ELEC­TRON­ICS PROD­UCTS

Passage Maker - - Contents - BY BEN EL­LI­SON

Even bolder than the ad­ver­tis­ing tagline for the new Fu­sion Apollo Se­ries, “The Sum of Au­dio In­no­va­tion,” is the sec­ond sen­tence of the com­pany’s re­cent press re­lease:

“Build­ing on Fu­sion’s in­dus­try rec­og­nized True-Ma­rine de­sign phi­los­o­phy, the new Apollo Se­ries will for­ever change the face of ma­rine en­ter­tain­ment and set a new stan­dard by which all oth­ers will be cre­ated.”

The Apollo name and logo also ref­er­ence the clas­si­cal Greek god of mu­sic, mak­ing the prod­uct launch seem im­mensely pre­ten­tious if Fu­sion hadn’t gone equally big with de­sign and au­dio good­ness. But, by golly, I think Apollo de­liv­ers.

While you can learn a lot about the Apollo Se­ries on­line, I at­tended Fu­sion’s press event in Fort Laud­erdale in early May where the com­pany’s prin­ci­pals demon­strated au­dio sys­tems on six dif­fer­ent boats. Yes, it did some­times feel weird

cruis­ing up and down the same stretch of the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way—oc­ca­sion­ally on plane, and of­ten at high vol­ume—but touch­ing and hear­ing are be­liev­ing. There’s much to jus­tify the high ex­pec­ta­tions Fu­sion has set for cus­tomers, as well as the com­pany’s dra­matic chal­lenge to the ma­rine au­dio com­pe­ti­tion.

Be­fore I at­tempt to cover Apollo’s ma­jor fea­tures, let me note how our Sea Ray demo boat speaks to Fu­sion’s claim of be­ing “in­dus­try rec­og­nized,” as well as to the wide va­ri­ety of boats Apollo can serve. Sea Ray has an­nounced their com­mit­ment to stan­dard­fit­ting com­plete Fu­sion au­dio sys­tems in all 40 of their cur­rent mod­els, which range from 17-foot open sport boats to 65-foot mo­tor yachts.

Our Sea Ray demo boat il­lus­trated how beau­ti­fully the flag­ship Apollo RA-770 au­dio head unit can be flush-mounted on a mod­ern-style helm. Even in pro­to­type form, the unit nearly blended into the panel, and as the fin­ished SDX290 will be glossy black, the Apollo unit will al­most look like an in­te­gral part of a long, black glass slab.

APOLLO IN­TER­FACES

The Apollo RA-770 dis­play can em­u­late nor­mal stereo but­ton con­trols like “pause,” “next track,” and “menu.” A slick multi-touch fea­ture called “Ges­ture Mode” al­lows the con­trols to dis­ap­pear after about a minute of in­ac­tiv­ity, al­low­ing just the track info and as­so­ci­ated graphic to fill the 4.3-inch screen. In this “standby” mode, you can tap any­where on the screen for pause/mute or swipe ei-

ther way to quickly get to the track or sta­tion you want with­out hav­ing to re­call the play con­trols. This al­lows users to con­trol the stereo with­out tak­ing their eyes off the wa­ter or nav­i­ga­tion dis­plays. Given all that’s packed in­side, the RA-770 is strik­ingly com­pact, just 6.6 inches wide with­out the end caps (which add an ex­tra inch) and less than 4 inches deep (which in­cludes a cowl to help pro­tect all the in­put/ out­put ca­bles). The RA-770’s baby brother, the Apollo SRX-400, is crazy tiny at 3.4 inches wide with­out end caps, 2.8 inches high, and slightly less deep than the RA770. Its 2.7-inch color screen is not mul­ti­touch en­abled, so it has per­ma­nent con­trol but­tons. Nev­er­the­less the SRX-400 can still serve as a stand­alone stereo as it in­cludes many fea­tures of the RA-770, and it can be net­worked with an RA-770 unit as well.

The RA-770 Apollo head unit (or mul­ti­ple head units) can be con­trolled by ex­ist­ing Fu­sion NRX re­motes, MFDs us­ing NMEA 2000 or eth­er­net, mo­bile apps us­ing Blue­tooth or wi-fi, and the ANT wire­less found in many Garmin watches. And the SRX400 can do the same ex­cept where NMEA 2000 is needed. But there’s more to Apollo con­trol in­ter­faces than even all that.

APOLLO NET­WORK (PARTYBUS!)

Pic­ture a large boat with a Fu­sion en­ter­tain­ment net­work. In the main saloon is an Apollo RA-770, and let’s as­sume that two of its four out­put zones are used for two pairs of speak­ers in the cabin, while an­other goes to an amp and cock­pit speak­ers. So the clos­est fixed con­trol for the cock­pit zone is an MS-NRX300 wired re­mote at­tached to the boat’s NMEA 2000 net­work, though most any of the boat’s MFDs or a phone run­ning the FU­SION-Link mo­bile app could also con­trol the cock­pit zone au­dio. While the au­dio source in the cock­pit and saloon will al­ways re­main the same, sep­a­rate SRX-400 units in­stalled in places like the fly­bridge and state­rooms can each have in­de­pen­dent source choices. But by link­ing the SRX-400 units to the main RA770 unit (by wi-fi or eth­er­net) the linked Apollo con­trol heads in­tro­duce Fu­sion’s new fea­ture: PartyBus.

While at the press event, I heard PartyBus in ac­tion and it seemed like an easy way to multi-source stereos. In the cabin with the SRX-400, it was just like hav­ing your own per­sonal au­dio sys­tem (in fact, it is called “Per­sonal Mode”), but with just a cou­ple of but­ton taps you could join the “PartyBus,” which on this boat meant shar­ing an au­dio source with an RA-770 in the main saloon. The mu­sic synced across the two oth­er­wise stand­alone sys­tems per­fectly, with zero lag in places where you could hear all speaker sets at once. The net­work­ing is mul­ti­lat­eral in the sense that mul­ti­ple RA-770 and SRX400 con­trol heads can join and share con­trol of the net­work sound at the user’s be­hest. More­over, PartyBus mode al­lows the more limited SRX-400 to ac­cess the whole suite of RA-770 au­dio sources.

UNIVER­SAL PLUG AND PLAY (UPNP)

I’m just start­ing to learn more about UPnP, but I al­ready know the sound

qual­ity and range lim­i­ta­tions of Blue­tooth au­dio streaming, con­ve­nient as it is. So while au­dio apps that make use of the UPnP stan­dard to stream over wi-fi to Apollo are just start­ing to be­come com­mon­place, I look for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it first hand.

In­ci­den­tally, Apollo head units are happy to join a boat’s ex­ist­ing wi-fi net­work in­stead of cre­at­ing their own, so this sort of streaming could be done while still main­tain­ing con­tact with other wi-fi gear on the boat. Apollo units can browse and stream a me­dia server, as Gra­ham Brain ex­plained to me. While he rec­om­mends us­ing an Eth­er­net con­nec­tion es­pe­cially for larger au­dio li­braries, UPnP can also be uti­lized in this fash­ion.

An­other way to vi­su­al­ize the avail­able wired au­dio sources is to take a look at the back of the Apollo units. The SRX-400 is miss­ing sev­eral of the ports that the RA-770 has such as the Dig­i­tal Op­ti­cal in­ter­con­nect; it does, how­ever, sup­port Blue­tooth and UPnP streaming on its own. Both mod­els have AM/ FM an­tenna ports be­cause they each have their own tuners, but do note that there is no NMEA 2000 port on the SRX-400, which is not clear in some of the ex­ist­ing prod­uct lit­er­a­ture.

HOW DOES APOLLO SOUND?

A much-touted Apollo fea­ture is dig­i­tal sound pro­cess­ing (DSP). While DSP is a vague term, I can tell you that even on our Sea Ray demo, which only in­cluded two 6.5-inch Sig­na­ture speak­ers, the pro­jected sound was full and clean. Mean­while, the big­ger sys­tems sounded awe­some, and some­times led writ­ers to spon­ta­neous gig­gle fits, air gui­tar ses­sions, etc. More specif­i­cally, I

never heard a dis­con­cert­ing vol­ume level change when switch­ing sources or dis­tor­tion at ex­treme vol­umes. Nor, to my knowl­edge, did we blow out any speak­ers, which is an­other ben­e­fit of the tech­nol­ogy (func­tions called Vol­ume Equal­izer and Feed For­ward Lim­iter).

While dig­i­tal sound pro­cess­ing hap­pens au­to­mat­i­cally (and ap­par­ently work to some de­gree with third-party amps and speak­ers), Apollo DSP also has spe­cific Fu­sion set­tings that can be ad­justed in the FU­SION-Link app. In short, they have au­dio-pro­filed all their own speak­ers and amps so that the DSP can bet­ter match the out­put to where it’s go­ing. I sus­pect this con­tributed sig­nif­i­cantly to the good au­dio we heard, but I’m also aware that it’s a clever way to help pre­vent the pop­u­lar choice of com­bin­ing Fu­sion head units with JL amps and speak­ers.

Chris Baird and mar­ket­ing man­ager

Mar­cus Hamil­ton were un­der­stand­ably thumbs-up giddy by the end of the press event, which also marked the end of an in­tense devel­op­ment process. As bold as Fu­sion is with its Pro­ject Apollo claims—yes, the name also ref­er­ences the push to put a man on the moon—they’ve delivered a plat­form that ap­pears to be al­ready nicely fu­ture-proofed. And with more Apollo mod­els and pe­riph­er­als to come, it’s not a stretch to say they are “chang­ing the face of ma­rine en­ter­tain­ment.” The RA-770 ($649) and SRX-400 ($349) are both slated to be avail­able for pur­chase start­ing in June 2018, and I hope to test a PartyBus net­work in depth at some point.

Fu­sion has been un­der Garmin own­er­ship for four years now, and hope­fully the fear that they will only play nicely with one brand (Garmin) is over. But that cer­tainly doesn’t mean that Garmin isn’t in­volved. Baird talked about how they helped dou­ble the Fu­sion en­gi­neer­ing staff from 20 to 40—once they’d been per­suaded to back Pro­ject Apollo—and en­gi­neer­ing man­ager Brain told us how nice it was to be able to query his Garmin col­leagues on sub­jects rang­ing from op­ti­cally bonded dis­plays to em­bed­ded wi-fi ra­dios.

I also learned that in the world of recre­ational ve­hi­cles—which the in­de­pen­dent Fu­sion sales force pen­e­trated first—there are now joint Fu­sion/Garmin de­vel­op­ments on­go­ing like the RV-IN801 In­fo­tain­ment Sys­tem. In fact, one up­shot of Garmin’s re­cent Tri­gen­tic ac­qui­si­tion will be sim­i­lar RV sys­tems with dig­i­tal switch­ing in­cluded. But even if Garmin/ Fu­sion be­come one brand in that world, it may mean noth­ing in ours, be­cause—hail Apollo—Fu­sion seems to be do­ing just fine func­tion­ing as an in­de­pen­dent.

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Per­sonal Mode + Party Mode: The SRX-400 on the fly­bridge al­lows for its own in­put and au­dio con­trol for that unit and zone, al­low­ing the user their own au­dio ex­pe­ri­ence. In the saloon the RA-770 shares its au­dio via Party Mode with the SRX-400 in the for­ward state­room. The for­ward state­room SRX-400 can con­trol the RA-770 au­dio source when needed and the au­dio syncs with­out any au­dio lag across the net­work.

Party Mode: The RA-770 shares one linked au­dio source across the net­work (ei­ther wi-fi or eth­er­net). The mu­sic syncs across each sys­tem with zero au­dio lag. Any head unit can con­trol the source au­dio.

Per­sonal Mode: The RA-770 and the SRX-400 each have their own per­sonal in­put, sound, and con­trol.

Above: Both the RA-770 and the SRX-400 can be ei­ther sur­face or flush-mounted to a dash. Right: Fu­sion Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor Chris Baird and Mar­ket­ing Man­ager Mar­cus Hamil­ton.

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