Marine stereo buying guide
Our carsaudio.org article on Marine stereo buying guide will provide you with the basic and essential information that will equip you with information required when you visit your local specialty marine audio enhancement retailer or dealer to shop for marine audio system upgrades.
When it comes to spending time on your boat either on a recreational or sporting activity such as fishing, touring, relaxing or playing on the water, upgrading your boat or watercraft with a high-performance marine stereo system upgrade makes everything more fun and enjoyable.
Marine stereo systems range from a radio and pair of speakers to a complete high-end multi-zone audio system with tower speakers, high-tech head unit, high-power amplifiers and subwoofers. Marine stereo package upgrades can be tailored to your listening style and the size of your vessel and also depending on your audio enthusiasm which at times is governed by how deep your pockets can go. Otherwise, the scope of upgrade is unlimited when it comes to marine stereo package upgrades. Upgrades can be done to a small fishing boat to bigger ones such as luxury cruising yachts.
A marine stereo and speakers have to bear and undergo the exposure to all environmental punishing factors that a boat owner will operate on. The extreme temperature, high waves, ample sunlight, uncontrolled precipitation, are some things that come in the way of every sea goer or explorer. This is not different for the marine audio equipment installed in the vessel. Marine stereos have to withstand incredible amounts of abuse compared to the car stereo systems because of their installation location.
Therefore, marine stereo system gears have to undergo hundreds and even thousands of hours of extensive pre-production testing. Marine stereo systems are almost invulnerable to excessive heat and sunlight; hence they must possess ultraviolet resistance. Ultraviolet test chambers have been designed by marine stereo systems manufacturers to simulate years of sun exposure. This makes sure that the product produced will have a long lifespan if exposed to sunlight.
Special “salt fog” chambers are also used to simulate years of exposure to harsh salt water environments present in seas, oceans and some lakes. Blasts of water jet test every seal to ensure that every button, switch and port is moisture-proof. They also get to the extreme by dipping the hardware to saline water for a specified duration of time. Special conformal coatings provide additional protection for the internal circuitry.
Adding a marine stereo and marine speakers to your boat is a great way to have an even better time out on the lake or any other water body of choice. However, finding and purchasing a marine stereo system can be a much more complicated task than buying a car stereo system. If you are a boat owner and purchase a marine stereo that is not up to par, this will make the system deteriorate quickly hence not lasting for a season.
What makes marine stereo systems different from other systems? Most marine stereo head units are single DIN designs, however there are custom DIN designs. Custom DIN head units come in various shapes and sizes. Many newer boats in the market will come with stock stereos which makes upgrading to an aftermarket head unit a simple task. However, if you want to add a head unit to an older boat that does not have any sound system in it, you will have to cut open some dash paneling and run wiring for the components. In boats, their designs and sizes pose no challenge when it comes to installation of head units hence there is no perfect spot for doing so, but as a general rule try to keep your head unit in an out of the way location. At this spot it will get some protection from sunlight and saline water splashes or even rainfall.
The differentiating features of marine stereo to other stereo such as car stereo are:
- No second thoughts about water resistance where the system must be able to handle heavy submersion in water.
- Different marine systems have different levels of resistance to water hence corrosion protection is paramount.
- Conformal coating which helps in water proofing the marine stereo needs to be installed by the manufacturer hence the need to have it.
You must choose a marine stereo that manages all these obligations effectively apart from just having these in the features list. Some manufacturers may be marketing their product contrary to what they produce. The Fusion marine stereo from Garmin is well-reputed in this regard.
Here, carsaudio.org has compiled a list of factors worth to put into consideration before buying a marine stereo system. They include:
Marine stereo buying consideration points
The following are the features that you should consider over and above the mandatory ones:
In order for a marine stereo to last for an extended period, it must have water resistance capability. Can it easily handle light rain? Can it handle submersion or not? These questions should be ringing in your mind any time you go shopping for marine stereo and speakers. The harsh boating environment can damage a low-grade stereo in a single season, so buying a quality marine stereo package that can last is the way to go.
Saving money for the cheap quality stereo can be a mistake hence quality should never be compromised. Some products are specially designed, like Fusion marine stereo and Sony marine stereo products for marine vessels use. They can survive easily and can be fully submerged without any damage.
Before buying a marine stereo, make sure that its plastic cases and coverings are made up of UV resistant material. Speaker cones should not be paper made therefore you should source for those that are made of polypropylene. As you are on a marine voyage, one of the most important things to think about is the altitude or the temperatures your boat or yacht is currently facing. Pick the one that can handle high temperature and direct sunlight. Marine stereo like Fusion and Sony will benefit you as they will ensure high control without any difficulty in working or compromise.
Marine stereo especially for an open boat where it has to deal with the corrosive environment is a key feature worth consideration. Saline water can quickly destroy the marine stereo by corroding its electrical components. Due to these reasons, you need to buy the one that is designed to resist rust and corrosion with plated connections.
Check out for speakers that are made of polypropylene and not paper, which are also sealed at the back. Take note of the twitter cone wires as they should not connect through the main cone. If you are purchasing a marine stereo system, make sure it has coated circuit boards with rust-resistant chassis components. A good example is the Rockford Fosgate where its unit’s chassis is made of stainless steel
Have you ever tried to listen to music out in the open? You’ll find the sound output very different from that of the covered area such as a car interior. For adequate sound output, you need high power with crystal-like clarity. The Fusion marine stereo system comes with a 4-way amplifier that enhances sound output and eliminates background noise, which is a plus when it comes to high power sound boost.
Power is another area where marine stereos need particular consideration due to outdoor noise. Enjoying music against a background of boat engine noise and water waves often means cranking up the volume, to get the sound clarity. So, you will be required to fit in a powerful marine amplifier. Check closely at the outputs your marine stereo provides in order to ensure that the sound output will cancel all environmental and boat mechanical noises.
Pre-amp outputs will save you from using speaker level amplifier inputs and also provide the outputs you need for a marine and boat subwoofer. Having ample reserves of power in your amplifier also helps if you want to expand your system in the near future.
The ideal complimentary gear
Marine stereo system has some complementary gear that make sound output even better and convenient to comprehend. They have a particular frequency response, receivers, USB ports, and radio channels to boost the system. For the fusion marine radio, the FM sensitivity is pretty low, which is expected because of being exposed to the external elements such as competing against the wind, where a marine stereo system has to suffer a lot of abuse. Well, if you are looking for a great sound system, you need to pick the designed and tested approach to stand up to the outside climate.
Being in a position where you can remote control your marine stereo system is a great deal. Ensure if possible that you select a waterproof remote controller which can sustain water immersion or splashes in case it falls accidentally into water. Therefore, in the market there are marine graded wireless or wired remote controls. The most essential thing is having a hardwired remote control at an alternate location. You can easily connect marine stereo systems to remote controls with the boat’s devices. Moreover, these remote controls can run via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth.
Graphic and parametric Equaliser bands, or EQ bands, allow you to tweak your music settings to your preferred music taste and preference. The more EQ bands your receiver has, the more you will be able to fine-tune the sound. Graphic EQ bands are the simplest type and consist of multiple sliders or controls for adjusting bands or sound frequencies. Parametric equalizers offer a greater degree of control over your sound. Parametric EQ can control three aspects of each frequency: the level, the centre frequency and the range of each frequency.
For cleaner sound production, head units can come with Digital Time Alignment, or DTA. This feature works to synchronise the timing of sounds coming from each of your speakers so as to optimize the sound stage and provide the ultimate listening experience.
Higher end head units come with built-in sound processors to provide even better sound quality hence reduction of audio distortion. Sound processors are ingenious gadgets that filter better audio signals to your speakers for the cleanest sound possible.
Preamp RCA outputs
Marine stereo systems preamp RCA outputs are necessary to connect external amplifiers for your speakers and subwoofers to your marine receiver. A receiver typically comes with one, two or three sets of RCA outputs. One pair of outputs will generally provide a full range signal which can be used with most subwoofers and amplifiers. Two RCA outputs can be configured for connecting a 2-channel amp or one pair of stereo speakers. Three sets of RCA outputs are typically used for two sets of stereos and a subwoofer amp.
It is important to know what the preamp voltage of your head unit is in order to improve the longevity of your system. Higher voltages result in stronger signals which clean up distortion and unwanted sound but if higher than intended they lead to distortion or they may destroy the speakers.
Modern boats come preinstalled with steering wheel mounted controls straight from the manufacturer. There are marine audio receivers with steering wheel integration which give total control of your stereo without ever having to take your hands off the wheel. Most receivers do not come with steering wheel integration built-in and require an additional adapter. This functionality can work well with speed boats where the driver need not get the hands off the wheel for long periods of time.
Stereo that can play in the format you want
Are you going to download the audio files? Or do you want to play them online? The answer will depend on the marine stereo of your choice and its features in stock. Many marine stereo head units can play music of different formats. Another key feature is a head unit that can support smartphone integration in order to diversify your marine stereo usability. The smart benefits include Pandora, Spotify and Satellite radio connectivity.
Install a subwoofer
For the throbbing and earth-shaking music lovers who would like to transfer that to a marine environment can opt to install a subwoofer. Some music enthusiasts can opt to install multiple subwoofers depending on their system’s capability and the sizer of their boat. If you want to get the most out of the music, the best thing is to install a subwoofer. A good quality marine subwoofer will help to produce low-frequency sounds within the bass range. It will act as a welcome boost to your overall marine system package performance, which can make a big difference in every track played.
Flexibility and expandability
If you want flexibility from your audio system, go for multiple sets of preamp outputs. An ideal marine audio system means that it is easy to coordinate with external subwoofers and amplifiers.
If you have a larger system in mind, look for a marine receiver with multiple sets of preamp outputs. That makes it easier to connect and control external amplifiers and subwoofers as you build your ultimate boat audio system.
Many marine radios are available with waterproof, wired remote controls. These remotes allow you to mount the radio inside a watertight compartment if you need to, plus they give you and your passengers convenient control over what is playing from various spots on the boat.
Choosing the ideal marine audio system
The features of the marine audio system must match exactly as per your requirements. Some particular features offered by Fusion marine stereo packages can help immensely on the go. So, go through our highlights one by one, carefully before making the final decision.
Hide-away marine stereo head unit solution
Over the last decade, the marine stereo popularity of two-piece radios has increased dramatically. These two-piece radios are known in the industry as “black box” modules which are designed and built with all the power, speaker and preamp connections and a display module that can be mounted easily at the helm or in the galley of your boat.
Many of the newer solutions include direct NMEA 2000 compatibility with multifunction displays designed by companies such as Garmin, Lowrance, Raymarine or B&G. In many cases in marine boating life, you can use these hide-away solutions without the need for having a dedicated display when you have a NMEA 2000 device.
You can opt for your marine stereo system of choice for your boat to have multi zone control. this is a feature designed for a boat with wakeboard tower speakers and the ability for its music volume to be controlled from different locations within the boat space.
Some bespoke marine stereo system packages have various control points that can be used to control the main stereo. These control points are located at various points of access in a boat. They are conducive for big boats such as yachts where a person does not need to keep on moving to the main deck where the head unit is located, just to adjust the volume. Therefore, these control points act as multiple output zones with dedicated volume controls for each output. The main marine stereo head unit will be used as a master control for the entire system.
This feature can be used to fine-tune the output, for example a set of tower speakers, speakers on a swim platform, in the cabin and in the cockpit, all with different volume outputs or the same output.
Marine stereo speaker options guide
Repeating this in our many audio reviews and guide articles, we will not stop putting emphasis that speakers are the most crucial and essential speaker audio system upgrade guides. This applies even in boats and yachts. Without the best sort out marine speakers, even with the best marine stereo head units and amplifiers will create a mediocre sounding system that will ruin your boating experience. In marine stereo and speakers, the system has to be loud enough unlike cars. This is because of the interferences posed on boats such as wind noise, water waves noise and engine noise.
There are two significant differences between marine-grade speakers and typical car audio speakers. First, the materials used to build marine speakers are designed to handle prolonged UV rays’ exposure. High quality speakers will not discolour yellow or crack even if they are exposed for many years to the sun constantly. Second, marine stereo speakers should be completely water-resistant where no water is allowed to get into the motor assembly and other critical components such as passive crossovers should be housed behind the mounting surface. The better speakers include drainage holes at the bottom of the grille to let splash water out.
Most marine stereo speakers have an integrated tweeter for the high frequency audio production. The tweeter is usually mounted onto the grill or the pedestal that extends up the centre of the woofer. For the pedestal installed tweeter, a flexible seal around the tweeter post must be present to keep water out of the speaker. tweeters suspended above the speaker grill have a performance advantage and where dust caps are installed in subwoofers, they increase the surface area thus getting more sound from the same amount of speaker.
Marine stereo speakers come in a variety of sizes, with 6.5-inch coaxial models being the most popular. Audio companies also offer 7.7-inch, 8-inch and 8.8-inch diameter speaker sizes. Speaker size increases its bass production performance and overall efficiency where less amplifier output is required for an equivalent power production.
Marine stereo speakers are available in enclosures designed specifically for wakeboard towers. These speakers are often modified to increase output dramatically using horn-loaded midrange and tweeter designs. If someone at the end of a 50-foot tow rope will want to hear the music, these efficiency and directivity features are quite beneficial.
When shopping for tower speakers, keep weight in mind because of stability issues and installation technicalities. Adding two or four speakers to the top of the wakeboard tower can change the way your boat handles its stability performance. You will also want to ensure that the speakers include a high-quality clamping solution so that they are safe and solid as the boat pounds over waves and wakes. Otherwise, the speakers can easily detach from their position and fall down and break or even cause injuries to the boat occupants.
One of the latest crazes in marine entertainment technology is where speakers are illuminated. Companies like Fusion, Hertz, JL, Audio Kicker, Sony and Rockford Fosgate have options with built-in RGB LED lighting. Your installer can wire the speakers into a controller that allows you to change the illumination colour using a wireless remote control or an app on your smartphone. Some speakers have controllers that allow RGB light and music synchrony. This beautifies your boat with nightclub lighting effects which set the partying mood in water.
Most marine stereo speaker designs emphasise the upper midrange and high-frequency range which can sound harsh on a display board. Once they are mounted into a boat, this emphasis helps deliver a smooth response in low locations’ mountings like under a seat. A marine stereo amplifier with a digital signal processor is required if speakers are installed in different locations, varying heights or facing different places so as to ensure that the sound is delivered evenly.
Marine subwoofers, amplifiers and signal processing
Upgrading your marine stereo gadgetry will improve your boat audio experience to a great level. Adding one or more subwoofers in your boat will have a significant impact on your boating experience. Subwoofers are designed to deliver extended low-frequency output, so that you can feel those bass notes, kick drums and synthesizers in your favourite music. Dedicating a low-frequency reproduction to a subwoofer means that the rest of the speakers in your boat will not have to work as hard. As a result, they will sound clearer and play louder with the same amount of power supplied to them.
Subwoofers are typically available in two variants that is; models designed to be mounted in an infinite baffle configuration that uses the hull, or a large storage compartment as an enclosure or as a subwoofer designed for a small enclosure. Make sure you work hand-in-hand with your retailer to choose the model that suits your marine stereo package configuration.
Marine-grade subwoofers are typically available in sizes from 8-inch to 12-inch diameters. Ensure that the subs can handle UV and saline moisture exposures. We recommend subwoofer enclosure boxes made up of composite materials like PVC or Starboard.
Power is needed to power up a subwoofer. This leads us smoothly into marine-grade amplifiers. Some manufacturers will exaggerate their product features by using quack marketing strategies where you find that they might advertise that a product is designed for marine applications which does not mean that it is water-resistant.
In most cases, marine-grade amplifiers have a powder-coated heatsink and bottom plate. They use stainless steel hardware and have conformally coated circuit boards. Some compact marine and powersports amplifiers are watertight. Marine amps are available from compact single-channel designs for small to medium-sized subwoofers up to eight-channel solutions with integrated digital signal processing.
Calibrating the output of each speaker in your marine stereo system will ensure that your music sounds great from anywhere onboard. Having a digital signal processor integrated into an amplifier is an easy way for your installer to make your music sound great.
Power consumption should also be a factor to consider because at times you may be listening to your stereo system with the engine off. Therefore, you should get a marine stereo system that will utilise the battery power efficiently.
Marine-grade stereo system units
Having a fully featured marine-grade stereo system is of great importance due to functionality. Features like Bluetooth audio streaming, compatibility with wireless or wired remote controls, integration with multifunction displays and multizone support. These features will make you know what size and type of stereo system you need.
A single-DIN design is similar to car audio system head units where they add features like a corrosion-resistant conformal coating to the circuit board, reverse LCD screens that are easier to see in bright sunlight and compatibility with wired remote-control options. They are suitable for boat areas such as the berth, circuit breaker panel or navigation station away from water.
Similar functionality similarities include a CD receiver or a digital media unit with a USB port and SiriusXM satellite radio is a popular option for marine source units as there are often very few radio stations in rural cottage and camping areas. Bluetooth audio streaming is a common feature added in common marine stereo head units. You can stream music files stored on your smartphone or if you have cellular data access, from an online service like Pandora, iHeartRadio, Tidal or Spotify. Unlike car designed units, these systems exclude hands-free calling capabilities.
The majority of marine source units are compatible with optional remote controls. DIN-style cables are installed for wired remote controls placed in locations like a swim platform or helm to make using the marine stereo system easier. Some remotes have small displays on them that let you see what track is playing and other infotainment features. If your boat has a specific branded wired remote, there is a need to pair them with the same brand of stereo system. This is because the communication protocols between the components are usually unique and not compatible with other companies’ remotes.
Bluetooth-only marine stereo head unit solutions
Due to boating challenges posed by deep-sea expeditions, some boat owners may prefer not to make a purchase of a Bluetooth-only marine stereo head unit. This unit does not have any radio connectivity both AM/FM and Satellite radio hence a perfect option if you do not want to listen to the radio. They are purely media playing devices connected via Bluetooth only hence the audio source will be a Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone, tablet or laptop. They are cheaper and more practical if the boat owner only wants to listen to purely music.
This is very popular for personal boat or watercraft users where they install Bluetooth-only marine stereo receivers. This category offers two interface options. Many marine stereo manufacturing companies offer a small flush-mountable Bluetooth receiver with volume control and track selection buttons. These units add the Audio Video Remote Control Profile (AVRCP) to the Advanced Audio Distribution Profile (A2DP) that is used to stream high-quality audio. Having a head unit with AVRCP feature allows commands from the receiver to be executed on your phone.
The second option is a completely hidden Bluetooth receiver. All the volume control and track selection functions are handled and controlled directly on your smartphone or any other Bluetooth enabled device. If you are boat owner interested in a stealthy installation or you access areas that have security threats, this is a perfect choice of a marine stereo system.
How do I install a marine stereo?
A boat can present a load of unique set of challenges when it comes to installing a new marine stereo head unit. This can be a tricky process which will need adequate planning and decision making in order to have it installed into the right position. Boats have no ideal position for installation unlike land vehicles such as cars which have specific places for installation of audio devices. Boats also offer various challenges when it comes to space limitations, power sources and the interior design of the boat.
In most cases, replacing your marine stereo is a relatively easy process because most boats are equipped with single DIN head units which are readily available in the aftermarket marine stereo production sector. Rarely will you be required to buy boat specific installation kits unlike in cars. The marine stereo head units have release levers and connectors that require simple tools. The old system will pop out easily to allow the installation of the new marine stereo head unit with the help of the mounting brackets in the package.
Gauge-style receiver is another option for smaller boats that have less dash space. They are designed to fit in standard gauge openings. Due to their compact size, they do not offer features such as CD drives, LCD screen displays but are stocked with powerful AM/FM radio receivers and Bluetooth connectivity. They have waterproofing and UV-rays resistance capabilities hence suitable for open top boats.
Key things to remember if you will not hire a technician is that care should be taken during the installation. Follow the manufacturer’s user manuals in order to perform a perfect installation that will not lead to disappointment or destruction of existing boat components. Some marine stereo manufacturers have support team departments that can offer advice in case of any installation problems encountered.
Wiring of marine audio systems
Wiring of marine stereo and speakers is a critical process hence skimping is intolerable. Running and installing wires in boats is not as straightforward as in cars where they provide a unique challenge because waterproofing is essential and cable trunking in boats is different. Wiring choice should be of high quality and feature tin cooper construction which prevents corrosion in humid environments.
Some manufacturers have polished their trade and are at the top of the game when it comes to marine installation tool kits such as Stinger Electronics. Their marine stereo amplifier installation kits with red and yellow Siamese power cable that matches the standard wiring colours, an ignition-protected circuit breaker and a remote turn-on wire used by boat builders
Protecting your boat’s battery bank from short circuits and over-current conditions is important. Kicker Audio takes a unique approach to over-current protection by using ignition-protected MRBF fuses in its marine amplifier power kits. Blue Sea Systems 187-Series circuit breakers are available in current ratings up to 200 amps, and all meet SAE J1171 external ignition protection requirements.
Other important considerations when choosing electronic and electrical components to upgrade your boat is that circuit breakers, switches, fuse blocks, motors or any other electronic devices that will be installed in a boat area where fuel vapours may be present must be “ignition protected.”. The American Boating and Yacht Council along with the US Coast Guard, require device ignition protection is carried out of which the wiring under normal operation, will not get hot enough or produce a spark that would cause flammable fuel vapours to ignite.
As a boat owner, always look for products that include SAE J1171 external ignition protection of marine electrical devices or UL 1500 ignition protection test for marine products certifications. Ensure that you or the technician installing your marine stereo package mounts everything as solidly as possible to avoid disconnections or exposure of the equipment to harsh environments. Unlike in cars, boats endure high vertical G forces that can rip improperly mounted head units, speakers and other audio equipment off the panels when not correctly installed.
Final verdict for marine stereo buying guide
Boating is a fun activity to anyone who owns or dreams to own one. great music makes boating more fun! And it can be exciting by adding the best of your music playlists into your new marine stereo system. Quality is essential when it comes to marine stereo since marine life is harsh to electronic components due to salinity.
Marine stereo is more of a freedom as compared to car stereo installation where there are specified spots to carry out installation. Whether shopping for replacement components for worn-out or outdated marine stereo equipment, ensure that you make adequate research and consultation with your technician or dealer shop in order to source for the best products for your yacht. They will offer you with the best marine stereo package upgrade for your boat without breaking the bank.
High quality products will last for a long time and your voyage trips will be the best. Choose products that allow flexibility and tweaking for an enhanced marine stereo experience. We hope as carsaudio.org the information provided in this “Marine Stereo Buying Guide” will be of great help and importance.