With its hundred-plus commercial-free music and talk stations, satellite radio has been winning converts among commuters who can't stand to hear another blaring promo or ad about hair-replacement therapy. But what about those times when you're in the bedroom, out in the backyard, or on a picnic, and you just need to hear Bluegrass Junction (XM 14), The '80s (XM 8), or the R&B stylings of The Groove (XM 64)? Enter the $99 Delphi XM SkyFi Audio System Boombox. When paired with Delphi's (sold separately for $129 or as part of a $229 combo set), the boombox makes it possible to listen to XM satellite radio just about anywhere.
The silver SkyFi Boombox sports a classy bow-tie design and fairly modest dimensions: 18.75 inches wide by 7 inches high by 5.75 inches deep. It's essentially a base station for the SkyFi Radio, which snaps into the center and houses all the controls except for a volume knob and a headphone jack found on the boombox. The advantage of this modular design is that the radio unit can also snap into separately available car and home adapters--or additional boombox units--while using the same monthly $9.99 XM subscription. (Prefer Sirius satellite radio to XM? Check out the Audiovox instead.)
A built-in handle makes the boombox easy to carry. Depending on where you use the device, you can power it either with the included AC adapter or six D batteries. Unfortunately, the satellite antenna isn't as easy to position as a traditional FM antenna. You'll first need to find a window with southern exposure. From there you have two options. You can place the device near the window, with the 22.5-foot antenna cable coiled and stored in a compartment on the receiver's bottom; alternately, you can position the unit nearby, uncoil the cable, and place the antenna module at the southern-exposed window. But as long as your intended listening spot has a clear view of the southern sky or is within range of XM's network of terrestrial repeaters (found primarily in urban areas), your reception should be fine.
This boombox's built-in speakers produce passable sound, but they're not as rich or as powerful as we'd prefer. At its top volume, this unit would be drowned out by even a medium-size party. But our biggest gripe was the boombox's lack of options. Unlike traditional boomboxes, this unit can't play music from any source besides satellite. The SkyFi's successor, Delphi's $200 adds a CD/MP3 player and an AM/FM tuner, but it's bulkier, heavier, and twice as expensive.
Satellite radio is expanding its regional weather and traffic coverage, which makes AM and FM reception less critical than it once was. Nevertheless, it's hard to recommend the SkyFi Boombox to anyone but die-hard XM fans. Delphi's improved CD Audio System is a step in the right direction, but we look forward to seeing the satellite radio boombox refined further.