Q. How can I connect a smartphone or tablet to my boat stereo so I can play my music library on board?
A. A number of stereo decks, particularly older models, do not have a front-panel jack to connect an iPhone, tablet or smartphone to play a stored music list. Since the front panels of most stereos are of the same dimensions, you might want to consider upgrading to a new set. Alternatively, you can install a bulkhead-mount MP3, iPhone and tablet adapter like the Poly-Planar IC3.5PM audio port ($15), which connects to the auxiliary input jacks found on the rear panel of most stereos. This will allow easy plug-in connection for any smartphone, Apple or Android device.
Jensen Marine lets you connect a portable audio device to its convenient marine audio 3.5 mm mini-pin/USB combo port ($39.99). This dash-mounted, dual-port jack accepts stereo mini-plugs and USB connectors. It comes with a 24-inch cable that mates with the auxiliary connectors on a stereo.
Poly-Planar also makes a similar panel-/dash-mounted dual USB jack, USB-PM ($25), which serves as a convenient means to power or charge portable audio devices, tablets and even some handheld GPS models.
A good example of a basic replacement stereo that also accepts both stereo mini-plug and USB connection from the front panel is the Kenwood KMR-M312BT ($120, crutchfield.com). It works with most smartphones, tablets and Apple products. It is Sirius XM satellite radio ready and supports Pandora and iHeartRadio (with downloaded app) as well as thumb drives and portable hard drives. It has the standard common stereo “DIN” size dimensions that make for a simple and quick replacement of an older standard-size set.
You can also stream music from any Apple device or computer that has iTunes through AirPort Express ($99), an Apple accessory. It connects to the auxiliary input on a stereo or any onboard audio device. As an added bonus it acts as a wireless access port to the Internet. AirPort Express does require 110 volts AC. You can use a small, inexpensive inverter like the West Marine PI120WM ($44) that can plug into a 12-volt cigarette lighter socket when needed.
The AQ-DM-5UBT Digital Media Locker ($360) from Aquatic AV is a bulkhead-mounted waterproof enclosure where you can safely place and power MP3, iPhone, iPod, USB and Bluetooth devices. You can play and control your playlist from the locker’s front-door panel controls or by the accompanying wireless, waterproof and floatable palm-size remote.
Fusion has introduced two new marine entertainment systems that provide connection with a variety of media sources. Its MS-UD750 ($599) with its internal UNI-Dock provides a safe and secure location to place Apple iOS, MTP Android and Windows media devices behind its waterproof, flip-down front panel. It will work with the largest range of smartphones, including the iPhone 6 and the Samsung Galaxy S5. Additional media can be connected by an external USB port, which also serves as a convenient charging station for portable devices. In addition to its AM/FM receiver, it is Sirius XM satellite radio-ready and supports Pandora Radio and Bluetooth connectivity.
The MS-AV750 version ($749) shares many of the features of the MS-UD750, less the UNI-Dock, but does play CDs and DVDs with an output connection for TV monitors. An optional externally connected UNI-Dock ($149) is available.
Wireless control is available from smartphones by downloading the Fusion app from iTunes or Google Play.
Jensen has come up with a clever problem solver that lets you play your audio library. Its MS30RTL ($143) is a compact AM/FM waterproof stereo with an auxiliary USB input port. Interestingly, this 160-watt stereo has a round, 3.5-inch control/display panel and is housed in a 3-inch cylindrical case that easily slides into a standard 3-inch gauge opening on a dash or bulkhead. A convenient solution if you are out of mounting space or in need of an inexpensive way to add music on the flybridge or in an open cockpit exposed to splash, spray and rain.