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.
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 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.
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.