When thePioneer Inno XM Satellite Radio playerlaunched in 2006, we hailed it as a near-perfect merge of portability, outstanding recording features, and rich XM Satellite Radio content. Two years later its successor, the $279 Pioneer XMp3, has arrived with even more features that will have Sirius/XM fanatics clamoring for this excellent player. As long as you don't care about having photos and videos on the go, this single-purpose device is a winner.
Measuring 3.6 x 2.0 x 0.6 inches and weighing 3.2 ounces, the all black Pioneer XMp3 slips easily into a shirt or pants pocket without adding too much bulk and feels comfortable in hand. The front of the device is dominated by a colorful, 2.5-inch screen and a circular, iPod-esque control wheel. In between are buttons for Back, Menu, Keypad, and Options.
On the top of the XMp3 is a thick, stubby antenna, a microSD Card slot (capable of storing up to 8GB of content), and 3.5mm headphone jack. The player's right side houses easy-to-manipulate volume keys (at least for righties), and the left side has the power/hold switch and USB 2.0 port. The bottom houses a connection port for seating the Pioneer XMp3 in its included charging cradle. The XMp3 also comes with a small remote control (which worked from across a medium-size room), a 23-foot antenna, and an RCA cable for attaching the cradle to a home stereo system.
At the uppermost portion of the screen are icons that display the XMp3's signal strength, battery life, and time; the center of the screen showcases the channel name and number. By pressing the Menu key, we were able to launch the navigational interface that let us scroll through icons for Live XM, My Music Library, Auto Recordings, and Settings.
Pressing the confirm button located in the center of the scroll wheel let us cycle through the various options under each heading. For example, selecting Live XM let us access Favorite Channels (you can save up to 99), All Channels, All Categories, XM Highlights, or Schedule Recordings. You can also opt to enter a station number using the virtual keypad (activated by pressing the Keypad button) or the included remote. All in all, the interface was very intuitive.
XM and Sirius Content
Select Sirius content was integrated into XM's lineup on November 12 (after the long-awaited Sirius/XM merger was approved by the FCC), which resulted in several stations getting the axe or finding a new location on the XM dial. For example, Ethel, Fred, and Lucy, some of our favorite XM rock stations, have been replaced with Sirius' Alt Nation, 1st Wave, and Lithium, respectively. Cinemagic, the slick movie soundtrack channel, has been yanked from its old home on channel 27, but will return in January 2009 on channel 76. Longtime XM users may be surprised or disappointed by the number of changes (fans may debate whether or not The White Stripes should be in heavy rotation on an alternative channel, for example), but the new channels offer a fair mix of mainstream and indie artists. Regardless, there are more than 170 channels of music, sports, news, and talk radio. Subscriptions start at $9.99 per month for XM content, and $16.99 for XM and "The Best of Sirius."
Reception and Audio Quality
Whether we were in our midtown Manhattan office or walking the streets of Brooklyn, the Pioneer XMp3 maintained excellent reception; we didn't encounter any weak signals or dead spots while listening. A pair of rubber-tipped earbuds (with two sets of replacement tips) fit snugly into the ear and provided crisp audio. Bassheads may lament the lack of a rich bottom end, but the sound was balanced overall. You certainly won't have to worry about hearing your favorite tunes or talk shows; the XMp3 pumped out volume loud enough to overwhelm the din of our morning subway commute.
New Recording Capabilities
When you find a station that piques your interest, you can press down on the scroll wheel to bring up several options: Record Song, Record Channel, Schedule Recording, and Set to Auto Record. Record Song let us record an individual track; Record Channel let us record up to 6 hours of a particular station; Schedule Recording let us set recording times as far ahead as the year 2050.
The Auto Record feature enables the XMp3 to learn from our listening habits and automatically record up to 30 hours of content from the five stations that we listened to most often; after a few days with the player it began recording our favorite music and sports radio shows, so we didn't miss our programs when we didn't have the player in hand (it records a continuous chunk of audio, which is broken down into individual songs and segments). You can view and play all of your recorded content in the My Music Library section. Unfortunately, recorded content cannot be moved from the player to a notebook.
The ability to record up to five channels at once is hands-down the best feature, as we never had to miss any of our favorite shows that overlap. To round things out, the Pioneer XMp3 features an internal buffer that lets us pause and rewind up to 30 minutes of live XM programming--a sort of audio TiVo.
As with the Pioneer Inno, the XMp3 features the cool TuneSelect that allows music lovers never to miss favorite songs or artists. By clicking the Options key during U2's "Mysterious Ways" we were able to highlight both the band and the track, so whenever either played on any channel, the device would alert us, and we could jump to it by pressing the confirm button. GameSelect offers the same feature for sporting events.
The Pioneer XMp3 comes with 2GB of onboard storage, double that of the Pioneer Inno, which the company says should be enough to accommodate up to 10 hours of songs or 75 hours of talk programs. When connected to our PC, we could either drag and drop music digital audio files via USB, or use the bundled Windows Vista- and XP-compatible XM2go Music Manager to create and edit playlists. (Unfortunately, the XMp3 is not compatible with Macs.) You can also use the software to bookmark and purchase songs from online music stores such as Napster or audio books from www.audible.com/xm. We were also able to add Radiohead's Kid A album via microSD, but the player doesn't support album art.
Pioneer rates the player for 16.5 hours of playback and 4 hours for Live XM. On our tests, which included listening to a mix of live shows and recorded content, we went nearly three days before needing to plug the unit into an outlet.
If you've been waiting to partake of the portable satellite radio experience, this is the player to get--at least until the hybrid players come along that will enable users to cherry-pick channels from both XM and Sirius. Until then--which is anybody's guess--the $279 Pioneer XMp3 player is the best portable satellite radio player available, and a must-have for XM Satellite Radio fans.