Thursday, July 13, 2006

To XM or Not To XM

Two months ago, I bought a new car, a 2006 Volkswagen Passat that included an XM Radio. I also got three months of XM service for free. Now that I'm two months into my free service, I figure it's time to decide if I'm going to continue with the service or not. Time to do good vs. bad.

The Good: Lots of stations, lots of variety. My brother visited me at the end of May. He told me that several of his friends have XM and really like it. He said that they have a favorite station that they leave it on ad infinitum. There's no commercials on XM and many of the stations have a narrow focus, making them ideal for "lock it and leave it." That's not how I use XM. I have 18 XM presets on my car stereo, and I have all of them programmed. I am constantly switching stations and finding great songs. Often these are songs that I have not heard in a long time, or they are unexpected songs from current releases. Just this morning I came across "Everything is Fair" by A Tribe Called Quest. I listened to that song all the time in college, but had not heard it in years. It's a great song. Later, I heard the new Dixie Chicks song "Not Ready To Make Nice." I don't listen to country (though there is one country preset on my stereo, courtesy of my wife) but this song came on mix station. I was surprised to like the song quite a bit.

The Bad: Repetition and reception/sound quality. I have been very surprised to find some repetition on XM. I have definitely heard the exact same sequences of songs on the same station on consecutive days at almost the exact same time of day (while I was driving to work.) This is very disappointing. I've also heard some particular songs repeated quite a bit over a week's time. For example, this week I've heard Alice In Chain's "Would" at least five times. It's a good song, and I was pleased to hear it the first couple of times, but it's seems crazy for a 10+ year old song to be repeated that much. The other negative is reception and sound quality. I have been surprised to see the reception fade at times. Sure if you're in a parking structure or a tunnel you expect this, but I've seen it fade when parking under a tree or stopping under a freeway overpass in traffic. I've commented before on the sound quality being far from CD or even MP3 quality. I'm really nitpicking there though, it is still a lot better than FM quality.

So what to do? I think the good outweighs the bad, but just barely. I think I will keep XM, though I might go month-to-month for awhile instead of buying a year subscription.

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