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Marine Speakers Review
Why Upgrade Your Marine Speakers?
The top performers in our review are the Polk MM, the Gold Award winner; the Fusion FR, the Silver Award winner; and the Polk db+, the Bronze Award winner. Here's more on choosing a marine speaker to meet your needs, along with detail on how we arrived at our ranking of 10 products.
Few things in life rival the fun of a day on the lake in your boat with family and friends, basking in the sun and taking turns carving up the wake. Adding a soundtrack of your favorite tunes to these days only makes them better. However, since boats exist in harsh environments, you can’t simply upgrade your boat speakers with just any off-the-shelf model. You need speakers capable of competing with the sound of the engine, the water, the wind and the open air. But most of all, you need speakers that can stand up against the corrosive properties of water, salt, fog, dust and the sun. Replacing your boat speakers with durable, high-fidelity marine speakers is critical to ensuring the soundtrack to your boating lifestyle is as epic as you want it to be.
Every speaker, regardless of where it’s used, is only as good as its ability to reproduce sound accurately. Much of this begins with ensuring that the speaker’s power rating matches that of your boat’s amplifier or receiver. An ill-powered speaker is the easiest way to ruin audio quality, damage the tweeter or woofer, and cause clipping and distortions.
Marine Speakers: Choosing the Best Marine Speakers
We started by considering a wide variety of marine speakers – component speakers of varying sizes, coaxial speakers of varying sizes, expensive speakers, cheap speakers, etc. In total, we looked at over 30 series of marine speakers before settling on reviewing coaxial speakers between 6 and 6.5 inches. We choose this type because it’s the most common size and the best representation of any given marine speaker in a brand’s series. We then we narrowed the list to the most popular marine speakers between $100 and $200. After settling on the best 10 marine speakers, we brought them in to Purch Labs for testing.
We tested the speakers’ audio quality and accuracy in three frequency ranges: low range, midrange and high range. The low-range frequencies, 20Hz to 470Hz, are where you hear the bass and rhythm section of a song. The midrange frequencies, 470Hz to 7.5kHz, are where you hear most of the frequencies that define the notes, voice and definition in an audio mix. The high-range frequencies, 7.5kHz to 20kHz, are where you hear the spatial definition and presence in instruments like bells and cymbals.
Marine Speakers: Making Sense of Power Handling
Marine speakers need to be loud because they operate in an open acoustic landscape. In our evaluation, we considered each speaker's sensitivity rating, which measures the volume at 1 meter using 1 watt of power. Since every 3-dB change in volume is an exponential increase or decrease in power output, you should consider a marine speaker that combines a high sensitivity rating with a high continuous power output. This ensures it is capable of playing over the wake while you're out on the water. A high sensitivity rating also means you can play your music at higher volumes without pushing the speaker to its limits, which generally results in better-quality audio.
We also considered the continuous power handling and peak power handling ratings of each marine speaker. The continuous power handling is important because it represents the maximum amount of power that the speaker can manage on a continuous basis. The peak power handling represents how much power the speaker can withstand in short bursts. You should look for boat speakers with a high sensitivity rating and a high continuous power handling rating because they are the loudest, so long as you have an amplifier capable of powering them appropriately.
Marine Boat Speakers: Evaluating Durability
Durability differentiates boat speakers from car speakers and car subwoofers, as the latter two aren't 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 salt-, fog- and UV-resistance, but many haven't been tested and certified by a third party. We considered speakers that are certified by the American Society for Testing and Materials. This includes an ASTM B117 rating for salt- and fog-resistance and an ASTM D4329 rating for UV protection.
For our marine speaker review, 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. You also want to consider the options within each marine speaker series.
Marine Speakers: How We Tested, What We Found
Testing the audio quality of a speaker is difficult because of the inherent subjectivity involved in the act of listening. Your unique biology and musical tastes create a bias in what you think sounds good. We are no different. To address this subjectivity, we designed an audio frequency test performed in an equal environment so that each speaker’s audio performance was comparable. We tested each marine speaker in the same room, mounted on the same box, connected to the same receiver and recorded with the same microphone, and we used the same recording software. We did our best to ensure that all the variables were identical throughout the tests.
While each person’s perceivable frequency range is different, humans generally can hear frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz, though this decreases with age. We used a logarithmic sine wave that progressed from the lowest end of the frequency spectrum to the highest end in a consistent 20 second tone. After warming up the speakers with music, we played this file through each one and recorded the results with a high-fidelity microphone placed at the same distance from the woofer.
To account for anomalies, we recorded each marine speaker reproducing the sine wave 30 times. We then used a frequency-analyzing plug-in in the recording software to create a frequency signature of the tone the speaker generated. When we played all 30 recorded tones through the plug-in, it created an average frequency signature. We used these average frequency signatures to compare and grade the audio accuracy of each marine speaker.
We graded three frequency ranges: low range, midrange and high range. First, we dismissed any common spikes and dips with each speaker. We attributed these to variables outside our control, such as microphone or receiver limitations. We then looked at the decibel difference from the highest peak to the lowest dip in each frequency range because this shows the greatest absolute change in the frequency reproduction. Any unique dips greater than 3 dB represent an audible change and were noted negatively in our grading. If you listen closely, these dips sound like fluttering or chirping and are more common in the high-range frequencies.
What Else Is Important When Upgrading Your Marine Speakers?
While audio quality, power handling and durability are critical for a great marine audio experience, 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. 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. The speaker needs 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 install 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.
Help & Support
Anytime you deal with complicated electrical equipment, you may come across many questions and concerns. In addition to the warranty information, you should carefully consider the manufacturer's customer support system. The best support systems include phone, email and live chat. You should also have access to educational resources like a FAQs page, product manuals, user forums and articles related to marine audio. The best manufacturers even include a database of certified service centers that can install and fix your equipment for you.
Marine Speakers: Our Verdict & Recommendations
The best marine speakers are capable of accurately producing music, loudly and without distortion, while existing in some of the harshest conditions for electrical equipment. If a large wave splashes over the bow, soaking everything and everyone on board, your music shouldn't skip a beat. Our choices for the best marine speakers, the Polk MM, Fusion FR and Polk db+, represent the best overall audio reproduction and the loudest and most durable marine speakers available.
If you're boating on a budget, the JBL MS speaker features excellent power handling and decent sound quality at a fraction of the cost of most marine speakers. While it lacks many of the durability certifications that better marine speakers feature, the polypropylene woofer is still water-resistant.