7-Model Stereo Test
One Jensen model rates at the top, another down low. Standard Horizon models MST660 and MST65 sound loud and clear, but are expensive. ProSpec and Seaworthy models are worth checking out.
Used with consideration, a decent stereo and a pair of speakers are nice to have on board. Except on the largest yachts, home-style stereos, which require 120-volt AC power, aren’t practical. Car stereos operating on 12 volts DC are a viable option but often they are not sufficiently rugged to survive in the marine environment. Fortunately, several manufacturers offer marine stereo systems specifically designed to withstand some exposure to weather.
The decision whether to buy a car stereo or marine stereo is purely a function of the design of your boat and where the unit will be installed. If you intend to leave the stereo belowdecks, securely installed in the navigation station, a car stereo will probably do nicely and be less expensive. Car audio is a big business. There are a wide variety of models available for every budget. Even audiophiles can find exceptionally good equipment that will be at home aboard the fanciest of yachts.
If you have a smaller boat and want your stereo outside near the helm, or want a remote control, however, you should buy a marine stereo. Marine stereo models are ruggedized versions of car models. They often have added external protection to help prevent water intrusion and specially treated, corrosion-resistant circuit boards. Wired remote controls are a popular option with these models because they allow the stereo to be installed belowdecks with a small control pad located near the helm. This lets you change stations or adjust the volume without having to go below.
Practical Sailor’s last look at marine stereos was in the October 15, 1997 issue, when the Standard Horizon MST60 and MST600 were tabbed as top picks.
For this review we again looked at two Standard Horizon models, as well as models from Jensen, ProSpec and Seaworthy.
Testing of these was admittedly subjective: We listened to each model extensively through good quality speakers, and examined each for its quality of construction. Additionally, we measured the radio’s receive sensitivity. A good receiver is essential if you are trying to listen while far offshore. We did not test the stereos for water-resistance.
An outline of our results and some important features of each is found in the charts on pages 6-8. Our comments on each follow:
The Seaworthy 9501 is manufactured and sold by ProSpec Electronics. ProSpec sells marine stereos and related equipment exclusively.
The Seaworthy 9501 is an AM/FM/CD unit with a detachable face plate. It is available in both black and white.
Like most of the other models tested, the 9501 looks very similar to many car stereos. However, on close examination we found several differences. ProSpec coats all of its circuit boards with CRC™ Plasticote®. This is a conformal coating that locks out moisture from making direct contact with circuit components. Especially in a saltwater environment, this practice will surely prolong your stereo’s life expectancy. In addition, the ProSpec adds a sheet of clear Mylar to the stereo’s top, which prevents any water that may drip onto the unit from entering it. During testing, the Seaworthy performed well but was not quite as loud as some other units. It is prewired for an optional remote control.
Bottom Line: The Seaworthy SEA-9501-03 is a good overall choice for flush or in-dash mounting. It was also the least expensive CD model tested.
ProSpec Milennia MIL9505
The ProSpec Milennia is a newly introduced stereo from the same manufacturer as the Seaworthy above. Like the 9501 it has a detachable face plate. However, its CD slot is hidden underneath the radio’s face. To insert a CD the face must be folded forward and then tilted back to play it. This design frees up space on the radio’s front for a larger display and helps to keep dirt and moisture from entering the CD player.
Bottom Line: The ProSpec MIL9505, like the Seaworthy 9501 performed well and is aptly designed for in-dash mounting.
Note that this model’s manual lists both a 7-watt/channel and a 25-watt/channel version. Make sure you get the 25-watt model.
Be forewarned that while ProSpec’s warranty literature boldly lists a “Five year owner protection plan,” it doesn’t apply to all models. The warranty is outlined as a two-year plan followed by three years during which they promise to repair or replace a defective unit for a flat fee. Exposure to water or corrosion is specifically excluded. While those words are anathema to boat owners, what really bothers us is the last line, which simply states: “The warranty is limited to one year on CD units.” Customers with CD models who do not read the warranty to the last line may well believe they have five-year coverage.
Jensen is a long-time maker of marine stereos. The MCD9424RC is a conventionally sized model with CD player. It has a detachable face and, like the ProSpec Milennia, its face folds forward to reveal the CD slot. Unlike many other marine models, the 9424 is easily distinguishable from its car stereo cousins. Its controls are completely sealed under a membrane keypad, which makes a lot of sense for a product that may be exposed to the elements. The downside of this approach is that its controls are less ergonomic.
The Jensen MCD9424RC performed very well during testing. Its receive sensitivity was excellent and its 40 watts per channel power output was noticeably louder than other models. Included is a wired remote that fits into a standard 2-1/8" round engine instrument hole.
Bottom Line: The Jensen MCD9424RC is obviously designed as a marine stereo. For outdoor, in-dash mounting it is an excellent choice. Given that its remote control is included, Jensen’s $300 price for this model seems reasonable.
The Jensen MCC8320 was the least expensive stereo tested. It is an AM/FM cassette unit that slides out of its mounting for removal.
On examination, this model appears to be an older design. Inside we found numerous small circuit boards with many interconnecting wires. This approach is not current practice in electronics design.
The MCC8320 sounded good during testing but had noticeably inferior receive sensitivity. Furthermore, its antenna connection seemed flimsy.
Bottom Line: The Jensen MCC8320 is neither technologically current nor exceptionally well made.
The Jensen MDC9645W is a double-size AM/FM receiver with both a CD deck and cassette player. The extra space afforded by its larger size makes room for a large, multicolor display that includes a continuous graphic equalizer display.
We think highly of Jensen’s combination volume control and tuning joystick located at the lower left corner of the unit. The MDC9645W is a full-feature, full-function stereo, but it is not designed for outdoor installation.
The MDC9645W performed extremely well during testing. Sound quality was excellent and was the loudest of all of the models tested. A wireless remote is included.
While all models tested included output connections for an external amplifier, this model has provisions for separate amplifiers for its front and rear speakers, which greatly increases its versatility.
Bottom Line: The Jensen MDC9645W is expensive but performed flawlessly, is easy to use and is feature rich. However, it is not suitable for outdoor use.
Standard Horizon MST660
The Standard Horizon MST660 is a standard size AM/FM, CD stereo. The company’s marketing strategy is to sell its units preinstalled in an outdoor watertight enclosure with a flip-down cover. Also included is a surface mount bracket and flush mount escutcheon. This makes the MST660 a complete package ready to be installed in almost any position. Even when installed in a dash, its extra outer casing will undoubtedly protect it from moisture and dirt.
Functionally, the MST660 is identical to the Seaworthy 9501 with the exception that a remote control is not available. These two look very much alike, even internally. They are definitely the same design and probably were built in the same factory. In fact, their removable face plates are interchangeable.
The Standard MST660 performed very well during testing.
Bottom Line: The Standard Horizon MST660 is the most versatile unit tested as far as installation is concerned and probably is the most water-resistant.
Purchasing a Seaworthy 9501 and an optional plastic case from ProSpec,however, would be less expensive and essentially result in the same package.
Standard Horizon MST65
The Standard Horizon MST65 is the company’s AM/FM/cassette model. It is packaged in the same waterproof housing as the MST660. The MST65 is a typical automotive-style cassette player/radio. Its volume and balance knobs and sliding bass and treble controls tell us that it is an older design. However, it is better constructed than the Jensen MCC8320.
The MST65 model performed well during testing; receive sensitivity, sound quality and ease of operation were all good.
Bottom Line: The Standard Horizon MST65 works well but like the Standard MST660 it is expensive.
After testing the above group of marine stereos we visited a local consumer electronics mega-store, which offers a bewildering selection of mobile stereos. Some look very similar to the models we tested. Without exception, automotive models with similar features are less expensive than their marine counterparts. We stick by our guns: For belowdecks installation, a trip to a good mobile sound dealer will save you money and offer the opportunity for a much better selection.
For outside installation, however, the modifications made to these stereos will definitely make them last longer than car stereos. None, however, is waterproof.
Install your stereo with care and avoid leaving it exposed to weather. Canvas covers for all outside electronics will increase their longevity. Discount catalogs sell splashproof covers and plastic enclosures for stereos that cost about $15-$60.
Any way you look at it, the technology found in all marine stereos is a bit behind the times. We can’t wait to find a cost-effective, advanced and totally waterproof model.
Maybe next time.
Contacts- Jensen Audio (Recoton Audio), 2950 Lake Emma Rd., Lake Mary, FL 32746; 407/333-0900. ProSpec Electronics/Seaworthy, 3325 Highway 17 N., Mt. Pleasant, SC 29464; 843/849-9037; 800/394-1914. Standard Horizon (Division of Vertex Standard), 17210 Edwards Rd., Cerritos, CA 90703; 310/532-5300.