Remember Sirius and XM’s battle for satellite radio supremacy in the early 2000s? Or the companies’ 2008 merger that ensured the survival of subscription radio? No? That’s fine, because you don’t need to know SiriusXM’s history to enjoy its rich mix of news, talk, comedy, and music. A SiriusXM Internet Radio subscription lets you stream satellite radio channels to your PC, tablet, smartphone, and internet radio devices. Like iHeartRadio, SiriusXM Internet Radio has a strong focus on live content, except that it’s implemented in a far more engaging and entertaining fashion. As a result, SiriusXM Internet Radio is an easy Editors’ Choice for live streaming music services.
The Editors’ Choice award-winning Slacker Radio began dabbling in live radio in 2012 with ESPN Radio content, but SiriusXM bases its entire model on that idea. SiriusXM doesn’t have as many top-level stations as Slacker Radio, but once you drill down, you’ll discover several genres, including decade-specific music (’90s on 9), sports (Major League Baseball), and niche offerings (Cinemagic, which plays strictly movie soundtracks). There are more than 140 channels to explore, including high-profile, SiriusXM-exclusive voices such as Howard Stern and Chris “Mad Dog” Russo.
SiriusXM gives you three subscription tiers to choose from: Mostly Music, Select, and All Access. Mostly Music (starting at $10.99 per month) serves up 80+ commercial-free channels. Select ($15.99 per month) builds on Mostly Music by offering more than 140 channels that include music, dedicated artist channels, comedy, news, traffic and weather, and NASCAR, NFL, and NHL games. The All Access plan ($19.99 per month) adds on-demand functionality; customizable music and comedy channels; and MLB, NBA, and PGA coverage.
A side panel shows all the channels within a category (Howard Stern appears under the Talk & Entertainment heading, for example), while the main content area displays related information, such as the name of the song that’s playing, the artist’s name, and the artist’s biographical information. You can also favorite channels for fast access, share tracks via Facebook or Twitter, buy songs from Amazon, Google Play Music, or iTunes, and set alerts to learn when a song is playing anywhere within the SiriusXM universe and quickly jump to that channel.
Despite these many useful options, the interface is clean and attractive, something that cannot be said of competitor iHeartRadio. SiriusXM Internet Radio lacks lyrics, however—one of my few complaints with an otherwise outstanding service, and a feature that iHeartRadio does offer.
Talk to Me
TuneStart is my favorite SiriusXM feature. When you channel-hop on this service you never jump into the middle of a song, because TuneStart automatically plays songs from the beginning when you stumble onto a track. Sometimes it catches the tail end of a song that’s playing before the one you wanted, but that’s not a deal breaker. This is, after all, a feature that traditional radio stations lack altogether, and it’s a welcome addition here even if it doesn’t work every time. On a similar note, you can also pause and rewind live radio, courtesy of a 5-minute buffer.
Unfortunately, SiriusXM Internet Radio no longer has the excellent Start Now feature that used to let you turn back the clock a massive five hours, which was perfect if you missed a morning show on your commute. Instead, you’ll find that an element of it lives on in the service if you visit a channel’s Now Playing section. Here you see the select shows you can still rewind by up to 5 hours. With Start Now, you could do that with every channel. Taking a page from services like Slacker Radio and Spotify, Sirius XM does now let you stream select content on demand, however.
The service has a search box that works differently than those of other streaming music services. SiriusXM broadcasts live radio, so when you perform a search, the service returns the channels that are currently playing the artist or song that you typed into the search field. For example, when I searched for No Doubt, SiriusXM Internet Radio returned “Tragic Kingdom” on the ’90s on 9 station. If SiriusXM Internet Radio can’t find a live result anywhere across the network, it displays the channels where you’ll eventually find the band across the SiriusXM Internet Radio network. These touches separate SiriusXM Internet Radio from the crowded streaming music pack.
SiriusXM has many comedy offerings, too, more than most other streaming music services. It offers uncensored laughs on the Uncut Comedy channel, all-time classic bits on the Comedy Greats channel, and, of course, Howard Stern. In fact, there are nine comedy channels to explore, which is roughly seven or eight more options than rival services typically offer.
SiriusXM Internet Radio delivered clear, 320Kbps audio in my testing. When I fired up the Studio 54 channel—which plays some of the 1970s best dance tunes—I enjoyed satisfactory bass and other low-end sounds that didn’t overwhelm other parts of the track. It sounded, on my headphones, a hair better than Slacker Radio’s audio offerings, but didn’t surpass Tidal Hi-Fi’s 1411Kbps FLAC audio, unsurprisingly.
If you want to personalize your listening experience, SiriusXM Internet Radio has you covered. It’s MySXM feature lets listeners adjust each channel’s controls for a more custom listening experience. The channel-specific sliders let you tweak library depth, familiarity, music style, tempo, region, and other attributes.
90s on 9, for example, served up songs based on how I adjusted the Era, Popularity, and Style sliders. The options let me adjust the range between early 1990s and late 1990s, the decade’s biggest hits vs. a greater variety, and more rhythm-centric works vs. pop/rock. I tweaked 90s on 9 to play only the biggest hits of the early ’90s—and it delivered. Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back” (1992), Boyz II Men’s “Motownphilly” (1991), Sinead O’Connor’s “Nothing Compares 2 U” (1990), and R.E.M.’s “Losing My Religion” (1991), all played in succession. That high school-era programming really took me back to my late teens, and I was lovin’ every minute of it (1985). I found myself wishing that Slacker Radio and Spotify had similar personalization features. After all, music released in 1990 sounds radically different from music released in 1999.
Play Misty for Me
If you’re a radio diehard—especially one disgusted at the state of traditional over-the-air music, news, and talk—consider SiriusXM a must-have. It not only puts decades of music at your fingertips, but the comedy circuit, and lifestyle and political talk, too. If you’re looking to discover new artists, you may want to check out streaming music sites that offer recommendations, such as Spotify or the Editors’ Choice award-winning Slacker Radio. Still, SiriusXM Internet Radio gets an Editors’ Choice nod for crafting an excellent all-purpose live radio-streaming experience.