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.Measuring a scant 5 inches wide and less than 2 inches tall, the H2A1 will certainly fit anywhere, but note that the metal chassis is warm to the touch after an hour of use. The four-line, scrolling dot-matrix LCD offers the channel number and name (Planet Jazz, Hot Jamz, Fantasy Ballroom, and so on), the preset number, and the current song's artist and title. The brightness dimmer has three levels. A small, black-plastic remote duplicates all the front-panel controls and includes a numeric keypad for direct station or preset entry.
Hookup details and front-panel ergonomics were easy enough to fathom. Reception in our downtown-Brooklyn studio was only fair; the three-increment Antenna Signal meter never indicated more than minimal acceptability because we don't have access to the western skies. But it turned out that the preferred direction, which varies in different parts of the United States, wasn't a problem: unlike AM and FM radio reception, which deteriorates with weak signals, Sirius reception is either go or no-go. After a few tweaks to the antenna position, we eventually discovered one that yielded dropout-free test sessions. Home owners might opt for a roof antenna.
Before we got down to serious listening, we set the H2A1's output level to maximum, but even then, the unit sounded nowhere near as loud as our CD player. But volume didn't present a problem in day-to-day use; we just turned up our receiver. Overall, the H2A1 packs plenty of useful features into a small case, but the receiver isn't quite as flexible as the Delphi SkyFi for XM. We used Kenwood's KPA-H2H Home Docking Kit and the supplied stereo RCA cable to integrate the H2A1 into our studio system. The Kit also comes with a docking cradle/adjustable base, an AC power adapter, and an antenna. The power and antenna connections, along with a stereo minijack, reside on the back of the base.
The KPA-H2C Car Docking Kit is nearly identical to its home counterpart, but it includes a cigarette-lighter power adapter in lieu of the AC adapter, a minijack-to-cassette adapter for your car's cassette player, a magnetic antenna to stick on the roof, and a less-aesthetic but more-adjustable base for mounting the unit somewhere near your dashboard.
The little receiver stores up to 24 presets, 6 in each of four banks. You can delete streams, so you don't have to scroll through all 100. The parental-lockout feature lets you zap, for example, the uncensored-comedy channel.
You'll never have to wait through a 30-minute set to hear the DJ identify a really cool tune. The screen gives you the current artist and song title, magnified to full size if you press Display, and you can save that information by tapping Memory. Sirius's diverse programming should satisfy every taste. The service offers rock, hip-hop, country, jazz, classical, folk, and world music in a total of 60 commercial-free music streams, plus 40 news, sports, and talk shows. The wonderfully eclectic mix of Right and Left offerings encompasses everything from conservative hero Sean Hannity to OutQ, a gay/lesbian news and talk stream. We regularly delved into the three NPR/PRI selections. Please note that the H2A1 is a Sirius tuner only; you'll continue to use your existing AM/FM tuner for regular radio reception.
The H2A1's sonics are refreshingly clean and quiet, but they won't dazzle audiophiles. Even the best music channels aren't as pure as CD, though all the music comes across better than the talk stations, some of which don't approach typical AM-radio quality. We also performed a quick comparison of the H2A1 and the Delphi SkyFi. The Delphi proved itself superior; it came closer to CD caliber, approximating a clear FM-radio signal. The H2A1 sounded coarser and grainier.