In this article: We'll review our best marine grade boat head unit picks on the market and provide you with quick reviews, photos, opinion and price comparisons for each to help you save money on the boat stereo you want!
Marine grade and boat-specific head units have come a long way in the past few years. Big advances in waterproofing and protection of delicate circuitry have led to robust stereos that can put out high quality sound all day long while withstanding the elements. And new connectivity options have completely changed the way we listen to music onboard.
Boat stereos are different because they’re built to marine specifications. That means they use different construction and different materials to protect the electronics from ultra-violet rays from being outside all the time, and obviously from water. You might be surprised by what a waterproof head unit can withstand.
You’re not always stuck with the factory stereo in your boat. There are tons of options these days to upgrade your head unit. By adding one of the latest aftermarket head units, you can increase connectivity like adding Bluetooth or USB options, add needed power, and totally change the character of your boat.
If you hold high expectations for the audio in your car, why should it be any different for your boat? A marine head unit is no good without a really good set of boat speakers. Check out our review of the best marine speakers and put together the ultimate setup for the river and lake.
Here Are Our Best Marine Grade Boat Stereos & Head Units in 2023
- Best Overall Boat Stereo: Sony DSXM55BT
- Best Boat Head Unit for Zone Control: Fusion MS-RA770
- Best Single DIN Boat Head Unit: Kenwood KMR-M332BT
- Best Gauge Mounted Boat Stereo: Wet Sounds WS-MC-2
- Runner Up, Best Gauge Mounted Boat Head Unit: Clarion GR10BT
- Best Technology: Wet Sounds WS-MC1
- Best Looking & High Tech Boat Stereo: Clarion CMM-30
- Budget Marine Grade Head Unit: Pyle PLMR23BTW
Best Overall Boat Stereo
Sony DSXM55BT Quick Review
Sony makes some of the best car stereos on the market, so it makes total sense that the top single-din stereo on our list is one of their products. This stereo is so good, this is the second year it’s made the top of the list. There are several good reasons we like this stereo so much.
The marine-level protections Sony incorporated into this head unit makes it nearly impervious to the elements. That’s essential for a stereo installed in your boat. The last thing you want is a stereo that is supposed to hold up only to have it fail because of a little moisture. This unit has a reputation for tolerating the environment.
Another thing that we love about the Sony DSX-M55BT is the full suite of modern connectivity options. Everyone knows that CDs are basically dead. Why would you want to install a stereo in your boat with antiquated technology? Bluetooth connectivity lets you rock your favorite playlist. A front USB even allows you to connect your iPod, iPhone, or Android device for endless summer playlists.
A built-in Dynamic Reality Amplifier helps to produce plenty of power, while Sony-specific Mega Bass technology gets the lows low without distortion. Your day on the water gets even better with the included remote control. The two 2-volt pre-outs and a subwoofer pre-out make it easy to expand with an amplifier and a bass speaker.
- Modern Connectivity
- Great Sounding Stereo
- Good Aesthetics
- The Blue LED light might not match the interior lighting of your boat
Best Boat Head Unit for Zone Control
- Marine digital media receiver with
- Built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth
- 4.3″ capacitive touch glass LCD color display
- 4-zone control
- Inputs: rear USB port; two stereo AUX inputs; digital optical input
- Outputs: 4-zone audio (line outs require separate amplification)
- 26 watts RMS/70 peak x 4 channels
Fusion MS-RA770 Quick Review
Fusion's MS-RA770 is ahead of the game in a number of ways. For one, it's the first touchscreen marine-grade head unit in the industry. It's 4.3″ capacitive touch glass display is sleek but it also offers a new way to interact with your music and media on your boat. It's a digital media receiver, so it doesn't take CDs, but it's also one of the only head units on the market that also offers WiFi connectivity and Apple AirPlay. So in addition to the standard Bluetooth connectivity that can be limited in range, you can also hook into the unit's WiFi (not internet..) while you're out on the water and stream your music from your iPhone via AirPlay. The benefit to this is distance. We tested this feature out in our MS-RA770 First Look Review and tested it at upwards of 50-60ft away with no issues, where Bluetooth only would last about 20-30.
This unit is marked as the “Best for Zone Control” too because of it's ability to almost fully customize up to 4 separate zones. In our test, we used the zones to separate between our interior speakers, tower speakers, and marine subwoofer so that we could easily control the levels independently. Additionally, if you combine this head unit with Fusion's Link App on your phone along with speakers and an amplifier from Fusion, you can leverage Fusion's custom DSP profiles that are created by the Fusion engineers to be tailored to the amplifier, speaker and the setting that the speaker is in. You can read up more about this in our First Look Review, but it's incredibly powerful.
We really like this head unit because it's cram packed with innovative features and it's pretty universal. You can use it for your yacht, pontoon, wakeboard boat or even just your dock. It's well priced too for the amount of features that it comes with!
- Innovative features like WiFi and AirPlay
- Touchscreen makes it easier to navigate
- Super sleek one-panel glass face
- Great for a full Fusion system setup
- Apple AirPlay and WiFi is prone to interference if you're around a ton of other WiFi signals
- Touchscreen can be a little ‘touchy' for bigger fingers
- Takes a bit to start up
Best Single DIN Boat Head Unit
Kenwood KMR-M332BT Quick Review
Kenwood’s KMR-M332BT is their latest marine-certified head unit. There are lots of features and specs to like about this single din head unit that make it one of our best choices for your boat, or even ATV.
First thing first, the KMR-M332BT fits in single din openings and is only four inches deep. So, it will fit in even the most cramped cockpits. It boasts 22 watts RMS per channel through a built-in MOSFET amplifier too making it a good choice for a system without external marine amplifiers. A 13-band EQ will give you in-depth tuning capabilities, with the ability to control each frequency and tune your sound to your liking. It even features Drive EQ which automatically compensates for exterior noise levels.
From a marine-readiness standpoint, the KMR-M332BT is built for the harsh environment. Kenwood uses a conformal-coated PCB board to ensure that salt spray, UV rays, and dust don’t corrode the internal circuitry that lesser products typically fall victim to. The front AUX-in port and USB port both feature sealing covers to prevent one of the most common sources of damage to marine radios too. Experts recommend installing this marine-grade radio head unit in a watertight enclosure to maximize protection.
Bluetooth connectivity lets the KMR-M332BT play music directly off your compatible smartphone so you can enjoy streaming apps or music stored on your device when you are on the water. You can also use the Kenwood Remote app on your smartphone to wirelessly stream internet radio. Or, if you need a charge, simply connect your Android or iOS smartphone to the USB port to stream from services like Pandora and Amazon Music while it re-charges your device.
- Compact chassis design makes this a great choice for small boats, ATVs, golf carts, and any other space-limited project
- Bluetooth connectivity offers excellent options for listening to a variety of music sources
- Mobile app adds a cool level of control over the head unit, instead of using a traditional remote control
- Although it has waterproof features, it’s technically not rated as waterproof or dustproof and may require additional parts to properly protect it from the elements
- Kenwood app can be a little clunky at times
Best Gauge Mounted Boat Stereo
Wet Sounds WS-MC-2 Quick Review
Gauge mounted units are all the rage these days. They provide a much cleaner look than many of the single-din units because they don’t look like you borrowed your car stereo for your boat. Somehow, manufacturers like Wet Sounds have been able to cram all the features you want from a full-size stereo into this compact design that mounts in a 3” gauge opening.
The WS-MC-2 is both a simple design and a complex powerhouse of features. It features simple and secure Bluetooth pairing, in addition to USB and AUX ports in the rear. The AM/FM and Weather Band capabilities make this one both great for listening to your favorite playlist and excellent for staying ahead of the storm.
For all its compact size, the MC-2 still features 50-watt power on 4 channels and has preouts for both front and rear speaker add-ons. You can also wire up a remote transom control (sold separate). The 2.7” TFT display is easy to read even in direct sunlight.
Of course, none of these features mean anything unless the unit can stand a little abuse on the water. Wet Sounds engineers all their products around the idea they must function in extreme conditions. The MC-2 is IPX6-rated, meaning it can withstand high-pressure, heavy sprays of water.
- Compact and modern design
- Tons of features in a small package
- Installs easily in boats not intended for a single-din head unit
- The face of the unit may interfere with other gauges or trim
Runner Up, Best Gauge Mounted Boat Head Unit
- Compact, 3” Gauge mount design
- Easy to read backlit display
- IPX3 splash-resistant face
- Bluetooth and Android Ready
- 16 Watts RMS / 45 Watts Peak x 4
- Dual Preouts
Clarion GR10BT Quick Review
Clarion makes some of the most factory-correct looking marine audio receivers you will find on the market today. So many of their designs fit right in on any boat. The newest compact unit from Clarion is the GE10BT, which fits in a standard 3” gauge opening.
This one can produce 45 watts on 4 channels peak, while providing excellent bass response and crystal-clear sound. Rear-mounted USB and AUX inputs make it easy to connect your MP3 player or other device, and built-in Bluetooth will have you streaming your favorite channels in minutes.
The compact size makes this an excellent option for cramped cockpits. The design of the MC-2 makes it blend in seamlessly with most interiors, and the sound quality is significantly better than a factory radio.
The biggest downside to this compact unit is that it can be troublesome for iPhone users. While Android systems can interact easily, iPhone users are out of luck with this one. You will need an MP3 player or USB drive with your music on it if you use Apple products on the water.
- Compact space-saver design
- Looks great on any dash
- Bluetooth and USB provide lots of connection options
- No plug-in iPhone/iPod compatibility
- Lower-than-average water-resistance for the rear of the unit
- Separate black box controller that is watertight
- IPX6 Display
- 25 w x 4 channels @ 4 ohms
- 50 w x 4 channels @ 2 ohms
- Four Zones with 4v audio output
- Independently controlled zones
- Marine Weather Band
Wet Sounds WS-MC-1 Quick Review
Wet Sounds went above and beyond to create the ultimate backbone head unit to design an entire system around. The MC-1 goes way beyond what most stereos will do, and provides among the ultimate in water-resistance, too.
The trick to the MC-1 is the watertight “black box” controller that is entirely separate from the monitor. The controller can be installed pretty much anywhere you want and the built-in Bluetooth connectivity lets you play your tunes remotely.
Want to know the biggest trick? The MC-1 provides independent control of four separate zones. That’s right, different music in different parts of the boat! It also gives you independent lighting control on each channel with the optional controller. You can even buy separate control panels for each zone.
The MC-1 features 25 watts x 4 channels per zone and can be set up so that a master volume controls the entire boat. The display screen is even IPX6-rated, meaning it’ll withstand high pressure spray. It really is a marine media center that you can plan a system around.
- Bluetooth equipped
- Zones are useful
- Simplifies boat-wide stereo
- May require amplifiers for some channels
Best Looking & High Tech Boat Stereo
- 3” LCD color display with rubberized, backlit buttons
- 25 watts RMS/50 peak x 4
- 4 zones with wired control
- 4 RCA outputs, 3.5v
- Bluetooth 5.0
- IP-66 rated
- Rear AUX-in & USB
Clarion CMM-30 Quick Review
The Clarion CMM-30 is one of the slickest-looking head units we’ve seen on the market. It has an oversized three-inch face with rubberized, backlit buttons, making it beautiful during the day and even more stylish at nighttime. It has an IP-66 rating, which makes it marine ready and water resistant to water spray and dust resistant. Clarion includes a rubber face cover that helps prevent damage when you are not using your boat too which we like to see.
Since most boats can benefit from zone control, for example wakeboard tower speakers which typically are on their own dedicated channel, we like to see zone control and zone functionality in marine head units. The CMM-30 offers the ability to create four different zones on your boat. All which can be controllable through a wired Clarion remote. Lower end head units typically do not feature zone control, but if you’re paying the price for a quality unit it’s definitely a feature we recommend looking out for.
In terms of connectivity, Bluetooth 5.0 is built-in and works with both Android and iOS devices for the ultimate in streaming music. What we also liked about the CMM-30 is the global AM/FM antenna, which is fantastic at picking up radio stations while on the water and it gives you quick access to NOAA weather band to keep you up to date on the latest developments. Great for large lakes and near-shore excursions or fishing.
The CMM-30 provides a robust 25 watts RMS to each of the four channels, which is among the highest internal RMS power rating on our list. It also features four 3.5V preouts to connect an amplifier and further expand your boat sound system. Tuning features include a five-band parametric EQ for adjusting low, mid, and high frequencies. And subwoofer control along with frequency filters ensure that you have plenty of options for tailoring the sound to your liking on the water.
- Attractive design and backlighting that makes it a center piece of your boat’s dash
- Four zone option is perfect for larger boats where you want independent control of your sound in different areas of your boat
- Unique shape may not fit in all situations
- Does not have built-in streaming service apps or functionality – need to use your device to control your streaming music apps
Budget Marine Grade Head Unit
- 75 watts x 4 channels
- Bluetooth ready
- USB/SD/AUX inputs on front
Pyle PLMR23BTW Quick Review
Think you can’t get a really good stereo for your boat for around $40? Think again and check out this marine unit from Pyle. It is surprisingly powerful, surprisingly equipped, and surprisingly low priced.
Pyle rates this one at 300 watts max, but users report that it blasts like it has 1,000 watts behind it. It is Bluetooth ready, and can be controlled by iPhone or Android devices. USB, SD, and AUX plugs are up front and RCA preouts are in the back.
This stereo is a single-din unit that will install just like a car stereo. The excellent price point of this stereo may make you think you are getting a piece of junk. Even some reviewers commented on the lightness and seeming emptiness of the unit. When you get it installed, your mind will be blown by how good this stereo sounds.f
- Powerful for the price
- Easily connects to devices
- No formal certified water-resistance
- May not be durable over extended use
Looking for a more stereo products for your boat? Check out these lists!
Who Is This Review For?
This review is for anyone who wants to make their perfect day on the water even better. I know it’s hard to imagine a good day out on your boat getting even better, but a marine stereo can do just that. Whether you’re throwing parties on your deck boat, going for a leisurely cruise on your pontoon, or making waves in your speed boat, your favorite music turned up with a proper marine audio system can make all of those experiences better than ever.
If you’ve never ventured into aftermarket audio equipment, upgrading the stereo in your boat is a great way to get into it. You’ll be amazed by the instant improvement in both the sound quality, and in the abundant features found in all of the products on our list.
Marine grade boat head units, also known as marine stereos or receivers, are specifically designed for use in marine environment. We consider marine readiness an essential when it comes to a head unit on your boat. They are built to withstand excessive water, UV rays, salt, and other elements that are common while you're on the water.
When choosing a head unit for your boat, it's important to consider features such as waterproof and UV-resistant construction, IPX rating, Bluetooth connectivity for wireless audio streaming, AM/FM radio, USB and auxiliary inputs for connecting external devices, and preamp outputs (preferably 4v+).
We don't recommend it. Regular car head units are not designed to withstand the harsh marine environment, which includes exposure to water, salt, and intense sunlight. Using a marine grade boat head unit is important to ensure that your stereo sounds great for years to come.
The installation process is going to vary depending on your boat's existing audio system and the head unit you choose. Sometimes it's an easy removal and swap of an existing head unit, while other times it can require custom wiring and fabrication if the units aren't the same size. We generally recommend consulting a professional marine audio installer who is experienced in working with marine-grade equipment (and on the brand of boat that you have).
Most marine grade head units are designed to be water-resistant, not water proof. Meaning the face of the head unit can withstand direct or indirect sprays or splashes of water but you can't entirely submerge the head unit under water, generally speaking.
In many cases, marine grade head units use the same wiring and connectors as a traditional car receiver. But in some cases, they leverage water-resistant connectors that provide an additional level of protection for your head unit. Most higher-quality head units will leverage these types of water-resistant connectors.