We like being able to take our music with us anywhere we go – even out onto the open ocean. But while our phone or car speakers will do the job while out jogging or commuting to work, marine speakers need to be able to withstand the harsh elements.
Salt, wind, rain and the ocean itself can’t be allowed to kill the groove when we’re out on a fishing trip or having a boat party, so you’ll need waterproof speakers that are not just sturdy, but powerful too. This is because the acoustics on an open boat are vastly different to what you are likely to experience on land, as you have not only the open air all around, but have to contend with crashing waves, the sound of the wind and – if you’re the social type – the sound of your friends’ chatter and laughter, all at once.
In our seaquest for the biggest fish among marine speakers, we had to take all this into account, as well as the balance of your bank account. A good marine speaker repels the elements, gives you enviable audio quality, doesn’t drain your battery, and is affordable too.
After a deep dive through more than 30 series of marine speakers, 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.
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 we'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.
The Clarion CMQ1622RL was one of the best-performing marine speakers in our test. 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, this Clarion marine speaker 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 gets steadily 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 we tested, then the lower power handling won't matter much, as it will need less electricity to deliver just as loud an output.
Best Marine Speaker with Lights
If you're less concerned 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.
Best Power Handling
The most impressive aspect of this Polk speaker is the power-handling. The sensitivity rating is the highest we've tested, at 93dB. This means it should be more efficient at converting power to volume than other marine speakers. In our comparative loudness tests, however, this speaker was only the fifth loudest.
Every speaker was measured using the same power and same acoustic space. Despite failing to be loudest, it was still very loud and plenty capable. With a continuous power handling of 100 RMS and 300 peak, it handles more power than most marine speakers. The audio quality of the Polk MM was among the best in our tests.
Overall, it earned an A- grade for quality. The high and midrange frequencies were very accurate, earning A grades in each range. The low frequencies were the least accurate, receiving a B- grade, but the bass still had punch to it, which is what the Polk MM is designed to produce.
Easiest to Install
These Polk speakers are among the most affordable marine speakers without sacrificing marine standard durability and audio quality. The DB+ boat speakers are also the easiest to install. With a mounting depth under 1.75 inches, the DB+ fits into almost every installation. By comparison, most boat speakers have a mounting depth close to 3 inches.
This shallow depth comes with some drawbacks, most notably in the scooping power of the bass, but it makes the DB+ more versatile. Similar to the Polk MM, the DB+ boat speaker has excellent power-handling specifications with a sensitivity rating of 92dB, but it failed to live up to these expectations in our comparative loudness test.
In fact, in a test where we measured every speaker's volume using the same power, it was one of the quietest speakers despite having one of the highest sensitivity ratings. In addition, the overall audio quality wasn't great compared to the best marine speakers. The accuracy of the low and midrange frequencies was average, but the high frequency range was excellent, receiving the only A+ grade in the tests. Unfortunately, an excellent high-range performance doesn’t make up for an overall imbalance.
How we tested marine speakers
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 important than for a car speaker’s because the former needs to be capable of pushing your music past the wake. It doesn't have the luxury of a sealed acoustic enclosure to maximize volume potential.
To test these two factors, we’ve developed the following methodologies:
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. We approached speaker performance from an 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, we had to make sure they are all tested in the same environment.
We started by creating a 10-second sine tone that starts at 20Hz and transitions smoothly to 20kHz. We chose this frequency range because this the hearing range of humans. After warming up the speakers by playing music for 10 minutes and making notes about the performance, we played the sine tone through the speaker while recording the results with a sensitive directional microphone set up at 6 inches from the woofer. We looped the tone for five minutes. Then we used a frequency analyzer plugin, which scans the recorded tone and creates an average frequency signature based on the five-minute recording.
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, but 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 we did. We set up a decibel meter 1 meter from the speaker and measure the volume at four levels. We used the same stereo for each speaker so that the power output was the same at each level. Then we 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.
All these results were then added up to find out which marine speaker was the best of them all.
How much do marine speakers cost?
The market for boat speakers is varied, as the price depends on the size of the speakers and the type. The speakers we tested are 6.5-inch coaxial speakers and cost between $60 and $200 for two speakers. They are all marine certified, which means they’re made of materials designed to handle water and UV rays. Coaxial speakers, which contain the woofer and tweeter in the same frame, are the cheapest kind of marine speaker, though. If you're looking for high-end marine speakers, consider component speakers instead. These cost between $150 and $600 for a pair of tweeter-less speakers.
What to consider when buying marine speakers
As part of our research, we consulted with Steve Stern, president of the Mobile Electronics Competition Association, which puts on car audio competitions, about how you can build 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:
Before you buy a boat speaker, Stern suggests, make sure you know the limitations of your sound system. What are the marine 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 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.
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 we saw this for ourselves. The professional audio installers showed us 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.
Marine speakers and car speakers aren't all that 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.
Evaluating the quality of any audio system starts with the speakers. But you also need to know what to listen for; you have to train your ears to listen for specific aspects of the performance. This requires a playlist of music designed to highlight specific performance qualities. Our colleagues at What Hi-Fi? put together an excellent playlist for testing audio quality, including explanations of what to listen for:
- For overall balance: Radiohead, “The National Anthem”
- For space: Bob Marley & The Wailers, “Turn Your Lights Down Low”
- For attack and decay: The Chemical Brothers, “Das Spiegel”
- For rhythm and timing: Can, “Spoon”
- For midrange quality: Anne Sofie von Otter, “Baby Plays Around”
- For treble quality: Max Roach, “Lonesome Lover”
- For dynamic range: George Gershwin, “Rhapsody in Blue”
- For bass control: Thundercat, “Uh Uh”
- For detail: Sergei Prokofiev, “Montagues and Capulets”
- For stereo focus: Sex Pistols, “Pretty Vacant”
Acoustics also plays a role in the quality of an audio system. And because boats have to compete with the open acoustic environment of a lake or ocean, you should evaluate the speakers outside. This means towing your boat out of a garage if that’s where you store it in the winter. Start by standing in the captain’s chair as you listen. During each song, move around the boat. This provides different perspectives of how your passengers would hear the music. If you find an area of the boat where the audio is dull, you’ve found a hole in the audio system and can add a component speaker there.
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.
The Clarion CMQ1622RL is our pick for best value because it combines excellent audio quality and comparative loudness at a price point under $100.
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.
|Product||Price||Overall Rating||Audio Performance||Power Handling||Durability||Overall Audio Quality||High Frequency Accuracy||Midrange Frequency Accuracy||Low Frequency Accuracy||Frequency Range (Hz)||Comparative Loudness||Reported Sensitivity (dB)||Continuous Power Handling (RMS watt)||Peak Power Handling (watt)||Mounting Depth (inches)||Marine Certified||Gold-Plated Terminals||Rubber Gasket Seal|
|Fusion FR 6022||View Deal||5/5||10||10||9.5||A||A-||A+||B||70 - 22,000||B||90||100||200||2.81||✓||✓||✓|
|Clarion CMQ 1622RL||View Deal||5/5||10||9.8||9.5||A||B+||A-||A+||49 - 20,000||A+||88||60||120||2.87||✓||✓||✓|
|Polk MM 652||View Deal||4.5/5||9.5||10||5.5||A-||A||A||B-||40 - 40,000||B-||93||100||300||2.63||✓||-||✓|
|JL Audio MX 650||View Deal||4.5/5||8.8||9.8||9.8||B||B+||C+||A||55 - 25,000||A-||89.5||60||225||2.74||✓||✓||✓|
|Wet Sounds XS 65ic-RGB||View Deal||4.5/5||9.3||8.5||9.3||B+||B+||B+||B+||40 - 20,000||C+||89||60||120||3.1||✓||✓||✓|
|Polk DB+ 652||View Deal||4.5/5||9.3||9.8||2.3||B+||A+||B-||B||40 - 22,000||C+||92||100||300||1.75||✓||-||-|
|Rockford Fosgate Prime RM1652||View Deal||4.5/5||8||8.8||10||C+||C||B+||B+||49 - 20,000||C+||89||75||150||2.5||✓||✓||✓|
|Kicker KM 654cw||View Deal||4/5||8.5||8||9.5||B-||B||B||B+||35 - 21,000||C-||90||65||195||2.83||✓||✓||✓|
|JBL MS 6520||View Deal||4/5||8.3||9.8||1||B-||B-||B||B||50 - 20,000||A||90||60||180||2.76||✓||-||-|
|MBQUART NH1-116B||View Deal||4/5||8.8||8||1||B||B-||B||A||70 - 20,000||C||92||75||150||3.05||✓||-||-|