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Autosound Suppliers Deep-Dive Into The Marine Market

NEW YORK — Aftermarket marine-audio sales are stable to growing, according to various car-audio suppliers, prompting multiple suppliers to expand their selections to stir up the waters.

JVC unveiled its first marine head unit in about seven years. Blaupunkt is re-entering the marine- audio aftermarket, and Clarion is expanding its head-unit selection to seven from five.

Dual is launching its first two gauge-hole receivers and seven receiver/ speaker combos, bringing its 2014 marine assortment to 20 SKUs, while Kenwood is expanding its in-dash marine head-unit selection to five models from three.

One key reason for all of the activity could be that the automotive- A/V aftermarket shrank for the third consecutive year in 2013, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) estimates show, and the forecast is for another drop in 2014. Sales include in-dash audio and A/V head units, navigation head units and in-car video products.

In 2013, factory-level sales fell an estimated 4.3 percent to $1.46 billion following a 3.3 percent drop in 2012 and a 10.8 percent drop in 2011, CEA found. The association forecasts a 2014 decline of 1.6 percent.

Another reason for the leap is that marine head units are suitable for other applications, expanding their potential customer base. “The marine category is a stable market, but we are seeing product designated as marine being installed in vehicles that are subjected to the elements, such as motorcycles, ATVs and golf carts,” said Tony Mercado, Kenwood marketing development manager.

JVC national product supervisor Jacob Hardin sees the marine-audio market growing because of the improving economy and because marine head units can be purposed for motorcycles, UTVs and ATVs. “It is growing steadily, outpacing most other core mobile product categories,” he said.

Many of the new head units are digital media receivers (DMRs). “The marine market is finally ready to embrace digital media receivers,” a Dual spokesperson said. “CD receivers are much more prone to skip in rough waters, and you do not have this issue with mechless receivers.”

Here’s what key suppliers plan:

Blaupunkt, marketed by Rockford, has not actively sold marine audio in North America for at least three years, but now it plans first-quarter shipments of the $159-suggested Capri 220 mechless source unit, a $49 Bluetooth dongle with its own power supply, and the three-model MSx coaxial speaker series priced from $64 to $79/pair.

Dual’s new products consist of two gauge-hole receivers and seven receiver/speaker combos, bringing the 2014 marine assortment to 20 SKUs. They consist of four receivers, 11 combos and five speakers.

The company expanded its lineup of marine DMRs to two models and its line of receiver/speaker combo packs with DMRs from two to seven.

Dual’s first two gauge-hole receivers are the $199-suggested MGH30BT and the $149 MGH20, both shipping in April. Both are CD-less DMRs with AM/FM tuner and MP3/WMA playback. They fit 3-inch round openings in a boat’s console with 2.6-inch mounting depth but have an overall diameter of 4 inches. Both also offer rear iPod/iPhone USB input. The $149 model features two-line, 16-character LCD display. It also features control of the Pandora app running on a USB-connected iPhone.

The step-up model lacks control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone but adds built-in stereo Bluetooth with AVRCP. The step-up also adds 3-inch TFT multi-line full-color LCD and Media Transfer Protocol (MTP), which enables the play back and control of music stored on newer USB-connected Android phones equipped with MTP.MTP lets control basic playback functions on Android phones, including play, pause, fast-forward, rewind, random and repeat. The heads also search by song title and artist name.

The seven new combo packs feature DIN-size receivers and two-year warranty at prices from $99 to $199.

JVC’s first marine DMR in about seven years is the X31MBS marine/motorsports receiver, shipping in February at a suggested $129. It is among the brand’s first head units to playback FLAC audio files from iPhones and Android phones in mass-storage mode, and it features a chassis that’s 30 percent shorter than the chassis of standard CD receivers, enabling installation in the shallow dashes of ATV and UTVs.

The DMR features MP3/WMA/WAV playback, front iPod/iPhone USB, digital track expander to improve the quality of compressed music, RDS, three-band parametric EQ, and control of most Pandora and iHeartRadio functions on a USB-connected iPhone. The head also controls most functions of Pandora and iHeart apps running on a Bluetooth- connected Android phone.

Bluetooth also delivers Siri Eyes Free and voice control of voice-enabled Android phones, which on most Android phones activates Google Assistant.

Kenwood expanded its in-dash marine head-unit selection to five models from three.

The heads are the KMR-D558BT CD receiver with built-in Bluetooth at $210, the KMR-D358 CD receiver at $140, and the KMR-M308BT DMR with builtin Bluetooth at $130.

All three feature conformal-coated circuit boards for environmental durability. The two CD receivers feature a CD-door dust cover. The DMR features a short chassis for ATV, boat or motorcycle installs with shallow mounting.

The KMR-D558BT and the KMRM308BT ship in February. The KMRD358 is available. All feature iPod/ iPhone USB with control of iHeart and Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone.