The $8,600 Solution Once your boat goes over 40', you have room to do things right. Take our top end and add a 13" Sharp LCD display for TV and DVD, plus a Furuno nav-display with a video card so your radar can do double duty as a DVD viewer. Include a six-disc CD changer such as a Sony CDX-T70MX ($250). Fit four exterior speakers and four interior surround-sound speakers, each of which needs its own volume control. Now add a unified controller from Crestron ($3,000 programmed) to allow all systems to be easily accessed without hunting through a shoebox full of remotes. Done.
-To avoid interference, keep speaker wires as far from the boat's wiring and electronics as possible.
-Shielded oxygen-free wires with gold-plated connectors and silvered tips are best.
-Isolate the front of the speaker with an airtight enclosure.
-Cover speakers with acoustically transparent material.
-Speakers should be forward of the listener and at ear level. Do not put them in footwells or low to the deck.
Stick It in Your Ear
On deck, your sound system's biggest enemy is the wind. Look at our boat tests and you'll see decibels (dB) levels-a measure of sound pressure, or loudness-in the high 80s and up into the 90s-while underway. To put this into perspective, a noisy restaurant or party where you have to talk loudly to be heard is 90 dB-A. Normal conversation registers at about 65 dB-A.
A killer audio system might be able to put out up to 140 decibels, but the quality of its sound, particularly the higher frequencies, will be lost to the breezes. To reduce wind-generated noise and get better audio, I had a pair of custom earplugs made with speakers imbedded in them from Now Hear This (305/477-2333, email@example.com). The company advises you on how to make molds of each ear, which you then send to them. With these, and a check for $160, you get earplugs/earphones made from a nonabsorbent, hypoallergenic plastic that work with radios, and CD and tape players. Mine are red for the left and green for the right.
The plugs bring noise levels down by about 30 dB-A and allow you to listen to music at normal levels so there is no distortion. The sound quality is that of good "ear bud" speakers in a quiet room. External sounds are muted and I can hear what's going on around me down to 50 dB-A, so safety is not an issue. In fact, now I can hear sounds that are normally covered by the wind. The only downside is that if you're plugged into a dash outlet, you're leashed in by the wire. With a portable unit, this is no problem.
On long trips in open boats, I have taken to wearing generic foam earplugs to cut down on hearing loss and exhaustion from wind noise. According to OSHA, 95 dB-A for four hours will damage your hearing. The foam plugs also reduce dB levels by about 30, but only when fitted properly, which is rare. Plus, after an hour, their fit starts to loosen, which reduces efficiency. The custom plugs give me peace and quiet, with the sounds I like.