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SIRIUS StilettoSIRIUS Stiletto: Serious Satellite Radio

By Jim Bray
July 12, 2007, updated November 6, 2007

Satellite radio is great. It offers a wider variety of programming than you can get locally (in my neck of the woods, anyway), and you can go just about anywhere on the continent, not including tunnels and the like, without worrying about the signal fading out.

Well, nearly everywhere. Most satellite radio models on the market are designed to let you listen in your car or in your home. And that's great. But what if you want to take your satellite radio subscription to the beach with you, or on your daily walk?

If you subscribe to SIRIUS satellite radio, your solution is the Stiletto. Available in three models, the Stiletto gives you all the programming a SIRIUS subscription offers, and it doubles as a portable MP3 player, so you don't have to shell out for a separate iPod or other music player.

For what more could anyone ask?

SIRIUS sent me the Stiletto SL100, which is the top line unit, and I've been enjoying it – and the SIRIUIS service – for a few months now. And I'm hooked. Not only is the Stiletto a wonderful little machine, but I've grown to love the satellite service itself. It's far superior to the conventional radio stations in my area.

The service offers over 100 channels of music and other stuff. You can choose from genres such as rock, pop, hip hop, jazz, standards, and more, plus there's comedy, sports, news, talk etc.

I like to think I have reasonably eclectic tastes, but I've only found about 15 channels to which I listen regularly – but I listen regularly. And, a great touch, SIRIUS lets you hide from view categories in which you have no interest so you're not always scrolling through the entire inventory unless you want to.

With the car kit that comes with the Stiletto SL100 (and the optional home kit that SIRIUS was also kind enough to send), you can also set channels as presets, just like your car radio. You get three banks of 10 presets.

Some of the music channels (for example, Broadway's Best) are too repetitive, but I can live with it since I can't get such stuff off the air. Even when I can get a particular genre locally (such as classic rock) SIRIUS seems less repetitive and with a wider variety of tunes. Heck, the first time I fired up SIRIUS they were playing "In the Court of the Crimson King" – and when's the last time you heard something like that on local radio since it was taken over by accountants and consultants?

But back to the Stiletto. The unit itself is about the size of a deck of cards and features a color display that's large enough for my middle aged eyes to scan without having to put on my reading glasses. Its face also includes a little wheel for scrolling through channels and/or genres and some soft key-like buttons. A volume control and on/off switch are on the left side.

The car kit is meant to be mounted permanently in your vehicle. It comes with a little remote control – a nifty tool that comes in handy as long as you don't hand it to some ne'er do well in the back seat and be at the mercy of his or her tastes.

I review cars, which means I'm driving a new vehicle nearly every week, so mounting the Stiletto into my (or any other) vehicle isn’t practical. But SIRIUS has made it simple for people like me, too. All I need do is place the docking unit in a storage bin or cup holder on a vehicle's center console, then mount the antenna where it can pick up the signals.

In practice, I usually run the antenna and its wire to just inside the front or rear window of the vehicle, mounting it on a little "non slide" pad my wife got me that keeps it from moving around when I corner. It works well. The antenna is magnetized as well, which would be great if you're mounting it on the vehicle's trunk as SIRIUS recommends for more permanent placement.

Stiletto gets the sound to the car stereo via a built in FM transmitter or a vehicle's auxiliary jack, if it's so equipped; for FM, you simply choose an unused frequency in your area and program it into both the Stiletto and the stereo. It works well, though I notice interference sometimes when passing or being passed by another vehicle – probably someone using another Stiletto on the same frequency. It passes quickly, though.

Usually. Once I was driving down a major thoroughfare and some kid in an unfortunately customized RSX drove alongside me for a while. His transmitter was obviously more powerful than the Stiletto's, because he overrode my signal completely with some horrible rap music that made me want run him off the road. Fortunately, I was driving someone else's car at the time, and that made me think twice about it.

At home, you can use Stiletto's Wi-Fi capability to listen to SIRIUS' service streamed over the Internet. All you need is a wireless router in your home and an easy one-time configuration that lets the Stiletto sniff out and log onto your home network. SIRIUS doesn't stream all its channels online, but it streams most of the ones I like and it's a great way to pipe tunes to your home stereo - or just groove to tunes via the included ear bud headphones while you're working around the house.

Audio quality via the Wi-Fi connection is surprisingly good. I noticed compression, but overall the sound is quite acceptable, and better than I get via a USB-sound card gadget.

If you want to go really afield, you can use the Stiletto's antenna headset, which builds the antenna right into the phones. I use this each morning when I'm required to walk my dear wife's damn dog.

Stiletto's "Library" function lets you download your own tunes to the Stiletto from your PC, which is marvelous you want to listen to your favorite album, talking book, or whatever. You load audio files via USB-to-PC connection; cables and software are included. You have nearly a gig of space and, between that and the built in satellite programming, I've never wanted for space.

The home adapter works well, too, and lets you patch SIRIUS into your home audio system directly, via RCA patch cords for optimum quality. It's ideal for those who don't have Wi-Fi. The sound is very good. It's no DVD-Audio, but what is? It's definitely better than some CD's I have, though not as good as others.

You have to run an antenna outside to catch the signals raining down from the birds, unless you have a window that faces just right (which I don't) but this is a onetime setup and isn't a big deal as long as the cord's long enough (I had more than enough wire). You run it out the window, then close the window over it again; it puts a kink in the antenna wire, but so far it hasn't hurt neither it nor the window.

You can use the Stiletto to record your favorite SIRIUS programs for playback later. I haven't tried this, but it would be a nice way to time shift programs you can't catch live. SIRIUS says you can record up to 100 hours of content.

And there's more, according to SIRIUS:

  • Bookmark your favorite/loved songs and easily purchase through Yahoo! Music Engine
  • Yahoo! Music Engine provides a simple and easy way for you to purchase, download your loved and favorite SIRIUS songs
  • Compatible with most Internet music providers download and subscription services (Not compatible with AAC files)
  • SIRIUS Replay—Pause, rewind and replay 44 minutes of live radio
  • GameAlert—Prompts when your favorite games are being broadcast and alerts you when the scores change
  • GameZone—Lists your favorite teams in one category and lets you select a different team from each of the various sport leagues including NFL, NBA, NHL and college sports
  • Parental Control and Channel Lock  

SIRIUS and the Stiletto are addictive. The more I live with it the more I love the little critter and all the great channels. I do a lot of channel flipping - when one's playing a tune that rubs me the wrong way, I switch to another, and maybe another, but there's usually something worth hearing. And it's there wherever I go on my many road trips, and it's still there when I come home.

And thanks to SIRIUS and the Stiletto I only have to put up with local radio when I really need to hear the local news, weather or sports. Which isn't often.

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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