Smartphones and tablets have revolutionized every facet of modern life, and boating is no exception. From black boxes that turn iPads into fully functioning chartplotters, to emailing your next port of call to arrange for repairs, many inconveniences previously endured by mariners have been eliminated thanks to technology. As in your newer model car, music is as accessible as ever on the water.
No matter what your style of boating: live-aboard, weekend cruises, or even day sailing, music can make your sailing experience tangibly more enjoyable. Unlike GPS and chartplotters, a stereo is not technically an essential part of a boat’s electronic equipment, but having quality sound aboard can make your boat the place to be.
There are just about as many stereo options as there are Jimmy Buffet albums (26 albums since 1970), and stereos can be notoriously hard to differentiate. That led us here at the Teak Rail to test four of the top tune-players available for mariners.
After stacking up the competition, we found that the Fusion MS-IP700i with Fusion Bluetooth connection module and wired remote make for the absolute best sound system for your vessel.
The MS-IP700i is encased in IPx5 waterproof aluminum, has a full-color LCD display and sounds great at all volumes. It’s fully integrated with any modern device you can play music from, including all Apple devices, Windows and Android phones, AM/FM, Sirius/XM and VHF radio, and any devices that can connect to USB or AUX inputs. It even has simple integration for a NMEA 2000 network, so you can see basic navigation readings from the MS-NRX200i wired remote.
What we found to make the Fusion the absolute best is its ability to be both the best simple AM/FM dock and the best hub of a state-of-the-art advanced media center for your boat.
The Fusion unit has four nameable and programmable zones that can be controlled together or individually, just in case your crew wants to siesta at the bow while you drive the boat from the stern. For example, one reviewer of the stereo had zones for “Helm High,” “Helm Low,” “Salon” and “Fly Bridge.”
With the MS-BT200 Bluetooth module, the Fusion stereo can control music on your smart device from the stereo, and the stereo can also be controlled on the smartphone or tablet as well.
Inside the stereo, there is a compartment for mobile devices to keep them high and dry while playing tunes under way. All options included, the stereo costs about $600.
Amazon reviewers have mostly raved about the Fusion deck. Those who gave the unit one-star reviews did so because they chose not to opt for the Bluetooth module, and could not connect Apple devices with lightning inputs (iPhone 5, etc.) from the internal connections. We found their gripes would have been completely nullified had they chosen the Bluetooth and wired remote options.
One fun feature that I personally liked is the ability to listen to VHF channels through the dock. This means you can sit at the bow, drinking your perfect cup of coffee while listening to that morning’s net and seeing what’s happening that day.
As mentioned before, there are a number of marine stereos that will get the job done, but they all lack something that the Fusion dock possesses. We tested models from Sony, Kenwood and Clarion, who are all prominent companies in marine audio.
Sony, who used to be known as the benchmark for audio and video quality, offers the DSX-MX60 stereo for $200. Like the Fusion, it has built in controls for apple devices, and has a built in compartment to store your iPhone when in use. In classic Sony fashion, the deck sounds great. It’s got a detachable face, which is nice if you leave your boat unattended for long periods of time, so as to discourage prying hands.
What we found, though, that when iPods and iPhones are plugged in and stored in the internal compartment, they overheat very quickly. Reviewers on Amazon and the Sony site reported that in as little as 30 minutes their device would shut off due to overheating. From what we found it had less to do with the compartment, but more to do with the input. Unfortunately, that was a deal breaker for us with the Sony dock. Even with its lower cost, it is a huge inconvenience to have your devices overheat constantly, not to mention the damage it could do to your iPhone.
Another dock that we tried out is the Kenwood KMR-700U. It has integration with Sirius/XM, 30-pin Apple devices (iPhone 4, etc.), and has a USB input for flash drives. We found the controls within the flash drive to work well, and reviewers didn’t mention the heat issues as often as with the Sony dock.
What we really couldn’t stand about this dock is its display. It looks simple with white text on a black background in the pictures, but once outside the display is incredibly hard to read. Once more, there isn’t a way to integrate the Kenwood dock with Bluetooth devices, which only decreases its grade in our book. Also, the wired remotes from Kenwood cannot integrate with NMEA 2000 navigation data, and its controls have fewer capabilities than the Fusion wired remote.
The final competitor we looked at is the Clarion CMD8. It has integration with Sirius/XM, iPods and USB devices, and the face of the dock is large and easy to read. The dock can be integrated with wired remotes and a Bluetooth module, just like the Fusion. You can even “like” or “dislike” songs on your iPhone’s Pandora radio from the dock. What struck us as odd, though, is that the USB cable only works with Apple products. That means that iPhone 5’s will work with the dock, but flash drives, and Android phones won’t work with the dock.
What really turned us off of this stereo is the inconsistency of its quality. We obviously don’t have enough time to see how the unit fares over repeated and sustained use, but multiple reviewers have warned of sending their dock back, only to receive a unit that had the same defect. Usually, these defects had to do with iPod integration, and being that you can’t connect other devices to this dock, we couldn’t give it the Teak Rail top spot.
The Fusion MS-IP700i has so many different integrations built in that it acts more as a media hub than just a stereo dock. In addition to having an iPhone application that can control all four independent areas, the IP700i can integrate with some Raymarine, Garmin and Furuno Multi-Function Displays so you can control the music from your GPS display. Essentially, no matter what device you have your music on, you can play it on the Fusion dock. And, for the most part, whatever you want to use to control the dock, you can do as well.
Fusion offers by far the best display out of the four stereos we tested as well. It only draws 8-11 Watts depending on the type of speakers you use, which is great for those of us cruising without land utilities.
Ben Ellison, resident electronics expert at marine technology hub Panbo said that the IP700i was great. After a conference call with Fusion headquarters, he said that he “came away even more impressed with how committed the company is to integrating its entertainment products with our boats and mobile A/V sources in every way possible.”
As mentioned before, Amazon reviewers who opted for the same setup we recommend—with Bluetooth integration and wired remote—had nothing but five star reviews for the Fusion dock. Those who didn’t, gave the unit one star because it didn’t hook up with their new iPhones, which could be easily fixed with the Bluetooth module.
So if you are looking to upgrade your boat’s outdated stereo so you can play more than CDs, the Fusion is hands down your best option. Not only can you play your favorite satellite radio stations, but it connects to just about every device with music on it except an 8-track.
When you want the best stereo for your boat, look no further than the Fusion MS-IP700i with MS-NRX200i wired remote and MS-BT200 Bluetooth module.