This isn’t a review of XM Radio; I’m already hooked. I have it in the car, I have it at home. With Pioneer’s AirWare XM2Go portable, I can have it anywhere I go thanks to 128MB of memory that packs away 5 hours of programming. That’s if I’m willing to go through the hassle of hooking it up in a spot within reach of the satellite signal. I’m still working on that cost/benefit chart.
My review was delayed a few days because the reviewer who had it before me forgot to put the AC adapter back in the box. I’m surprised that’s all he or she left out. The package comes with 18 pieces, including accessories for car and home use, headphones, battery and docks. My goal is to see how few of them I can use and still have a happy experience.
Design and Features
For anyone spoiled by the sleek and slim design of the iPod and other MP3 players, the AirWare will seem thick by comparison. At 7.2 ounces it’s on the hefty side for a portable. The memory portion allows you to get programming when you’re out of reach of a satellite signal, and given its 7.2-ounce heft, that’s more likely to be a desk in an office rather than on an armband at the gym. It won’t be your jogging partner. But it will work outdoors with headphones, in the car with the supplied accessories, or indoors connected to an audio system. That’s a generous assortment of options.
Features include 30 presets, divided into 3 bands of 10 each. You’ll use them all if you’re a true XM fan. You can also punch in a channel directly which is useful if you’re listening to a St. Louis Cardinal game on channel 182.
TuneSelect automatically notifies you when a particular song or artist is playing on any of XM’s 100-plus channels. You then have the option of switching to that channel. In theory that’s a cool idea, but if I want to hear a song that much, I’ll download it from Napster and record it to my Rio. There’s a stock ticker that shows you the trading price of 20 stocks you want to track. That might be an attractive feature in a more bullish economy.
The most useful feature is the time-shifting memory mode. You can set a timer to record up to 5 hours of XM programming which you can listen to later when out of sight of the signal.
Customization features allow you to boost bass or treble and change the audio level. A built-in FM transmitter broadcasts the signal through powered speakers or a car radio. Add to that a sleep timer and alarm, and it does more than most people will use.
Image courtesy Pioneer Electronics
Setup and Use
To leverage your $299 investment (plus $13 a month for XM service) you can use AirWare as an auxiliary audio source for your main sound system–if you’re willing to wire your family room like a science fair project. To use the device that way, you have to connect the power adapter and dock to an outlet and connect the AirWare audio plug to stereo inputs on a music system or powered speakers. Then you have to find a place with a line of sight to the XM satellite and plug the antenna into its connector on the AirWare. Phew!
The audio cable Pioneer supplied wasn’t even long enough to run from the rear panel of my A/V receiver to the front. Fortunately the XM cable is far longer. The only spot I could find that worked for all three connections was directly in front of my TV, using its audio inputs instead of those on my audio system. So AirWare is sitting on its dock on the floor with three cables streaming out of it directly in front of my TV. That’s hardly elegant or user-friendly and not something I’d be willing to do on a regular basis.
I tried AirWare in the car (which accounts for a good share of the 18 pieces that came in the box). That solution is wiry, too, since you have to connect AirWare to the magnetized antenna that attaches to the roof of the car and to the power adaptor that plugs into the cigarette lighter. Included is a cassette adapter for playing XM through the car audio system, but many cars, including mine, no longer have cassette players, so I used the built-in FM modulator. To my surprise, I had better reception using AirWare in the car than I did with my professionally installed XM system (also a Pioneer), which I attribute to the rooftop placement of the antenna. Living in New York, I’d feel compelled to remove the antenna for security reasons anytime I parked the car so it’s an effective, but not very practical solution.
I also used the built-in FM modulator to play back XM content over a Tivoli Audio PAL, a nice compact solution for an office or kitchen.
AirWare has a lot going on. It has to catch a satellite signal, record music, log favorite songs and provide quick access to more than 100 channels of content. I couldn’t figure out operation without the manual, but once I had a hint of what to do it was easy to remember how to record content, store stations in preset locations and navigate through the device. Recording live music is as simple as pressing the XM2Go button once and then again to confirm.
Performance of a satellite receiver is largely about signal reception. I had a narrow window of sky to the southwest from my living room and had to maneuver the coaster-size antenna to secure reception. Being about 30 miles northwest of Manhattan I didn’t have the benefit of the XM repeater system, which allows tuners to pull in signals even from indoors. When I used AirWare outside, I lost the signal as I moved from the side of the deck to the north side and as I passed under trees.
The time-shift function is AirWare’s most compelling feature. Setting up the clock is as simple as choosing your time zone from a list. Scheduling a recording is almost as idiot-proof. You scroll through numbers for start and stop times and you can schedule two recording session at a time. If VCR recording had been this logical, there may have been no blinking 12:00s.
The Pioneer AirWare is a cool accessory for an XM junkie. The time-shift function delivers a sufficient supply of programming that you can enjoy when out of sight of the satellite–a plus for office workers and/or commuters. Pioneer did a great job making menus and operation uncluttered and straightforward so that you won’t spend unnecessary time poring over the manual. Whether its $299 price plus subscription is worth the hookup hassles depends on your tolerance for connections and cables.
– You can record programming for later use
– Works in your car, home or office
– Comes with plenty of accessories
– FM modulator reception is clear
– Setup is messy at home or the office and requires a lot of cable connections and a satellite antenna
– Bulky in size