The CD Audio System bears little resemblance to the cool butterfly shape of the older boombox. The unit has two speakers flanking a center component that flips 180 degrees to show either the CD/radio or XM Radio controls. And tuning in XM requires snapping in the Delphi SkyFi Radio (sold separately) and subscribing to the service. The rotating design is unique but quickly becomes a nuisance. Since half the controls are hidden at any time, you can't quickly switch between the boombox's functions. Plus, the terrestrial radio's telescoping antenna is on this rotating section, so it needs to be folded or unfolded every time you flip the center part.
On the CD/radio side, controls are arranged in an awkward semicircular design. The keys on the remote, though, are worse. It's so crammed with buttons--some of which do double duty depending on the function--that we always had to study it to find the one we wanted.
The control center flips over for access to the CD and AM/FM radio controls.
It's too bad the controls and design are so awkward, because the CD Audio System has all the features that we wanted in the original XM boombox. In addition to playing CDs (including MP3, CD-R, and CD-RW discs) and receiving local AM/FM broadcasts (30 presets are available), it offers sleep and snooze functions. Setting the advanced controls will have you reaching for the manual to read the instructions, but that's true for most compact stereos. Despite our hang-ups with the controls, the CD Audio System performed well in our testing. The speakers produced a far louder and richer sound than that of the previous Audio System, and the Bass Boost shook things up.
While it comes with a handle, this unit's heft and dependence on satellite reception prevent it from being easily portable. When powered by the optional six D batteries, the unit weighs 8.3 pounds--think heavy laptop rather than Sony Walkman. The included satellite antenna, meanwhile, unspools to a length of 10 feet--that's great for reaching a window while you're indoors, but it doesn't make for optimal mobility. There are pegs on the back for storing the antenna cord, but we would have preferred it if the cord retracted automatically. Another traveling concern is battery life: it plays for 6 to 10 hours depending on whether you're using the CD player or the AM/FM radio (which use less juice) or the XM receiver (which uses more). The bottom line is that the CD Audio System can travel, but you'll appreciate it most in semistationary environments--picnics, barbeques, patios, or bedrooms.
Considering that you need to own a SkyFi receiver before you can use the CD Audio System, the $199 price tag looks steep, especially considering that without the XM capabilities, it's only a basic-level boombox. Still, it provides a convenient option for enjoying XM on to go and insures that you won't be tied to one location while you listen.
Editor's note: We have changed the rating in this review to reflect recent changes in our rating scale. Click here to find out more.