Marine audio and boat stereo systems are a little different than standard land-based audio and stereo system operation mainly due to two factors: first, the components must be able to withstand the harsh conditions of being on the water for the duration of their lifespan, and second, they must contend with the ambient background noise of the outdoor environment. Several brands have been specializing in these products for years, including KICKER Marine Audio, JL Audio, FUSION and Rockford Fosgate, four of the top leaders in marine sound systems and audio components for boats. Marine audio is a unique market and requires special considerations, which is why some brands have been more successful at it than others. If you’re in the market for new marine audio systems or components, these brands are sure to deliver.
Other companies specialize in certain components of your boat’s sound system, from waterproof speakers to heavy-duty, marine grade wiring and encasements. Of course, you can always opt to go the bluetooth-controlled, waterproof portable speaker route if you don’t want to install a permanent sound system on your boat. Keep reading to learn more about what’s on the market and how to decide what’s best for your boat sound system installation – or your next audio upgrade.
Above: Tower speakers onboard a 2022 Mastercraft NXT24. Photo by Semper Speed And Marine in Madera, CA.
How to Choose the Best Marine Stereo Systems
Unlike a car stereo, a boat’s marine stereo system has a lot more environmental noise to compete with. Therefore, the sound and speakers need to be of a much higher quality and able to produce a better sound that carries further so that you can enjoy the music outdoors, on the water. The only thing worse than not having music is having terrible-sounding music out on the water, right? When you invest in a premium audio system designed specifically for boats and marine use, you’ll avoid that issue for the most part.
Of course, you still have to make sure that you choose a quality marine stereo system. They aren’t all created equally, and there are several features and types of systems to consider. Plus, aside from JL, KICKER Marine Audio and FUSION, there are other audio brands out there that you might be looking at, and you’ll have to compare them to see which solution best fits your needs.
Here are some important things to factor into your decision:
- Do you need a full system or just certain components?
- Does your current control station (helm) have an existing enclosure that will fit a different size head unit
- Does your boat and/or helm station already have certain sound system features built in?
- What are the limits of your electrical system?
- What features do you want and need? (i.e. remote control, bluetooth, surround sound, etc)
- What type of use will your sound system get?
- What is your budget?
- Is it worth spending more on a premium system? (Consider lifespan and replacement costs)
- Do you need a certain number of speakers? (For example, 2 tower, 2 stern, 2 bow and a sub)
- How will you decide speaker placement? (Will you cut holes in fiberglass, or mount with screws?)
- What amplifier and wattage is best for your electrical system and speaker choices?
- What wattage speakers (and ohms) work with your amplifier?
- Do you want subwoofers and if so, what size can you fit? (And will you cut holes?)
- Is your wiring up to snuff for the marine environment?
- How will you keep the audio connections protected from salt water and other elements?
The best solution, of course, is to work with a boat audio company that understands the unique nature of marine audio needs and can help you figure out what’s going to be best and install your system for you. Companies like KICKER Marine Audio work with professional installers in there network of authorized dealers who can be trusted to install your boat sound system for you carefully and correctly, at a cost.
Although installing a marine audio system is a DIY project that some very handy people can handle themselves, it requires a good understanding of the basics in terms of stereo system installation and wiring and it can be a daunting task for many boat owners. Some of the stock audio systems that come on certain new boats today can leave something to be desired though, so you may also consider how you can do an easy DIY upgrade to what you already have onboard your boat now.
Marine Sound System Manufacturers And Speaker Brands
Believe it or not, there are still some boat builders, dealers and even buyers that consider the boat stereo an afterthought on a vessel, and don’t put much more than a basic system in place. This is why so many people choose aftermarket upgrades from brands like JL Audio, FUSION and KICKER to name a few. Let’s take a closer look at some of the leading brands in the world of marine audio and what they offer.
KICKER Marine Audio
KICKER Marine manufactures high performance audio equipment for boats. Their products range from subwoofers and enclosures to media centers, amplifiers and tower systems. Their line up is built to endure the elements on the water while delivering pristine, high-fidelity audio quality and is a popular choice for boaters looking to upgrade boat speakers and stereos with high-end, premium audio components. KICKER Marine Audio speakers feature injection-molded cones and tough Santoprene® surround – both of which are UV-treated to combat the weather they are exposed to. Perhaps best known for their completely weather-proof marine subwoofers that ruggedly constructed to resist UV damage and salt-water corrosion, KICKER also offers customizations with LED grilles and 7 different lighting colors to choose from. Pair that with a KMLC LED controller and you’ll get 20 different total colors across 19 lighting modes.
Founded in 1973, KICKER began as a two-man operation out of a small garage, where founder Steve Irby and his partners built mobile-stereo enclosures by hand. The company is based in Stillwater, Oklahoma and continues to grow and help design and construct products that deliver concert-like audio quality with amazing bass and accurate sound for boats and outdoor vehicles.
Lifestyle products sold under the KICKER brand name include:
- Bullfrog™ Wireless Outdoor Speaker;
- Amphitheater™ BT2 Speaker System;
- KPw2 and KPM50 Wireless Speakers;
- Tabor™ Bluetooth Wireless and Cush™ Talk Headphones;
- EB300 Bluetooth In-Ear Headset;
- Microfit™ and Flow In-Ear Headsets
JL Audio has been in the business of portable and aftermarket audio for decades. They’ve specifically worked with marine audio in an attempt to provide the best sound solutions. Their focus is on subwoofers and speakers that are designed to overcome the low-frequency noise that powerboats and outboards are known for. Speakers alone cannot drown out the noise of an average boat, which is why JL works on not only improving their speakers but adding premium subwoofers to their audio systems.
JL Audio sells a full selection of marine audio components, including enclosed speakers and subwoofers, traditional speaker systems, subwoofers, and source units that include everything from standard audio features to premium integrated media software and applications for all kinds of enjoyment. Many newer systems even come standard with built-in Bluetooth or WiFi technology for connectivity out on the water with fewer wires and cables.
Everything at JL Audio is made with marine-grade materials and with boaters in mind. They aren’t just slapping a marine label on car audio products, and when you install one of their systems on your boat, you’ll know that right away. Their premium sound systems are designed to give you the perfect sound despite all the ambient noise of boating and every feature is created with the convenience and entertainment of boaters and their family and friends in mind. From integrated technology to premium construction with marine-friendly materials, it’s all about giving boaters the best in audio and JL has a solution for everyone.
FUSION is another big brand in marine audio, committed to innovation and giving people the best resources that they can provide. They have a variety of premium sound systems, including full systems, individual units, speakers and subwoofers, amps, and more. The company was founded in 1998 as a car audio dealer but quickly evolved into marine audio over the years to support new opportunities and offer their expertise in creating premium audio components that are designed for optimal enjoyment.
FUSION is also big on sustainability, creating components without making a huge environmental impact and making sure that compliance and sustainability are at the forefront of all of their marine audio components. They have a passion for watersports and a drive for adventure to combine with their love of premium audio, helping drive the brand into the future of marine audio solutions.
Plus, the brand is committed to its customers and making sure that it provides everyone with the solutions that they need. This is perhaps part of the reason for their success—they want to give people what they want, and that’s exactly what they do. You can find everything that you want in a FUSION system, from simple-yet-functional radios to premium audio systems to complete the perfect party yacht and everything in between.
Wet Sounds Audio is a prominent brand specializing in marine-grade audio systems. They are known for designing and manufacturing high-quality audio equipment that can withstand the harsh conditions often encountered in marine environments, such as exposure to water, salt, and sun. The company was founded in 2005 with a mission to provide exceptional audio experiences for boating and outdoor enthusiasts. Wetsounds Audio offers a wide range of products, including marine speakers, subwoofers, amplifiers, and soundbars, specifically engineered to deliver powerful and clear sound on boats, yachts, and other watercraft. Wetsounds Audio has gained a strong reputation among boating enthusiasts, professional wakeboarders, and marine audio installers for their commitment to quality and performance. Their products are often considered top-of-the-line within the marine audio industry, and they have won numerous awards for their innovative designs and exceptional sound reproduction.
Rockford Fosgate Marine Products
Rockford Fosgate is another player in the world of marine audio. Perhaps best known in the boating world for their marine tower speakers that allow owners to easily mount speakers up high on their boat, so wake riders being towed behind the vessel can hear the tunes. These canon-like tower speakers project sound out further than many other types of speakers, allowing the music to travel over the water better. They are also convenient as a far-reaching PA system if you wish to communicate with other boats on the water near you without a VHF radio. Tower speakers come in sizes from 5 inches to up to 12 inches or more and can come in a variety of colors with LED lights. Rocker Fosgate has some pretty snazzy loaded speakers that can be custom ordered to fit the color schemes and styles of many wakeboats and other yachts.
Based in Tempe, Arizona, Rocker Fosgate has built a fanatical following by pioneering high performance audio for cars and boats. The company specializes in what they call “sound built for speed”, whether it’s off-road vehicles and ATVs, small boats or large yachts.
Don’t Skimp On Your Audio System!
You’re not likely boating because it’s a chore, it’s supposed to be fun. Even if you run a boat for work, you still want to be able to enjoy the tunes and hear them well. If you’re one of the millions of people that own a pleasure boat, it’s clearly something that you enjoy doing. Therefore, you should enjoy every aspect of it, including the ability to listen to music or get other entertainment while you’re out on the water. Don’t settle for a subpar system just because you think the radio or speakers aren’t that important.
Think about how much you listen to your car radio or music at home—of course, you’re going to want a high-quality, functional radio on your boat. Keep these things in mind, and stick with these two brands, and you’ll never be disappointed with your choice in marine audio systems.
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