Wednesday, January 09, 2008

SIRIUS Conductor

I was recently lucky enough to get my hands on another fantastic bit of SIRIUS kit - the SIRIUS Conductor.

Conductor enables you to connect SIRIUS Satellite Radio to your home stereo setup - which means you can enjoy Howard Stern, Martha Stewart and 130 other channels of brilliant radio throughout the house - and because it's digital, it's all in crisp, clear quality that you just don't get via FM or AM radio.

Conductor retails for $149.99 - while a similar home-tuner sells for just $49.99. So what's the big deal about Conductor anyway?

Well, when you open the box, you'll find two bits of kit. Firstly, the little SIRIUS satellite tuner, which pops discreetly around the back of your stereo and feeds Satellite Radio into your receiver via an available AUX IN or other available input mode.

Secondly, you'll find a bloody great remote control.

What's so great about this control?

Well, it lets you control SIRIUS radio directly from the handset - so once you've installed your tuner, you never need to worry about it again. With your Conductor remote, you can change channels, skip, rewind or pause live satellite radio and the channels names and what songs are playing pop up on the little LCD screen at the top of the remote.

What's even cooler is the ability to link your remote to all your other bits of kit. Through a fairly simple process, you can introduce the conductor remote to your TV, DVD player and set-top cable box and the next thing you know, you can control all of them with the same remote.

But it gets even cooler than that.

Because the Conductor remote doesn't send it's signal to the SIRIUS tuner via an IR signal, like the rest of your remotes. It used a Radio Frequency transmitter to receive and send signals - which means your Conductor remote isn't just good when you're in 'line of sight' to your receiver. You can use it upstairs, in the kitchen or even in the garden. It's got a reported range of 80'.

And with the use of an IR bud, which you stick to your receiver's existing IR window, you can 'link' the SIRIUS Conductor to your stereo receiver and raise and lower the volume with the same RF frequency.

What does this mean?

It means, finally, your dreams have come true. You can now change radio station and raise and lower the volume of your sitting-room stereo while you're upstairs having a bath. Why on earth would you want to do that? I have no bloody idea - but that's not the point.

Set Up

Setting up Conductor is pretty simple.

The tuner itself is a small box about the size of a pack of cigarettes. It's small enough to be completely invisible within your existing stereo-setup.

There are two complications connecting it. Firstly, the antenna. There's a SIRIUS indoor/outdoor antenna included in the box and this has to be positioned correctly to receive a decent signal. Because there's no 'screen' or visuals on the tuner itself, you might need to install the whole thing first and worry about adjusting the antenna second.

Next, there's how you connect it to your stereo. The easiest way is just to use the attached leads to plug the tuner output directly into the 'right' and 'left' jacks of your stereo's auxiliary input. Then, by switching to 'aux in' mode on your stereo, you'll get a signal loud and clear.

You can also use a optical connector, if you've got a high end stereo. That's dead easy to connect, but you'll need to have your own cable. SIRIUS doesn't supply one.

Training the Remote. Stop. Play. Change Channel. Sit. Roll Over.

Now it's set up, the next step is to 'train' your remote.

This is fairly simple too. A 'reset' button on the tuner instantly 'pairs' your remote control to the SIRIUS radio and with one press, you're able to connect to SIRIUS, see all the channels on-screen and control the satellite feed.

Slightly more complicated instructions enable you to 'pair' your remote with the rest of your hardware. By inputting the right 'code' you can link the remote to your TV, DVD player and set-top box and then control all of them with your Conductor remote.

The instructions are fairly inclusive, but there are limits to the number of 'codes' that come included with the User Manual. I managed to 'link' the stereo (an AIWA) and our Cablevision box fairly easily. However, Conductor had never heard of our KONKA television and our cheap, crappy, Wal-Mart DVD player was SO cheap, it didn't even have a brand name on it! Just the ominous words 'Made in China.'

Trial and error helped me sort the television out (you can scroll through the 'codes' until one of them makes your TV do something funky - indicating that you got 'the right one.)

The DVD was slightly more complicated. I had to 'learn' the remote using the instruction manual. Considering the original remote wasn't exactly the pinnacle of functionality, my Conductor 'translation' wasn't ideal.

But in less than an hour I'd got it all done and it worked (except for some parts of the DVD controls.) Next on my list was connecting the receiver (my stereo) to the SIRIUS radio so I could live the American dream and change the volume on my stereo from the comfort of my car, parked in the driveway.

RF Madness

Conductor comes with an 'IR bug' which you can stick to the IR window on your receiver or stereo. Basically, it goes over where the regular remote's signal is supposed to be aimed and lets the tiny tuner, buried behind the coils of wires around the back of your home entertainment console, talk to the stereo.

They say 'play around with it' before you stick it, since IR bugs are like Star Trek movies - of inconsistent quality. You can use blue tack or sellotape for this. I found sitting my wife cross legged in front of the stereo and telling her to 'hold this here' was the easiest option.

I followed the slightly confusing instructions and seemed to get things set-up. The only major problem I ran into was a result of my own stupidity.

With Tina holding the IR bug in place, I tried raising or lowering the volume while still in SIRIUS mode and it worked! Yay!

Job done, I thought. Except the volume changing mode continued to work even after Tina revealed she'd stopped holding the IR bug in place five minutes ago and was reading Cosmopolitan by then.

I realised that I'd been playing with my RF remote whilst sitting in front of the TV - so the wonders of the SIRIUS Conductor were actually being transmitted by 'line of sight' IR instead of the fancy radio signals.

In order to correct this, I had to go and sit in the kitchen, out of IR range, and fiddle with the remote. Three failed attempts had me concerned - but once I'd actually returned to the room, I found that Tina had again stopped holding the IR bug and that's why the signal wasn't getting through.

She grumpily held the bug in place, I tested the remote from the kitchen and IT WORKED!

So now Tina glued the bug in place and got back to her magazine, while I celebrated by journeying into the basement and changing channels with the wonders of 'radio waves.'

Is it worth it?

Well, I wouldn't have shelled out $149.99 for the SIRIUS Conductor - simply because I live in a small apartment and being able to change radio stations from any room in the house isn't so impressive when your options are limited to 'kitchen' or 'bathroom.'

If you try and change channels while sitting on the toilet, everybody in the living room will yell: 'Eewwww! That's gross! Don't change channels from the bathroom!"

However, if I had a bigger house or a slightly more complicated stereo system - like speakers in more than just one room of the house - I'd be sold.

My brother in law has a speaker in the garden, so he can listen to the radio while sitting by the pool. For him, the SIRIUS Conductor would be totally awesome. Not only can he control SIRIUS from outside the house - he can also raise and lower the volume and 'mute' his stereo.

So if your domestic arrangements call for it - Conductor is an awesome bit of kit.

Although the SIRIUS tuner isn't fancy - it's similar to the $49.99 tuner for home set up - the RF transmitter in the remote is actually a bargain. Similar units - which don't come with SIRIUS radio - retail for more than Conductor's modest $149.99 price tag.

So for the home audio enthusiast - Conductor is a great bet. I'd recommend it for it's ease-of-installation, functionality and 'isn't this cool' factor.

If you're just looking to connect SIRIUS to your more modest home setup, I'd recommend something a lot simpler. A Home Tuner retails for just $49.99 but by buying a Dock & Play radio (like the Stratus) and a Home Kit, you can take a single SIRIUS subscription back and forth between your house and car almost effortlessly - for less than $100.

SIRIUS Conductor retails for $149.99 and requires a SIRIUS radio subscription starting from $12.95 a month.

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