Better than FM. Plus no commercials....
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In my system, FM reigns as champion. I have Sirius radio set up in my main system. It sounds good, but due to the Sirius receiver being pretty much a "mid-fi" component, it's sonic performance is hindered. I own a vintage Kenwood 600T FM tuner that delivers a better soundstage and a more musical presentation. The signal sounds less compressed and is less fatiging. Hopefully, XM and Sirius will upgrade their products in the very near future. I listen to both of these sources alot and enjoy them greatly as they both offer such a good variety of music.
I have listened extensively to both in my system. XM seems to have mor band width and be less mid-fi. XM also has a larger play list. Sirius is more compressed and sounds closer to an mp3 download. It doesn't make much difference in the car, but it's very noticeable when doing critical listening. Each also offers some very different program choices, but imho XM is clearly better sonically.
I have a Polk XM tuner routed through a Benchmark DAC-1. Sound is much better than FM. More detail, better sondstage; still not at CD levels, but a huge imporvement in sound and no commericals. However, just like FM where some station formats (Classical, Jazz) are less compressed than let's say Easy Listening & rock, the same holds true for satelite.
I've been using my Direct TV receiver in my main system as the Music Choice they used to offer had quite good sound quality. Similar to CD, in fact. I was really bummed when they switched to carrying the music channels from XM. The sound quality is dreadful by comparison, but not worse than typical FM through a Mid Fi system, I suppose.
As it happens, I have Sirius on my secondary (office) system through a Kenwood DT7000 receiver. The music quality is definitely worse than CD most of the time. They do, however, claim to use some sort of dynamic compression so that the sound quality may improve based on how many football games they are carrying etc. Also, depending on the channel in use, the sound approaches acceptable, but never what I'd call HI-FI. I find that Sirius is quite acceptable in the car with a Sirius One receiver which just uses an RF modulator to get the signal to the stereo. It works fine though in that environment. Bottom line for me is that Music Choice on Direct TVwas a significant loss in terms of music quality. I would not consider either Sirius or XM a real high end source, but of course, I'm not using it that way. I'm a Stern fan, btw, so the Sirius will stay for content, but not for its ability to provide high-grade sound.
I run Sirius through a benchmark dac from a dish network satellite box via toslink. The dac is an improvement but not worth the cost unless you want it for other uses also. However, it is not FM quality as compared to my tuner and clearly sounds compressed, especially at slightly elevated listening levels. I tried the above-mentioned MF tube buffer but did not notice any obvious improvement. That said, Sirius is free on dish and I really like the classical programming; it sounds fine at low volumes and actually has a remarkable soundstage that occasionally gets my attention. If you enjoy the programming, it is worth it, especially if you live in the boonies.
The limitations occur in the bandwidth, watch out for services to add more channels. When more channels are added all of them suffer from less bandwidth, I have Sirius
and agree that Musichoice is pretty awesome, no it is not quite as good as Redbook, but is very enjoyable and for me being disabled is great to sit and listen to many types of music without loading a CD or an Album. Ofcourse I do alot of Redbook and soon LP when my SOTA gets setup.
I run XM from Direct TV tuner digital output through my Dodson 218 DAC and into high grade pre and power amp, thus giving the sound every opportunity. In a word, the sound quality SUCKS! The Music Choice stations they had previously were better. The sound from both of my tuners, Mac MR-80 and MD 100, is infinitely better.
Satellite radio is strictly for cars.