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Sirius/XM promise better prices, selection

In a bid to build support for their proposed merger, satellite radio companies Sirius and XM have pledged to offer lower prices and a la carte options that let subscribers pick and choose stations.

Satellite radio providers Sirius and XMare looking to merge, which would create a satellite radio monopoly in the U.S. The feds, facingconsiderable pressure from the terrestrial radio industry, have been waffling about whether to let the merger take place.

So yesterday, in a bid to show that consumers won't be harmed by the merger, the two companies released a paper (PDF download) with proposed pricing and packaging for the merged services. Particularly appealing is a new a la carte option, which will let subscribers pick up to 50 stations from either Sirius or XM for only $6.99 per month; the cheapest subscription plan for either station today is $12.95 per month. There's also a 100 station plan for $14.99 per month. Of course, there's a catch: the new a la carte plans don't work with existing radios.

I'm in favor of the merger, as both companies claim it would help satellite radio become a sustainable business, and I'm in favor of any competition to commercial terrestrial radio, which has become completely focus-grouped and risk-averse.

That said, I tried Sirius and cancelled my subscription after the year was up. The stations offered far more variety and creativity than terrestrial radio, but the sound quality was sdo poor that every time a song I loved came on, it hurt my ears to turn up the radio--it just sounded thin, with very little midrange and flabby bass. (This was through my car stereo, through which normal FM stations and CDs sounded just fine.) In addition, Sirus was under the mistaken impression that somebody out there pined for the old days of radio, meaning that DJs would interrupt between most every song. The particular car radio I owned was a pain to set up--I had to magnetically stick an antenna to the roof, then run wires underneath the bodyside molding, through the trunk, and between the front seats--and when I traded my old car in, I wasn't excited to go through the installation process again.

Finally, Sirius didn't seem like a particularly upstanding business to me--they offered a "rebate" on the radio that was hard to redeem (you had to start service within a few days of purchase, and because this was a Christmas present for my wife, I missed the window), and made robot-voice telemarketing calls to my cellphone trying to upsell me to a second radio--not illegal, since I had a business relationship with them, but a definite customer service no-no.

I've read consistently that XM has better sound quality. But for people with large music collections, I think an MP3 player and a car adapter is probably a better choice: you get all (and only) the music you want, when you want it, with no interruptions. Even so, random shuffle can't quite deliver the "aha!" you get when a radio station plays an old favorite you haven't heard in years. And of course you'll never discover new music by sticking with your existing collection. Then again, there are plenty of online services that'll help you do that.