Marine Stereos: Where do You Start?
If you have a boat and are looking to upgrade or add a stereo system, it can be intimidating. If you are not an, "Audio guy," figuring out where to start and how to do things can be confusing and difficult. We have put together a guide to help you pick the right products for your both your boat and your budget.
What is currently in your boat? Do you have any stereo components at all? Are there any holes where stereo components might have been but they have been removed or taken out?
If your boat has never had a stereo, there are two ways in which you can add a stereo. You can add a head unit, an amplifier, speakers, tower speakers, amplifiers, subwoofers, wiring, LED lights, and everything else to build a complete stereo system from the ground up. If your boat has never had a stereo, this will likely involve cutting holes, running wires, and to be honest, it will be a decent project.
The second option is to go with a soundbar. A soundbar will allow you to quickly and easily add a stereo to your boat without requiring you to cut holes in the hull. The soundbars can mount to flat surfaces, square tubing, or round tubing to give you speakers that are up and out of the way, that will withstand the elements, and provide the volume and clarity you need to hear over wind, water, and engine noise, as long as you aren't going too fast and you don't need to broadcast to someone you are towing.
- Head Unit
- Tower Speakers
Does your boat currently have a head unit? If your boat currently has a head unit, are you happy with it? If so, don't mess with it. If not, what shape is it? Is it a DIN size unit that measures 2" x 7" or does it fit a different form factor?
Your speakers are probably the most important component of your boat's stereo system. There are so many options when it comes to marine speakers. Here at MarineStereo.com, we specialize in high quality speakers and for lack of a better desceription, "We only sell the good stuff."
When thinking about speakers, first determine how many speakers your boat currently has. Are you okay with this number? Do you want to add more? Also realize that if you add more speakers, you may need to add or upgrade your amplifier if you already have one?
The most popular speakers are 6.5" marine spaekers. 6.5" speakers come standard on most modern boats. Many years ago it would have been 6x9 marine speakers. When it comes to the speaker sizes in yoru boat, typically the bigger the speakers, the better they sound. The larger 7.7", 8", 8.8" and even 10" speakers handle more power, have larger cones, and can play louder. The larger speakers also give you more mid-bass response. Although the mid-bass of the larger speakers is not the same as a subwoofer, the larger speakers outperform the 6.5" models. The issue with the larger speakers is the physical space. Many boats don't have the room on the mounting surface to fit the larger outside diameter of the larger speakers. Also, the larger speakers require more mounting depth clearance. If you are replacing existing speakers and you have the space, budget, and power for larger speakers, we recommend going with the larger speakers. If cutting larger holes sound like more work than you are willing to do, stick with what you got, get some good speakers, and we promise you will love them.
Most marine speakers today are available with LEDs or come standard with LEDs. The LED marine speakers illuminate the cone and look super cool. Most speakers have RGB LEDs that you can wire to static colors, or you can use an RGB LED controller to program them to quickly and easily change colors, set them to flash, and select various modes that both flash and cycle between various colors and programs. With RGB LEDs speakers, you do need to wire the LEDs independently of the speaker wires and the LEDs run on 12V DC power.
Does your boat have a tower? Do you use your boat to tow? Do you just want to broadcast your music to everyone else because you are partying, you are having a good time, and you want everyone to know that your stereo system kicks ass? If the answer to any of those questions is, "Yes", you will want to add some tower speakers to your boat. Tower speakers are nice because they mount up high, out of the way, and they play loud and far. If you want maximum volume and distance, be sure to checkout our selection of horn loaded tower speakers. For a complete breakdown of the tower speaker options, check out our best marine tower speakers article where we tell you which are our favorites for each size and tweeter style.Things to consider when picking out your tower speakers
- How are you mounting them? What is the tube size? Are you using an OEM tower adapter?
- Horn tweeter tower speakers or coaxial?
- What size tower speakers? 6.5"? 8"? 9"? 10"? 11"?
Adding a subwoofer to your boat will give you the sub-bass response you want and need to fill out the bottom end of your music and give you true, full range response. On a boat, adding a subwoofer adds bass, but a subwoofer doesn't add bass to a boat like it does to a car. In a car, you get cabin boost from the doors, roof, windows, and all of the other surfaces which help keep that pressure in. On a boat, you are in an open air environment. You dont have a roof and windows to keep those sound waves trapped. The subwoofers on a boat are going to give you the bass response you want for sound quality, but they are not going to rattle and give you the bass that you can feel in your chest unless you have alot of subwoofers, or Wet Sounds REVO XXX subwoofers and large amplifiers. Most boat subwoofers are designed for free-air, or infinite baffle applications. The most popular size is a 10". Most boats might have 1 or 2 subwoofers. Of course there are boats with more than 2, but those are usually boats that have been dropped off at a stereo shop and the price tag is usually pretty high.
The marine amplifiers on your boat are the second critical component to your boat's stereo system. Once you know the number of speakers, tower speakers, and subwoofers, you can determine how you want to power them all. On a boat, we recommend keeping your amplifiers to a 4 ohm load in order to limit the current drain on the charging system and to also help the amplifiers run as cool as possible. Usually when you are out on your boat, the sun is shining and it's warm. If you are playing your stereo loud for extended periods, the amplifier is going to pull some current and heat up. We want to minimize that heat to limit distortion and to prevent the amplifier from shutting down.
There are two sizes of marine amplifiers, your standard, full-size amplifiers and also compact, mini amplifiers. The mini amplifiers deliver tons of power per square inch of mounting space, but they don't have the surface area and the mass to disspiate heat. Amps like the Rockford Fosgate Power Mini, JL Audio MX, Wet Sounds STX Micro, and Kicker PX are all amazing, but if you like your music loud and you are out on the water all day in the summer, you may wnat to think about a full size amplifier. It sucks when you are having a great time and the stereo is blasting to soundtrack to your party, and then "UUuuuughh," your stereo just shut off because the amps got too hot and went into protect mode. Not to say the mini amps are not amazing because they are, but let's say your are out on a lake in July, you want to consider these things.
If you need help finding the perfect marine amp, check out our best marine amps article where we break them down by brand, size, and number of channels.
Things to consider when deciding about amplifiers
- How much power can my speakers handle?
- How many coaxial speakers do you have?
- How many tower speakers do you have?
- If you have tower speakers, do they need significantly more power than your coaxial speakers and need their own amplifier?
- How many subwoofer do you have?
- Do you need a separate amplifier for your subwoofers?
- You need amp wiring kits. How far is each amplifier from the battery?
- How long of RCA cables do you need to run from your head unit to your amplifiers?
- You usually need 1 amp wiring kit and 1 circuit breaker for each amplifier.
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