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Review: Synergi a good home stereo for existing Sirius customers

The $179.99 Synergi Internet Home Radio will appeal to existing Sirius Satellite radio customers interested in listening to the service inside their homes.


If you already have a Sirius radio subscription that you use with your car, computer, or phone, why not make the most of it by setting up access all over your house?

That's the value proposition of the Sirius Synergi, an Internet radio that can function as alarm clock by your bed, entertainment while cooking in your kitchen, as a bookshelf music system in your living room, or as an office audio companion.

Its strengths lie in its simplicity of design and functionality.

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Its sturdy black frame, hefty weight (well over two kilograms), and brazenly large dimensions - it's bigger and thicker than a Neal Stephenson hardcover - communicate high-end end craftsmanship. Tuning and volume knobs sit on the right side of its face, a glowing power button on the left, with a black and yellow display in the centre. A row of narrow, elegant buttons controlling presets, menus, and alarms, line the bottom. The top half is reserved for a simple black speaker grate through which sound pours from a pair of stereo drivers.

A large sleep/timer button rests atop the box, line-in and headphone jacks dot the left side. If you don't have access to WiFi, an Ethernet port is hidden behind a hatch in the back, as well as a line-out jack, should you want to connect it to your stereo for added audio oomph.

It's worth adding that when I first saw the rear hatch my first thought was that it might be a battery compartment, allowing people to take the Synergi out to the backyard without worrying about extension cords. I was a little disappointed when this turned out not to be the case. It seems a shame that an Internet radio should need to be tethered to a wall. Perhaps battery power will be an addition in a future model.

Synergi's minimal design is complemented by its dead simple setup and use.

Connecting to a wireless network is as easy as scrolling through available connections and twisting the tuning knob to select the numbers and letters of your network password. Then it's just a matter of spinning that same knob to enter your Sirius credentials. I was ready to start listening to music within a couple of minutes of taking it out of the box.

Once I was logged in I could scroll through a list of stations, direct tune channels by tapping numbers, and program up to ten favourites to the numeric buttons on the front panel for quick access. The high contrast display clearly shows channel, artist, and song data in bold letters.

Alarm settings, unfortunately, are found in the System Setup menu rather given a dedicated spot on the main menu. But they're simple enough to manipulate once located. Users can control frequency, wake-to station, and volume for two separate alarms, which can be activated and deactivated via dedicated buttons on the radio's face.

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My only real design gripe is directed at the membrane-button remote, which seems cheap and flimsy compared to the build quality of the radio. It's also a shame that the remote doesn't have a dedicated "direct tune" button. After all, when you're out of reach of the radio it's much more likely that you'll simply want to enter a specific radio channel rather than scroll through stations. That's what the presets are for, some might argue, but times exist when one might want to tune in a station not programmed to a preset. It is possible to enter a specific channel using the remote, but you have to initiate the process by pressing the "OK" button, which I didn't figure out until I began reading through the manual - a blemish on the radio's otherwise sparkling intuitiveness.

Of course, physical interactions with a radio account for just a tiny percentage of its use. Once you've tuned into your station of preference the vast majority time is spent simply listening. Consequently, audio quality is a key factor. The Synergi fares well in this department, but isn't exceptional.

Users can choose from five equalizer presets but I found the default "flat" setting best for most situations. It generated bass that I could feel, not just hear, and mid- and high-tones that were clear and easily distinguishable.

Listening is pleasant at lower volumes, more satisfying with the volume knob twisted up a bit. The maximum enjoyable volume is just high enough to drown out casual conversation. Anything louder and minor distortions begin to become apparent. Keep in mind, though, that most people aren't likely to try to use a device like this as the backbone for a rollicking house party. That's what home stereos are for.

I flirted with other EQ profiles, but none held my attention for long. "Bass boost" mode is the best of the bunch. It bumps up lower frequencies without overshadowing the higher ones, even at louder volumes, but I'm just not a big bass kind of guy. "Loudness" mode, meant to create the impression of louder audio at lower volumes, seemed only to nudge up the bass and treble a bit. The "bright" mode, meanwhile, just makes higher frequency sounds seem brassy and dirty, while "vocal boost" apparently attempts to bring singers to the fore, though I'm not sure I noticed much of a difference.

Another feature called "spatialization" can be applied on top of any of these modes. It's supposed to make audio feel more natural and three-dimensional, as though its source isn't restricted to the radio. I found that it gave music a lighter, airier feel, but was never fooled into thinking that it was coming from anywhere but the big black box on my counter. That said, I left spatialization set to "on" most of the time, so I suppose there is something about it that appeals, perhaps on a subconscious level.

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I'm not sure the $179.99 Synergi makes sense if you don't intend to use Sirius on other devices. However, if you're an existing Sirius customer and have a spot in your home or office devoid of radio, it may be worth considering. If you're spending $15 per month on a radio service - hundreds of dollars over the long haul - a product like creates an opportunity to maximize your subscription investment.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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