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Sirius Satellite Radio sound quality test

Sirius’ satellite-broadcast audio quality has really declined recently. It was never great, but now it’s downright horrible.

Here’s a little test I did — Live’s All Over You, as broadcast this afternoon on Sirius’ Lithium station (#24), in three different versions:

As you can hear, the satellite-broadcast version is absolutely terrible. It used to sound approximately equivalent to a 112 kbps MP3. Now, it sounds very similar to an 80 kbps MP3. I suspect this is because they added a lot of XM’s channels after the merger, but needed to fit them into the existing bandwidth. (Sirius radios can’t just tune to XM’s broadcasts directly, or vice versa, because they’re different formats on different frequencies. So to have XM content available to Sirius radios, they need to duplicate-broadcast it on part of Sirius’ bandwidth.)

Interestingly, the web-streaming version is excellent: indistinguishable from the CD unless you really try to hear a difference — and even then, I’m not convinced that there is any real perceptible difference.

Methodology

(so you can’t accuse me of tape-recording the FM-transmitter output over an analog cellphone from the bottom of well to make it sound worse)

I recorded my Sirius Starmate Replay 3’s output from its line-out directly into my computer’s line-in. The web-streaming version was played with Pulsar and recorded with Audio Hijack Pro. Volumes were normalized. All recording and processing was done in AIFF or WAV until the finished edit, then compressed to MP3 using LAME at highest quality, discrete stereo, 320 kbps CBR for posting here.

You can download this file here.

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