So you just spent a boat load, literally, of money, on your new toy. It has an awesome electronics package with dual screens, great systems and propulsion. And then you turn on the stereo and wonder why, for all that money, the manufacturer installed such a mediocre sound system.
Well, that’s a bit harsh. But all too often it’s true. Your boat may have unidentified flush mount speakers where the grilles look good, but they are simply hiding a cheap driver behind. So why do manufacturers do this? There are a number of reasons.
Some boat owners don’t care. That’s fine – it’s not their thing. Others want to make their own choices and do their own upgrades. So that puts boat builders in a difficult position.
Day and ski boats will usually have or available as an option, high powered stereos with subwoofers and amplifiers. Many of them sound really good and use some of the best available components. This isn’t the case in many cabin cruisers or yachts that you might consider. In fact, the components will often be pretty bland.
Here’s the first case-in-point. Bose is a “go-to” solution for many manufactures. But why? The answer is two-fold. Bose provides a packaged solution that fits in a small footprint. It is also very inexpensive to an OEM.
What a lot of people don’t know is that the small fullthat Bose uses cost about $5 each to produce. A pair of those cubes retail for $300. Take away retail and distributor markup and that means an OEM can buy them for about $35 each. Not bad for them. Not good for you.
I don’t want to get into an argument about Bose sound quality – no one will win. Some will say it’s subjective or opinion – but I’m talking about a difference you can hear. And that’s not a trained ear – it’s any ear. (Audiophile gear onboard is a different article – but some of these solutions will offer sound even really demanding will appreciate.)
So let’s take a look at what we can do to upgrade your boat with some high-end products without tearing it up with new holes and wiring, and without breaking the bank.
The first category is pretty simple. Most boats have some automotive style and sized speakers on the flybridge, aft deck and depending on the boat in the interior. JL Audio offers exceptional quality and sound at pricing that depends on your demands. A pair of 6 ½” 2- way speakers starts at around $200 and goes up to the mid $400’s.
JL Audio has been around since 1975 building high-performance products for enthusiasts and the most demanding customers. Their engineering team are some of the best having won awards and accolades at every level of the audio industry from mobile to marine to audiophile. In fact, their top audiophile subwoofer retails for $16,500. That matters because the engineering ends up being applied to every product, regardless of price.
The next category is subwoofers. Exterior or interior JL Audio offers good options. Now, they may be able to fit in existing locations and openings, but for optimum performance, you might want an AV specialist to assure you get the best performance possible out of them. Surprisingly prices start at around $250. There are other subwoofer options – more on that later.
To make those speakers work, you need a head unit and amplifier. Your boat may have come with a Fusion or similar head unit. They usually have internal amplifiers. But is that enough to get the most out of higher performance speakers? The head unit may suffice, but internal amps won’t.
If you have a Fusion head unit, you most likely have Fusion remotes located on your boat. To keep this simple, you can upgrade your Fusion head unit to the Apollo series. JL Audio also offers an excellent head unit called MediaMaster. It will fit into the factory locations and has remotes similar to Fusion. A competent installer should be able to do a good job. (Ask to see images of other installs, watch one in progress, or talk to one of their customers before you let them on your boat. Also, make sure they are licensed, bonded and insured.)
In either case, you’ll need amplification. That’s simple. JL Audio. Their marine series is about the best out there. Pricing starts at under $500 and well, depending on your whims can get very expensive. But regardless of your budget, you will be very satisfied with the results.
Now, what can you do with those Bose speakers dangling from your salon walls or ceiling? There’s an excellent solution. It’s a simple swap that will improve your sound a lot!
Anthony Gallo has long built audio spheres that even audiophiles enjoy. They are available in 4 versions, 2 sizes, and a number of metal finishes and colors. Pricing starts at around $225 a pair and up for larger sizes. They will even do a custom finish, at extra cost, to match your boat if you like.
So you ask, why is the Gallo better than the Bose? It’s like this. There are different qualities for steak. There are those that you can get at a diner, and those that you get a fine steak house.
If you can’t taste the difference – you can stop reading now LOL! If you can, then you understand my meaning. When you upgrade a speaker and other components, it’s as if lifting many veils off, adding dynamics and clarity to bring you closer to accurate sound. And if you are hard of hearing, even more reason to upgrade. The clarity makes it much easier to hear and enjoy.
Gallo offers flush mount kits for their speakers – but always consider the depth and location of the speaker. The last thing you want to do is cut a hole in an interior surface only to reveal sunlight!
That brings us to a wonderful speaker for installation in walls or ceilings. Short of a custom audiophile system, this will satisfy even the most demanding sound quality and performance criteria.
Sonance is fairly well-known for their contractor series of products by high-end installers and builders. What a lot of people don’t know is that they produce a pretty esoteric speaker that is an exceptional performer.
Their VP38R is a full-range 2-way speaker than can be very discretely installed in walls or ceilings. It has a 3 ½” woofer and a ¾” tweeter. So what you ask? That would be normal given the size. The components are pretty esoteric with a woofer of Rohacell sandwich and carbon fiber construction. The tweeter is ceramic.
Sonance also offers a matching subwoofer with the same high-end cone construction that can be mounted in a hidden location. Audiophile versions of this level of componentry for home use can exceed many thousands of dollars a pair. So are they worth it and how much?
Yes and maybe. As I said, short of a custom audiophile solution exceeding $10,000, these provide extraordinary sound performance. You can get a pair of VP38R satellites and a BPS6 subwoofer for about $2000. Add another 3 satellites and you will most likely have a theater set-up likely to be better than you have at home.
Hopefully this information can help you make final decisions, or minimally, give you food for thought. In the end, you chose your boat, electronics and engines very carefully. You performed your due diligence. There’s no reason you should compromise with your audio system.
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JL Audio Head Units, Amplifiers, Speakers and Subwoofers
About the Author – This contribution is from an industry insider with credits including designing recording studios, high-end screening rooms (clients include audiophiles, and film and television executives protected by non-disclosure agreements), and producing custom reference monitors beginning at $15,000 a pair.