Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Stereo,Take Two

One of my first posts, written well before we moved aboard Sea Gem, was about my plans for our future boat's stereo system (remember?). I had very detailed plans about all of the components I was going to buy, complete with bold predictions about how great it would sound once put together.

As it turns out, I will not be testing those predictions, as I won't be buying any of those things. Why? Well, two reasons.

First, Sea Gem came equipped with the bones of a great sound system: fantastic stereo speakers in the salon, nice outdoor speakers in the cockpit, and additional sets of stereo speakers in all three staterooms on the boat. All five sets of speakers are wired into the stereo in the salon and have individual volume controls in their respective locations. The speakers in the salon, in particular, are spectacular. I had originally intended on getting compact spherical speakers for the boat to save space, but because the Sailcruiser has more room than the boats I was thinking of back in the early planning stages, there is room for any compact bookshelf speaker. Sea Gem's original owners took advantage of that fact and fitted the salon with some of the very best compact bookshelf speakers out there, from Monitor Audio:


The speakers sound great and fit the boat perfectly. I couldn't have done any better starting from scratch, which makes starting from scratch a pretty awful idea.

Second, and I won't bore any of you with the details, but my original plan wasn't very good. I'm sure it would have sounded great, of course, but it required that everything be run off an inverter, and it would have been much harder to physically integrate the components into the boat. Now that I am on the boat, the thought of that plan makes me cringe.

Most boats, for good reason, use car stereos. Sea Gem came with a nice, albeit outdated for our purposes, Alpine car stereo unit with a tape deck that was connected to a CD changer. As I wrote earlier, we got rid of all our CDs prior to leaving Kentucky (and I haven't owned a tape in probably 15 years), and moved everything to digital format. Because the car stereo's built-in amp can't power all 5 sets of speakers, Sea Gem has separate amplifiers connected to the car stereo, effectively using it only as a preamp interface. There is also a central speaker controller that allows you to turn the various sets of speakers on and off. It is a very slick setup.

Still, after a few days, four problems became apparent with Sea Gem's stereo setup. First, and most significantly, we had no way to connect our mp3-based music connection (which is on a usb drive) to the stereo. Second, in every room, one of the two speakers would work only sporadically. Third, no remote control. And fourth, the Sirius radio that came with the boat (which we love and deserves its own post--stay tuned) (ha! pun!), could not connect directly to the stereo and instead needed an FM transmitter, which significantly reduces sound quality.

The one-step solution to all four problems? A new car stereo, the Kenwood KDC-BT945U:


We can plug our USB-drive music collection directly into the back of the stereo and the stereo's browsing system is very easy to use--much better than our Blu-ray player, which we played our music from while in Kentucky. The new stereo also has an input for a direct connection to the Sirius (just waiting to buy a cable), and it fixed the sporadic speaker problem. Unlike most car stereos I found, this one has its connections in the back, which results in hidden wiring and a cleaner look. In addition, and again unlike a majority of car stereos on the market, it doesn't have flashy, gaudy lights, and instead looks like a proper stereo. Plus, the stereo comes with a remote control, which is a real convenience (why have recliners if you need to get up to adjust the stereo?):


Although we greatly benefit from the remote control, what remains a complete mystery to me is why a car stereo would need one. I suspect that liveaboard boat owners are not their target audience, yet many of the new car stereos have remote controls. How far back do you need to recline your seat in order to need a remote control for your car stereo? I don't get it, but you won't see me complaining. Our boat has a stereo remote control to match the recliner--what is there to complain about?

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