Selecting a Marine Stereo
By Tom Burden, Last updated 1/27/2018
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 networked some of their stereos so they can be controlled by major-brand display units. FUSION-Link allows compatible Raymarine, Garmin, B&G, Lowrance and Simrad multi-function displays the ability to interface and achieve full control of FUSION's MS-AV750 UniDock Marine Stereo and other FUSION-Link-compatible stereos. Digital media-friendly stereos are another trend. They connect with your smartphone using Bluetooth and allow you to play your Pandora or Spotify music selections.
DIN sized, oversize face, or black box?
Do you want a receiver that will fit into a standard DIN-sized opening? The US standard size is 2" tall and 7" wide, and most of our assortment fits that cutout, so your new stereo should fit without the need for a Sawzall to modify your dashboard. Some radios are built to the double DIN measurements of 4" height and 7" width. Others are oversized in the vertical dimension. Security features like detachable faceplates help protect your stereo from theft.
A remote server, like the Lowrance SonicHub2, shown in the NMEA 2000 diagram below, does away with the traditional stereo head unit. It's controlled remotely through one or more of your networked multi-function displays.
Which inputs and data sources?
Would you like to connect your iPhone, Android or iPod? Features to look for include support for Pandora® or Spotify Internet radio, integration of smartphone apps with iPhones® and Android phones, jacks or adapters for connecting your iPod, SD card slots and Bluetooth support. Connecting your smartphone to your boat’s stereo using Bluetooth opens up an unlimited selection of tunes from the Internet.
CD compatibility: expand your playback possibilities by playing your MP3/WMA/AAC digital music files or CD, CD-R and CD-RW discs. Some stereos include a plug-in for an SD card, or a USB connection for a thumb drive, so you can play your digital music whatever the format it’s stored in.
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Internal dock: you can choose a receiver with an internal docking station to keep your digital device safe and dry.
Advanced features may include LCD displays that show ID3 tag and file information so you can read song titles. Many stereos, like our WM7000 and WM4000 include wireless remote controls. A wireless RF30 radio-frequency remote controls these West Marine stereos from anywhere on or near your boat, with an effective range of about 30’.
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.
What level of waterproof protection do you need?
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?
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 often aren’t rated by clear, objective waterproofing standards, but are “marinized” for surviving in salt-water environments. Some receivers, especially those from poly-planar and Fusion, come with a submersible IP waterproof rating.
Corrosion-resistant 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.
Do you want a stereo/speaker package?
If affordability is your goal, check out our popular assortment of stereo/speaker packages. Our WM7000/WM652 Stereo Receiver/Speaker Package is a great example, combining a full-featured receiver set up for digital devices and CDs, an IR remote control and a pair of mid-priced quality speakers for much less than the individual cost of the components.
Do you want a satellite-ready stereo?
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 is available within the continental United States only. Navico and Raymarine make weather modules that receive four types of data.
XM WX Marine Weather from Garmin
Twenty data products for marine weather 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™ 53 Weather & Audio XM Satellite Receiver.