Sounding Off on Stereos

Impervious to water, powerful enough to cut through wind noise and easy to connect to your phone, today's marine stereos will surprise and delight you, in at least 10 ways.

2016_Tige_RZX-20150625-283   A summer day with the Beach Boys’ “Surfer Girl” cranked while anchored in a cove can only add to a good time. Or maybe Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is called for while roaring through rough water.

Whatever your musical choice, today’s marine stereo receivers (also known as head or source units) are more powerful, versatile and easier to use than ever before. The same technology used in smartphones and other electronics has been adapted for the marine environment. Boat owners searching for premium sound must overcome the twin bugaboos of sound-blocking wind noise and the damaging effects of sun and water on electronics. However, now that music can be stored digitally and retrieved easily through a variety of methods, the marine stereo landscape has become friendlier.

“Digital technology has not only changed how music is played on a boat, but it has changed how marine stereos are shaped, as well,” said Matt Champneys, owner of Rock the Boat Audio, an online marine stereo retailer. “Most manufacturers are beginning to discontinue CD players, and when you lose the CD mechanism, that opens up all kinds of possibilities for different shapes and sizes of stereos.”

Here’s a look at 10 aspects you might not have known about marine stereos.

Waterproof and UV-resistant Construction
Kenwood’s KCA-RC55MR waterproof wired remote works with all of its current stereos and is IPX7 rated. IPX7 means a product must be able to withstand a depth of one meter (3.3 feet) underwater for 30 minutes and then be expected to work. For a remote located near the swim platform and in danger of water immersion, that level of IPX7 waterproofing is crucial for long-term operation. Dash-mounted units that will be sprayed with water during cleanup also need to be waterproof, not to the level of total submersion, but for water contact via a hose.

The Aquatic AV MP-5UBT stereo is rated IP55, so it can be hosed down without any effect. The standard for IP55 is the ability to withstand a 6.3mm spray of water in any direction for at least three minutes. “A few years back, we also had a stereo — albeit another model — that had been submerged in a sunken boat,” said Richard Platt, marketing manager for Aquatic AV. “It still worked after the boat had been hauled out!”

Marine stereo units are conformal coated, using a protective chemical polymer fi lm that protects electronic circuits from moisture. UV-resistant plastic is also used for the exterior, since most units are always in direct sunlight.

“Stereos used in cars and RVs that are put into boats won’t last,” said Steve Meade, director of aftermarket for Clarion Marine and RV. “Some people still put car stereos and speakers in boats, and they just don’t hold up or work well.”

Reciever Shapes Are Changing
One big trend today is the use of round gauge-sized stereos. What used to have to fit under the dash or in a dedicated cutout can now go on the console.

“On a boat, you don’t always have room for a standard sized stereo, but you may have an extra gauge hole on your console where you could slip one of these,” Champneys said. “They have just as much power as traditionally sized stereos, even though they are tiny by comparison. The JBL PRV175 (180-watt built-in amplifi er 4 channels x 45 watts) is our most popular.”

The small-gauge size JBL does not have a CD player, and instead plays MP3 and WMV music fi les directly from an MP3 player, smartphone or thumb drive via the rear USB port.

AQ-MP-5UBT-H_Front_1600x1600Display on an MFD
Multifunction displays deliver a host of boat-system information to operators, and integrating marine stereos is an important feature.

“Our ASA Electronics stereos can be controlled from the source unit and with a wired remote,” said Matt Wood, marine industry manager for ASA Electronics. “Depending on the model, the source unit can be controlled via MFD either through proprietary communication or soon through NMEA2000 connectivity, as NMEA is finalizing the first true entertainment spec (PA4A).”

Clarion is introducing an NMEA2000 interface at IBEX 2016 this fall, which will allow all its units built since 2009 to be shown on an MFD, while Fusion also offers MFD display.

Control Yourself-with Your Phone
Enabling your iPhone, smartphone or tablet to control the marine stereo means you can easily change songs and much more. ASA Electronics now offers full-function app-control technology, allowing users to control all the primary functions of select Jensen, Marine Audio, and Polk Ultramarine audio systems directly from any mobile device.

“The fact is, most people have their phone in their hand much of the time,” said Wood. “Why not give them a full stereo remote while in the boat as well with AppControl? They can adjust volume, bass, treble, balance and fade, change between AM, FM and Bluetooth streaming, or even turn the stereo on or off.”

Fusion has also entered the app game. Designed for iPhone or iPad, the Fusion-Link Remote Control app allows navigation, streaming and control of music sources and independent audio zones.

Users are able to navigate iPod albums, artists and playlists with the same ease as the Fusion stereo interface. Additionally, the app allows users to navigate the menu of DVD-enabled systems with most functions replicated by the Fusion-Link Remote Control — eliminating the need to carry two remotes.

The Fusion-Link Remote control Bluetooth app for iOS is compatible with the following new stereos: MS-UD650, MS-AV650, MS-UD750 and MS-AV750. An Android version of the Bluetooth app is in development.

Clarion also offers app control for its stereo units with Android and iOS phones, using its marine MF2 remote module.

“We went a little different route, as the phone connects to the MF2 via Wi-Fi,” said Meade. “By going through Wi-Fi, it doesn’t tie up Bluetooth and there is no latency. The MF2 has a Wi-Fi chip built into it.”

Connectivity Is Key — and Bluetooth Is King
Because the smartphones and iPhones we carry around 24/7 also can carry thousands of songs, being able to stream that music through the marine stereo is important. For example, like almost all of today’s marine stereos, Aquatic AVs AQ-MP-5UBT unit can connect to smartphones, iPhones and portable music devices via Bluetooth, USB, RCA (phono) or 3.5mm jack.

“Providing multiple means of connection gives our users the most flexibility for onboard entertainment for the whole family and friends,” said Platt. “Album artwork is displayed on the three-inch color screen, even if connected wirelessly over Bluetooth.”

Bluetooth is overwhelmingly what customers want, due to its ease of use and user familiarity with other products.

Improved LCD Tech
Trying to read an LCD screen made for a car interior in bright sun is nearly impossible, but Clarion has improved its marine stereo displays with positive-segment LCD screens.

“Very often you have a radio sitting at the helm baking under the sun,” Meade said. “With our positive-segment LCD display screen, even in bright sunlight you will still see the digits.”

Power Where You Need It
Trying to turn up the volume and finding there just isn’t enough power can be disappointing. Aquatic AV marine stereos feature a 288-watt amplifier (max power) capable of driving speakers in both 4 ohm and 2 ohm configurations. Aquatic AV stereos produce an exceptional quality of sound with high-output 4V pre-out connections able to deliver perfect audio for high background-noise installations, such as boats, with wind and sea noise to compete with.

“The 4V pre-outs (to connect to external amplifiers) provide the loudest, highest quality output, which makes a huge difference to the sound quality,” Platt said. “We have some unique technologies on our stereos including dual 12V trigger outputs that can be connected to deck lighting, for example, and controlled via the AQ-MP-5UBT or its remote control AQ-WR-5F.”

Castaway_241-033Hard-Wired Control Still Works
A fixed-mount wired control box may seem old school, but don’t knock it. While wired and wireless remotes remain available, the trend is moving away from wireless remotes, because phones are taking over that role, according to Champneys.

“Waterproof wired remotes are here to stay, I think because you don’t need to carry them around and they can’t get lost,” Champneys said. “Mounting one on the swim platform, for instance, is a great way for swimmers to have easy access to control the stereo without getting out of the water. On larger boats, people will often mount the stereo in the cabin and then mount a wired remote at the helm.”

Awesome Speaker Upgrades
An open-air environment isn’t the best environment for musical clarity. If you are not in front of a speaker, you might hear the music poorly or be without any sound at all. Clarion speakers, such as the 200-watt, 8.8-inch CM2223R, are designed for the marine environment.

“Volume is definitely important, because boats are a challenge,” Meade said. “Our speakers are voiced for the outdoors. Our marine speakers are completely different than a speaker made for a car or an enclosed space.”

Prospec offers Milennia speaker models with a range of sizes and colors. The Milennia MILSPK352G speaker delivers powerful sound in a small size. It’s a complementary speaker to a larger system or can stand on its own.

“Replacing speakers or adding an amplifier is a do-it-yourself job for the most part,” Champneys said. “The hardest part is running and fishing the wires throughout the boat and getting the speakers to fit in the cutouts. But it’s just work, it’s not rocket science, and there are marine audio installers who can do the job for you.”

More Music Sources
Music sources are growing. Good old AM/FM is still around, but what about eight-track, cassette tapes and CDs? These ways to store music are either gone or disappearing. In addition to digital music, there are now sources such as Spotify and Pandora — users can just search for the latest song and play it.

FUSION-Link_iPhone_Black_14-1500x2848“The ability to stream Pandora from your phone and connect to our Clarion M606 marine digital media receiver via Bluetooth is what everyone wants, hardly without exception,” Clarion’s Meade said. “Our stereos are also SiriusXM ready, and that service goes to about 100 miles offshore.”

Of course, you can also just play music stored on your phone via Bluetooth, no cell service needed.

To the Web
Find out more about the companies and products mentioned in this story.

2 thoughts on “Sounding Off on Stereos

  1. As an audio geek and boater I have to be excited about the way technology has enhanced the music experience on watercraft. The latest head units are amazing examples of utility and funk infused boating fun. But, I have to say that for me, the car audio head unit I installed works very well in my Sea Ray Cruiser. I’ve upgraded twice simply because technology has improved in the 15 years I’ve own the boat. For me the final decision was simply cost. You can get all the newest gadgets I use the most (SiriusXM and Bluetooth) without breaking the bank to get a fully submersible unit. If I get to that point, I;m getting a new boat!

  2. I see a need for connecting multiple boats to the same media source, but not a product.

    Bluetooth is limited to one or two devices and I haven’t seen a Wifi hub that can perform this task either.

    Are we missing it or is there a multiple connection dongle/router that will allow 10 boats in close proximity to connect and play the same media?


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