Onboard Entertainment: The Digital Files Converge
Marine entertainment systems can accommodate pretty near any content you care to cart--or stream--aboard. "Electronics Review" from our November 2011 issue.
I’m so old that I remember building a custom rack so our collection of 8-track tapes was handy to the car stereo we’d installed on our wooden sloop in the early 1970s. Having tunes at sea and in remote anchorages was sweet, but the cartridges tended to fail in a snarl of Mylar, the player itself slowly succumbed to salt air, and eventually even the format went extinct. Cassettes held up better, and CDs better still, but neither remotely compares to today’s digital storage devices as an efficient medium for enriching your cruising with music, audio books, podcasts, and even videos. You can step aboard with months of entertainment in one pocket, a backup in the other, and the original material safely tucked away at home. And now there’s a choice of stereos designed not only to manage and play your onboard library well but also to hold up in a marine environment.
Fusion Audio, a relatively new company based in New Zealand, arguably spearheaded the advent of truly modern marine stereos a few years ago, with the introduction of its MS IP500. It was built to IPx5 waterproof standards, had large controls and a big display that were easy to use and see even while under way in a fresh breeze, and it supported up to four zones of speakers and rugged single-cable remotes. Plus it had sailboat-friendly power-efficient Class D amplification; I’ve measured less than 10 watts of drain in normal use and only 12 when pumping bottom-heavy reggae through four Fusion 5- and 9-inch waterproof speakers.
But the highlight of Fusion’s original design was the ability to slip almost any model of Apple iPod or iPhone into a built-in dock where it remained safe and charged while you could quickly search and play by artists and albums using the Fusion’s controls. And note here that the audio quality available from Apple’s USB docking port is better than what you get just using the headphone jack.
Fusion’s current high-end model, the IP600, priced in the United States at $350, added a few new features, like the ability to automatically fade the tunes to a ringing iPhone in the dock, setting you up to take the call with a Bluetooth headset. For those not ready to jettison their onboard compact-disc collection, there’s a sibling AV600 model that also plays DVDs—outputting the video to any screen with an RCA video input. This player also can be accessorized with a separate “iThing” dock.
Somewhat oddly, though, it’s Fusion’s newer economy stereo, the compact RA200, priced at $250, and its SonicHub collaboration with Navico that really show off where the innovative company is headed.
For instance, the RA200’s receiver has a VHF band (as well as the standard FM and AM bands and the ability to control a black-box Sirius Satellite radio), and Fusion built in controls so you can scan favorite channels. It’s also the first Fusion with a USB port. That means you can listen to a memory stick full of MP3 audio files or access, control, and charge an undocked iPod or iPhone using its standard USB cable instead of using one of Fusion’s waterproof docks. But you may want to spring for the advanced MS-DKIPUSB dock ($100) because besides both interior and exterior memory-stick ports, it sports an RCA video port. Fusion, you see, has figured out how to output the movies, TV shows, vidcasts, and so forth that you can collect via iTunes.