Polk XRt12 XM Radio Reference Tuner Review, Cont.

Franco Vitaliano


It should be said that I am really spoiled with FM radio because I live in Boston, home to a number of great college radio stations broadcasting a content mix that pretty much equals what XM Radio has to offer, and with a high degree of DJ intelligence (mostly). The problem is that all the music categories on the Boston college stations are scattered around the clock.  On any given college station you might have jazz in the morning, world in the afternoon, classical in the evening, cutting edge urban late at night, and so on.  But with XM Radio it's just one type of music category being broadcast on the same channel 7 x 24; you want it, you got it. There are also numerous XM Radio news, sports, kids, and talking head channels, as well as twenty-one traffic and weather channels serving major US cities.

Thanks to its Burr-Brown DAC, a chipset commonly found in high-end digital audio gear, as well as its high quality preamplifier and rock solid power supply, the XRt12 sound is excellent, even on my very unforgiving MBL 101D rig that's strung together with top of the line Nordost Valhalla cables and interconnects. But is the XM Radio digital sound as good as analog FM?  The answer depends on what you have for an FM tuner and how good a signal you are getting in your home.  I have a $1,500 Rotel RH-10 FM tuner, one of the best in the world (sadly, it's no longer made). The RH-10 and the powerful, clean FM signals I get in Boston serve up sound that is audibly superior to XM Radio.  Sometimes, the sound coming out of the RH-10 almost rivals CD quality, with tremendous layering, soundstage, depth, and musicality. XM Radio via the XRt12 has a flattened, less precise soundstage, and it's not as musical. It's the high quality analog sound versus digital story all over again.

But for anyone else who has a receiver with a typically woeful tuner and lives in a world of crappy FM signals and poor listening choices, the satellite signal coming out of the $299.99 Polk XRt12 delivers listener nirvana. It's somewhat analogous to analog cable TV and digital satellite TV; the latter beats the crap out of cable.  So if FM sound is better, which do I listen to, the Rotel RH-10 or the Polk XRt12? Let's put it this way, the RH-10 has been relegated to the den, and gets turned on maybe once a week.  XM Radio and the Polk XRt12 rule! Content and user flexibility win out over high-end audio aesthetics.

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