The Good: Compatible with XM Satellite portable players, deep base, and rich sound
The Bad: Some background noise; no remote; too heavy and bulky for air travel
The Bottom Line: Great for student dormitories, smaller rooms, and portable enough for road trips
Fewer commercials, coast-to-coast ability to listen to the same channel, near-CD quality, and the ability to listen just about anywhere have prompted about 20 million customers to sign up for satellite radio from XM (XMSR) and Sirius (SIRI) satellite radio services. The two are pursuing a merger, but they continue to roll out new devices in the event regulators reject the deal.
Over the past month I've been testing an XM radio universal boom box that aims to do away with some of the clutter that makes portable players unattractive for many people.
No fancy name here, the $180 Delphi Premium Sound System delivers exactly what it advertises. You plug a portable XM player into a dock on the front of the boom box-shaped device and gain access to any of the 180 channels available on the service.
At 16.8 in. by 9 in. by 9.6 in., you're not going to be packing this one away in your luggage for your next bit of air travel. But the nice thing about this 9 lb. silver and gray box is that it builds the antenna directly into the unit—doing away with the tangle of cords that you often have to roll out to get reception indoors. It works pretty well, too. Twenty feet inside my office building, I still got great reception.
Out of the Box
Setup is fairly straightforward. There's a plug on the back for power supply, a headphone jack, and auxiliary input for listening to music from regular digital music players. On the bottom, there's a compartment to insert eight "C" size batteries for about seven hours of portable use. The front has just three buttons: volume down, bass boost, and volume up. The antenna, should you have trouble getting reception, is cleverly hidden under a compartment on the top of the unit, just under the carrying handle.
Like iPod sound systems on the market, Delphi includes removable docks to accommodate the different receiver types being sold today. I tested the boom box with Audiovox's (VOXX) Xpress portable player and Delphi's own SkiFi3 portable receiver. They both use the same XM chipset but the Xpress cuts a better figure with its shiny black finish, multiple station preset buttons, and twist knob to zip through the long list of stations.
The many buttons on the Xpress are a good thing, in the case of the Premium Sound System. There's no remote for the boom box, so if you want to quickly change channels, record a song, or adjust the display, you have to do so directly from the portable player. Each portable player comes with its own small remote as well, so the lack of one from the boom box isn't really a deal-breaker.
Highs and Lows
The Delphi sound system comes at a very good price for the overall enjoyable experience it delivers. The speakers include a built-in amplifier and digital signal processor that offer very good sound, with rich, velvety vocals and backgrounds, particularly at lower volumes. The bass boost button improves it even more, though it lacks a light or other indicator to show when it actually is turned on. At higher volumes, you can hear a definite low hiss that mars performance and can become quite annoying in an otherwise quiet room. (Outdoors, it's much less noticeable.)
The Delphi Premium Sound System may be limited more by its uses. With many portable players, you can plug them directly into a home audio receiver, so that's one application where the Delphi has nothing unique to offer. Still, it's a handy tool to have in the office or on road trips where you want to enjoy satellite radio without headphones.