Boat head units and stereos are often overlooked. Most boaters either settle for the stock unit or buy a car stereo to install in the boat. While you can get adequate sound out of either of these methods, you can’t beat finding the a quality, high performance marine stereo. One that’s water resistant and packed with great marine specific features.

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 the a waterproof head unit can withstand.

You have 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's a list of the top rated marine head units of 2018 to help you find the best products for your boat or marine application. Click a stereo to go to the full review, or just scroll down to view all of the reviews:

Best Marine Stereos | Top 6

Our RankMarine Head UnitPower HandlingEQBluetoothPrice
1.Sony DSXM55BTRMS: 17W x 4CH
Peak: 55W x 4CH
5 BandYes$$
2.Infinity INFPRV250RMS: 20W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
2 BandYes$$$
3.Kenwood KMR-D365BTRMS: 22W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
13 BandYes$$
4.Dual AMCP500BTRMS: 18W x 4CH
Peak: 60W x 4CH
3 BandYes$$$
5.Clarion M205RMS: 20W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
3 BandNo$
6.Clarion M505RMS: 20W x 4CH
Peak: 50W x 4CH
3 BandYes$$$

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 the all of the products on our list.

Best Marine Stereos List

Editor's Rating:

- Integrated Bluetooth technology
- USB playback supports MP3/wma/a AC/wav/FLAC
- Siri control for hands-free control of your iOS Device
- Convenient Wireless remote supplied

Price Comparison

Free shipping
Sony DSX-M55BT

Sony DSXM55BT Quick Review:

The Sony DSXM55BT is a digital media receiver. The first thing you might notice about this head unit is the lack of a CD slot. This omission of a CD player is becoming more and more popular as CDs slowly go out of style in favor of different portable digital media. It might seem like a lack of an important feature, but are you really going to leave a book of CDs on your boat? Do you already use your smartphone or some other mobile device for all of your music? This receiver has an aux jack, a USB port, NFC, and Bluetooth 3.0 connectivity. It has a multitude of audio features you’d expect from Sony like Mega Bass, an advanced sound engine, and Siri control with your iOS device.

Editor's Rating:

- In-Dash AM/FM, MP3, USB Marine Digital Media Stereo
- Single-line LCD display
- Built-in Bluetooth
- White illuminated button lighting
- Power Output: Peak: 50 watts x 4 channels

Price Comparison

Infinity INFPRV250
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Infinity INF-PRV250

Infinity INFPRV250 Quick Review:

This Infinity is the only marine stereo on our list that is not the traditional single-din size. This can be a big advantage if you want to put your head unit somewhere it wasn’t originally intended to go. Since it doesn’t play CDs, it’s nice and shallow in the back so it fits in tight, compact spaces. If you’re planning on mostly using Bluetooth, this is a great option. That’s mainly because the USB port and aux jack are mounted in the back. A couple of features it’s missing are SiriusXM capability and a clock. While it’s nice when marine stereos are SiriusXM ready, it requires extra parts and a subscription. As for the clock, it doesn’t really matter what time it is when you’re on the water, does it?

Editor's Rating:

- TDF (Theft Deterrent Faceplate)
- Kenwood sound reconstruction
- MP3/WMA/AAC/WAV/FLAC Files Playback with ID-3 Tag Display
- Dual Phone Connection
- Wireless Music Browsing
- Conformal Coating

Price Comparison

kenwood KMRD365BT Marine CD Single DIN In-Dash Bluetooth Car Stereo Receiver
Kenwood KMR-D365BT

Kenwood KMRD365BT Quick Review:

Kenwood is a popular brand for audiophiles who take car audio seriously. Their expertise in car audio translates well into this marine stereo. It’s a lot like a traditional single-din head unit for a car, but built to endure a marine environment. The USB port and aux jack are arranged neatly on the right and out of the way of the rest of the controls. It has Bluetooth and there’s a nice big phone button if you’re planning on taking a lot of phone calls while on the water. One of our favorite things about this Kenwood is the bright screen with variable color LEDs to match the interior of your boat.

Editor's Rating:

- Single DIN Media Receiver
- 60W x 4 Chan. MAX
- Built-In 3-Band Parametric Equalizer
- USB/AUX Inputs With AM/FM Radio
- SD Card Input

Price Comparison

Dual Marine Receiver/Speakers Package
Dual Digital Media Receiver with Bluetooth, SiriusXM Ready and 7 Channel NOAA Weatherband Tuner...

Dual AMCP500BT Quick Review:

This Clarion marine stereo is a basic unit that’s still high in quality making it an excellent value. If corded digital media is your preferred method, then this could be for you. Maybe you’re looking for the best boat head unit, but don’t want to pay for features you’re not going to use. It doesn’t have a CD player or SiriusXM, and unlike almost every other marine stereo on our list, it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Maybe you have an old iPod or other MP3 player that you like to just leave in your boat for music. If that’s the case and you wouldn’t be using Bluetooth anyway, then this is a good way to save some money on a nice unit that doesn’t have features you wouldn’t use anyway.

Editor's Rating:

- CEA-2006 compliant amplifier
- Power Output: Peak: 50 watts x 4 channels / RMS: 20 watts x 4 channels
- Designed specifically for harsh marine environments
- 13-digit 2 line white LCD display

Price Comparison

Clarion M205
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Clarion M205

Clarion M205 Quick Review:

This Clarion marine stereo is a basic unit that’s still high in quality making it an excellent value. If corded digital media is your preferred method, then this could be for you. It's great for those looking for the a high performance marine head unit, but don’t want to pay for features you’re not going to use. It doesn’t have a CD player or SiriusXM, and unlike almost every other marine stereo on our list, it doesn’t have Bluetooth. Maybe you have an old iPod or other MP3 player that you like to just leave in your boat for music. If that’s the case and you wouldn’t be using Bluetooth anyway, then this is a good way to save some money on a nice unit that doesn’t have features you wouldn’t use anyway.

Editor's Rating:

- Marine Digital Media Bluetooth USB/MP3/WMA Receiver
- Built-in Bluetooth
- 3.5mm Audio Auxiliary Input & USB
- Meets or Exceeds ASTM B117  & ASTM D4329

Price Comparison

Clarion M505
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Clarion M505

Kenwood KDC-BT958HD Quick Review:

This Clarion is a more advanced version of the M205 we just talked about. If you look at them side by side they’re extremely similar, but the M505 has a lot more desirable features. There’s still no CD player, but this one includes Bluetooth and it’s SiriusXM ready. If you like the look and the layout of the M205, but need more connectivity options, then this is perfect. On top of having a nice, slick look, it meets or exceeds certifications for marine use. It’s well protected from UV, salt, fog, and just about anything else nature can throw at it. This protection combined with its good look and nice features make it one of the best waterproof stereos out there.

Best Marine Stereos | What to Look For

Let’s go over some the audio lingo we’re about to use to make sure you find the best marine head unit for you with all the features you need.

  • Bluetooth - If you have a smartphone, you probably have Bluetooth. Even before the smartphone revolution, it’s been a common short-wave communication method for portable devices, especially cell phones. A marine head unit with Bluetooth can talk to your device wirelessly and stream your favorite music while your phone stays in your pocket. The best thing about it is there are no cords or other additional equipment needed to hook it up. Once you get used to this feature, you won’t know how you lived without it.
  • USB - USB stands for Universal Serial Bus and it’s the most common way to connect a device to a computer with a wire. Why do you need USB if you already have an aux jack? The advantage of USB is it allows the stereo to get information from your phone other than just a signal to play music. With USB, you can get access to Pandora, iHeartRadio, and several other apps from your phone straight to the stereo depending on your head unit. It also makes the metadata (song title, artist, etc.) show up on the screen of the head unit. Another nice bonus of a USB port in your boat is it can charge your device while it’s playing music.
  • SiriusXM - You’re probably familiar with this popular satellite radio service, but did you know you can get it in your boat? Many units come with SiriusXM capability, but that does not mean it works with SiriusXM right out of the box. It requires additional equipment sold separately and of course a subscription.

Common Terms

Every boat requires a unique combination of marine stereo components to sound great. A boat stereo may sound excellent in one case, but sound terrible in another. Additionally, the limitations in size and wiring configuration make selecting the best car stereo even more difficult for you.
The best marine stereo will give you the features you love while conforming to the environment of your car and create an excellent reproduction of the music that you love. With the right boat stereo, you'll be able to custom tailor frequencies to your car, integrate your favorite music/media device, connect to your smartphone via Bluetooth and much more.
At CarAudioNow, we use multiple key criteria when rating products in our top lists. Below is a list of some of the criteria that we consider while choosing the head units for your marine application.

Power Ratings

Power ratings are extremely important feature to consider while choosing a marine stereo. Without an external amplifier, the power output of the stereo is what dictates the power of your speakers and ultimately the power of sound. There are typically two power output ratings that are given with head units:

  • Max Power Output: Max power rating is the maximum amount of power that the stereo can emit for short periods of time. It is the maximum amount of power that will be sent to your speakers (without an external amplifier)
  • RMS (Continuous) Power Output: RMS power rating is the amount of power that the head unit can emit at a constant or continuous rate. This is the most important power output rating.

Along with power handling and output, the level of control of the output sound's shape is also very important. This control is typically made through a built-in equalizer (EQ). It will allow you to tailor the shape of sound, raising or lowering the level of certain frequencies in order to best optimize the output sound for the environment of your boat. The higher the number of bands that the stereo's equalizer has, the more you will be able to customize the frequencies and shape of your music and sound.


Display features play a huge role in how stylish and user-friendly marine stereos are. High end stereos will have a high LED pixel count, and give customizable features like color and brightness in order to match the color of your interior.


Playback can be defined as the methods that your boat stereo is capable of playing back audio. CD, DVD, MP3, HD Radio, Pandora, Auxiliary (Aux) Ports, Bluetooth; these are all examples of playback types that the best car stereos will typically have.
You will want to make sure that the playback methods that you intend on using is consistent with the playback features of the stereo. Otherwise, you may be stuck with a head unit that doesn't play your music in the format that you have it. Here is a breakdown of the most popular playback features in marine stereos:

  • HD Radio: HD Radio is the same radio stations that you listen to, but with a higher audio quality and more metadata than tradition radio. Metadata includes titles, artists, albums and more.
  • CD Player: CD players will play your favorite CDs in multiple formats, including CD,CD-R/RW, MP3, AAC, WAV and WMA.
  • Auxiliary (Aux) Port: Auxiliary ports allow you to connect any music device that you may have using a headphone connector. Typically, the best marine head unit will have an auxiliary port on the front of the unit.
  • Bluetooth: Bluetooth music allows you to connect to your music on a smartphone or other bluetooth enabled device, playing all of your music wirelessly from your device via a Bluetooth connection.
  • USB Port: A USB port will allow you to connect your music devices via a USB connection. It will allow you to listen to your favorite music from your device, while charging it for endless listen time.
  • XM Radio: XM radio is satellite radio such as SiriusXM, that allows you to connect and listen to thousands of channels of radio via a satellite connection. This increases the coverage of radio that you have, however requires a paid subscription.

Smartphone Integration

All of the marine stereos on our list will allow you to fully integrate with your smartphone, enabling features such as Pandora and Spotify while allowing you to answer phone calls without touching your smartphone. With recent legislation prohibiting you from using your phones while driving, it is becoming increasingly important for marine head units to fully integrate with your smartphone. Additionally, they will come with microphones with noise-canceling technology that will hone in on your voice and eliminate road noise.


Expandability is what allows you to connect external components to your boat stereo. The best marine head units will have at least three 4volt RCA outputs (Front, Rear, Subwoofer), Audio/Video (AV) input/outputs, rear view camera inputs (with compatible displays) and a microphone input.

3 Comments to “ Best Boat and Marine Head Units 2018 | Reviews, Specs, Prices”

  1. Sally says :Reply

    what do you think about the clarion M508, compared to the clarion m505? we are replacing a clarion xdmi2 in our boat.
    would love your thoughts on this comparison thanks Sally

  2. Bradmph says :Reply

    Don’t know why Alpine didn’t make the cut. I have one in my boat with 2 output speakers and it is unbelievable.

    1. JohnS. says :Reply

      Because they don’t make a Marine head unit as far as I can tell in 2018.

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Written By:

on February 9th, 2018