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Best Marine Speakers
The Best Marine Speakers of 2017
After considering over 30 series of marine speakers and devoting over 80 hours to research, we purchased the 10 best 6.5-inch marine speakers on the market to test in our labs. And after 30 hours of testing, the Polk MM series of marine speakers proved to have the best audio overall, the best power handling specifications and one of the most durable designs.
If you're boating on a budget, then the Polk DB+ is your best option. Not only was this speaker among the best sounding speakers in our tests, but it's also durable and has excellent power handling. But best of all, it's one of the most affordable marine speakers on the market.
If bass is your priority, the Fusion FR is our pick for the best low-end frequency reproduction. The overall sound quality is very good, though not as good as the Polk MM speaker, and it received the highest grade for bass in our tests. In addition, it's extremely durable.
For enhancing ambiance, the Kicker KM marine speakers are our pick. You can purchase these speakers with multi-color LED lights that reflect off the woofer, adding some ambience to your music. While the overall audio quality is merely average, the low-end is very good, comparable to the Fusion FR speakers. If you're looking for that extra little detail to take your boat parties to the next level, this speaker has it.
Marine Speakers: How We Tested, What We Found
Our Accuracy Testing
Everyone wants the best sounding speaker. But what does that really mean, best sounding? Audio quality is largely subjective. My judgement of audio quality is likely different from your judgement. Even perceptions of volume can be subjective. There are reasons for this: musical preferences, biological differences in hearing, acoustic environments and more. We can literally stand in the same room, listen to the same music, and come to very different conclusions concerning the quality of the speakers. This distinction is important to make because it illustrates how difficult it can be to test a speaker's audio quality.
For audiophiles like myself, a speaker is judged by its ability to accurately reproduce the audio signal sent to it. This means that it does not naturally color the bass or highs, which some people may prefer but doesn't represent what the musicians necessarily intended you to hear. So, this is exactly how I approach the testing of speakers – does it accurately reproduce the audio frequencies?
To begin testing, I created a 20-second sine tone that starts at 20Hz and transitions smoothly to 20kHz. I chose this frequency range because it represents the frequency range humans can hear. That said, the high-end range of our hearing degrades as we age. By the time you're even 15 years old, you're hearing range probably peaks out at around 15kHz.
After warming up the speakers by playing music for 10 minutes, I played the sine tone through each marine speaker, one at a time, while recording the results with sensitive directional microphone set up 6 inches from the woofer. I looped the tone for five minutes. Then I used a frequency analyzer plugin, which scans the recorded tone and creates an average frequency signature. I can then compare the frequency signature of the recording to the frequency signature of the original audio.
I graded three frequency ranges (low range, midrange and high range) by counting the spikes and dips. I made sure to dismiss any spikes and dips that appeared in each speaker's frequency signature, as these were likely caused by imperfections in the microphone, recording software or acoustic environment. After counting the spikes and dips, I considered the decibel impact of each spike. For example, a spike of 10 dB is significant enough to hear, but you aren't likely going to perceive a dip less than 3 dB. In the end, the speakers with the fewest spikes and least impact received the highest grades for accuracy because they most closely reproduced the intended audio signal.
Evaluating Power Handling Specifications
Marine speakers need to be loud because in open spaces like lakes and oceans, the volume output of a speaker quickly dissipates. The best way to evaluate the potential volume of a marine speaker is by paying close attention to the power handling specifications, especially sensitivity.
A speaker’s sensitivity rating tells you how efficient the speaker is at converting power into volume. Typically, sensitivity is the volume produced by the speaker when using 1 watt of power, as measured at 1 meter from the center of the woofer. Since every 3 dB increase of volume requires twice as much power, this specification can tell you a lot about the volume potential. For example, the Polk MM has a sensitivity rating of 92 dB while the Rockford Fosgate speaker has a rating of 89 dB. This means that the Rockford Fosgate speaker needs twice as much power as the Polk speaker would to reach the same volume.
When you consider these sensitivity differences in combination with the continuous power handling rating, which is how much power the speaker can handle on a continuous basis, you can separate the loudest speakers from the quiet ones. Returning to the previous example, the Polk MM has a continuous power handling rating of 100 watts and the Rockford Fosgate speaker is rated for 75 watts. So, the Polk MM is not only louder with less power, but it can handle more power, which means it can reach higher volumes without damage or distortion.
Durability differentiates boat speakers from car speakers and car subwoofers, as the latter two are protected from the elements. You need to make sure your new speakers can handle a life on the water – they will be out in the open and exposed to sun, water and salt. The woofer should be made of a stiff polypropylene-based material that doesn’t warp or change when splashed with water. The speaker also needs to be resistant to UV rays, salt and high-humidity environments like fog.
Most marine speakers boast of being resistant to salt, water and UV (rays from the sun). This makes sense because these speakers need to be capable of handling a harsher environment than your car speakers or home entertainment. However, many haven't been tested and certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials for ASTM B117 Salt Fog (which test for salt corrosion) and ASTM D4329 UV resistance. We placed greater value in products with these certifications.
For our marine speaker tests, we compared 6.5-inch marine speakers because this is the most common size. You can install them in the cockpit or cabin area, though they can also be used as tower speakers if their sensitivity rating and power handling provide enough volume to project music past the wake. However, marine speakers come in a variety of sizes and styles, so you also want to consider the options within each marine speaker series.
What Else Is Important When Upgrading Your Marine Speakers?
While audio quality, power handling and durability are critical for great marine audio, you may want to consider additional criteria. Installation features and the help and support each manufacturer provides are reflected in our comparison. You might also be interested in ambient enhancements like LEDs, though these aren't reflected in our scores.
Installing your marine speaker can be as simple as swapping out your old speaker with a new one, like changing a light bulb. In these cases, all you need to know is which way to turn the screwdriver. However, it can also be complex, like installing an entirely new light fixture. If you’re installing the speaker in a customized spot, it will need to be properly wired and mounted. This means you need to pay attention to the size of the spade plugs. The best marine speakers provide detailed installation guides with wiring diagrams and a cutout stencil in case you want to put the speaker in a new location.
If you use your boat for social gatherings, you may want to consider marine speakers with LEDs. These models light up to the music and change color to enhance the ambiance of your party. The LEDs fit under the tweeter and reflect lights off the woofer. They can change colors and flash in different patterns. In most cases, the cost of a marine speaker with LEDs is only about $50 more than the same speaker without the lights.