Pulsar: Superb Satellite Radio On Your Desktop

Satellite radio has come a long way since its creation many years ago, and now the two main companies – Sirius and XM – have merged to become Sirius/XM Satellite Radio. There are many ways to get this content in your car or home, but getting it on a Mac can be problematic.

Fortunately, there’s Pulsar, an application by Rogue Amoeba that makes streaming satellite radio to your Mac easy. Once you’ve made the switch to Pulsar, you’ll never want to listen to satellite radio on your Mac any other way again.

The Setup

Before buying or installing Pulsar, make sure that your Sirius or XM package (yes, for some reason even though they’ve merged they have two separate plans) includes Internet radio by checking on their respective websites.

Without a streaming package, Pulsar can’t do its job and you’ll be wasting your time. Fortunately, Sirius and XM offer streaming packages for $2.99 a month, and Sirius even has a free trial for the service as well.

Pulsar Interface

Pulsar Interface

After installing Pulsar on your Mac, open up the program. The initial setup guides you through the process, and allows you to either sign in with your existing Sirius or XM account, or create a new one.

Once you’re logged in, the program opens and you can start selecting your favorite stations. That’s it – there’s nothing more complicated to do.

The Interface

If the basic layout of the program seems familiar, that’s because it takes many of its styling cues from iTunes. Click the plus button and a list of available channels displays on the screen, in either list or graphical view.

As an added bonus, each station displays what song they’re currently playing, making it easy to know if you want to switch to another channel based on what’s running at the time.

To select a channel, just double click on the name or icon and, after buffering for a few seconds, audio will begin to play.

Graphically Displaying Channels

Graphically Displaying Channels

Now it’s time to pick some favorites. Everybody has a few stations that they prefer over others, and Pulsar makes it easy to pull those out into their own directory.

From either the list or graphical view, click on the dark star located in the box or to the right of the currently playing song. When the star is illuminated, you’ve successfully chosen a favorite station.

To view all of your favorites in one place, click on the star symbol to the right of the main Pulsar display. Now you can choose which station out of your favorites to play, as well as see the song playing currently.

The Icing on the Cake

Although Pulsar was cool when it first came out, version 2.0 added some excellent features that really make the program a must buy for satellite radio subscribers.

First is the pause feature. Let’s say you’re a big fan of Howard Stern, but you don’t always have time to catch every second. While the music is playing, just hit the pause button located just to the left of the display.

In my experience, Pulsar keeps the music paused for two to three hours before the buffer fills up. That means you can pause for a lunch break, come back and catch up on your favorite program, or just rewind to replay that song you haven’t heard since the fourth grade.

Better yet, once you have a few minutes of buffer in store, you can fast forward through songs or talk as well.

The Mini Player

The Mini Player

The program still has more to offer. You can minimize the app from the desktop and control it through the Dock icon, which helps get rid of clutter.

Growl support can show you what song is playing when it starts, which is always handy if you want to know who’s on the radio for future reference. And if you want to add even more features, you can purchase Audio Hijack Pro from Rogue Amoeba to record the audio, or AirFoil to send it to other PCs, Macs, or iOS devices. If you buy one of these programs first, you can even get Pulsar for free.

The Final Word

The web interfaces on XM and Sirius’ sites aren’t worth the code they’re designed with, and make streaming your music difficult from your Mac – even at the best of times.

I’ve been using Pulsar for over a year now, and I’ve never once had a problem with playing what I wanted to play. In fact, it’s one of my favorite buys for the Mac, and I recommend it to every satellite fan I meet.

It’s affordably priced at $20, and it even can be free with an accompanying purchase. As far as satellite on the Mac goes, it’s the only way to fly!


XM and SIRIUS both provide online access to most of their stations, but tuning in with a browser is clunky at best. With Pulsar and an XM or SIRIUS online account, you can access all this great content directly from your desktop.