Digital-audio players (DAPs) are well on their way to becoming the de facto device for every listening scenario: in the car, at home, on the go, and all the in-betweens. Satellite radio manufacturers have understood the importance of modularity from the beginning, making every effort to create devices that could easily be moved from car to home and back again. An apt example can be found in the Audiovox XM Xpress, a simple XM radio receiver that can be attached to a variety of accessories for use in just about every imaginable scenario. The device isn't new to market, but that's just as well; a bit of age has made it quite affordable. The Xpress has an MSRP of $89.99, but can be found for as little as $35 with rebates associated with new subscriptions. This coupled with the unit's simplicity make it a good choice for first timer.
The Audiovox XM Xpress is pretty "blah" looking with its muted gray-and-silver coloring and a monochromatic display. It's also slightly large for a portable device, measuring 4.5 inches by 2.5 inches by 0.8-inch. However, this allows for an ample 2.7-inch screen and adequately large controls, both important features in a device made to be used in the car. The screen offers large, legible text; a tactile knob protrudes to the right of the screen that allows for channel scrolling and selection. Above the knob are Display, Search, and Menu keys and below it are Memory, Jump, and preset shuttle buttons. A numerical keypad lines the bottom of the face with numbers "1" through "0." The underside of the XM Xpress has a docking port for attaching the various accessories necessary to power and use the device.
Audiovox includes everything you need to use the XM Xpress in your car--a dock, a cigarette lighter charger, mounting tools, and an audio cassette adapter--as well as one extra that's not particularly useful for in-car use, a remote. I guess it's nice to include a remote, but you'll need one of the optional accessories to really make good use of it, such as the Audiovox Xpress Home Kit ($39.99). Other add-ons include the Belkin Roady Boombox ($99.99) and the Belkin Mobility Kit ($99.99). Setting up the in-car system is a simple matter (instructions are included), and the other solutions are just plug-and-play. All in all, the XM Xpress is quite easy to use.
The XM Xpress has a decent array of features and certainly enough to satisfy newbies. For those who don't have a cassette player in their cars, the unit offers a built-in FM modulator for transmitting content to an open frequency. (For more information on this feature, see our Tips & Tricks.) You can also set as many as 30 presets, or you can manually enter station numbers with the keypad for quick retrieval. If you hear a song you like, a quick press of the memory button saves it to the unit (up to 20 selections). I particularly like the Channel Skip/Add function, which lets you select which stations will be listed during scrolling--I take out all the ones I never like. Finally, you can set the XM Xpress to display various up-to-the-minute info, such as stock prices and sports scores.
When put to the test, the XM Xpress performed quite well in the reception area but not so hot in the audio quality area. The unit kept an admirably strong signal throughout most of San Francisco, and the only place I experienced a full dropout was in garages. Audio quality through the cassette adapter was just passable. Bass response was lacking and music didn't sound totally clear in most cases. I'd compare it to FM radio, if not slightly worse: listenable, but not impressive. The FM transmission worked pretty well in the city, at least as good as that of the Maximo SAN-360.
Sure, it's not the most advanced unit on the market, and it certainly doesn't offer stellar audio quality, but the XM Xpress has a couple things going for it: a cheap price and a simple design. So if you're thinking about XM Satellite Radio but don't want to commit to a long-term solution, this device fits the bill.