Last updated on November 23rd, 2020 at 10:30 pm
Marine grade head units for boats have come a long way in the last few years. Big advances in waterproofing and protecting delicate circuits have led to robust stereos that can put out high quality sound all day long while withstanding the elements. And new connectivity options have 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.
And you’re are not always stuck with the factory stereo in your boat. There are tons of options these days to upgrade your head unit. You can increase connectivity like adding Bluetooth or USB options, add needed power, and totally change the character of your boat.
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.
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.
Best Boat & Marine Stereo List
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 preouts 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 doesn’t look good on some boats
- Some buyers had defect issues handled by the manufacturer
Kenwood KMR-M328BT Quick Review
Kenwood is another legendary name in aftermarket audio. The line of marine receivers they produce are every bit as durable and great sounding as their terrestrial-based kin. The 328 marine stereo is the newest unit to hit the market from Kenwood.
Drawing on their experience producing top-quality car audio, Kenwood added a conformal coating on the internal circuitry and double seals on the front mounted AUX and USB ports. A major plus for this head unit is its stubby chassis depth. Kenwood says this is the shortest unit they have ever built, and this makes it easy to install in tight quarters.
The 328 is equipped with built-in Bluetooth to provide easy, wireless song selection and adjustment. The head unit is also iPhone and Android-compatible. The front USB port allows you to use your smartphone to switch up the tunes easily.
Not only does this stereo come packed with the latest connectivity options, it is also feature-rich. A 13-band equalizer gives audiophiles endless tweaking ability, while the 2-way crossover mode and 4-volt preouts let anyone tune and expand.
- Android/iPhone/MP3 player-ready
- High quality product
- Marine-use ready
- Some users had difficulty keeping Spotify working
- Some users got error messages when using satellite radio
- Key Features
- Digital Multimedia Player
- Bluetooth ready
- 25 Watts RMS / 50 Watts Peak x 4
- Rear USB and AUX inputs
- Optional remote
- Water-Resistant Faceplate Cover included
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
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 iPhone/iPod compatibility
- Lower-than-average water-resistance for the rear of the unit
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
Clarion CMS4 Quick Review
Clarion spends thousands of hours testing their marine products to get the most durable product possible on your boat. The CMS4 is an all-in-one media hub and information center that you can build a boat around.
The CMS4 uses a “black box” controller similar to the one used by Wet Sounds. The IPX5 rating means it resists a low-pressure stream of water. The display must be hard-wired and mounted somewhere convenient, but is IP66-rated for dust- and water-tightness.
The CMS4 provides 4 zones of control, letting you set your own playlist for different areas of your boat. Each zone has a remote port that allows user control of each area. Bluetooth connectivity allows ease of streaming audio files from anywhere using the downloadable app, aptX.
All-in-all, the Clarion CMS4 is a top-notch product that will upgrade your aquatic audio experience.
- Well-designed, easy to use display
- Easily allows multiple control zones
- Easily connects to lots of device types, even Apple products
- Processor can be a little slow at times
- Reportedly not as water resistant as competitor
- 75 watts x 4 channels
- Bluetooth ready
- USB/SD/AUX inputs on front
|Buy on Amazon.com $35.59|
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.
- Powerful for the price
- Easily connects to devices
- No formal certified water-resistance
- May not be durable over extended use