Marine Stereo Shopping Guide


Here’s the deal with marine audio systems: we want them to rock the boat, but at the same time to know how to survive the rough marine life.


As much fun those boats provide us with, the audio systems have it real hard. With constant exposure to glaring sunlight, hard rain, and extreme temperatures, a marine audio system has to stomach a lot of abuse. If you want soothing sound on your boat, you’ll need marine gear designed to stand up to the task. 


Unlike car audio components, which are suitable and comfortably parked in the interior of your automobile, marine equipment has to be able to take a lot and hold up under dire circumstances. The water and sun that make boating for such a blast have no problem wreaking havoc on your boat's electrical apparatuses. If your equipment isn't made for the tough marine life, it won't last the season. 


Marine gear goes through hundreds of hours of extensive pre-production testing. Ultraviolet test chambers simulate years of sun exposure, while special “salt fog” chambers simulate years of exposure to harsh sun-salt-water surroundings. Blasts of water test every seal to guarantee that every button, switch, port is damage-proof, while additional conformal coatings provide protection for the internal circuitry.


Here are crucial keys to remember when shopping for marine audio equipment:

Water proof: “Proof” is not the same as “resistant." If your gear is labeled “water resistant,” it means that it can handle splashes and some easy rain (depending on the specific manufacture). It isn’t, however, meant for submersion. Although the level of Waterproof products might also vary, they’re generally intended for full submergence; they should be able to tolerate gushing water and punishing rain without damage.


UV resistance: Marine gear should be designed to withstand sun damage. Since they’d typically be exposed to the glaring sunrays, quality gears should be equipped for that. Ultraviolet resistant is a key feature for receiver faceplates, speaker cones, and remote controls.


Anti-corrosion protection: Salt water is capable of turning even the greatest of gears into rust junk in no time. Properly designed marine gear should resist rust and corrosion – with coated circuit boards, plated connections, and rust-resistant chassis components.


What should you look for in a marine stereo?

Good specs: Just like car gear, where better specs mean better sound, your marine gear can come in many qualities – with the better ones producing better results. For receivers, look for a high CD signal-to-noise ratio, a wide frequency response, enough RMS power, and a sufficient amount of USB ports. For speakers, you'll want plenty of power, as well as rubber surrounds, weatherproof cones, and UV-resistant grilles.


High power: Don’t forget that while in the comfort of your cozy boat, you'll be listening to music out in the open. High power is a must for crispy, clean, clear sound. Many marine receivers come with built-in 4-way amplifiers; but if you love it loud, or just want to drown out the naval background noise, you should consider adding an external marine amp.


Useful features: Today's marine receivers are every bit as powerful and feature-packed as their automotive cousins. Built-in Bluetooth® lets you stream music or make calls without taking your hand off the wheel. SiriusXM satellite radio tuners will stream your favorite music, sports and talk as far out as 200 miles offshore. USB and aux connections will allow you to enjoy your entire music collection by plugging in an iPod® or MP3 player. Today's aftermarket marine receivers have everything you need to stay entertained at the dock and on the water.


Expanding and Extending: If you’re thinking big and broad and are having a larger system in mind, look for a marine receiver with multiple sets of preamp outputs. This will make connecting and controlling external amplifiers and subwoofers easier. There are many marine receivers available with waterproof, wired remote controls, which allow you to mount the radio inside a watertight compartment. Additionally, they give you the convenience of fully controlling what's playing.


How are you going to install it?

Installing a stereo in a boat is a bit trickier than a home or even car system. Unlike your home or automobile, boats don't generally provide you with that one obvious spot intended for audio equipment. And, depending on the possible power and space limitations you might encounter, your boat installation could turn out to be quite a challenge.


Some boats are equipped with grounding plates. There are, however, some which aren’t and grounding a stereo without those plates could be difficult. Consult your manufacturer on where to find the best spot for grounding apparatuses in your boat.


If you're replacing a radio, you should be able to use the existing mounting location and wiring. Otherwise, you might need to cut some paneling or run wires for the components.


The current market offers a wide range of resilient, long-lasting, solid-quality marine stereos. There are many things to consider while shopping for a marine audio system, so be sure to examine the specs and specifics for each product, so in order to assure that you’re getting the one best suiting your needs.