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 Kicker KM, 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 speakers.
Few moments in life are as fantastic as a day on the water in your boat with family and friends, basking in the sun and towing someone in your wake. Adding your favorite music to this equation only makes these days better. However, boats exist in harsh environments that aren't ideal for audio speakers. Acoustically, boat speakers must compete with the sound of the engine, the water, the wind and the open air. Physically, marine speakers have to survive water, salt, fog, dust and hours in the sun. Replacing your marine speakers with durable, high-fidelity speakers is critical to ensuring the soundtrack to your boating lifestyle is as epic as you want it to be.
Every speaker ever made is only as good as its ability to reproduce audio accurately. For the best audio quality, you must ensure that you match the power ratings of your marine speaker to the power ratings of your boat's receiver or amplifier. An ill-powered speaker is the easiest way to damage the tweeter or woofer, causing clipping and distortions that eventually result in a blown speaker.
We considered the audio quality and accuracy of three frequency ranges: low-range, mid-range and high-range. The low-range frequencies, 20Hz to 470Hz, is where you hear the bass and rhythm section of a song. The midrange frequencies, 470Hz to 7.5kHz, is 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, is where you hear the spatial definition and presence in instruments like bells and cymbals.
Marine speakers need to be loud because they operate in an open acoustic landscape. 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 that you'll have a marine speaker capable of playing over the wake while you're out on the water. A high sensitivity rating also means that you can achieve 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 handle on a continuous basis. The peak power handling represents how much power the speaker can handle in short bursts. You should look for a boat speaker with a high sensitivity rating and a high continuous power handling rating because this will give you the loudest speaker, so long as you have an amplifier capable of powering the speakers appropriately.
For marine speakers, durability is a differentiating characteristic from car speakers and car subwoofers because they aren't protected from the elements. You need to make sure they can handle a life on the water. Marine speakers are out in the open where they'll be exposed to sun, water and salt. The woofer should be made of a stiff polypropylene-based material that won'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 these in the cockpit or cabin area, though they can also be used as tower speakers if the 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'll also want to consider the options within each marine speaker series. To learn more, read our articles on marine speakers here.
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 actual biology and musical taste and experience create a bias. We are no different. To address this subjectivity, we designed an audio frequency test performed in an equal environment so that the audio performance of each speaker is 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, using the same recording software. We did our best to ensure that all the variables were equal throughout the tests.
While the perceivable frequency range of each person is different, humans generally have the ability to hear frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz. We used a digital sine wave audio file that progressed from the lowest end of the frequency spectrum to the highest end. We played this file through each speaker and recorded the results with a microphone placed at the same distance from the woofer. To account for anomalies, we recorded each marine speaker reproducing the file 10 times. Then we used a frequency-analyzing plugin within the recording software to create the average frequency signature of the 10 recordings and the original sine wave file. 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 a variable change less than 3 dB from grading. We attributed these to variables outside our control, such as microphone or receiver limitations. Then we looked at the decibel difference from the highest peak to the lowest dip in each frequency range because this showed the greatest absolute change in the frequency reproduction. Any unique dips greater than 3 dB represent an audible change and were noted negatively against the grading. 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 of each manufacturer is reflected in our comparison. You might also be interested in ambient enhancements like LEDs, though these aren't reflected in the 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'll 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.
Help & Support
Anytime you're dealing with complicated electrical equipment, you 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 service your equipment for you.
If you use your boat for social gatherings, you may want to consider marine speakers with LEDs. These speakers 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.
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 Kicker KM, 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.