Groundbreaking SonicHub remote server eliminates need for stereo head unit. Value package shown here includes pair of speakers, dock and server.
New and notable stereo products
If you haven’t checked our marine audio selection recently, there have been some new developments you might be interested in. Fusion, one of our most innovative manufacturers, has created the SonicHub for Lowrance, Simrad and B&G. This remote server is controlled through your multi-function navigation display, and it uses NMEA 2000 networking, so it should be simple to install with compatible systems. It’s got 200 watts of power for great sound.
Our new WM3000RF stereo comes with an RF remote that operates the stereo anywhere within a range of about 30' (and it includes a line-of-sight IR remote as well). Like many new audio units, the WM3000RF is adapted for your digital music devices, with a USB port for direct control of your iPhone or iPod.
For many years, Poly-planar has been making great audio gear that’s just for boats. Their full-featured MRD80i is highly waterproof, and hides your smartphone/MP3 player/iPod inside its internal docking station.
Also new from Fusion, the MS-IP700 has a color LCD display and allows you to network wirelessly with an Ethernet router (not included with the unit) for advanced control of the stereo through your Android, iPhone, iPad or downloadable PC app. It includes a dock for your iPod, and is rated IPX5 water-resistant.
Poly-planar MRD80i is waterproof-rated IP66 for both front and back.
Marine audio is different from car audio
Audio equipment in your car lives inside a waterproof, climate-controlled box. Your boat punishes audio components with spray, moisture, salt and UV radiation. The marine environment will kill an automotive-grade stereo in a few months or a single season under the best conditions, so saving money with a cheap car stereo is a mistake. What should you look for?
- Corrosion-proof materials on good-quality marine units resist rust and salt water. Stereos include “conformal coating,” with a sealing coat of epoxy or urethane encapsulating circuit boards and processors. Plastic cases are UV-resistant. Speaker cones are polypropylene, not paper. Key metal components are often stainless steel. Wire is tin-plated and contacts are often gold-plated.
- Marine stereos are rated either spray-resistant or waterproof. Look for CD slots that are sealed with rubber gaskets. Faceplates can (in theory) withstand either spray or complete immersion, depending on the receiver. In reality, marine stereos aren’t rated by clear, objective waterproofing standards, but are “marinized” for surviving in salt-water environments.
- Plenty of power: marine stereos must be heard over wind, engines, waves, bilge pumps and other noise sources, and are often pouring sound into open cockpit space, instead of a confined chamber like your car or living room. We recommend a minimum of 25W per channel, and more power is certainly better.
Our WM3000RF stereo includes both IR and RF remotes.
New capabilities of the latest marine audio units
- Improved sound quality: better circuit design and more built-in power produce cleaner, more vibrant sound, not just more volume.
- More sources: expand your playback possibilities by playing your MP3/WMA/AAC digital music files or CD, CD-R and CD-RW discs. Other features to look for include support for Pandora® Internet radio, integration of smartphone apps with iPhones® and Android phones, jacks or adapters for connecting your iPod, satellite radio compatibility, SD card slots and Bluetooth support. Docks like the SonicHub keep your iPod safe and dry.
- More features: advanced features may include LCD displays that show ID3 tag and file information so you can read song titles, wired and wireless remote controls, Dolby Digital and DTS surround sound decoding, and precision sound controls like digital time correction and parametric equalization.
- Expandability: auxiliary inputs and audio/video outputs allow you to expand your system by connecting portable music players, TV or VCR, external amplifiers and powered subwoofers to your stereo.
- Security: Features like detachable faceplates help protect your stereo from theft.
Fusion MS-IP700 is a networking breakthrough. Control it with your smartphone using an optional wireless router, plug your iPhone/iPod into the included dock, or network with NMEA 2000.
Consider the following requirements for a long-lasting and reliable installation of your system:
- The chassis of the stereo receiver should be well ventilated so its heat sink can dissipate heat into the surrounding air.
- The stereo must be sealed to the dash so water can’t leak into the chassis or connectors behind the dash.
- Pay particular attention to water protection if drink holders, gauges, a compass, or other potential source of leaks are directly above your stereo (or choose a better location). Modern high-powered head units, with vent holes in the top of the chassis, need their back and top protected. For extra protection, especially in out-in-the-open locations, we recommend placing your unit in a waterproof enclosure, like those shown later in this section.
- Speaker leads should be clearly marked and connect without soldering to the hubs on the back of the stereo unit. Make the job easy by wiring the positives first to avoid getting confused, then connect the ground. Use snap plug connectors (see our Electrical Section) for the battery hookup. You’ll have one hot lead to the distribution panel or battery, one to the ignition (or the accessory switch) and then the negative or ground. We strongly recommend an inline fuse to prevent mishaps.
- Coat the plug-in connections at the rear with Liquid Electrical Tape or CRC Premium Marine Electronics Grease to keep them dry.
- Audio equipment often requires continuous power to maintain the internal memory, clock settings and station presets. A trickle of current is usually no big deal, unless you don’t use your boat for an extended period, or are a long-distance cruiser with a tight electrical budget. Since receivers and battery banks differ, no simple rule exists. Be aware of this minor amperage draw, or consider the alternative of turning off power to these features.
- If you’re planning to listen to the radio in addition to CDs, you’ll want to either install an AM/FM antenna or couple your new stereo system to your existing VHF antenna. Separate antennas are a bit more affordable, but with too many whips sticking up off your top, your boat starts to look like a porcupine. Instead, couple your stereo to your VHF. A powerful (6dB or more) antenna gives excellent AM/FM reception and will keep the look uncluttered.
SiriusXM satellite radio
XM and Sirius have merged into one company, SiriusXM Satellite Radio, siriusxm.com, that provides 100 percent commercial-free digital satellite radio with a reception footprint (the area within satellite line-of-sight range) that covers the United States (including Alaska), Canada, and the upper third of Mexico.
Eventually, all SiriusXM subscription plans will fall under the SiriusXM umbrella, but for now there are three platforms: Sirius, XM, and SiriusXM. The channel offerings are pretty similar, but do differ slightly—for example, NFL and MLB fans can only get play-by-play for both with the XM Premier or SiriusXM Premier plans. The radio you have determines which satellite radio plan you can get.
You can only subscribe in the 48 lower U.S. states (at a cost of $17.99 per month for Sirius Premier with over 140 channels, $14.49 for Sirius Select with over 130 channels, or $14.49 for SiriusXM Internet Radio on your computer or smartphone, or A La Carte for $7.99 for 50 user-selected channels).
Satellite radio is free from commercials and FCC restrictions, unlike AM and FM, so the variety of programming is superior. Just about any kind of music is available in every genre. Sports and entertainment includes features that are unique to each service: For example, SIRIUS covers every NFL game, while XM broadcasts play-by-play of every Major League Baseball game, as well as NASCAR.
The sound is digital quality (equivalent to an MP3 with varying amounts of signal compression, but not quite as spectacular as a CD) so you won’t hear static. Since the reception is the same across the continental U.S., you don’t need to change your station presets if you travel from one place to another.
SiriusXM satellite weather services
For boaters, SiriusXM has two types of subscription-based marine weather services.
Sirius Marine Weather
Sirius Marine Weather is available within the continental United States only. Navico and Raymarine make weather modules, shown in the chart below, that receive four types of data. Check the SiriusXM site for the features of the four plans shown below.
XM WX Marine Weather from Garmin
Thirty data products for maritime are available through customized marine subscription packages, costing $9.99, $29.99 or $49.99 per month. Continuously updated graphical weather information, including these products and more: High-Resolution NEXRAD Radar, Lightning, Satellite Imagery, Buoy Data, Sea Surface Temperatures, FishBytes™ fish location data. See the Garmin GXM™ 51 Receiver, Model 10632347.
Garmin also offers a much more affordable GDL 40 XM Weather Receiver that uses the AT&T cellular network to deliver weather data, on an on-demand basis with no monthly subscription fees. A single-day pass costs $4.99. Models 11068657 and 11068665.