Music Man

Is that old marine stereo played out? Installing a new system might be easier than you think
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The Fusion Apollo RA770 four-zone, touch-screen-controlled head unit has 
Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities. 

The Fusion Apollo RA770 four-zone, touch-screen-controlled head unit has Bluetooth and Wi-Fi capabilities. 

Fusion has been busy engineering a number of new products recently, including Apollo stereos, Signature Series speakers, remotes and RCA interconnects. I’ve been curious about these systems for some time, and eager to upgrade the sound technology on our Carver 570. So, I did an installation of Fusion’s current audio gear aboard Have Another Day. I’ve discovered the combination of new head units, amplifiers, speakers and DSP tuning provides great sound quality and easy configuration.

The System

Previously, our boat had a Fusion MS-UD650 on the flybridge with an NRX remote in the cockpit. This time around, I installed separate Apollo RA770 head units in the cockpit and flybridge and will use Fusion’s PartyBus feature to listen to the same music in both areas. The cockpit has two 8.8-inch and 7.7-inch Signature Series speakers, a 10-inch subwoofer and a six-channel amplifier.

The flybridge, when we’re underway with the enclosure wide open, can be a tough spot to fill with good sound. So, with Fusion’s help, we selected two 6.5-inch Signature Series speakers for the helm area, two 7.7-inch speakers for the middle portion, and two 8.8-inch speakers for the aftermost portion of the flybridge. There’s a subwoofer paired with the middle set of speakers, and each pair is a separately controlled zone.

My cockpit is smaller than the flybridge, so I set up all four speakers and the subwoofer to be controlled as a single zone. I’m making use of the RA770’s ability to link zones one and two. I also have four of the MS-ARX70 ANT wireless remotes spread around the boat for quick stereo adjustments.

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Installation

Instead of enlarging old fiberglass holes for the new speakers, I was able to reuse existing speaker cutouts for six of the 10 speakers and both subwoofers. One set of speakers was deeper than the units I was replacing, so I ended up having to make a spacer ring out of StarBoard. While it’s a mess to cut, a palm router and a piece of bar stock make for easy, and even pretty round, circles. The RA770 is a little bit smaller than the UD650 I replaced, and the holes don’t line up. Fortunately, Fusion makes a spacer kit to allow the previous cutout to be used.

The RA770 has 2.4-ghz Wi-Fi and Ethernet connectivity options. When using Wi-Fi, the radio can act as an access point and DHCP server, or connect to an existing network. I initially tried connecting the RA770s to my existing boat network, but on my RF-congested boat, I couldn’t maintain an acceptable connection using 2.4 GHz Wi-Fi. So, I connected both radios via wired ethernet to the boat’s network. I really wish Fusion had included 5 GHz Wi-Fi in the radios, as I’ve not had these connectivity problems with 5 GHz Wi-Fi on Have Another Day.

The author installed four remote controls and 10 speakers on his boat.

The author installed four remote controls and 10 speakers on his boat.

Using Apollo

With all the speakers installed and everything wired up, I began playing music. I was instantly happy with how everything sounded, though I did notice a little too much bass here and some tinny sound there. I knew there was some Digital Sound Processing (DSP) magic I needed to do. With my phone linked to each head unit, I fired up the Fusion-Link app and navigated to the DSP settings.

The DSP settings on the Apollo head units collect information about the environment in which the stereo is installed (cabin, covered helm, open air and so forth), the speakers that are connected, the amp that is connected, the presence of a subwoofer, and several additional configuration possibilities. Then, the app shows you the settings to use and gives you a button to send your DSP settings.

There’s a noticeable difference in sound quality once DSP settings have been configured. The occasional sound issues I mentioned above were all corrected.

Bluetooth is offered with this system. It has worked flawlessly for streaming on both iOS and Android devices, but it has a range of only about 15 to 30 feet from the stereo. I sometimes find the audio stuttering if I leave my phone in my pocket and walk around the boat. Airplay on an iOS device occurs over Wi-Fi. This means the range of the connection between the phone and stereo is limited by the range of the Wi-Fi network, and that’s usually a good bit farther than the 15 to 30 feet that Bluetooth affords. I’ve found Wi-Fi streaming on Android devices to be more difficult and it requires an additional app to work, but I have noticed on both iOS and Android that the audio quality is a little better over Wi-Fi.

PartyBus multizone audio is one of the most exciting features of Apollo. You can listen to the same audio on multiple Fusion head units connected to the same network.

I was able to connect my phone to the flybridge stereo, start streaming via Bluetooth, and then link my cockpit stereo via PartyBus and listen to the same music, perfectly synchronized, in the cockpit. I was then able to join an SRX400 installed in my dinghy to the boat’s wireless network. Now, I can listen to the same music in the dinghy as long as it is within Wi-Fi range. I can imagine something similar at an anchorage or sandbar with lots of boats joining via Wi-Fi and all listening to the same music.

With four ARX70 remote controls spread around the boat, quick changes to music or volume are right at hand. In addition, the Fusion head units can be controlled from an NMEA-2000 linked MS-NRX300 wired remote, from the Fusion-Link app, and from nearly all multifunction displays
manufactured in the past five or more years.

Fusion’s DSP functionality might be enough reason to purchase an all-Fusion stereo setup. The amplifiers are heavily constructed with generous heat sinks, easy-to-connect speaker and power terminals, and a lovely, mirror-polished stainless cover. The speakers sound great and
appear to be well made, with sizable magnets, durable composite cone material and LED lighting of the cone.

Fusion and its product line have grown quickly since this company began making equipment for the marine market about 10 years ago. The depth of the line continues to expand, and that’s something I can mull over this summer while listening to my favorite playlists in my favorite anchorages. 

This article originally appeared in the July 2019 issue.