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August 03, 2011

Choosing a Marine Stereo

Do your homework when shopping stereo systems for your boat

Wind, salt spray, bright sun, pounding seas — the exhilaration of the ocean — a siren’s call for souls so afflicted. But what we can’t resist, our marine-audio systems truly must. It’s do or die in the open-air, saltwater world.

Audio companies “have two elements to ­overcome in the marine environment. One is the effects of ultraviolet radiation and salt,” says Alan Wenzel, vice president of marine divisions for JL Audio (www.marine.jlaudio.com) in South Florida, “and the other is the acoustical portion, the wind and engine noise.”

In other words, your standard car stereo painted white just won’t do. In fact, today’s better marine-audio systems battle corrosion and water ingress, absorb shock and feature all the geegaws of land-based electronics, including MP3 solutions, Sirius/XM options and even video.

Performance Ratings
Companies like JL Audio, which makes speakers, amplifiers and subwoofers, put their components through hours of testing in salt and UV chambers. Wenzel and others point to specific characteristics anglers should look for when considering devices to amplify their boat tunes.

While no rating system can tell you whether an audio component is properly “marinized,” several alphanumeric designations can provide important clues. IPX ratings, created by the International Electrotechnical Commission, are based on a scale of 0 (no special protection) to 8 (protected against continual submersion).

A number of audio components carry an IPX5 rating and a few have IPX6 status. IPX5 means the device is protected against water jets — as from a hose — at all angles at a specified flow rate and pressure, and at a distance of 3 meters. IPX6 carries protection against heavy seas and water jets at even higher pressures and flow rates.

Some electronics, including many of today’s VHF and GPS handhelds, carry IPX7 ratings. Those units may be submerged for 30 minutes at a depth of 1 meter.

ASTM International, originally the American Society for Testing and Materials, sets standards for salt spray (B117) and UV resistance. Look for or ask about these designations when shopping for marine stereos.

“If you take our IP600 unit out of the box, you see the entire rear case is an enclosed die-cast chassis,” says Todd Crocker, national sales manager for Fusion Electronics (www.fusionelectronics.com). “All the cables are molded, not just open contacts or wire leads. That’s kind of foundational.”

Other marinization techniques include coating the circuit boards to resist condensation and using surface-mount technology, Crocker says. Surface-mount components sit directly on the circuit board without perching on “legs.” Surface mounting reduces the effects of vibration.