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How To Get Better Sound from Your Boat Stereo

Boating logo Boating 19/07/2019 Ken Englert
a close up of electronics: Choose the right stereo for the best sound on your boat. © Courtesy Fusion Choose the right stereo for the best sound on your boat.

How can I get better sound with my stereo?

A. First, consider upgrading your speakers. The older speakers that came with most boats are often lower priced and of moderate performance. With time, sound quality is often reduced by the effects of sun and the extremes of weather.

Quality marine speakers tend to have a plastic, water-resistant polypropylene cone that reproduces quality full-fidelity audio. The simplest, least expensive and most dramatic way to improve your sound system is to upgrade your speakers. Prices start at $100 a pair.

Next, think about replacing your older stereo with a marine set that is designed and built for sea duty. These are protected against damage due to water, spray and splash, and have special anti-corrosive treated internal electronics.

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Look for features that meet your immediate needs as well as that for the future, such as Bluetooth connectivity for streaming music, a USB port and aux input, and SiriusXM connectivity.

Add a subwoofer for dramatic reproduction of deep, booming bass tones, and an amplifier to assist sound quality and boost volume to override noise from wind, waves and engines.

Stereo Buying Tip

Shy away from car-type stereos. They tend to corrode over time and so does their performance. Quality marine stereos are not much more costly than equivalent automotive types. Prices start at about $200.

Digital Signal Processing

When shopping for a stereo, favor a set that has digital signal processing, sometimes just called DSP. This processes the audio signal digitally to provide a "being there" audio experience.

Remotes and Zones Sweeten Your Experience

Wired and wireless remotes can be a real convenience when changing audio tracks or radio stations and raising or lowering the volume. Remotes can be placed and operated from most any location on the boat. A zone feature lets you deliver audio to multiple speaker locations, and lets you select which locations have audio and which you want silent.

Same Size Simplifies Replacement

Fortunately, most models of marine stereos share the same dimensions as their automotive counterparts. Both tend to use the same 2-inch-high single "DIN" size that can slip into an older set's bulkhead cutout. That can make retrofitting with an upgraded unit easier.

TV Sound

Don't overlook the audio from your onboard TV set. Be sure you connect the audio output from the TV to your stereo's audio input for a superior sound when viewing movies, TV shows and sports.

Installation Materials

Professional installers use marine-grade materials to ensure a quality result. Cables should be of a marine type with tinned copper wires and of the proper wire-gauge size as specified in the stereo's or speaker's installation instructions.

Streaming Advice

When streaming audio from Spotify, Rhapsody, Pandora, Apple, Google and other audio sources along with your digital library of music, podcasts and audio books, either Bluetooth or Wi-Fi will do the job. However, Wi-Fi proves to be a better way to transfer digital media to preserve the original, unaltered sound quality, so look for a marine stereo with Wi-Fi capability.

Upgrade on a Budget

A stereo upgrade doesn't have to be accomplished all at once. You can spread out your cost and effort over a period of time and perform each task one step at a time while enjoying each improvement as it is completed.

Think You Don't Have the Room or Budget for a Stereo?

Poly-Planar has two instrument-size stereos that easily fit in your dash. The GMR20 (3.125-inch, $125) and GMR30 (4.5-inch, $210) have AM/FM radio plus Bluetooth streaming, and USB and aux inputs. Poly-Planar also offers stereo kits complete with an amplifier, a small bulkhead mounting control head, and a pair of speakers, in prices ranging from $180 to $210.

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Fusion Active Stereo ($120) is a small self-contained stereo powerhouse in a portable, compact waterproof housing perfect for bringing music for use in watersports such as paddleboarding, kayaking, canoeing or in the dingy. It can be controlled from your smartphone, and has Bluetooth for streaming audio, built-in speakers and AM/FM radio.

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