Do your eyes glaze over when a salesperson lists the features of a stereo you’re thinking about buying? Do you routinely invite your 12-year-old nephew on boating excursions because you need somebody to work the stereo remote? Have you ever listened to a fellow boatie brag about his audio system without having the faintest idea of what he was talking about? If so, don’t worry – you’re not alone.
From the iPod-enabled marine audio system to the waterproof DVD player, onboard entertainment systems are making our time on the water more fun and convenient. And while we are ever-thankful to the ingenious engineers who come up with this stuff, we have to wonder why they’re so terrible at explaining what their inventions do. In other words, to understand the RMS of my LCD CD/MP3/WMA/AAC/DVD player, do I need a PhD?
“No,” is the short answer, according to Dan Soeters from Marinonics Gold Coast Marine Electronics and Electrical Specialists. Soeters, who has installed hundreds of marine audio systems in his career, admits that it’s often hard to keep up with the latest technological developments, and he offers this piece of advice to customers: skip the jargon.
“You often get customers who have heard one or two catchphrases or terms,” Soeters explains, “but if you come in and say those acronyms to somebody who knows what they’re actually talking about, they’re going to talk back to you in the same way, and they’ll lose you pretty quickly. And then you’ll end up just agreeing to whatever they’re saying because you really don’t understand it.”
Making onboard entertainment systems is an extremely competitive business. The companies that create these systems distinguish themselves by their ability to invent brand new, hi-tech features. Usually, with each new wave of inventions, a company invents its own set of acronyms and numbers to represent its unique features. The result is it’s almost impossible for anybody except extreme audiophiles to keep up.
Soeters recommends keeping it simple. “It’s actually much better to come in and say: ‘Look, I don’t know anything about stereos; I just want to be able to use my iPod and for it to be loud’,” he says.
There are, however, three things every customer should be familiar with: ‘IEC 60529 IPx’, ‘ASTM-B117’ and ‘ASTM-D4329’. But before your eyes start to glaze over, don’t worry – these are just oddly named independent testing systems to rate water, salt, fog and UV resistance.
INGRESS PROTECTIONFor reasons unknown, engineers continue to believe that they are making things easier for us by using a bunch of acronyms and numbers to describe their work. IEC 60529 IPx4 is an example of one of these mysterious clusters you’re bound to come across when looking to buy a marine audio system.
But according to Soeters, knowing a particular system’s IEC 60529 IPx rating (‘IPx’ for short) is the best way of determining how long your stereo is going to last in a boat. “Generally speaking, the higher your ‘IPx’ rating, the more you’re going to get out of your stereo in a marine environment,” says Soeters.
Okay, but what does IEC 60529 IPx4 mean? Back in the ’70s, the International Electronics Commission (or IEC) put out a publication called IEC 60529 Degrees of Protection Provided by Enclosures (catchy, isn’t it?). It was a big hit among engineers. In case you missed it, one of the things IEC 60529 Degrees of Protection Provided by Enclosures (or IEC 60529 for short) established was an international moisture resistance rating for electronics, also known as an Ingress Protection (or IPx) rating.
When you see IEC 60529 in relation to a marine stereo, that’s engineer-speak for, ‘We’re referring to the standards laid out in that famous IEC publication’.
According to IEC 60529, IPx ratings for electronics range from zero to eight. While electronics rated IPx0 have no protection from water at all, a system rated IPx8 can basically be used under water. Most marine electronics come in around IPx4. The systems we have profiled in this article all have a rating of IPx5 or above.
SALT, FOG AND UV EXPOSURE
Two other rating systems that are often quoted on adverts for marine electronics are the ‘ASTM International Standards for Salt/Fog Resistance’ (ASTM-B117) and the ‘ASTM International Standards for UV Stability’ (ASTM-D4329).
ASTM International was originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials. Today it is an international standards organisation that develops and publishes technical standards for a wide range of products and systems. The organisation is over 100 years old and has carried out so many tests that it would be impossible to keep track of all their names, so these days they just number them.
One of the many tests developed by the ASTM was the B117 salt-spray corrosion test. Basically, when a product is run through the B117 test, it’s put in a closed testing chamber and bombed with a fog of salt. If the product passes the test, its maker gets to use the sought-after ASTM-B117 certification in its marketing and advertising.
Another classic from ASTM is the D4329 test that exposes plastic to light, heat and water to determine its ability to handle fluorescent UV exposure. If the product passes the test, its maker gets to use the ASTM-D4329 certification in its advertising too.
Probably the most important thing to consider when you buy your onboard entertainment system is how well the system can withstand exposure to water and the elements. Before you evaluate the features or design of your sound system, it’s best to look for the IPx, B117 and D4329 ratings to ensure your entertainment unit doesn’t pack it in when exposed to humidity, wind, salt, sun, corrosion and so on.
MISTAKES TO AVOID
There are two simple things you can do to ensure you get the most out of your onboard entertainment system. First of all, if you really want to hear the music on your marine audio system, it’s probably best to go with a system that has a little more power than seems necessary in the showroom. As Dan Soeters says: “Keep in mind that once you’re out on a boat and you add all that wind noise, water noise and engine noise, you’ll discover that what seemed quite loud in a showroom isn’t sufficient on a running boat.”
Finally, avoid the most common mistake of all: don’t put price above protection. “People often buy cheap marine stereos or even car stereos thinking they’re saving money,” Soeters says. “But as the corrosion gets into the circuitry, the features start packing it in, and before long, the system is not working at all.”
Soeters says you’re better off getting one proper marine entertainment unit than four or five ‘cheaper’ units, which you will have to replace every five or six months. “Pay a little extra at the start and you’ll get value out of the system in the long run,” he says.
From AMPS to WAVS
Mysterious audio terms made simple …
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Most of the following terms turn up at some point in the description of many marine audio systems. Although most are pretty familiar, be honest – do you really know the difference between a megabyte and a gigabyte?
AAC: Advanced Audio Coding. The default audio format for the iPod. If something is AAC capable, it will play the songs on your iPod.
FUSION 600 Series
The recently-launched FUSION MS-AV600 plays CD/MP3 and DVD, and offers an optional dock for iPod music as well. The company also offers the MS-iP600, which has an internal waterproof housing for iPods.
FUSION’s latest Alpha Search Technology and fully integrated iPod interface offers the user all functions via an easy-to-use rotary encoder. The large, adjustable backlit LCD screen delivers an accurate display of the iPod menu.
The 600 series offers a maximum output of 70 watts, with Class-D amplifiers delivering powerful operation, outstanding battery efficiency, plus dual mono subwoofer output, all contained in the MS-AV600’s aluminium chassis.
To increase the sound range, FUSION also offers subwoofers and booster amplifiers. FUSION’s multizone control feature enables fully-adjustable volume and balance control in all areas connected to the head unit. This means the music can be loud in the cockpit, but quiet in the saloon. Additionally, boat owners have the option to use up to three wired remote controls with the entertainment system.
FUSION says the MS-AV600’s die-cast construction is uniquely engineered for full 360-degree resistance to the harsh marine environment. This ‘True Marine’ water-resistant design is achieved through an O-Ring seal, resisting salt spray, humidity and pounding seas.
Ingress protection: IEC 60529 IPx5
GME GR9200 series
The GR9200 marine stereo system from GME is available in black or white and in two discrete configurations. For the smaller vessel where exposure to the elements is greater, the fully-enclosed GR9240 is ideal. For larger boats or yachts where bulkhead installation is the preferred option, the GR9220 is the perfect solution.
Features on the GR9200 series include AM/FM stereo and CD/MP3 playback through 180 watts of audio power. The unit also includes SD and USB inputs to accommodate compressed music files, and it also has iPod compatibility via an optional iPod interconnect lead.
To protect the GR9200 series from the harsh marine environment, all circuitry is conformally coated, exposed metalwork is protected against the elements and the unit is fitted with a newly-designed, UV-stabilised and water-resistant housing.
The GR9200 series can also have two additional wired remotes (RCU9200) connected, allowing control of the stereo from two extra locations, such as close to the swim platform, or at a second helm station.
To complement the performance of the systems in the GR9200 range, GME has developed a range of waterproof speakers. These come with a three-year warranty, as well as a range of antennaes and various accessories, such as the GA9800 1450-watt amplifier.
Ingress protection GR9240: IEC 60529 IPx6 (complete enclosed housing)
Clarion’s CMV1 can play MP3 and WMA files burned on a CD or DVD as well as standard CD audio. It can play DVD movies on the waterproof LCD display or through the video output on the rear of the unit. Additionally, the owner can connect an MP3 player or flash drive via the USB port and play digital music files or digital video files directly from the device.
The large 3.5in monitor allows easy viewing of a variety of digital audio/video sources. In addition to DVD, the CMV1 also plays DivX-encoded discs, as well as iPod video.
Clarion says its marine systems are designed specifically to survive in the marine environment, with water resistance and UV resistance being top priorities in its marine stereo gear. The flip-down CD door on the CMV1 has a watertight seal and releases quickly. The rubber gasket door assembly gives the CMV1’s internal components complete water protection, says Clarion.
The BBE MP (Minimised Polynomial Non-Linear Saturation Process) improves digitally compressed sound such as MP3/WMA/AAC by restoring the harmonics that are lost through compression, thereby reproducing the warmth, details and nuances you would otherwise be missing. Clarion says BBE MP-enhanced harmonics even serve to make regular CDs sound better.
Jensen Marine has recently launched the MSR2107 waterproof AM/FM and USB-equipped marine stereo, developed from the ground up to meet the specific needs of the marine industry.
The MSR2107 includes a new feature: 1GB of onboard memory and USB capability via the USB interface located on the tuner/amp. With this feature, the user can download about 250 MP3/WMA files from a USB device, such as a flash drive or computer, and play them through the stereo.
The head unit of the MSR2107, which meets IPx6 waterproof standards, can be used in all exterior applications and is resistant to all marine conditions – water, salt, humidity, moisture, UV rays and heat.
The MSR2107 features full iPod control, AM/FM stereo and USB capability, and was developed without a CD player to minimise warranty exposure. The head unit possesses large, user-friendly backlit buttons, a sunlight-readable dot matrix LCD display and a rubber keypad.
The MSR2107 boasts 200 watts of power, sports a high-tech space-saving design and retains Jensen’s industry-exclusive features such as ‘Low Battery’ alert and ‘Zero Memory Current Draw’.
Ingress protection: IEC 60529 IPx6