To use the software, you need to subscribe to XM Radio Online, Sirius Internet Radio, or both (although the two companies merged in July 2008 to form Sirius XM Radio, they still operate separate streaming services) . Each service offer more than 80 commercial-free online channels, which you can also listen to via each company’s Web site. XM Radio Online costs $8 per month (free with an XM Satellite Radio monthly subscription that costs $13 or more) and Sirius Internet Radio costs $13 per month ($3 if you subscribe to a Sirius Satellite Radio package that costs $12 or more). Each service offers free three-day trials (you only need to provide a name and e-mail address, not a credit card).
When you launch Pulsar, you’re greeted with the Accounts Assistant window, where you can click on the XM or Sirius buttons to enter your e-mail address and password for those services (if you have accounts with both, you’ll need to open the Accounts Assistant again to enter the information for the second account, since the window closes after the first one). Once set up, you’ll see all the available stations in Logo or Compact view. Both show station names, descriptions, and the currently playing songs, artists, and genres. Logo view also shows the station logos, which take up more room and allow for fewer stations listed in the same window space.
In a spot check of several stations, I found the audio quality to be comparable to other Internet radio stations. Buffering times varied greatly, even for the same station. And Pulsar was sometimes slow to catch up with displaying the currently-playing song on several occasions (the artist and song listed on the station and in the playback area didn’t always match up with each other, for example). Overall, Pulsar’s clean, iTunes-like interface was much nicer to work with than the respective services’ Web players.