Whether you captain the average 25-footer or a plush 40-foot center-console machine, a quality audio system can really enhance your time on the water. Yes, some anglers prefer silence or the subtle whistle of a cooling trade wind, but many enjoy mood-elevating music or the chance to follow a favorite team with a satellite-service feed.
Of course, marine audio is not your brother’s bass-thumping car stereo. Not only must marine systems be completely marinized and protected against corrosion, but they must project over the roar of outboard engines and the ambient sounds of nature.
To help you design an adequate system for your center-console boat, I asked audio companies to suggest sound packages for a typical 25-foot open boat as well as a 40-plus-footer with a center-console cabin. Three companies responded with varying proposals. Here are their suggestions.
“What you really ultimately are looking at, even before the size of the vessel, is what you truly want to achieve with the audio,” says Alan Wenzel, vice president of JL Audio in South Florida. “Do you want the audio to just be background noise when at low speed? Do you want it to be heard at higher speed? Do you want just one particular area to be filled [with sound], or do you want to rock the house out?”
Once JL assesses a customer’s needs, it’s time to talk budget and build a system. Of course, all three audio companies that responded to my request echoed a similar customization protocol. But they agreed to offer details of their most popular packages.
JL Audio (Miramar, Florida)
JL recommends two audio or “listening” zones — one at the helm, one at the bow. In each zone, two 7.7-inch coaxial speakers (MX770-CX) and a single 10-inch subwoofer (MX10IB3) should be installed, for a total of four speakers and two subwoofers.
JL recommends its brand-new MediaMaster 100 head unit on the console, wired to a six-channel amplifier (M600/6). Wenzel says the helm is always the primary listening zone because that’s where the boat owner spends most of his or her time. But wherever people congregate, you should create an audio experience. He’d mount the helm speakers and subwoofer toward the floor; ideally, the subwoofer would mount between the two speakers. He’d mount the bow speakers in the liner, close to the forepeak (as far forward as possible, and rear-firing). The six-channel amp will drive all four speakers and two subwoofers with 45 watts of power per channel. It mounts inside the center console and as close to the battery source as possible.
Total package price: $1,690
Kicker (Stillwater, Oklahoma)
Kicker suggests four KM8 8-inch coaxial speakers (two in the bow area and two either at the console or under-gunwale in the cockpit, depending on the boat’s layout). Kicker’s speakers all have built-in LED lights that brighten and dim. They’re available in single- or multiple-color versions (with up to 20 color choices). A remote control (KMLC) for the lighting has been added to this package.
Kicker also recommends one 10-inch subwoofer (KM10) in the console; a five-channel amplifier (KXM800.5); and the brand-new Premium Media Center/Source, the KMC20, with Bluetooth streaming, AM/FM radio, USB port, auxiliary inputs, CAN-Bus and Sirius XM.
Kicker’s marine product-line manager Phil White says the five-channel amp can push up to 100 watts of power to each of the four speakers and comes with a separate channel for the subwoofer.
The Premium Media Center is the brand’s flagship product. It comes with features developed specifically for marine use, including a sunlight-viewable full-color display. It also offers numerous source options, such as auxiliary inputs, dual USB ports, and AM/FM and weather-radio bands.
The head unit also comes with a CAN-Bus connection that could eventually allow anglers to run the stereo through their onboard multifunction display, but Kicker has not yet released the software to enable the feature.
Total package price: $2,838.70 (Note: KMC20 pricing is an estimate.)
Rockford Fosgate (Tempe, Arizona)
Rockford says it would mount two 8-inch coaxial speakers (PM282) in the hardtop, and four in the deck. Typically, the hardtop speakers point straight down; one set of deck speakers mount at the bow and another set in the cockpit. One four-channel (600-watt) amp (PM600X4) would run all eight speakers, and a secondary two-channel amp (PM300X2) would drive one 12-inch subwoofer (PM212S4).
Rockford recommends its PMX-2 Marine Source Unit, which comes with Bluetooth, USB port, AM/FM and weather-radio bands, and auxiliary inputs, plus a seven-band equalizer. The source unit can be controlled with an optional wired remote control (PMX-1R) that mounts on the transom and comes with a full-color screen. The company also suggests an additional USB mount for the glove box.
Total package price: $2,749.91
Really Rockin’ Out
A larger vessel in the 40-plus-foot range obviously requires more speakers, and usually necessitates four rather than two listening zones, Wenzel says. Zones include the bow, amidships, helm and cockpit.
Wenzel suggests placing two 8.8-inch speakers (M880-CX) in the bow with a 10-inch subwoofer (M10IB5) in between. He’d mount another pair of 8.8-inch speakers just forward of the console, amidships, placing them lower in the liner to fire into the center of the boat.
At the helm or console, he’d install two 8.8-inch speakers or four 7.7-inch speakers, two on each side, and two 10-inch subwoofers mounted on the console, firing toward the liner. He’d also add two tweeter speakers (M100-CT), about 1 inch in diameter, on the console, facing in and slightly up toward the helmsman, or he’d mount them on top of the console. These are higher-frequency speakers that help overcome ambient noises at speed. (Wind blowing 40 to 60 mph dissipates high frequencies.)
In the cockpit, he’d mount two 8.8‑inch speakers and a pair of 10-inch subwoofers. Wenzel says he’d use two eight‑channel amps (M800/8) for the speakers, to bridge each channel. Each channel has 100 watts of power; he can take two channels and make one 200‑watt channel.
He’d install two 600-watt monoblock amplifiers (M600/1) for the subwoofers. The amps and a MediaMaster 100 head unit would mount at the console.
Total package price: $5,720
On deck, Kicker would install eight 8-inch speakers with multicolor LEDs (KM8): a pair on or near the transom, under-gunwale; a pair flanking the helm; another pair forward of the console; and a pair at the bow. He’d use the Premium Media Center (KMC20), two four-channel amplifiers (KXM400.4), one subwoofer amp (KXM1200.1) and two subwoofers (KM10) — one firing forward toward the bow and one aft — and include the LED remote (KMLC).
Belowdecks, in the console cabin, Kicker would mount four 6.5-inch speakers with multicolor LEDs (KM65), plus a remote (KMLC) and one four-channel amp (KXM400.4).
Total package price: $6,528.95 (Note: KMC20 pricing is an estimate.)
Rockford suggests mounting four 6-inch speakers (PM262) in the hardtop and four 8-inch speakers (PM282) on deck (two in the bow, two in the transom). One two-channel amplifier (PM500X2) drives the deck speakers, and a second two-channel amplifier (PM400X2) drives the hardtop speakers.
The reason for that, Rockford says, is because the head unit (PMX-5) offers dual zone control: The helmsman can adjust the hardtop speaker volume independent of the deck speakers.
Two 10-inch subwoofers (PM210S4) would mount forward and two aft, with one 1,000-watt amp (PM1000X1BD) to drive all four. One wired remote (PMX-1R) could be installed at the bow and one at the transom, and an additional USB accessory plug could reside in the glove box.
Total package price: $3,799.88