Seagoing Stereo Systems

One of boating’s great pleasures is cranking up the tunes a notch! Follow this guide to maximize the audio experience.

As you prepare your boat for the new season, don’t overlook the sound system. There is a whole new world of seagoing audio entertainment with features and performance that can rival those that you are accustomed to at home. Here are some guidelines on what to look for to help you select a superior at-sea sound system for your boat.

Fit for Sea Duty
Don't waste your time with bargain car radios. Your best bet is a marine stereo designed from the bottom up for sea conditions. Over time, exposure to moisture and salt air — even when mounted below — can reduce sound quality and may cause premature failure.

Clarion (clarion.com), for example, conducts an all-out assault against harmful water intrusion with all of its marine audio products. Heavy, rubber sealing caskets with an internal drainage channel enclose the housing to form a water barrier. Secondary protection to guard the internal electronics is provided by a drip shield and stainless chassis enclosure should any moisture get past the front panel.

Tip: A true marine audio component will have an IXP5 or IP66 watertight rating.

Stereos for All Reasons
Depending on your needs, a single, compact, space-saving console can serve as a source for a variety of entertainment options besides just AM/FM and CD player. The Sony CDX-H910UI with its splash-proof front control panel gives you access to MP3/iPod/Walkman players, USB input, satellite radio, free off-the-air HD radio and the input from most any onboard or portable audio device as well as the audio from a TV. The Clarion CMV1 receiver/controller has a DVD player and a 3½-inch color screen that displays video for an all-in-one audio/video entertainment center.

Tip: Understand the difference between built-in or integrated and "ready." The specification "ready" (as in "satellite radio ready") tells you that another module or device needs to be purchased and connected to the stereo in order to receive Sirius.

Accommodating MP3s and iPods
Since many people are foregoing CDs, specific models are available that focus on the iPod and MP3 preferences of the boater. Fusion was one of the first to address these needs. Its latest, MS-RA200, accepts the iPod and iPhone as well as MP3 playback by means of a portable flash drive or mini SD card. By eliminating the CD drive, Fusion shrunk the case's front panel to the modest dimensions of 63/8 inches by 211/16 inches. The stereo features an internal VHF receiver for marine weather and Coast Guard announcements.

Aquatic AV (aquaticav.com), with its aQ-DM-2BX iPod/MP3 locker, created a bulkhead waterproof housing that protects delicate personal audio players and serves as a mini 50-watt sound system with integrated FM tuner and radio frequency (RF) remote.

Tip: For only $15, Poly-Planar's IC 3.5PM panel-mount socket allows MP3/iPod connection to existing stereos that have an auxiliary input.

Accessories
Speakers — the Master Link
The least expensive and most dramatic way to improve an audio system is to upgrade the speakers. Purchase marine brand-name quality speakers after listening to them in an electronics store. A demonstration can quickly reveal the benefit of premium speakers. Poly-Planar MA-4055RC 5-inch round, two-way coaxial speakers have a wireless remote control feature for the times the stereo is mounted below, and you might want to control the stereo from the flybridge. Pretty convenient.

Don't Forget the Amps
Amplifiers increase the wattage and volume and provide better fidelity even at reduced volumes. An amp like the Clarion XN3410 ($400, clarion.com) provides 720 watts of maximum music power. Usually 25 watts per speaker is adequate. Areas with high ambient noise levels, multiple speakers and a subwoofer may dictate more power.

Remotes Sweeten the Experience
Clarion's waterproof MF1 RF palm-size wireless remote ($199) floats for beach use. Sony's RMX60ML ($129) water-resistant wired remote with digital readout lets you change entertainment functions without having to duck below. The Poly-Planar MRR2 wireless infrared handheld remote can also control stereos through select speakers equipped with IR sensors.