The question for these stereos is: why buy a marine stereo when you can pick up a simple car radio for half the price?
One answer is that most marine stereos have coated circuit boards, protecting them from the ravages of salt air. The other is that if you have networked instruments, the ability to control the stereo from your plotter in the cockpit is useful, especially if you suffer from seasickness. A waterproofed control head can make a difference on a small boat.
We also found that marine products offered improved sound in noisy conditions compared to car stereos, which tend to be tailored for the quieter environments found in vehicles.
Most of these units are designed for powerboats, and to use blasting around and at full volume. However, there were definite differences to be heard in them while both sitting down below and when under sail.
Force 4’s compact Bluetooth stereo was surprisingly good given the small size, and would make an excellent mini solution on a small boat – the sound wasn’t as loud as others, but it was perfectly acceptable.
JL Audio’s was by far the most expensive of all the stereos, but the sound was excellent – crisp and clear and audible underway – and with a higher-end set of speakers would keep even the most ardent audiophiles happy.
Fusion’s were perhaps the most fully-featured units, with a good interface, decent sound and nicely designed equipment – and the ability to replace a car stereo with the same footprint makes the RA70 a good buy. The prices are also reasonable.
Aquatic AV’s systems sounded somewhat brash, but have plenty of power and are well priced. The cheaper unit works well over Bluetooth.
Fusion’s zone control was particularly effective and intuitive: you can rename them to suit – here, Cockpit and Cabin
You can also control some stereos from a compatible chartplotter: this is the interface on a B&G Vulcan 5, controlling the Fusion RA70N