and other talkers. Although the topics and talent varied over the years, signal strength was always fine.

When I moved to Connecticut, I could get good reception in my cars, but not in my bedroom. I experimented with expensive radios and outdoor antennas, but I usually got more static than voices. Internet radio usually crashed after an hour or so.

I was excited by the prospect of satellite radio, but the first receivers were for car use. I think Sony made an indoor adapter for their car unit, but it was huge and clunky. I held off making my purchase, waiting for something more easily domesticated.

When XM brought out the Delphi SkyFi, I made my move. It sits in a little cradle on my night table, connected to a power amp on the wall behind the night table, feeding Niles speakers in the ceiling.

I wanted to have satellite radio music in my whole-house system, but there was no neat way to rack-mount the SkyFi. I ultimately bought a tiny Terk Commander, and mounted it on a blank rack panel, with its guts and a 12-volt power supply inside the rack. Sound quality was fine, but the buttons and display were so small, it was hard to use; and it frequently lost sync with the satellites and had to call XM for a "refresh" signal.

Last week, I mad a major upgrade. The Polk Audio "XRt12 Reference Tuner" is one of the first XM receivers designed for indoor use. It's 17 inches wide like most A/V components, and I got a nice custom rack-mount for it from Middle Atlantic Products.

Because the XRt12 has a video output, I can see all of the standard XM information right on my 65-inch Mitsubishi TV screen: channel number, name, artist name and song title. No more squinting and running up to the itsy bitsy teeny weenie mini micro display to see who is doing what. The Polk does have a built-in dislay -- smaller than the Mitsu, but bigger than the displaced Terk.

Connection is simple and flexible, with optical and coaxial digital outputs as well as analog RCA jacks for easy installation with any receiver or amp. I only had a little bit of trouble. The Polk's audio output bled into other audio inputs in my Sony receiver. A quick adjustment of the Polk's output level restored perfection.

I have two nits to pick: (1) You can't program the tuning presets from the front panel; you have to use the remote control. If you misplace the remote, or have no live triple-A cells, your're out of luck. (2) There are no preset tuning buttons on the box, as you get on even teeny-weeny XM radios.

OTOH, here's a cool feature: when you hear something you like and you want to note the artist and song, just tap the Memory button on the front panel and the XRt12 will record info (channel, artist and song) for later retrieval. It can store data on 10 performances.

The Polk XRt12 comes with an XM antenna with 20-foot cable (an optional 50 extension is available), a digital optical cable and a RCA-type analog audio/video cable, and a full function remote control.

  • Built-in signal strength meter helps you position your antenna for best reception.
  • 20 presets for quick and easy switching to your favorite channels.
  • Category function allows you to scan through major types of channels (Rock, Talk, Sports, etc.)
  • Preview function allows you to see what channels are available and what is playing before switching from the channel you are listening to
  • Display control lets you enlarge the text on the display for easy viewing from a distance when the unit is not hooked up to a TV.
  • Output Level Control matches the analog output volume of the XRt12 to match that of other sources in your system for consistent volume as you switch from XM to other sources.
  • If you have a whole house distributed audio system like those made by AMX, Crestron, NetStreams or Elan, the XRt12's RS-232 I/O connector allows you to plug it right into the system for XM radio throughout the house. You'll be able to control the XRt12 from any station on the system and display channel, artist and song data on any control screen.
  • You can set the XRt12 to automatically shut off if a button is not pressed in 30, 60 or 90 minutes.
  • If your audio receiver or amp has a 12Volt trigger output, you can connect your XRt12 to it and have the receiver turn the XRt12 on and off.

  • Suggested retail price is $300. I paid about $220. I'm very impressed with the sound quality, ease of operation, and wealth of features. I wish I bought it sooner. I also wish XM and Sirius would merge, so I wouldn't have to keep paying money to both of them. CLICK for more.

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