Marine Stereo System Buyer's Guide
The Ultimate Guide to Buying Your Marine Stereo System
Ok. You have decided to either add a stereo system to your boat or upgrade and replace what you currently have. There are so many options out there. Where do you start? This guide will provide specific answers from a professional as to what to select.
- If money doesn't matter, go with the Fusion Apollo MS-RA770. It's the best marine radio out there.
- Salt Water or Fresh Water? - If you are in salt water, do you have a NMEA 2000 network? If so, we recommend that you get a radio that is NMEA 2000 ready to work with your MFD devices. If you have a fresh water boat, NMEA 2000 typically doesn't matter.
- How many zones do you need? - Most radios will offer 3 zones of control with front, rear, and subwoofer pre-outs.
If you need more zone control than that, we recommend selecting a 4 zone radio like the Fusion MS-RA770, the Fusion MS-RA670, JL Audio MM105, Kicker KMC5, or Kicker KMC4.
At the same time, be careful of one and two zone radios like the Rockford Fosgate PMX-2, Rockford Fosgate PMX-3, Kicker KMC2, and Kicker KMC3. The Rockford units have front + rear/subwoofer selectable outputs. This means that you either get two zone speaker control, or you get speaker + subwoofer control, you can't have both. With the Kicker KMC2 and KMC3, they only have 2 channel pre-outs. There is no ability to fade or adjust the subwoofer through the head unit.
- What style head unit?
- What is your budget?
There are three buckets here:
- Under $200: DIN Radios.
- $200 - $500: Round, Square, Rectangular radios that are water proof.
- $500+: Higher end, 4 zone radios.
- Do you want your radio to match the rest of your system?
If it is single DIN form factor or a rectangular form factor, I would find the Fusion radio that best suits the criteria above and go with Fusion. If you want your stereo to match everything else, then pick the same brand as your speakers, subwoofers, and amplifiers.
If you are loyal to a specific marine audio brand, stick with that brand.
If you don't have a brand preference, the easy way out is to go with JL Audio M6 speakers, if they are within your budget. They are generally considered to be the best marine speakers in the world and get the largest ones that you can fit and power properly. I can guarantee you will not be disappointed. They are the best, but they are also the most expensive.
If you like your music loud
- Rockford Fosgate M2
- Wet Sounds REVO
- Rockford Fosgate M1
- Kicker KM
If you are all about sound quality
- Fusion Signature Series (Between JL Audio M6 and M3)
- JL Audio M3
The best advice for subwoofers is to match the brand of your speakers, unless you can keep the subwoofers hidden and out of sight. Your boat looks better when the speakers and the subwoofers are from the same brand.
- JL Audio: Go with the M7 12" subwoofers. If those are too expensive or if they won't work, go with the 10" M6. Otherwise go with the 10" M3. Yes. The more money you spend, the better the subwoofers will sound. It likely depends on how much bass your want and how much you want to spend.
- Rockford Fosgate: The M2 subwoofers kick ass and they come in both 10" and 12" sizes. If they aren't in the budget, the M1s are the best mid-level marine subwoofers out there for the money.
- Wet Sounds: REVO free air subwoofers. Go with 12s if you can fit them. Otherwise go with 10s.
- Kicker: The Kicker marine subwoofer options don't handle a ton of power, but they get the job done. 12s if you can fit em, otherwise 10s. Grilles sold separately on these.
For amplifiers, once again, we typically recommend that you match your amplifier brand with your speaker brand.
- JL Audio: M- Series amplifiers all day, every day. For the bigger 7.7" and 8.8" speakers, consider bridging the amplifier, and over-driving the speakers with the gains turned down. The speakers can handle more power from these amps than the rated power.
- 6.5" Speakers - You can bridge the amplifier
- 7.7" Speakers - We recommend bridging the amplifiers to 200 watts per channel (Don't max out the gains)
- 8.8" Speakers - We recommend bridging the amplifiers to 200 watts per channel( Don't max out the gains)
- Rockford Fosgate: If I have M2 speakers and subwoofers, I am going with the Punch Marine (PM) amplifiers as long as I have space. If I don't have the space, then I would go with the M5, mini amps. For the M1 speakers, the M2 amplifiers work great for these and they are affordable. No need to spend the extra money and the M2 amplifiers go toe to toe with the JL Audio M-Series, they just cost less. For the 8" speakers, consider bridging the amplifiers.
- Wet Sounds: For 6.5" speakers, HTX amps. For 8" speakers, SYN-DX amps. These are a little more complicated because of the staggered outputs on the SYN-DX-6. But, you can't go wrong with either HTX or SYN-DX. If you want to be billy badass, the SDX are the best, but they are also the most expensive.
- Kicker: The KXMA amps are the way to go. If you are on a budget, the KMA amplifiers do the trick. The thermal management, actual output, and signal processing is just better on the KXMA.
- Fusion: You can't go wrong with Fusion Signature Series amplifiers . These Class D amplifiers with plenty of output and at a lower price point than the JL Audio M-Series.
Our best advice is to match your tower speakers to the speakers in the hull. It just looks better. The only time we might make an exception would be if you have JL Audio or Fusion speakers in the hull and you want maximum volume and distance from your tower speakers. For maximum volume and distance, you need horn tweeters. Neither JL Audio nor Fusion offer horn tweeter tower speakers, so you would need to pick a different brand. For horn tweeter tower speakers we like the Wet Sounds REV 10, Wet Sounds REV 12, or the Rockford Fosgate M2 Horns. The bigger the tower speakers the better. Also, the more power you can send to them, the better as well.
For amp wiring kits, RCAs, and the installation accessories, we like and prefer Stinger. The Stinger Marine amp kits include equal length power and ground wire and the wires are molded together. This makes it easier when pullng wire through tricky spots. Make sure you have one amp wiring kit for each amplifier. On a boat, you don't want to use distribution blocks. Run each amplifier all the way back to the battery.
For RCA cables, I also like Stinger. If you have a full JL system, you should probably get JL RCAs too because it will just look cool. If you need a 6 channel RCA, Wet Sounds has nice 6 channel RCA cables. But, for standard 2 channel RCAs, go with Stinger.
For circuit breakers, I like JL Audio circuit breakers becuase they have more options that allow you to ensure you have the right breaker for your amplifier.