No doubt, Howard Stern fans (and Sirius stockholders) are counting the days before the "King of All Media" makes his uncensored, no-holds-barred debut on Sirius satellite radio in early 2006. While we're waiting for Howard, we checked out Blaupunkt's first Sirius radio, the America SR04 ($160 list, plus $12.99 a month for a Sirius subscription). The Blaupunkt name may be unfamiliar to many Americans, but this 80-year-old German company produces more than 5 million car radios and 500,000 navigation systems every year.
This "aggressively sized" radio measures just 4.75 inches wide, 3.2 inches high, and 1.2 inches deep, and while that's plenty small, it's not quite as compact as XM's Roady2 or SkyFi2 units. Thanks to its glossy black finish and brilliant blue LCD, we think the baby Blaupunkt is the coolest-looking plug-and-play satellite radio on the market. It comes with a car kit, which you'll need to install to use the receiver in your car, and the company does offer additional car kits if you want to tote the receiver to a second vehicle. For this review, we tested the SR04 with the optional home kit that includes a docking cradle, cables, a wall-wart AC power supply, and an indoor-outdoor Sirius antenna.
Ergonomics aren't the SR04's strong suit. The display isn't easy to see unless you're looking at it straight on, and we weren't too happy with the teensy full-function remote. Maybe it was the contoured shape or that it's so damn small (3.8 inches long and less than 2 inches wide), but we were always dropping it--a real problem in the car. When we put aside the remote, SR04 faceplate's finicky preset buttons required just the right touch: too light and it wouldn't change the channel, too hard and it would change the preset to the channel already in play. Navigating the menu and setup controls was also trickier than with other Sirius tuners we've used. Over time, we got the hang of Blaupunkt's logic and enjoyed the SR04.
We didn't have another Sirius radio on hand to compare to, but the SR04 may be the best-sounding Sirius radio we've heard--better even than the Kenwood DT-7000S. By that, we mean it was closer to CD sound-quality levels, though it still had a trace of "MP3-ness." We did perform a brief shootout with the Delphi SkyFi2, and we thought the Delphi sounded significantly better. The comparison wasn't easy, since the two satellite services don't share any music channels, but the Blaupunkt's sound was consistently fuzzier than the Delphi's. That said, we generally preferred Sirius's more-adventurous music programming and DJs' chatter, but that's an issue of personal taste.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.