Sailing can become repetitive and boring when the waters are monotonous, and you don't have a boat audio system to keep yourself engaged.
The better the entertainment options, the more engaging the on-deck experience. Whether you captain solo or have guests on deck, one of the best ways to make the sailing experience more entertaining is to have a high-quality Marine Stereo Setup.
The best boat audio systems, according to our assessment, are the BOSS Audio Systems MGR350B Marine Gauge Receiver for its boat dash compatibility, Infinity PRV250 AM/FM/BT Stereo Receiver for its budget-friendliness, and Kenwood KMR-D768BT Marine Receiver for its wide range of input options.
In this article, you will learn more about each of these systems, including their pros and cons, as well as the best contexts for their purchase. Moreover, you will learn about other options so you can make an informed choice. Towards the end, we will go over the information you need to know regardless of the stereo setup you get, including the best practices for setting up an audio system.
Fusion Entertainment MS-RA70 Marine Entertainment System
Fusion Entertainment MS-RA70 offers preferred iPod touch connectivity, but for people who are surprised to learn that Apple still makes iPods, there are multiple ways to play music on the MS-RA70 system. The product replaces a car-stereo-sized receiver or a DIN-sized radio. If your boat already has the place for a DIN-sized radio on the boat dash panel, then this system becomes pretty easy to install.
Given that the stereo looks like a traditional car stereo and fits in a car dashboard, one might wonder why it is positioned as a marine entertainment system. It allows you to connect to iPhone or Android devices via Bluetooth and has aux-input, making it compatible with almost any device that has a 3 mm audio jack. The system is AM and FM enabled, which can be a good backup source for music when your audio source breaks down.
It has dual speaker zones so you can play audio content through the pre-out and the sub-out, with the subwoofers emphasizing the bass frequencies. The number of speakers is infinitely scalable in theory, with a practical limit being around six speakers. As long as you have enough amplifiers, you can keep adding as many speakers as your boat needs.
Ease of Installation
The MS-RA70 system's greatest advantage is the ease of its installation. If you have any experience with car stereos or even setting up speakers with a home theater amplifier, setting up this receiver will be pretty straightforward.
You can pair your device with the system via Bluetooth or use an Aux cable to play the music via MS-RA70 stereo. Its outlet can be connected directly to the speakers or to an amplifier that branches out to a larger number of speakers.
Another advantage of getting MS-RA70 is that you don't have to use it for your boat. If you upgrade to a more expensive system in the future, you can remove this receiver from your boat and add it to your car. In fact, it is Amazon's product of choice for the Car Audio Receivers category.
The stereo system's ability to withstand direct jets of water makes it beyond splash-proof. You don't have to worry about the waters you sail as well as the beverages you hold while captaining the vessel. It can be installed in a boat dash that doesn't have the same level of insulation as a larger yacht. Still, it is wise not to install the MS-RA70 receiver in a space with significant water exposure.
Boat owners installing their first stereo system often prefer this model because it is wallet-friendly enough to be an experiment. It allows you to easily add two to four speakers with an almost universal audio-receiving interface. As mentioned above, you can reuse or resell it as a car stereo if it doesn't meet your expectations.
Drawbacks of MS-RA70 Marine Entertainment System
Having established the key features that might make you want to buy this product, let's go over the drawbacks you must be aware of before purchasing it.
- Interface limitations - To get a functioning smart interface (Apple or Android), you need a unidock or a USB cable mount with a smart device like a tab. These devices usually don't have the same water resistance as the MS-RA70.
- Volume control limits - While you can increase or decrease the volume of music being played via this system, your phone's volume buttons might not work. If using the stereo system controls is a dealbreaker, you should not get this stereo, especially if you have an iPhone.
With 236 reviews and ratings, this system has an average rating of 4.7 stars. That's a decent ranking out of 5 stars which can be explained by its budget-friendliness, ease of installation, and almost universal input compatibility. While the setup is iPod friendly, it doesn't let iPhones connected via Bluetooth dictate the volume.
It also requires a unidock and smart device to offer an easy-to-use interface. In the absence of that, it is a good water-resistant aux and Bluetooth input with radio backup. All in all, it is a great entry point into Marine stereo setups.
BOSS Audio Systems MGR350B Marine Gauge Receiver
If you feel like your boat isn't properly sheltered for a high-priced electronic setup, then MGR350B Marine Gauge Receiver might be the sturdy, weatherproof option for your audio entertainment. It is a Bluetooth receiver that can connect with iPhones, Android smartphones, smart tablets, and Bluetooth-enabled MP3 players. For boats used by a revolving door of guests, Bluetooth connectivity offers an easy way to handle sound. Here are some of the key features of this sound system.
Its circular design makes it seem like it belongs on a modern boat dash. Most boats made since 2010 have circular gauges that resemble this receiver. It also has a sleek look that contrasts mahogany and wooden themes, making the receiver look pre-fitted.
Waterproofing and Weatherproofing
What makes it ideal for boats and small yachts is its IPX6 water-resistance and top-tier weatherproofing. An IPX6 rating indicates that the product can resist strong jets of water from any direction. And its weather resistance includes standing up to harsh sunlight as well as sudden changes in temperature. The MGR350B is far from fragile and can operate even when the weather is too disruptive for Bluetooth waves.
When the weather is too windy for Bluetooth or your device's Bluetooth functionality is compromised, you can use a USB cable or smart flash drive to play music with the MGR350B receiver. The USB compatibility also extends the music library beyond the content on your smartphone.
Multiple Preamp Outputs
The good news is that you can connect the output to multiple amplifiers, which makes the potential number of speakers in your system pretty scalable. There's a flip side, though. If you don't fancy yourself a tech-wizard, you might be right to worry about connecting this receiver to your speakers or subwoofers. It is not as simple for this system as it is for a few other products on this list.
You can connect the front or rear output preamps to an amplifier and a consequent speaker circuit. Plugging cables directly from this receiver to passive speakers will not work. There is an option to buy MGR350B with speakers. That package is easier to set up, with everything you need in one place.
Drawbacks of MGR350B Bluetooth Audio Receiver
This audio receiver isn't positioned by Boss as the best marine audio system, so it has its limitations. Here are some of the most significant ones.
- Input limitations - There is no AUX or DVD input, which can restrict your music library. Even its USB input is a USB 1.0 port, which is not as common as the regular USB (USB 2.0).
- Difficult to set up - Unless you get this receiver along with its pre-packaged speakers, it can be difficult to set up.
Having accumulated over 4,600 reviews, this product clearly sells a lot more units than some of the options covered in this post. It has a global average rating of 4.5 out of 5 stars and a park-specific rating of 4.4 stars for its ease of installation.
This shows that even though its setup difficulty is one of its greatest drawbacks, it is still pretty nominal. If you get this, you're very likely to use only the Bluetooth feature. Customers have given its Bluetooth connectivity a 4.3-star rating. Overall, it is a very durable and good-looking stereo receiver that can blend with your pre-existing dash gauges.
Sony DXS-M5511BT Marine Digital Media Receiver
For those who want a satellite radio-ready multi-input audio received, the Sony DXS-M5511BT Digital receiver is an excellent option mainly because of its low-effort installation and straightforward music playback interface. While its weatherproofing leaves a lot to be desired, its functionality makes up for it. Here are some of the key features of the DXS-M5511BT unit.
Aux, Bluetooth, and USB input
When you get a digital media receiver, you want it to support as many input options as possible, so there is a backup method of feeding music to your speakers when one of the inputs fails. If your USB cable glitches, you can use the Aux cord. If the cord doesn't work, you can resort to Bluetooth connectivity. A higher number of input channels also translates to a larger library of music you can play on your boat.
Multiple File Format Support
You might look at physical input connectivity and overlook the file format support. The hardware compatibility, like an Aux input or a USB port, allows the system to access files on your devices. However, the system must have the ability to play those files. Most receive support for MP3 playback, but this one can play MP3, WAV, WMA, and FLAC files. If the file is an audio one, this receiver can probably play it.
Some options in this post have AM and FM radio compatibility. But if you're fond of internet radio services like SiriusXM, the DXS-M5511BT is a better option as it allows you to directly access your SiriusXM feed from the receiver. For other receivers, you would need to connect to the SiriusXM stream on your phone and use the phone connectivity to play the radio on your boat.
Comes with Speakers
Whenever a stereo system comes with speakers, you must assume that it is easier to set up. The likelihood of speaker-compatibility errors is the highest when you purchase the speakers and the stereo separately. This media setup includes two speakers and has room to support more. If you have a small boat that needs above-average audio in the shortest timespan, the Sony DXS-M5511BT is a good option.
The Marine Stereo receiver is not capable of resisting water as much as the options discussed earlier, but it is still pretty splashproof. As per IPX grading, an IPX5 appliance or device can withstand a consistent low-pressure stream of water. For most sailing purposing, this kind of waterproofing is sufficient for dash gadgets.
Drawbacks of Sony DXS-M5511BT
With the benefits covered in sufficient detail, let's look at some of the key disadvantages of getting this system for your boat.
- Expensive - While the stereo system is relatively above average, its features do not justify its price.
- Relatively poor waterproofing - Most well-protected marine audio setups feature an IPX6 receiver. This one has an IPX5 rating, which means higher pressure jets of water can damage the stereo receiver.
Sony DXS-M5511BT is a slightly above-average stereo system that comes as close to an instant plug-and-play setup as marine stereo systems get. It has SiriusXM support that you're not likely to use unless you are a pre-existing subscriber of the internet radio service.
Its waterproofing is relatively weaker than other options here but is sufficient for a boat audio system. It comes with cone speakers and is quite easy to set up, which is why it has an average rating of 4.1 out of 5 stars for its ease of installation. Overall, its global average stands at 4.4 out of 5 stars.
Infinity PRV250 AM/FM/BT Stereo Receiver
For budget-conscious shoppers, a versatile device like the Infinity PRV250 Stereo Receiver can be a smart investment. It is compact enough to fit on a heavy bike and resilient enough to power the audio setup on a medium-sized boat. This receiver is primarily a radio player, with other input options being secondary functions. Here are a few things you can expect when you get a PRV250 unit.
Value for Money
PRV250 is a compact unit that commands a compact price, making it an ideal debut receiver for a small boat. It can support two speakers without compromising sound quality or producing uneven wattage. Since most small boat setups use two cone speakers, one can use this system to power the audio without spending too much on scalable systems.
Strong Radio Reception
While the PRV250 unit has the ability to play content from a USB or a Bluetooth audio source, it is a radio receiver first. Consequently, it has fine-tuning abilities that translate to stronger signal reception. If you like the music played on the radio, you don't even need to have a catalog of songs to play when you're on the boat.
Bluetooth and USB Compatibility
No matter how good the AM and FM channels' song selection is, it is better to have the option to play offline music. The Bluetooth and USB input options allow you to play music from your smartphone, tablet, or MP3 player. Anyone you invite on your yacht also has the option to play the music they like because Bluetooth is almost universal across all media-playing devices.
Despite being positioned primarily for cars and smaller vehicles, this system has higher waterproofing than some of the stereo receivers marketed as boat-friendly. With IPX6 grade water resistance, this unit can withstand strong jets of water. That means you don't have to worry about high tide or rain affecting this receiver's functionality.
Drawbacks of PRV250 Stereo Receiver
One could extend the list of this receiver's limitations, but keeping in mind that it is meant to be an entry-level gadget, there are only a few things that it leaves to be desired. Below are the context-specific drawbacks of this stereo receiver.
- Unreliable Bluetooth - a small percentage of this product's customers have complained about its Bluetooth not working smoothly.
- Lack of weatherproofing - While the stereo system resists water damage within reason, it doesn't stand up to harsh sunlight.
- No aux capabilities - The PRV250 Receiver is not aux-friendly, which limits you to the USB and Bluetooth input options.
This stereo receiver is likely to keep radio listeners happy. It supports Bluetooth connectivity, so almost any song on your smartphone library can be played via its speakers. You can easily set up two speakers in the salon or the cabin based on your preferences.
However, if you want to set up an elaborate home-theatre-style audio experience, this product falls short. It has a 4.4-star average rating, with its ease of installation being its highest-rated feature. Ultimately, it is excellent for its price-point through an aux input would have made it perfect.
Kenwood KMR-D768BT Marine Receiver with Built-in Bluetooth
In case you want to go old-school with your marine music experience, Kenwood KMR-D768BT Marine Audio System is a great stereo system. It can play music directly off an audio CD. Moreover, it has Bluetooth, USB, and iPod connectivity, making it the most versatile audio receiver covered in this post. Let's look at some of the advantages of getting this Kenwood receiver for your boat.
Scalable Speaker Connectivity
Depending on whether you use amplifiers and how many of them are on your marine vessel, you can add multiple speakers to a stereo system powered by the audio this unit receives. It has a 50-watt output that is standard for marine audio receivers and the ability to play audio directly over Bluetooth speakers.
For SiriusXM subscribers, this unit offers the ability to directly access the network stream. But to access it, one must have an SXV300v1 tuner and an antenna. Otherwise, the receiver will not be able to tap into the stream. Provided that you have the tuner, this receiver allows you to play SiriusXM.
Diverse Input Options
SXV300v1 Tuner and Antenna aren't necessary mainly because this system comes pre-equipped with a broad range of input options. Not only can you connect your smartphone to it via Bluetooth, but you can also connect multiple phones to it while playing music from a third source like an audio CD.
Multiple File Format Support
When a stereo system can support multiple sources of audio, it becomes crucial for it to be able to play more than MP3 files. This receiver can play WAV, WMA, AAC, and FLAC files in addition to MP3s. This means you don't have to be disappointed after downloading content only to find it unplayable in your boat audio system.
Connect Multiple Phones
While it isn't prudent to play multiple audio files from different sources at once, it helps to have different inputs ready in case the audio-playing privileges need to be shared. You can connect more than one phone with this system, which allows you to have your phone as the primary audio source while allowing guests to connect their devices to the receiver.
Even though wife-free installation is sub-optimal, it is possible with this Bluetooth-enabled receiver. You can connect wireless speakers to this stereo system so that the only wiring in your audio system is the one that connects the receiver to its power source. This kind of setup works for the cabin and is not effective for long-range use.
Drawbacks of Kenwood KMR-D768BT
While the advantages of this stereo device make it look like a no-brainer, it has a glaring drawback and a minor secondary disadvantage that can dissuade you from buying it. So, before you make your purchasing decision, you must be aware of the following.
- Needs a marine water guard - This stereo receiver is not waterproof and requires a marine water guard before it can be taken on unpredictable waters. Fortunately, the water guard is pretty inexpensive.
- It isn't aesthetically appropriate for a boat dash - Since it accepts CDs, one cannot expect it to be compact. Its rectangular shape is reminiscent of old car stereos, and it looks out of place on a boat dash. If dash aesthetics matter to you, you might want to get a circular receiver.
Rockford Fosgate PMX-2 Digital Media Receiver
When you want the quickest purchase-to-setup audio system, you should get a tuner/receiver that also features an amplifier. The Rockford Fosgate PMX-2 Punch Media Receiver doesn't require an external amplifier to function. It can be directly connected to a speaker or a split-jack and multiple speakers for audio playback. But this is far from its only advantage. Here are the key perks of the PMX-2 receiver.
2.7-Inch Full-Color Display
What use is a 2.7-inch screen if it gets damaged? Fortunately, the PMX-2 receiver is quite durable against the elements. It is weatherproof to the point of reliable resisting dust and UV-light damage. It is also less likely to corrode or get damaged because of vibration.
The latter is quite important in motorized vessels. Motor operations can sometimes undo the internal circuitry of fragile stereo systems. This one withstands vibration to the point of Rockford actually bragging about its durability.
As important as element and sunlight resistance are, a marine stereo system must be water-resistant first. IPX6 rating is the waterproofing tier where a high-pressure jet of water does not damage a product. It is not a unique advantage of this stereo receiver but is a necessary feature on a marine audio system purchaser's checklist.
Easy to Mount in a 3” Hole
There is only one other stereo unit that is as good at blending into the boat dash as the PMX-2, and it is the BOSS MGR350B. PMX-2 also fits in the gauge docking hole and looks like it were pre-fitted. This mounting hole compatibility has earned it a 4.7-star feature rating for its ease of installation.
EQ and Subwoofer Level Control
Finally, the feature that makes this stereo system stand apart from the rest is that it allows you to manipulate the audio. With subwoofer control, you can increase or decrease the level of bass frequencies, while the EQ control allows you to change the quality of the audio mix. This is the closest an aux-cord controller comes to being a DJ.
Drawbacks of the PMX-2 System
While this stereo receiver has plenty to like, it also has a few things that might disappoint some buyers. To avoid such surprises, you should be aware of the following drawbacks of this unit:
- No aux input - If an aux cable is all you use to feed songs to an amplifier/receiver, then you need to get comfortable with USB input or must opt for an alternative system.
- Volume control issues - The rear RCAs of this system are mono and have two settings: subwoofer and maximum output. Still, the front-connected and source audio volume can be manipulated.
What to Look For in a Boat Audio System?
The audio system transforms your boat from a mode of transport to a true leisure vessel. To make sure that your boat audio system performs better than a Bluetooth speaker in an open-air environment, you must know the best features for marine stereo setups.
Depending on how noisy the environment is and how large your vessel is, you will need 4 to 8 speakers to have a truly high-quality audio entertainment experience. You must look for multiple output channels and preamps so you have the option to add more speakers even if you don't add more than two initially.
The stereo system should have an IPX5 water resistance at minimum and IPX6, ideally, for it to be safe when sailing. In the absence of such waterproofing, you'll need a marine guard for the stereo receiver for risk-free operation. Most stereo setups marketed as boat audio systems are waterproof, but you must look for the exact water-resistance rating on their sales page or packaging.
Sometimes this is lumped under weatherproofing, but UV resistance helps the stereo setup last in harsh sunlight and constant exposure to ultraviolet rays. It is not necessary for mostly cloudy regions, but coasts that receive plenty of sunlight have high-enough UV-related wear and tear on electronics. You can decide how relevant this feature is based on your geography.
Multiple Connectivity Options
Murphy's Law suggests that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. For your marine stereo, it means that sooner or later, an audio input will fail mid-sailing. Having multiple connection capabilities means the stereo receiver doesn't become useless when one input fails. The system should support Bluetooth and at least one other input (aux or USB). An ideal receiver should have Bluetooth, Radio, Aux, and USB connection capabilities.
It might seem like the visual aspect of an audio system is not important. However, it is relevant for navigation purposes. If you're out in the sun and are unable to check the volume level, song name, or the device the stereo is connected to, you're going to spend more time squinting than sailing.
You should opt for a system that has a very bring and clear screen or one that seeds all control to the input screen (like the smartphone). Do not settle for a stereo that you cannot figure out in harsh sunlight.
About THE AUTHOR
I have a deep love of houseboating and the life-changing experiences houseboating has brought into my life. I’ve been going to Lake Powell on our family’s houseboat for over 30 years and have made many great memories, first as a child and now as a parent. My family has a passion for helping others have similar fun, safe experiences on their houseboat.Read More About Brian Samson