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Sirius SR-H550 review: Sirius SR-H550

Sirius SR-H550

Steve Guttenberg
Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Stereophile.
Steve Guttenberg
3 min read
The variety of available plug-and-play Sirius satellite radio models on the market is impressive, but dedicated home models are few. We've already reviewed most of them, including the Kenwood DT-7000S and the Tivioli Model Satellite. Now Sirius itself has joined the fray with its SR-H550 ($270). Like all Sirius radios, the SR-H550 can access the service's full lineup of 65 commercial-free music channels; plentiful sports coverage including the NBA, NFL, and NHL; news; uncensored talk--two stations are dedicated to Howard Stern himself; and local news and weather channels. A $13-per-month Sirius subscription is required to access programming.
Measuring 14.75 inches wide, 2 high, and 13.63 deep, the Sirius SR-H550 certainly qualifies as a component-style radio. The large, centrally located six-line display is easy to read and supplies a constant readout of channel name and number, artist name, and song title information. You can store a total of 30 channel presets in three banks of 10. Sports fans will appreciate the SR-H550's Game Alert feature--just enter the names of your favorite teams, and the radio will alert you on the display when they're playing a game. The parental control and channel lockout can block your kids' access to Howard Stern or any channels of your choice. A full-size remote control, an indoor Sirius antenna, and optical digital and stereo analog cables are included.
The Sirius SR-H550 is a near clone of the Audiovox CE1000SR Satellite Radio. The differences between the two radios are few: the Audiovox has an orange display while the Sirius is blue; the Sirius looks a little nicer and has an optical digital output, while the Audiovox instead has a coaxial digital output and an RS-232 port for use with computer-controlled home theater.
We didn't have another Sirius radio on hand for direct comparison for our listening tests, but even so, we can't say we were impressed with the SR-H550's sound quality. True, Sirius sound varies from one satellite station to the next, but the similarity to low-bit-rate MP3 sound was always obvious. Treble sounds such as cymbals and electric guitars were coarse, while stereo separation was only moderate. We played the SR-H550 through the Denon AVR 1906 receiver and didn't detect much difference when we switched between the SR-H550's analog and digital outputs. With either setup, we noted occasional sound dropouts when the tuner lost the signal, but that's not an unusual occurrence with satellite radios. We also had a Delphi Roady XT XM satellite radio hooked up to the Denon, and it sounded a little more CD-like than the SR-H550 did, but the Sirius's bass had more punch. On cleanly received FM stations, the Denon's tuner sounded clearer and more dynamically alive than either satellite radio. In general, though, satellite often trumps FM radio in terms of noise. Satellite radios have none--and FM radio always has at least some background hiss and more than a few pesky commercials. The real bottom line is programming choices, and satellite radio has it all over AM and FM in that department.
Of course, getting the Sirius SR-H550 means you're resigned to listening to your satellite programming in the house. Anyone who wants a more flexible Sirius solution should opt for the aforementioned plug-and-play models (which use a transportable head unit to travel between home-, office-, and/or car-based base stations) or record-and-play portables such as the Sirius S50. Later in 2006, a handful of manufacturers (Eton and Thomson's RCA and GE brands) will introduce products that are compatible with the new SiriusConnect home tuner. But based on the products announced at the 2006 Consumer Electronics Show, Sirius still is still playing catch-up with XM in terms of hardware offerings.
Once you've settled on a form factor (home, in-dash car, plug-and-play transportable, or portable), choosing between Sirius, XM, and AM/FM radio really boils down to a matter of taste. Howard Stern or David Lee Roth? NFL or MLB? In terms of home-based Sirius products, the SR-H550 performs better than the older Kenwood DT-7000S, though we still consider the Tivoli Model Satellite a better all-in-one solution.

Sirius SR-H550

Score Breakdown

Design 7Features 7Performance 7