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August 03, 2011

Choosing a Marine Stereo

Do your homework when shopping stereo systems for your boat

Multifunction Units
Years ago, mobile radios played only AM stations. The FM band for popular music spread quickly as stereos developed to play back tapes, then CDs, and finally digital music files and satellite radio. On the water, stereos evolved similarly, though water-resistant ­solutions took extra time to perfect.

Now the digital tunes we carry on iPods and MP3 players join us aboard vessels. Some audio systems employ an auxiliary cable (on the rear panel for marine units) that hard-wires a player to the stereo; others come with internal docking systems, and several offer USB connections so anglers can plug iPods directly into the system or opt to leave the expensive portable electronics at home and bring a jump drive aboard.

Sony’s new DSXMS60 ($199.95, www.sonystyle.com) digital-media receiver features a “tune tray” inside the unit that secures any USB device (an iPod adapter is included) so it’s out of the elements. The tray recharges the player’s battery, and you control iTunes playlists through the unit’s display.

Clarion’s CMD7 ($399.99), a marine CD/USB receiver, includes a USB port on the back of the chassis. Anglers use a jump drive or connect their i-device using its own USB cable.

Fusion, which introduced the world to internal iPod-docking technology, offers its 600 series — including a stereo with a dock inside (MSIP600, $349.99) and other units such as the smaller MSRA200 ($199.99) that can incorporate a supplemental dock. Crocker says Fusion also designs its vessel audio systems with the user demographic in mind: men over 40. “We use iconic keys, not text, and the smallest key is still the size of the tip of a male index finger,” he says. “All the major functionality is through a menu structure just like other electronics on the boat.”

Completing the Package
In fact, collaboration between Fusion and electronics manufacturer Navico resulted in the debut of the SonicHub ($299 to $399) last year for Lowrance and Simrad users.

SonicHub ­inte­grates audio through an NMEA 2000 connection to your boat’s multifunction display. Anglers control audio (and video from iPod devices) on the same screen as they’re watching the sounder.

Anglers also must consider ­amplifiers, subwoofers and speakers in their integration plans. Larger vessels offer more “listening areas” than smaller vessels and might require a marine-quality amplifier to push the sound. Subwoofers help overcome the ambient noise of engines and wind.

“Unlike in a car where the windows are up and the AC is on, in a boat, you have wind noise and the music is not contained in a closed environment,” Wenzel says. However, each boat’s configuration and the owner’s planned usage determine how the system lays out. For a good quality system, expect to pay $800 to more than $2,000.

Crocker suggests considering Class D (digital) amplifiers, which actually consume less power than Class AB amps while producing more power. Speakers should also be marinized to resist spray and UV rays; Wenzel says one popular material for building speaker baskets is Centrex — a marine polymer with UV inhibitors. Also look for true marine stainless-steel, nickel-plated connectors and motor assemblies that are sealed to the elements, he advises.

With a properly marinized audio system that generates enough quality sound, your next trip might not magically produce more fish, but it just might stir up a real symphony.