The Difference Between Sirius and XM

listening to the radio
While you won't hear much of a difference between Sirius and XM at the "All Access" level, there are important differences at lower subscription tiers. Laurence Mouton/PhotoAlto Agency RF Collections/Getty

Question: What’s the difference between Sirius and XM satellite radio?

You used to hear that Sirius had this radio personality, or XM had that show, but who can be bothered to keep up with all that? Is there really any difference between Sirius and XM today that would cause someone to choose one over the other, and how do you even tell the difference if you buy a used one?


Back when Sirius and XM radio were competing services, there were a lot of differences that often made it tough to choose one over the other.

However, those differences have shrunk significantly since the companies merged to create SiriusXM. The hardware is still distinct, which often confuses the issue further, but things like service quality and availability, programming options, and even hardware aesthetics are all pretty much the same.

So the issue of how to get satellite radio in your car is a little less complicated today than it once was, but there are still some choices to make.

The Difference Between Sirius and XM

The main differences between Sirius and XM today are found in specific programming packages. For instance, both Sirius and XM offer “All Access” programming packages that come with essentially the same programming. However, lower level packages from Sirius and XM come with slightly different channel and programming options.

One prime example can be found in two of SiriusXM’s flagship programs: Howard Stern, and the Opie and Anthony Show.

Although these programs are available on both Sirius and XM through their All Access programming packages, the same isn’t true of lower subscription tiers. Sirius’s second tier subscription package offers Howard Stern but not Opie and Anthony, and the inverse is true of XM’s similarly-priced tier.

For more information about, you can also go straight to the horse’s mouth.

As if the issue wasn’t already complicated and confusing enough, Sirius and XM aren’t even the only choices anymore. In addition to those legacy brands, you can also find newer SiriusXM branded hardware. These satellite radios are cable of receiving “XTRA” channels that aren’t available to older units.

Choosing Between Sirius and XM (and SiriusXM)

If you’re trying to choose between Sirius and XM, and you plan on subscribing to the “All Access” package, then it doesn’t really matter which one you choose. Check out the options for each and choose one that you like. In most cases, you’ll find that there are only minor aesthetic differences between units that receive Sirius programming and ones that receive XM.

If you don’t plan on subscribing to an “All Access” package, then make sure to check out the specific lower level packages from each service before you make a choice. Some lower level packages come with certain channels that others don’t, so it’s a good idea to make sure that the package you want is available on the hardware you’ve chosen before you actually pull the trigger.

Of course, you may want to look at the limited slate of combo SiriusXM tuners if you want access to absolutely everything.

Contrary to what you might think from looking at the name, these aren’t simple combo units that provide access to both Sirius and XM programming. They are actually capable of receiving additional channels that neither Sirius or XM radios are capable of tapping into.

Telling the Difference Between Sirius and XM Radios

If you have a vehicle that came with a built-in satellite radio, then you’ll have to know what kind before you can activate a subscription for it. To that end, SiriusXM maintains a satellite radio vehicle availability chart that you can check.

If you have an older satellite radio that isn’t built into an OEM car stereo, and you’re not sure whether it’s a Sirius or XM unit, it’s relatively easy to tell the difference. Just turn the unit over and look for the serial number. If the serial number has 12 digits, it’s a Sirius unit. XM radios, on the other hand, have eight digit serial numbers.

The only exception is newer SiriusXM units, which also have eight digits. If your radio was built after 2012, and it’s branded Lynx, Onyx, or SXV200, the it could be a SiriusXM unit.

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