It’s such a pleasure to tune in to your favorite channels and listen to music while having fun on the water. Marine stereo systems allow you can create a party atmosphere where you can invite your friends to chill along with you during your next boat outing.
Marine stereos are nothing like car stereos. They may go in the middle of the dashboard, but from the installation process to the way they are assembled, you are looking at different products that are built to very different specifications and designed for very different environments.
Important Features to Look for:
Before choosing a marine stereo it is important to know what many of the features and specifications mean to help make sure you choose the best marine stereo for yourself. Marine Stereo Systems are largely classified into two different water resistant ratings which we discuss below.
If a marine stereo system is water resistant, it indicates it can withstand direct water splashes from the rain, when washing the boat or rough water. It cannot be entirely submerged in water though since water will damage the interior components.
A system that is completely waterproof is submersible underwater to the depth that the manufacturer has tested it to. It can be a meter or up to 30 meters, and it is usually up to a specific period of time such as 30 minutes. We recommend that your boat stereo be waterproof even though you will pay a little more for these systems. The extra cost is well justified in knowing that you won't have any issues.
These are components coated with substances that prevent the corrosive effects of exposure to salt water. If your boat will ever be in salt or brackish water we highly recommend that your boat stereo have anti-corrosion coating for the components.
These words are mostly used on marine stereo systems to indicate they can withstand the sun's UV rays which can quickly damage unprotected plastic.
When stereo systems have undergone marinisation, it means they have been built for long-term use in the harsh marine environment. This applies whether you are using it in fresh or saltwater. marinisation covers everything including corrosion, UV-stability, and waterproofing.
Here are our picks for the best marine stereo you can buy:
- Fusion Entertainment MS-RA70 - Best overall marine stereo receiver
- BOSS Audio MCKGB350W - Best cheap marine stereo system
- Rockville RGHR2 - Best gauge style marine audio package
- Planet Audio PGR35B - Best budget gauge style marine radio
- Pyle PLCDBT85MRW
- Pyle PLCD43MRB
- Pyle PLRMR27BTB
- Sony DSXM55BT
- Kenwood KMR-D375BT
- Kicker KMC2
1. Fusion Entertainment MS-RA70
BEST OVERALL MARINE STEREO RECEIVER
The Fusion marine stereo is a single-DIN design equipped with Bluetooth. Like all the devices besides the Pyle, this radio isn’t equipped to manage your calls. The radio has a USB port and AM/FM capabilities. It’s compatible with both Android and Apple.
Once installed this radio has an IPX 6 rating with the optically bonded glass LCD display. It has a subwoofer output and a 200W power supply divided between four speakers. As with many other sets these speakers aren’t included in the price. It doesn’t include a remote control, making it a bit more difficult to control while moving around the boat.
When buying a Fusion you know you’re getting quality. If you can afford this radio it’s of a quality that can’t be matched.
2. BOSS Audio MCKGB350W
BEST CHEAP MARINE STEREO SYSTEM
The BOSS MCKGB350 marine radio is a gauge style marine stereo that comes with two 6.5” speakers included. It’s Bluetooth enabled and therefore can play music from your SmartPhone. It also has a USB port, AUX and AM/FM radio input to ensure that you can play your media from whatever device you pick. The BOSS marine stereo is compatible with MP3 and WMA files & the USB port also allows for charging.
The BOSS radio has two 180W speakers with a mounting depth of 2 ¼ . It comes with a 3 year warranty. The BOSS radio is IPX 6 rated which means that it is weatherproof: waterproof, scratch resistant and UV resistant. There is a built in EQ to ensure Hi-fi sound. In addition there is an RCA output to allow additional speakers to be added to the system. Unfortunalt, there is no remote control available with this stereo.
A few users complained that the marine stereo broke but this problem is negated by the 3 year platinum warranty. Overall you’ll be impressed with the quality and volume of sound these speakers can produce.
3. Rockville RGHR2
BEST GAUGE STYLE MARINE AUDIO PACKAGE
Unlike most of the previous marine stereos mentioned, the Rockville has a gauge design. The radio comes with a wired remote control for convenience. Like the other products it is Bluetooth enabled but can’t manage calls. It also comes equipped with an USB port, AUX input and AM/FM radio. The USB port can charge your SmartPhone.
The Rockville radio comes with an IP66 waterproofing certification which is better than the IPX6 of the other products. It guarantees that the product is weatherproof. There are two sets of RCA outputs for connection to additional speakers, once again helping those who want a DIY setup. The Rockville radio produces 72W x 4.
The sound produced by this radio is loud enough to be heard well over the water and the wind & it has an equalizer to ensure the best performance. It has a Bluetooth distance of 50 feet which is substantially further than most Bluetooth devices which will only work across a distance of 30 feet.
You may find some difficulty installing the radio, but once you get past that, you will enjoy the sound quality that’s above expectations.
4. Planet Audio PGR35B
BEST BUDGET GAUGE STYLE MARINE RADIO
The Planet marine stereo is a gauge style radio which you can connect to via Bluetooth audio. While it doesn’t have a CD player—understandable with the small size—it does have a USB port, AUX input and can connect to AM/FM radio channels. You can charge your SmartPhone via the USB input.
The Planet radio has 60W of power output for each of the four speakers, but know they aren’t included. It has a built in equalizer and allows you to edit your own settings within the equalizer to ensure the best performance for your genre of music. In addition the radio comes with a three year platinum warranty.
The Planet radio has an IPX 6 weatherproof rating to ensure functionality on the open seas. It contains an RCA output which allows you to connect two additional speakers or amplifiers to your radio. With the small size it is understandable that the radio doesn’t come equipped with a CD player.
One challenge is that the product isn’t sufficiently waterproof as moisture builds up behind the LCD display. Apart from that, enjoy the many features that come at a low price.
5. Pyle PLCDBT85MRW
This marine stereo is also a single-DIN style radio with Bluetooth audio streaming capabilities. Unlike the Pyle radio mentioned above, this radio is waterproof and comes with four speakers included. This marine radio has the same Bluetooth and wireless calling capabilities of the above Pyle radio. The console also has identical input connections:
- CD player
- USB/SD slot for digital media connection
- AUX in
- Built-in bluetooth
- Remote control
You can also charge your SmartPhone through the USB port. The radio has 200W of power divided between the four included speakers. Unlike the above Pyle radio, this radio comes with an RCA output to allow for additional speakers to be connected. It also has EQ, bass, and treble adjustments to improve the quality of the music you are listening to. We were pleasantly surprised with what you get considering the low price.
6. Pyle PLCD43MRB
This marine stereo is a single-DIN style marine radio with Bluetooth capabilities. In addition to the regular benefits of Bluetooth audio streaming, this radio allows you to manage your incoming and outgoing calls from your SmartPhone. The console has a CD player, USB port, SD slot, AUX in and the previously mentioned Bluetooth. It also has AM/FM capabilities.
The marine stereo has 300W of power divided through four speakers, but the speakers don’t come included in the package. Unfortunately the stereo is not water resistant which is problematic for boat use. There is a concern about the quality of the sound, but at the low price we think it’s value for money.
7. Pyle PLRMR27BTB
While this marine stereo doesn’t come with any speakers, it does come with a wireless remote control to control the stereo receiver. Like the previous two Pyle radios reviewed, this one is Bluetooth enabled with the option of Bluetooth calling and comes equipped with USB/SD slot, & AM/FM radio. It doesn’t have a CD player and it’s a single-DIN design in a sleek black exterior.
The radio has 300W of power output that can be divided between four speakers which aren’t included. There’s an RCA output if you want to attach additional speakers. Unfortunately, the console does not have any water resistance nor is it able to charge your SmartPhone through USB port.
Like some other Pyle marine stereos, this one has mixed reviews; for the affordable price it’s worth an investment unless you’re looking for exceptional, faultless sound.
8. Sony DSXM55BT
The Sony radio is a single-DIN style marine stereo which is Bluetooth audio streaming enabled. It can also manage your calls but people have often found that the calls are unclear when using Bluetooth audio on the boat because of the loud engine noises. Like the third Pyle radio, the Sony comes with a wireless remote control for your convenience.
Like most other Sony marine stereos, this Sony radio is SiriusXM satellite radio ready which is unique to Sony devices. Most marine stereos require you to buy an adapter to ensure that you’re SiriusXM ready. This radio can play a wide variety of digital media files including MP3, WMA, AC, WAV and FLAC. The Sony is also compatible with both Android and Apple.
The Sony marine stereo radio has marine grade protection which means the system is coated in vinyl to prevent humidity damage and there’s also additional UV protection. While equipped with an USB port, there’s no CD player. The Sony radio comes with an RCA output on the back so that you can connect your additional speakers if you want. That makes is a practical option if you like customizing your sound setup.
Like other Sony marine stereos, this one’s equipped with Mega Bass and an advanced sound equalizer, which both work together to create the highest quality of sound. They ensure your volume increases enough so that the engine noise doesn’t drown out your music. These components also help reduce distortion when the volume is turned up.
Some customers have tried using it elsewhere such as on motorbikes, but without good results, as this is specifically designed for boats. Use it for what it’s made for and it will last you for many years.
9. Kenwood KMR-D375BT
The Kenwood marine stereo is a single-DIN design which comes with four speakers, and a radio antenna. Like the other marine stereos mentioned here, the Kenwood is Bluetooth enabled and equipped to manage calls from your SmartPhone as well as use your phone as a remote control to control the radio.
The Kenwood comes with an USB port, AUX input and is compatible with both Apple & Android. The speakers are waterproof and the radio is corrosion resistant for use in the ocean. There’s 200W of power output divided among the four speakers. There is an equalizer and additional settings to compensate for the noise of the wind, ocean & boat engine. The LCD display has Variable Color Illumination allowing you to change colors on your dash.
What you’ll be impressed by is that the low wattage doesn't impact the sound quality.
10. Kicker KMC2
The Kicker is a gauge style marine stereo that comes with two speakers and an antenna. The radio is Bluetooth enabled and comes with the standard USB port that can charge your SmartPhone—AUX input & AM/FM radio capabilities as well as compatibility with PXiRCX remote control.
The Kicker marine stereo receiver has 200W of power output divided between the two speakers. It’s easy to install and the speakers are waterproof. The antenna is corrosion resistant and water resistant. The radio doesn’t come with an equalizer to improve your sound but it does come with a one year warranty.
It’s priced in the same manner as the Fusion but it doesn’t come with the same guarantee of quality that the Fusion does. But because of user friendly installation and quality sound it’s still an industry favorite.
Factors to Consider When Buying Marine Stereo Systems
There are many things to consider when looking to purchase a marine stereo system for your needs and budget; and it can get quite complex. Below are some of the most important things to consider as you start looking for your boat's stereo system.
Marine Stereos vs. Car Stereos:
Car audio components are usually found in the dash or glove compartment of your car where they are well-protected from the sun, rain, and the harsh UV rays.
Marine stereo systems are exposed to the weather from the very beginning. When your boat is in the marina, it has to endure days and months of the sun beating down on it plus corrosion from the rain, salt water, fog, snow, etc. unless you store your boat in a covered marina which is very expensive. While having a boat cover will help it still will not protect your marine stereo receiver completely from the environment.
That’s why marine stereo systems have to undergo rigorous testing in carefully designed chambers to mimic years of abuse from the elements. If you want an audio system for your boat, it is better to stick to marine-rated stereos that can stand up to extreme temperatures and the continuous exposure to the harsh environment.
Some brands have made it big in this industry with the capacity to build stereo systems that can endure years and years of daily use out on the water. Because marine stereos have to be built to withstand so much they are more expensive than regular stereos.
Individual Pieces vs. Complete Set:
One of the first questions will you need to answer is whether you will need to build a stereo system from scratch or buy one as a bundle. When you choose to build one, you will likely get the best pieces to customize your stereo receiver, but it will cost more and you will have to either install the separate pieces yourself or pay extra to have them installed.
On the other hand, buying a stereo receiver as a package is pretty straightforward. But you have to be careful to choose only from brands that are known to have high-quality products.
Most Popular Marine Stereos Styles and Sizes:
Marine stereos come in a variety of different styles and sizes so you can find one that best suits your needs. Whether you have a lot or a little space or ran out of space on your boat you’ll be able to find something that works for you.
Gauge Style Marine Stereos:
These stereo systems are cylindrical in shape with a 3” diameter face visible from the dash. Gauge style stereos are designed for boats with little to no space for a stereo. They fit into standard gauge openings. Alternatively you can drill a hole into your dashboard to install this stereo very easily. The advantage of using this stereo is that you can install it where there was previously no designated space for it.
The single-DIN is the kind of radio we see in most cars. It’s rectangular in shape and normally about 2” high. This is the most commonly bought stereo receiver as it fits well into the area designated for the stereo on the boat. Marine single-DINs come with special protections for waterproofing that make them different than car stereos.
Oversized DIN Receivers:
Contrary to what you might think, the over-sized receivers still fit into the standard 2” designated area. The difference comes with depth. The over-sized receivers need additional depth when installing to allow for their extra features. These features can include the ability to remove the LCD display and store your SmartPhone behind the screen to protect it while charging.
Square receivers are what the name would suggest, square in shape. They normally require less depth than the over-sized receivers because they don’t have the ability to play CDs. Like the gauge style receivers, they are designed to fit into the gauge space.
Inputs and data sources are essential for a marine stereo system. You will definitely want to connect your iPhone, iPod or Android. As such, your stereo should have connectivity options like built-in bluetooth, Spotify internet, Pandora, and other options for integrating the speaker with your smart devices.
Bluetooth connectivity allows you to listen to music that you stream directly from your smartphone and other devices. You can also receive calls when your phone is connected without taking your hands off the helm. We feel that Bluetooth connectivity is a must for a marine stereo as it allows anyone to quickly and easily play their music or podcasts while out on the water. Check our guide for the best bluetooth marine radios.
Multiple AUX and USB connections also let you plug in MP3 players and your smartphone for the ultimate entertainment whether you are docked or on water.
If you plan on getting a large system, it is vital that you go for the receiver that can accommodate multiple pre-amp output sets. This way, you will easily be able to connect and control marine subwoofers and external marine amplifiers when building your custom marine system; this is especially important on a larger boat. You should look for auxiliary audio/video outputs and inputs to expand your system even further when you want to connect a TV or a portable music player.
Internal Docking Station:
An internal docking station is built to protect your marine stereo system from the open climate. If you can get one, it will be better since it will improve the longevity of your stereo receiver. For those that do not have docking stations, you can look for a detachable face on the stereo receiver. You remove the control panel of the stereo when you leave the boat which means that thieves will be less tempted to ransack your vessel as the stereo is useless without the control panel.
Ideal Water Resistance Rating:
Your stereo system will consist of different gear from receivers, marine speakers, marine amplifiers, etc. You will notice a rating indicated with the symbols IP (Ingress Protection) in front of it. A rating of IPX7 and IP8 is considered waterproof by US IP standards. These are devices that can withstand full immersion in the water without damage. You will want to look for face-plates that are water-resistant to a high degree so that they will not take in any water especially from high-pressure jets when your boat is being washed. CD slots should also be sealed with rubber gaskets
Best Marine Stereo Brands:
Fusion Entertainment is a renowned industry leader in the field of car audio and now making some of the best marine stereo systems on the market. They have been around for twenty years and have propelled themselves to the top of the game as they now produce high-end, high-quality, and highly sought after marine stereos and other marine audio accessories. You can expect to find waterproof marine stereos that are NMEA Network compatible. This means that you can interface their marine stereos with fish finders, chart plots, and other devices that are NMEA compatible.
This company also contends for the top seat in marine engineering and technology. After spearheading the car audio revolution, they have moved on to marine audio engineering to fit your lifestyle. Their amplifiers and waterproof speakers are ideal to make your marine stereo sound great. Their gear is attractively designed, and their amp power output matches that from most speakers to make pairing easy.
This company is known for producing highly sophisticated JVC marine audio systems and video equipment. It is a well-respected company as their best marine systems and the speakers produce terrific sound and outlast many products on the market.
Boss Audio has been around for more than 30 years. Their marine stereos are among the top performing and longest-lasting brands. You will find only innovative and well-crafted aquatic stereo systems from Boss Audio.
This California based company has made its name in this industry through customer satisfaction. They have a wide selection of marine audio systems aimed at giving you the perfect soundtrack for your life on the water.
How many watts will you need in your marine system?
This is a matter of preference. If you enjoy loud music for holding parties, there’s no need to skimp on the wattage on both the amplifier and the speakers. As long as you have matched the power needs of the two components, then the higher, the better.
Small size vessels like ski and fishing boats do not require as much wattage as that of cruise boat marine stereo systems. Also, if you plan to cruise on open waters, your sound will be drowned by the waves, so you will need more wattage on your boat that you would in your car.
Box vs. Flush Mounted Speakers:
Flush mount speakers are attractive but need a hole to be cut in your boat. You can easily find an ideal space like a hidden corner away from other components.
They need to be installed in a closed compartment and with adequate space behind them. The last thing you want is to leave the magnets of the speaker hanging outside or with too little space behind them. A reasonable level of enclosure, especially on the back side, is required to maintain the sound quality.
Box marine speakers come in a box enclosure. As such, they will not need a space to be cut for them on the boat. Their sound is not affected by the method you use to install them. Box speakers come with gimbal brackets for simple installation on a high part of the boat. But they take up a lot of space which makes them not ideal for smaller boats.
How Many Drivers Will You Need?
The next thing is to determine whether you will need triaxial, coaxial, or dual cone speakers; also sometimes referred to as drivers.
Coaxial speakers: Also known as two-way speakers, reproduce a wide range of audio frequencies from a single unit. They are the least expensive of the three types since they come with a woofer and a separate tweeter that can handle high frequencies.
Triaxial speakers: These speakers contain a mid-range besides the woofer and tweeter. They are usually in the configuration of the low-range woofer, mid-range, and high range tweeter. They can deliver more fidelity for better sound quality and are typically paired with the better boat stereo systems on the market.
Dual Cone Speakers: These speakers use an inexpensive design where they utilize one speaker and two high-frequency cones (wheezers), to perform the work of the midrange and tweeter woofers in speaker. Their performance is impressive with a high-quality model, but you might not find them adequate on a large boat.
Your speakers should be able to handle more or equal amount of power produced by the stereo system. Check the RMS output watts of your marine amplifier so that you don’t risk blowing your speakers when the volume is all the way up; which brings us to our next question...
What is RMS Rating?
As we said, you need to match the power output of the amplifier to the handling capacity of the speakers. RMS is a measure of the continuous power that a speaker can handle, or an amplifier can output. Every company has their method of calculating RMS which is a real kicker when comparing marine audio products. As such, always pick the highest RMS rating on your speakers; with your amplifier having a lower RMS rating to ensure you don’t damage your speakers.
Magnetic Interference and Shielding:
Magnetic interference is referred to as unwanted signals that interferes with the desired signal. It is mostly heard as a stutter, hissing, crackle or popping sound on loud speakers. On your boat, it can be generated by the electric system which can interfere with the radio equipment. The noises are either conducted into the stereo system along the wiring leads and power leads into the system or through the radio antenna.
You will need to first locate the source of the magnetic interference before attempting to shield or suppress it. You can do this by leaving the speakers on while shutting various electric equipment and then noting the changes in the sound on the speakers. You can also identify the noise when you move various parts/electronics of the boat around.
After identifying the source. You can shield your system by applying various shielding techniques like running transducer cables separately, or enclosing the noise source in a metal can. In other cases, you can screen out the noise by using shielded wiring.
Installing a Speaker System:
How you install your marine system directly impacts the sound. Attention to detail is our mantra in this section. If you are installing old speakers, it makes sense to use the same location for the speaker space and wiring. If you have never installed marine speakers on a boat before, you will have to be more careful in the way you install flush mount speakers.
First, they will need adequate space behind them. If you confine flush speakers, the diaphragm will not move back and forth effectively which means the sound will not be produced efficiently. Always allow around 1 cubic foot space behind flush speakers giving room for an air path from the front to the back of the speakers. For box speakers, it is as simple as drilling holes for the speaker wire and screwing the speakers in an ideal location. The cables can easily be bundled up neatly behind the bulkhead using wire ties.
Install the speakers to face your ears in an open boat - Speakers produce their best sound along with their central axis. It is then reflected in a pattern of 45 degrees along the axis. If you are not in the radiating zone, then the speakers will not sound powerful.
Connect your speakers in phase - Phasing speakers means they will all be vibrating back and forth in the same direction. You will need to match the positive side of the stereo to the positive terminals. To know this, connect an AA or AAA battery to the terminal of the speaker. When the positive terminal of the speaker touches the positive terminal of the battery, the speaker will vibrate forward
Waterproof Bluetooth Speakers
Bluetooth speakers are a good option if you need a temporary music solution or don’t have enough time to install a marine stereo system. They are a quick way of listening to music from your phone or tablet without wiring receivers and radios into the boat’s battery system. They can be very useful if you are renting a boat or have a small fishing boat and don’t want to go to the trouble or expense of installing a stereo system.
Advantages Of Bluetooth Speakers:
Disadvantages of Bluetooth Speakers:
If you don’t plan on having a large party or cruising in rough waters, and are on a budget Bluetooth speakers, are still viable to use on your boat.
With so many products on the market it is easy to feel confused. How do you pick? When considering a few different types of radios and many different prices & features it is important to decide what is a priority to you before buying a radio for your boat. What will you buy? Comment below if you have any of the radios mentioned here and help others decide by sharing how they worked for you.