Suppliers Tap Rising Tide In Niche Marine Market

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The market for marine audio is small, but many aftermarket autosound suppliers won’t leave any niche unexploited, especially one that is growing modestly and could accelerate further in the coming years as powerboat sales pick up.

Multiple autosound suppliers have introduced new marine-rated head units, amps and speakers, and some suppliers are adding marine head-unit features previously available only in their automotive head units. Dual, for instance, is adding stereo Bluetooth with AVRCP, and direct USB control for iPods/iPhones. Kenwood added control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone and control of song selection on USB-connected Android phones.

Head units that connect the new outboard SiriusXM universal tuner have been added by Clarion, Dual, Kenwood, and Sony.

The introductions follow a return to growth in the boat market after five consecutive years of declines, according to the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA). The association estimates 2011 wholesale boat-sales growth of 16 percent in units and 18 percent in dollars to about $30 billion. The group also forecasts continued growth through 2015.

Despite the five-year decline in boat sales, aftermarket sales of marine audio products didn’t suffer much, some marketers said. “Consumer electronics retail sales are primarily an upgrade and replacement business, and because of this we did not experience a large downturn when the sales of new boats declined during the recession,” said Jim Warren, senior VP of merchandising at the 50-store Car Toys chain.

Kenwood senior VP Keith Lehmann pointed out that boaters need to replace marine radios and speakers every two to three years if the boats aren’t stored in dry storage during the off-season.

Some marketers contend marine audio sales are rising and could get a further bump up in the coming years in part because of the upswing in boat sales.

“Over the last two marine seasons, we have seen a nice uptick in premium sound solutions, including a nice lift in wakeboard tower systems,” said Warren. “All in all I would classify the category as healthy and experiencing modest growth.”

With boat sales on the upswing again, marine-audio growth could accelerate in a few years when those boats’ OEM audio products require replacement, marketers noted.

“It’s a good thing that more boats are being built,” said Warren. “With certainty, the aftermarket should enjoy benefits of the increased sales.”

Retailers, however, didn’t wait for boat sales to turn around to step up their marine-audio efforts. Retailers such as Best Buy, Car Toys and Mickey Shorr created separate marine-audio displays separate from their regular car audio displays to take advantage of an incremental sales opportunity, said Kenwood’s Lehmann. Crutchfield similarly has a separate marine audio section on its website.

For these and other dealers, here’s what select suppliers plan to offer:


One of the company’s two digital media receiver introductions is a marine unit, the M502. It features connector for the universal SiriusXM tuner, control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone, Parrot Bluetooth, and compatibility with Clarion’s marine wired remote controls. From the head unit, consumers will be able to control basic Pandora functions as well as the app’s thumbs up feature.

The MF-1 one-way RF remote is designed for marine and in-car use. It communicates with an RF dongle that plugs into a head-unit interface designed to connect heads to OEM steering-wheel controls.

The remote controls on/off, volume, track up/down and play/pause functions and is priced at a suggested $199. The company’s first two Class D amps, designed for marine and car use, incorporate RCA audio-signal sensing technology to turn them on when they detect audio signal from a head unit. The feature makes it unnecessary to connect the amps to a switched-power wire for automatic turnon, though wires must still be run to the vehicle’s battery for power and ground.

One is the four-channel XC6410 rated at 4x85 watts RMS into 4 ohms, 4x125 watts into 2 ohms, and bridgeability to two channels. The two-channel XC6210 is rated at 2x85 watts into 4 ohms, 2x125 watts into 2 ohms, with bridgeability to one channel. Both feature high- and low-pass filters and will retail from $300 to $400 on an everyday basis.

JL Audio:

Three speakers include the company’s largest coaxial with 8.8-inch woofer at $599/pair in white or $609/pair in titanium. Also new are two speaker pairs intended for mounting on wakeboard towers or other tubular structures. Both are coaxial models with 7.7-inch woofer at $599 and $799/pair.


Two CD-receivers are the $190-suggested KMR-550U and $120 KMR-350U, marking a new opening price point down from $140. The introductions join a current $300-suggested model. Both models are also accompanied by the $120 KCA-RC55MR and $60 KCARC35 remotes.

The KMR-550U is a full-featured model with universal SiriusXM port, control of Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone, and control of music stored on a USB-connected Android phone loaded with Kenwood software. Androidphone- stored songs can be selected by title, artist, album and mood when the phone is placed in mass-storage mode. The USB connection also charges the Android phone.

In its 2011 car line, Kenwood offered multimedia-navigation units that charged Android phones and allowed users to navigate songs only by folder and by using track up/down controls.

The KMR-350U also controls Pandora on a USB-connected iPhone and provides USB control of music on Android phones equipped with the free Kenwood app.

The KMR-550U is available in February, and the KMR-350U is available now.

Rockford Fosgate:

To complements its marine speaker selection, Rockford is launching its first four marine amps, all Class D models shipping in the second quarter. The selection consists of two 4/2-channel models stable to 2 ohms at $449 and $299 and two 1-ohm stable mono amps at $399 and $499 and capable of delivering 750 watts and 1200 watts, respectively, into 1-ohm loads.

The brand’s marine-speaker selection got its first purpose-built speaker for installation on the wake towers of ski and wake-boarding boats. The speakers look almost light spotlights. A 6.5- inch 4-ohm 75-watt RMS model and an 8-inch 4-ohm 100-watt model ship in the second quarter at $599 and $699/pair, respectively.


The entry-level marine CD-receiver is debuting at an expected everyday $140 replaces a current model and adds universal Sirius XM connector, new digital processing tuner, slot-load design, and piano-black faceplate, which mobile electronics business manager Takahiro Noguchi called a new trend. Other features include RDS FM tuner, MP3/WMA CD playback, front aux in and white LCD display.

Two speakers replace similar models but feature improved cosmetics with water-resistant coating and detachable grilles.

The $69/pair dual-cone XS-MP1611 and $129/pair two-way speakers both feature 6.5- inch driver. The former is rated at 65 watts RMS and the latter at 70 watts. Sony will also package the dual-cone speaker pair with the CDXM20 head unit at $190.


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