Best Marine Speakers of 2018

Jeph Preece ·
Senior Domain Editor
Updated
We maintain strict editorial integrity when we evaluate products and services; however, Top Ten Reviews may earn money when you click on links.

After considering more than 30 series of marine speakers and spending more than 80 hours on research and eight hours of testing, the Fusion FR6022 emerged as the best marine speaker. It performed the best in our audio quality tests and was above average in comparative loudness tests. In addition, the power-handling specifications are among the best for a marine speaker. While every marine speaker we reviewed is marine certified, Fusion is one of the few companies that specializes in marine audio equipment, and it shows in the design and construction of the FR6022.     

Best Overall

Fusion FR6022

The Fusion FR6022 was the best performing marine speaker in our tests. Combine this with its very stout construction and power handling, and it's clear why it’s the best marine speaker.
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Best Value

Clarion CMQ1622RL

The Clarion CMQ1622RL is our pick for best value because it combines excellent audio quality and comparative loudness at a price point under $100.
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Best Marine Speaker with Lights

Wet Sounds XS-65ic-RGB

The Wet Sounds XS-65ic-RGB is the best performing marine speaker with colorful LED lights. It's a great option for boaters who want to add some ambience to their music.
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Product
Price
$113.09Amazon
$90.08Amazon
$149.99Amazon
$199.95Amazon
$174.99Amazon
$59.00Amazon
$149.99Amazon
$149.95Amazon
$74.95Amazon
$99.97Amazon
Overall Rating
9.9
9.8
9.3
9.3
8.9
8.8
8.5
8.4
8.1
7.7
Audio Performance
10
10
9.5
8.8
9.3
9.3
8
8.5
8.3
8.8
Power Handling
10
9.8
10
9.8
8.5
9.8
8.8
8
9.8
8
Durability
9.5
9.5
5.5
9.8
9.3
2.3
10
9.5
1
1
Overall Audio Quality
A
A
A-
B
B+
B+
C+
B-
B-
B
High Frequency Accuracy
A-
B+
A
B+
B+
A+
C
B
B-
B-
Midrange Frequency Accuracy
A+
A-
A
C+
B+
B-
B+
B
B
B
Low Frequency Accuracy
B
A+
B-
A
B+
B
B+
B+
B
A
Frequency Range (Hz)
70 - 22,000
49 - 20,000
40 - 40,000
55 - 25,000
40 - 20,000
40 - 22,000
49 - 20,000
35 - 21,000
50 - 20,000
70 - 20,000
Comparative Loudness
B
A+
B-
A-
C+
C+
C+
C-
A
C
Reported Sensitivity (dB)
90
88
93
89.5
89
92
89
90
90
92
Continuous Power Handling (RMS watt)
100
60
100
60
60
100
75
65
60
75
Peak Power Handling (watt)
200
120
300
225
120
300
150
195
180
150
Mounting Depth (inches)
2.81
2.87
2.63
2.74
3.1
1.75
2.5
2.83
2.76
3.05
Marine Certified
Gold-Plated Terminals
-
-
-
-
Rubber Gasket Seal
-
-
-
Best Overall

Fusion FR6022

The Fusion FR6021 earned its spot as our pick for the best overall marine speaker because it combines high-end audio performance with high-end power handling and the most impressively durable speaker that I've reviewed. In addition, it's among the most affordable. If you're upgrading your boat's audio system, you have to consider this marine speaker series.
In the audio performance tests, the Fusion FR6021 received an A for overall audio quality. The low frequencies weren't as accurate as the mids and highs, but the performance was very accurate and balanced. In the comparative loudness test, the FR6021 received a B, which was above average. More importantly, it was right in line with the manufacturer's sensitivity rating: 90-dB at 1 meter using 1 watt of power. This isn't the highest sensitivity rating, but it's above average. Some speakers that had high sensitivity ratings weren't nearly as loud as the rating suggests, and vice versa. It's encouraging to see a speaker that lives up to its specifications. The continuous power handling is 100 RMS watts, which is the highest available. This means the FR6021 can handle more power than most marine speakers. It may not be the loudest speaker at a given power level, but it's capable of reaching higher volumes because you can safely pump more power into it. While most manufacturers don't make marine speakers a priority in their product portfolios, Fusion is a company that specializes in marine audio – and this matters. Fusion sets the standard for durability. The company's own True Marine testing standards exceed the general standard for marine certification.
Pros
  • Best overall audio quality
  • Best overall power handling
  • Best durability
Cons
  • Average efficiency
  • Grille is difficult to remove
  • Comparatively narrow frequency range
$113.09Amazon
Best Value

Clarion CMQ1622RL

The Clarion CMQ1622RL was one of the best performing speakers. And while it doesn't have the best power-handling specifications, it was the loudest we tested. When you consider the sub-$100 price, it's clear why this marine speaker is the best value.
In our audio frequency tests, the Clarion CMQ1622RL received an A for overall audio quality. It was practically indistinguishable from our top-rated speaker, the Fusion FR6022. However, this speaker is best from the low-end and steadily gets less accurate as it gets higher, while the FR6022 is at its most accurate in the midrange. The best feature of the Clarion CMQ1622RL is the comparative loudness, which received an A+. I played every speaker on the same stereo at four volume levels and measured the volume at 1 meter. The CMQ1622RL was the loudest at each level, which means it was more efficient at converting power to sound than all the other speakers. That’s a little surprising when you consider that its 88-dB sensitivity rating is the lowest available for a marine speaker. The one significant downside to the Clarion CMQ1622RL speakers is power handling. Its continuous power handling is rated for 60 RMS watts, and its peak power handling is rated for 120 watts. By comparison, the best speakers have a continuous power handling of 100 RMS watts and a peak rating of 300 watts. Still, if every CMQ1622RL is as efficient as the pair I tested, then the lower power handling won't matter much, as it will need less electricity to deliver just as loud an output.
Pros
  • Affordable
  • Grade-A Audio quality
  • Loudest output
Cons
  • Below-average power handling
  • Narrow frequency range
  • Deep mounting depth
$90.08Amazon
Best Marine Speaker with Lights

Wet Sounds XS-65ic-RGB

If you're concerned less with pushing audio past the wake and more about throwing evening soirees on your boat, then we have you covered. The Wet Sounds XS-65ic-RGB speakers, which feature multicolor LEDs that reflect off the woofer, is designed for boat parties. These speakers aren't the only ambience-creating speakers available, but they are the best performing speakers with lights that we found.
The multicolor LED light is built into the coaxial bridge that straddles across the woofer. As the woofer pulses to the rhythm, the light pulses as well, creating an impressive ambience. It comes with a remote control, allowing you to change the colors. In the audio quality tests, the XS-65ic-RGB received B+ grades for every frequency range, including the overall audio quality. By comparison, the Kicker KM654cw speaker that also features LED lights received B- grades. While the performance isn't as accurate as the high-end speakers, it's very balanced from top to bottom. The XS-65ic-RGB received a C+ in the comparative loudness tests, which is what you'd expect with a speaker that has a slightly below-average sensitivity rating of 89 dB. The best speakers have sensitivity ratings as high as 93 dB, which reflects the volume at 1 meter when using 1 watt of power. In other words, this speaker isn't as efficient at converting power to volume as other speakers, but for you, the extra mood-setting might offset the lower volume potential.
Pros
  • Lights provide ambience
  • B+ audio quality
  • Marine-certified durability
Cons
  • Below-average sensitivity
  • Lights require additional wiring
  • Poor power-handling specifications
$174.99Amazon

Why Trust Us

I have been reviewing marine speakers for Top Ten Reviews since 2013. Each year, I spend more than 40 hours testing car speakers and 80 hours researching the best marine speakers on the market. I spend hundreds more hours testing and researching car speakers, subwoofers, Bluetooth speakers and more. I am constantly working to hone my audio quality tests because a speaker is only as good as it sounds.

I consider myself an audiophile (someone who is deeply enthusiastic about high-fidelity sound reproduction). I am almost always listening to music. I have spent thousands of dollars over my life on headphones, speakers, amplifiers and receivers. My interest in the physics of audio reproduction started 1999 when my band entered a recording studio for the first time. I was quickly enthralled with the process of recording music and the challenge of getting the best audio possible. Since then, I have recorded five albums with various bands in professional studios and recorded an additional six solo albums. That adds up to more than 20 years of experience with recording, mixing and analyzing audio frequencies. I bring this experience and knowledge to my reviews.


How We Tested

The two factors that people consider when they listen to music is the audio quality and volume. You want your music to sound great and you want to turn it up. This is especially important on boats because you're usually in an open acoustic landscape that allows audio frequencies to quickly dissipate. A boat speaker’s efficiency is more vital than for a car speaker’s because the former needs to be capable of pushing your music pass the wake. It doesn't have the luxury of a sealed acoustic enclosure to maximize volume potential.

To test these two factors, I developed the following methodologies: 

Audio Quality
How good a speaker sounds is largely subjective. Everyone has their preferences and most people aren’t trained to effectively analyze the audio performance of a speaker, but they can tell you if something sounds good or bad to them. I approach speaker performance from a very objective perspective: A speaker should reproduce an audio signal as accurately as possible. Of course, no speaker is 100 percent accurate. Environmental factors such as air pressure, altitude and humidity can affect woofer performance. To find the best performing speaker, I have to make sure they are all tested in the same environment: the audio test room in the Top Ten Reviews test lab in Ogden, Utah.


I started by creating a 10-second sine tone that starts at 20Hz and transitions smoothly to 20kHz. I chose this frequency range because it represents the perceivable frequency range of humans. After warming up the speakers by playing music for 10 minutes and making my own personal notes about the performance, I played the sine tone through the speaker while recording the results with a sensitive directional microphone set up at 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 based on the five-minute recording.

Comparing the recorded frequency signature to the original frequency signature, I was able to grade the low, mid and high frequencies by counting the spikes and dips. I made sure to dismiss any spikes and dips that appeared in every speaker's frequency signature, as these are 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 big enough to hear, but you aren't likely going to perceive a dip less than 3 dB. After compiling these notes, the speakers with the fewest spikes and least impact received the highest grades because they reproduced the intended audio signal the closest.

Comparative Loudness
Every speaker has a sensitivity rating. Audiophiles and marketing materials often point at this rating as one of the most important features of a speaker because it represents total volume potential. Sensitivity, represented in decibels, is the volume measured at 1 meter using 1 watt of power (though sometimes manufacturers use a 2.86-volt method, which uses more power than the watt method). The problem, however, is that this specification isn't regulated, which means manufacturers are basing the rating on best-case scenarios and methods and not necessarily real-world use.

The best way to get around this is to measure the volume produced by each speaker when using the same amount of power, which is exactly what I did. I set up a decibel meter 1 meter from the speaker and measure the volume at four levels. I used the same stereo for each speaker so that the power output was the same at each level. Then I graded the results.

Interestingly, the loudest speaker in these tests, the Clarion CMQ-1622RL, had the lowest sensitivity rating. Sometimes the sensitivity rating matched the grade in the comparison, like a speaker with a 90-dB sensitivity rating receiving a B, but often, the highest sensitivity ratings weren't the loudest.  

Other Important Considerations When Buying Marine Speakers

As part of my research, I consulted with Steve Stern, president of the Mobile Electronics Competition Association, which puts on car audio competitions, about how you can get the best audio system. Although we discussed car audio systems, his advice works for boats as well. As with any audio system, he urges, the most important considerations are compatibility and installation. In fact, he said, "A tight install can work to bring out the best in even the most basic, inexpensive equipment. A weak install can bring unacceptable, compromised results with the most expensive and highly lauded speaker."

Here's some tips on making sure your new boat speakers are compatible with your current system:

Power Compatibility 
Before you buy a boat speaker, Stern suggests, make sure you know the limitations of your sound system. What are the stereo's power-handling specifications? This will tell you what type of speaker you can and cannot install on your boat.

Power handling is often viewed with regard to the speaker's quality. And indeed, there is some truth to that. Speakers with higher power-handling specifications are typically louder and more durable. However, it's more important to make sure your speakers match the stereo's (or amplifier’s) power output. This is critical, not only to ensuring both aren't damaged by being over- or underpowered, but for the speaker to perform optimally.

For starters, make sure the impedance of the speaker matches the impedance of the stereo. If a speaker is rated for 4 ohms, then the stereo needs to be rated for 4 ohms. (Most stereos have an impedance range. For example, the rating might be displayed as 3 – 16 ohms.) If the impedance doesn't match, the speaker will either draw too much power and burn out the amplifier, or it won't draw enough power and won't perform well.

Next, pair the continuous power handling. This represents the power that the speaker is rated to handle on a continuous basis. Exceeding this power with the stereo can wear out the speaker faster and risk blowing it.

Professional Installation
Installing a speaker can be as simple as unplugging your old speaker and connecting the wires to your new one’s positive and negative ports. However, it is often not so simple.

After touring a local audio garage, Sound Warehouse in Ogden, Utah, I saw this for myself. The professional audio installers showed me the various gauges of wiring and what a difference the wiring can make in an installation. They argued that it's often the most overlooked problem in a sound system, and one that most people aren't prepared to fix. In other words, unless you have a strong grasp on the ins and outs of electrical wiring, having a pro install the speakers is worth it.


Durability
Marine speakers and car speakers aren't very different. In some cases, such as the Polk MM1 series, the speakers are marketed for both cars and boats. The main difference between the two is durability. Boat speakers need to handle a life on the water – they usually live out in the open where they are exposed to sun, water and salt. Make sure you upgrade your boat speakers with units that are marine- certified.

Every speaker we reviewed is approved for marine use. This means they went through extensive tests that involved salt-fog resistance (which uses a saline fog spray to replicate marine environments), water resistance and UV resistance. 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.

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