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Marine Radio Receiver Buying Guide: Stereo Systems for Boats

Marine radios make every ride the best part of any vacation day. Whether you're doing the classic five o'clock cruise around the lake or wakeboarding across the waters at high speeds, you'll want to hear playlists that make the moment perfect. Enjoy the soundtracks of summer with the perfect marine audio system for your boat; we'll help you find the right one for you with our marine radio receiver buying guide.

Take Your Sounds on the Water

What Do They Do?

Marine radios are often cosmetically similar to the ones you might find in a car, with an easy-to-read display, adjustable buttons and knobs and different inputs to help you hear your audio from multiple sources. Older technology from decades past may include cassette players and simple AM/FM radio tuning.

When to Replace

Whether you own a boat with a factory-installed sound system that isn't fitting your needs or are renovating a vintage watrecraft, it might be time to upgrade. Consider whether your boat's stereo system does what you need it to do. Are you more of a fishing family, and a simple AM radio is all you need to hear (or better yet, the radio stays off to keep the fish from hearing)? Otherwise, you'll probably want a sound system that can connect to your smartphone (or two) and play your favorite playlists.

Before You Pick One Out, Consider the Features You'll Need

What Are You Connecting To?

Consider what sort of inputs you'll be listening to. Whether you're 15 or 65, the most common input you'll want to outfit your boat with is a Bluetooth receiver for your smartphone. If you're hoping to allow more than one DJ to share the spotlight, keep an eye out for receivers that can pair with more than one device. Additional ways to connect to smartphones and even MP3 players include an aux-in cable port or USB port.
Love listening to your favorite satellite radio shows? Instead of burning data and playing them from your cell, choose a model that's equipped to pick up satellite radio from services like Sirius XM. Listen to your favorite comedy channels, news shows, rock DJs and more as you cruise across the water.
Finally, consider other features you might want unique to your listening, like CD players to match your massive collection of discs. Those are harder to find these days with the prevalence of music streaming services, so we'd recommend you stick to searching for Bluetooth-enabled versions.

Large or Small Interface?

Before going ahead and picking the perfect marine radio, consider how large your boat's dashboard is and where a device would fit and wire in. For music lovers, a massive receiver complete with LCD screen, USB inputs and dozens of buttons might seem like the best choice, but if your watercraft's console is small, it just might not be the option for you. Many consoles are equipped with a single-DIN receiver that's two inches tall, and any other standard single-DIN stereos will fit right in the same spot, making a switch a simple thing. If you've got your eye on an XL double-DIN model, you'll likely need to make some modifications to your boat's console to allow it to fit. Meanwhile, still more extra-small marine radios fit in gauge openings. Just about anything on the water has one of those, making gauge models some of the smallest and most versatile devices on the market. If you're all out of options, look for models called "hideaway receivers" that are installed completely out of sight. Whichever size you pick, if you're not certain you can wire it in correctly, make sure you have an expert take a look at the hardware for you (like our team members at Abt).

Other Audio Components You May Need

It's rare that a replacement marine radio is installed without needing other upgraded audio gear (the same speakers from the 90's might not do your hip hop playlists justice while you wakeboard). Other equipment you'll need include external amplifiers, powerful water-ready subwoofers, speakers and navigation systems. If you're building out a massive audio system for your boat complete with boat speakers on all sides, look for a marine radio receiver with multiple sets of preamp outputs to ensure you get sound all around.

Buying & Installation Tips

  1. When browsing, keep in mind that not all marine radios are the same level of strength. Look for gear that's both UV-resistant and waterproof, or at least water resistant. Consider products that have been treated to withstand corrosion and salt water as well.
  2. Before ordering new equipment, consider removing the old device, measuring the cutout, and then ordering new based on those dimensions.
  3. When installing, make sure to measure your receiver and the cavity depth accurately before cutting into your dash. A mounting plate will give your build that clean finish that will make it look like it was installed in a professional garage.

Q&A Summary

What's the Difference Between Waterproof and Water-Resistant Marine Receivers?

Water-resistance means that the hardware has been designed to handle light rain and splashes. Truly waterproof gear can stand up to the test of being submerged.

Where Should I Install Mine?

Where it will best fit your space! For some wide pontoon dashboards, you'll be able to fit a double-DIN (extra-tall) marine radio receiver. For other boats, you'll need a single DIN, one that will fit in your gauge, or even a hideaway that stays out of sight. For an easy at-home install, look for one that is the same size as the existing one in your watercraft—that way, you won't have to make too many cuts in your dash.

Where Can I Get Mine Installed?

Head to your nearest marine audio experts with your new equipment in hand. If you're a local Chicagoland customer, bring your watercraft by Abt Electronics. Our team of mobile audio engineers is experienced in all things mobile and sonic, and we've been crafting the best sound systems on nearby waters for years. For help choosing the sound system that's best for your space, call us at 847-954-4140. Whether you spend your time on the water cruising, fishing or flying at high speeds, you'll have a blast enjoying the best audio you can find with your newly installed marine receiver.

What Our Customers Say About Us

Delivery was great. Communication was excellent and the driver called 10 minutes before arrival.
Sonia L. - Chicago, IL
May 11, 2023