Alpine, Clarion and other leading suppliers are examining a new trend in marine audio. It’s the same trend that has overtaken car audio—namely OE integration with other electronics in the dash board.
As boats start to show signs of integration—with chart plotters sharing a screen with audio–suppliers are re-figuring their product strategies.
Alpine’s Steve Crawford said of tying in the radio with other marine electronics, “We first were made aware of it about 3 years ago. Now we’re seeing more and more coming into the market with it. We’re studying what the next step ought to be.”
Clarion’s Adam Thomas said in the future, car audio suppliers will need to work with makers of multi-function displays, as a result.
“There’s a natural evolution taking place that’s following a very similar path to what the automotive OEM systems followed—greater integration of boat systems with infotainment,” said JL Audio’s Manville Smith. “We’re starting to see that on new boats and it will continue to be a trend so marine audio will need to be designed to integrate with boat systems in a more direct way.”
Fortunately, boat makers are increasingly adopting a standard data bus called NMEA 2000. So an integrated system could use one touch screen that attaches to many nodes on the network, including a chart plotter, fish finder, radar and AV system.
Leading boat retailer West Marine expects to see more integrated audio systems. “There are… an increasing number of audio products that can be integrated into the boat’s networked electronics, so that you can use a large sophisticated touch-screen device as a comprehensive ‘remote’ for the system,” said Chuck Hawley, VP Product Information. “Marine Electronics vendors like Simrad, Lowrance, and Fusion are offering integrated systems, with other vendors coming online shortly.”
Fusion’s aftermarket MS-IP700 and AV700 shipped this month as the first aftermarket marine radios that work with NMEA 2000. And they also work with Ethernet and WiFi and let you control your radio from an iPhone or iPad.
The products are already challenged with meeting demand, despite an almost 30 percent rise in retail price from traditional marine audio products, said Todd Crocker, president of Fusion’s national rep firm in the U.S., West Coast Sales. “If anything, we underestimated pretty significantly, the demand for the product.”
The CD/radios with built in 2-inch LCD, SiriusXM, VHF weatherband and USB start at $449 and move up to a $599 for the AV700 with DVD.
They feature “Fusion-Link,” which allows other products, such as a GPS device, to act as a touch screen for a Fusion device. By October, we will see the first GPS products that can control Fusion radios from the GPS screen. You might tap the Fusion-Link icon on the GPS screen to bring up all the stereo controls, said Crocker. From the GPS, “They can do searches by artist, song, playlist, adjust the treble and bass of the head unit. Anything you could do at the head unit, you could do on their unit. It’s just a matter of how deep the manufacturer goes in writing the software.”
“We’re the first audio manufacturer to develop a software kit to allow those manufacturers…to take full control of our device,” he added.
He expects, in the future, many marine electronics devices will be hidden below deck where they are less likely to suffer damage from the elements.