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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Pacific NW USA

    Default So you want to tune that stereo???

    Everyone wants their stereo to sound great, under a myriad of conditions and of course to make the most of their gear and operate it at maximum performance. Sounds pretty good eh? Well, here’s the secret… that statement means something different to just about everyone on the water. So what really does this elusive term, “tune” mean and how can you apply it to your setup.

    To answer this question I look at it like a Pyramid. The tuning is that small block of the puzzle that’s on the top--the smallest piece. It’s built on a wider foundation of other ingredients that all come together to form the pyramid. Think that sounds crazy? Well, lets take a look piece by piece and work our way up.

    On the ground level, I look at system design, goals, and budget. Breaking it down sometimes into upgrade chunks. And once this is in place, it all starts with the backbone – power, ground and fusing. Ya, all the un flattering expensive, hidden away stuff that nobody see’s. We need proper distribution, Batteries with reserve power to meet the demands of the system performance. We might need to upgrade the factory speaker cable before doing tower upgrades. We might need to start with putting in place a Perko switch to isolate the stereo current consumption.

    Working our way up to the mid level of our stereo foundation / pyramid, we need to take a hard look at our current gear… what we got, what we want, and what we can afford. We need to select the gear or upgrades on how they will fit into the big picture. I cant tell you how many calls I get from guys asking how they can keep up with the Johnson’s with a 5 channel amplifier they found on Ebay for 75.00 bucks. Fact is… It’s just not going to do a super job because its trying to do to much. Or the calls from people wanting to drop 2K+ on a new tower setup but they have no subwoofer. The mid level of our pyramid is critical if we want to get to the top. Selecting amplifiers that are matched well to the speaker load, and the shear number of speakers connected to an amplifier are very important things to pay attention to because they have real world impacts to the fidelity, dynamic range, and later down the path… tuning of a boat stereo. There are numerous configurations and to say one is more prudent than another would be false. However, most of the time, the path usually leads to a 3 amplifier setup which allows for dedicated audio amplification for each zone – cabin / tower / sub. I advocate amplifying the cabin speakers first, then adding a subwoofer setup, and last a tower setup.

    Another fundamental building block is the source unit. Utilizing one that offers 4-5V of output will instantly yield better results down the signal path of the stereo. In simple terms, having big time fancy 3 amp setup is pointless without a good source feeding them.

    I’ve probably forgot a few of the building blocks, but 6 interruptions from little kids tonight…. It’s a wonder this post hasn’t self deleted. So feel free people to chime in.

    Putting it all together… So you want to tune your boat, you say? Ok, fair enough, what I do is go down the list… looking at all the foundation, to see whats missing. In short order I can tell where the deficiencies will be without ever turning on the stereo. For example….

    Example: This setup has a 25.00 headunit….
    Thought: Probably going to have compressed or clipped audio into the amplifiers. Basically putting a governer on the overall performance.
    Solution: punt that thing and feed your amps with something quality. Atleast get a line driver

    Example: This setup has a 2500 tower setup and no sub anywhere on the boat.
    Thought: Probably going to be missing 2 octaves of musical information and crossover points are running to low and loudness gimmicks are engaged on the deck.

    Example: This setup has a 15” woofer with 2K of power on it but the deck is driving the cabin speakers without an amplifier inline. Think I’m kidding? I’ve seen it on 80K tow boats before.
    Thought: who’s the Jackwagon that came up with this idea! It’s going to sound totally out of whack and no tone adjustment on this planet will help it.
    Solution: power the cabin setup so it can get closer to the sub performance.

    I could probably write about 20 more of these examples and they don’t always spell buy stuff. Sometimes it means making sure we have a volume control for the tower setup. Sometimes it means looking at the digital media and making sure its higher bit rate. There is no short answer on how to tune a boat. It’s going to be different for each individual setup based on the gear they are running and the locations its installed. Since we don’t live in the perfect world, for 3 amp systems and such, it ultimately comes down to working with what you have and making informed adjustments to optimize and blend the gear you have.

    I caution you all… as Mandley will testify, it becomes a grand game of, “If I change this… will it effect that? And how much…”

    Call me Jaded, but adding Eq’s into a boat setup, often has more draw backs than benefits. If the operators would leave them alone after the initial setup, I’d be all for it. But 99% of the time when I visit fiends, customers and the general boating public on the water, the EQ’s all have smiley faces on them and I just have to shake my head. My view of tuning a boat is to re-setup the gains, freq sweep the subs, adjust subsonic filtering, eliminate bassboost, appropriately integrate crossover slopes to flatten out the over all system tonally. From there one can shape appropriately if an EQ is involved or fatten up the bottom end somewhat and most importantly, setup the overall max volume of the stereo so it wont damage the individual components.

    My advice is this: For those of you that don’t want to roll up their sleeves and work on their own stereo, choose to work with an installer that has spent lots of time on many different boat stereo installations. Experience is the key! For those of you that are DIY types, you are directly supporting a company when you buy their brand of gear. With this in mind, you should ask them for specific guidance on how best to set it up and tune your overall system for peek performance. Some companies specialize in this and others don’t have a clue from a technical point of view (no, I wont name names).

    In representing a manufacturers perspective, I see a lot of people bend over backwards to save a buck or two on gear only to have zero after purchase support. It’s that support that will help you tailor that final building block of your stereo pyramid – Tuning for Max performance!

    Just my 2 cents.

    Exile Audio

  2. #2
    Join Date
    May 2009
    Dallas, TX


    You can, in my experience, do a very significant sub, in-boat and tower system using two amplifiers.
    My opinion may differ on this because we have so many excellent five and six channel amplifier options available. There will come a point that when a system crosses a certain threshold that a triple amplifier set up is necessary to get the larger power numbers or stretch performance. Here is an example of system building and matching. A 1000 watt woofer with extreme excursion cababilities is going to take considerably more power out of the gate. Those attributes come at the expense of heavier parts and less efficiency (not sensitivity but efficiency as there can be a big applied difference). A high roll heavier surround to support the longer excursion adds moving mass. A voice coil that uses heavier gauge wire to provide greater thermal capacity must be longer to maintain the same resistance, thus we have greater moving mass. With greater mass comes greater inertia and control issues. The idea of a speaker is to displace air...not mass. Sure, you can play with the parameters and magnet size a little to offset the efficiency losses but you can't cheat mother nature (physics) and you have to give it back with a higher resonance or a compromise in some other performance attribute.
    A speaker with 3 dB less efficiency and double the power handling may attain the identical output as a speaker with half the power handling and 3 dB greater efficiency. Properly matched with an amplifier the lighter mass woofer may play a particular low frequency with equal impact at a much lower package price point.
    For the individual who chooses the woofer with the highest power rating and connects it to an entry level amplifier (also rated at big power when lightning strikes)...well, he might only get a fraction of the performance of properly matched gear. Unqualified specifications in an industry that doesn't govern specs is tricky.
    This is one scenerio and there are countless variations on this theme and countless other performance attributes to pursue. Kicker, WetSounds, JL Audio, Exile, HollowPoint to name a few will know how to properly match their componentry. The methodolgy of one may gravitate around their particular product offerings and does not necessarily translate to the product offerings of another brand.
    Here is what should be taken from this. System design and component matching, one component to another, each component to its application, is critical in determining the performance that you get. 'Tuning' is not a magic pill that can overcome mistakes and flaws in your system design. 'Foundation' is a very apt term as the final product will only be as good as the weakest link.

    Earmark Marine

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2008


    Kudos Brian! Another excellent how-to from one of our resident audio experts. We are extremely lucky to have them onboard!
    Last edited by Razzman; 12-30-2010 at 11:22 AM.
    2007 Mobius LSV

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2010


    I will preface this by saying that i feel i have become the voice of the "little man" (or reasonable man) and that I also appreciate VERY much all the help from the audio guru's that routinely post here.

    This is a great "how to" for what to consider at the base of starting to build your system. THE #1 STEP AS WELL AS THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP. It provides little to no insight on "how to" tune. I take away from this, we (the audio gurus) cannot fix the mess a DIY does by tuning, which i completely understand.

    I'm sure yall have endless stories of what has been brought to you. That has been part of the reason Dusty and myself have started trying to generate some DIY threads. That way someone wanting to save, what keeps getting referred to as "a couple bucks' (when in reality we are talking a couple thousand) can do it knowledgeably and you won't be seeing as many of the horrid systems that get brought to you.

    The OP was great read and very good information until the last paragraph where it became more or less self promoting for the big guys. We know that if we drop our boat off there we will be getting excellent customer service from some of the best guys in the industry. However, not everyone can or wants to drop 5k to 10k on a stereo install. Therefore they have to resort to buying online. A DIY should have done his homework and researched how to piece gear together and how to build from ground up (which this thread provides great insight to) and then they need somewhere to go for tips (customer service). In which case there are a couple excellent threads on wiring and building and such.

    I feel the constant tear downs about buying online and how the DIYer screws up lacks professionalism (when beat to death). I don't think they are posing a serious threat to your market share either. As mentioned above, you are talking 2 completely different ball games in terms of price. Once again speaking form the little man, some of the threads seem to intimidate a DIY job and/or assume a solid DIY job cannot be done.

    PS: No offense guys and I understand brand loyalty but the big high fives from the members with loaded exile boats on a "non-self promoting" thread that addresses nothing about tuning (which the title suggested) is laughable.

    Vent over.
    Last edited by KG's Supra24; 12-30-2010 at 12:20 PM.
    2016 Moomba Mojo
    2006 Supra 24SSV - Traded

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Jun 2008
    Lake Point UT....


    I certainly don't want to step on any toes here as I appreciate as do everyone the advice that phil, dave and brian bring to this forum(although I have not personally used/solicited any as I think I know my fair share about system install/design, but will thank dave for the bullets ).. however I do agree with kg that there is not much info in this post with the exception of building a solid base, and can def. understand the position that the experts are in. it's a no-win for them in most cases on a forum like this and topics about their field.. tough to offer advice but remain non-self-promoting, and not wanting to give the farm away for free as well.

    I view this on one side that you have a bunch of guys that install their own gear and want help/advice on the final tune, and the industry pros that don't want to offer up free help for nothing and have to fix someone elses mess. 2 interesting positions..

    my take: if you need help building a system, pay for the help from the pros. they are there to ensure you get a good system for a good price. if you are a diy, then learn all phases of it, don't expect help with any of it for free other than forum guidance, and don't expect a shop to finish the tune when they didn't build it. part of diy is going from start to finish yourself.
    fwiw, I did my entire system myself and did the tune myself. it may not be perfect and any of the guru's on here would probably find fault with the settings, but at the end of the day, it sounds fantastic to me and none of the equipment is being pushed beyond it's intended use. it's a noisy outdoor boat, not carnegie hall
    '06 Supra Launch 20SSV-gone but never forgotten

  6. #6
    Join Date
    May 2009
    North End Lake Lanier GA


    This thread is a bit funny to me, in the fact if you have ever spent some time talking to Brian at Exile you will see this post is how he talks when you let him talk on his own.

    He has a million things running in his mind and if you dont keep him on track he tends to wander a bit when talking lol.

    I personaly spend 4 months at Brian main shop last winter/spring when i did my upgrades to my boat.

    These included, tinting the windhield, installing a flip over bow light, stripping all my factory stickers, installing new custom stickers, and removing the entire stereo system and installing a completly new system from the wires to the speakers. This even included a new head unit and remote.

    I can tell you if you talk with Brian hes one of the most informed and educated guys in the stereo field and hes a wealth of info but like a lot of these electronic gurus you have to keep them focused because its easy for them to ramble off side topics.

    As for my system i did it 100% myself. I didnt design the sub enclosure but my LSV was the base of what all Brians Moomba sub boxes are. I was the ghinnie pig boat in a lot of Exile designs last year.

    Does this make me loyal to Exile you bet, but then again how many can say they have been intrigual to a company entrance to the Marine world?

    Other then that if you meet Brian in person hes one of those people who literaly give you the shirt off his back, hes made countless discounts to people on gear on this forum, prices that make me thing WTH man?

    Take this advise, if you want true content on how to do things dont ask and expect a huge amount of detail in a forum. EMAIL these guys and others here. I talk with people more in email then anyware and i have installed a couple full Exile systems as well as countless other car and boat systems now. Its a fun hobby but at the end of the day if i need advise and direction i knwo who to call and email. Its a better forum to talk to these experts then in a forum where everyone is going to critize whats said.
    Malo <--- Means--Evil or Mean One. This explains a lot.
    2013 Mojo 2.5 Skylon Tower. Bestia < Beast >

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Sep 2010
    Lighthouse Point, FL


    I may be new to this forum but am not new to12 volt Audio. There are many different trains of thought covered in this topic so far.
    Basically what you need to keep in mind is that you cant make a good chicken salad out of chicken s@#t.
    I have delt w Brian and with David in the recent past. both were totally different outlooks on Audio and business.
    The main thing about "tuning" a system is that it has toooo many variables. The way you set up or tune a system may not sound good to the next guy. Now adjusting for peak output and performance is something totally different. All of the "tune" request are not that, they are just setting up for peak performance and hopefully some soundquality, as much as your system will allow.
    The term "tune" is being used totally wrong in this aspect.
    In order to "tune" a system you need something with greater control than just a HP/LP filter and a gain. There are several companies that make products to "tune" but I havent seen ANY of those mentioned here.

    So lets all just try to help each other get the best that we can for OUR budget even if we dont promote the product. It may not be on your shelf but that doesnt mean its not good quality. You never know when a person will buy something from you if you point them n the right direction in the begining. Customer service even if they only bought connectors!!!
    Basically the foundation must be good. If you are planning to upgrade in the future start with a good "base", power supply ie batteries, wire, cables and interconnect.

    Just a start......

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Nov 2009
    Stillwater, Oklahoma


    Hey guys-

    It is old, about a year old, but here is a sticky link to a thread where two of my posts talk about source material and gain setting:

    As for source material for "tuning" here is a good read on different digital formats and why:

    I for one can appreciate the spirit of some of the undercurrent tone for a few posts. For the DIY guy, (which I am for sure, go look at my sailboat build posts here: http://forums.catalina.sailboatowner...d.php?t=123450) there is lots to learn, lots of opportunity to grow, lots of opportunity to train you ears. Done right this is a hobby, something to have fun with, as recreation, on your own time, to relax and blow off steam.

    To point, it seems that a few folks are looking for that perfect guide to "tuning" a system; the defacto standard book that takes into account every situation, every mix of equipment. Fact is, one can look at it two ways:
    * either it exists, and nobody wants to share, (a myth, by the way) or...

    * there are WAY too many variables to be able to provide a standard defacto form or format to follow.

    I hope to make a funny comparision/example, so follow me, and hopefully everyone will laugh:
    Wallace Wakemeister has a Yamazuki head unit in his 1998 Newman, (Alfred E.) towboat.
    He also has a Kickford amplifier, 5 channel, with lots of power on every channel
    He is using Fauxlk speakers for his full range speakers with two Bumpus 11" subs, and he has Moist Audio tower speakers.

    Here is the caveat. Wallace likes to wakeboard AND wakesurf to Wagner, sort of like the dudes in Apocalypse Now....

    At this point we are all equally experts. Each and every one of us could tell Wallace how to set his system up, and we will likely all be close to right, or at least as close to right as the next guy. Here is why: we have no history with the stuff. None of us, not one of us have ever heard Wallace's system. It doesn't come down to the fact the guy is an opera freak, it comes down to trying to make the system sound good. Without hearing it, I might as well tell you the sky is pink....

    The key point really gets down to the phrase: hear that system.
    Many of us, or some of us, or a few of us, have some benchmark perceptions about some familiar brands from having worked around them day in and day out. BUT, each boat is different, each system is a compilation of more-or-less potentially random bits of goods acquired through who-knows-what means. Each system has a potential of being installed more or less correctly or not..... It is hard to know from boat to boat what really is going on:

    Is brand A amp in phase with brand B? Electrically? Acoustically?
    Are all the speakers wired in relative electrical phase?
    Are the subs in-phase or out of phase electrically? Acoustically? If not how? Why?
    Are the tower speakers in-phase with the in-boats? Where? At the surf sweet spot? In the boat?
    What crossover point do I need for my woofer?
    Is the power wire sufficient?
    How is the head unit set up? Does it default to hi-pass and sub? Fader?

    I would go on, but should keep it short. My point in sharing the few points above is to start to point out that the decision tree is really three dimensional, if not four dimensional... Change something here and it affects something there. AND it comes down to being able to hear the change and understand what happened and why. There is no standard book to setting them up right. I nor no other humble expert can accurately explain every situation, sound, or noise that you might hear, while trying to write back and forth on this forum.

    As I shared above in my links, there are some general facts, tenets and truths that are reliable and consistent from boat to boat, from system to system. Much of it involves taking the time to understand the minimum electrical requirements that the equipment manufacturers recommend for the equipment going into YOUR boat. Examples: Gain setting for unity gain is relatively easy and staight forward with a little practice, as is shared in the links above. Making sure you have good source material to use when setting up your stereo is key too, as shared.

    Beyond the basics as have been shared, there is frankly lots of things that I and many others will pick out when first listening to a system that cannot be described. Do we understand what is happening? Often, but not always. Do we know how to affect change? Yeah, but typically there is a list if things to try. Can we write them down? No. Especially not in a uniform, applies-to-all-cases always-true manner. Can a perfect tuning guide be written? No. Again, too many variables, and no way to explain every possible interaction.

    I hope that for many of you the following statement is true: audio is a hobby. One to grow with, one to experiment with, one to nurture and get better at. I fly control line model airplanes, but I was not a combat pilot or a stunt pilot or a pattern pilot the first time I flew. I had to learn, and along the way I enjoyed it. I crashed a few planes along the way. I am a sailor, but the first time I sailed, I did not win a race, I tipped the darnned thing over and went swimming... Same thing with my DIY link to my boat restoration project.

    Can you stereo be better? Probably. Here is a fun one though: mine can be too.

    Seek the advice here. Read up elsewhere. Study. See through BS on all forums, here and elsewhere. Learn the difference between objective and subjective. Go to a live concert... with horns, and acoustic instruments, and vocals that haven't been through a pitch correction, artificial compression, dont make a bad impression, (Taylor Swift ) black box. If the artist at the live concert has a CD for sale buy it. Make comparisons between the live and the CD and study to understand why they are similar and different. Ask questions. Go get a copy of Stereophile. Read about the good gear in there but don't get caught up in the green ink pen.

    I have written a book, so sorry, but that is sort of Phil's response... As I shared above in my original thoughts. Have fun with it guys, it is a hobby to be enjoyed. I doubt I have answered any questions, but hey, that is okay sometimes...

    Happy New Year


  9. #9
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Pacific NW USA


    Phil - Great Post. Cracked me up. So true when you said, "Mine can be better too". So true for me 2. Things forever evolve.

    KG - What I pointed out in the building blocks of a Pyramid and Phil overviewed in the weikmaster tow boat example is essentially the same end game. Each and every Stereo setup is different and at the same time has similar aspects. So many variables.

    I sincerly hope nobody is trying to intimidate or discourage you from doing DIY stereo. Now that I think about it, all those Exile high fives where from guys that did their own DIY's. Actually most of the setups you see on here and other forum are DIY's. Really.

    I think its up to all of us as "OutbackV" points out to help each other out. thats what what makes this place special. Pay it forward so to speak. Email me anytime if you have something you need help with. I cant promise I'll know all the answers everytime. But if I do, I'll share.

    Exile Audio

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Apr 2008


    KG, just asking but what's laughable about the OP's post? I didn't get any hint of promoting what so ever out of that. What I DID get is that every situation is different based on equipment and install. What I heard is that if a professional does an install the end result and level of tune expectations will be higher versus a DIY install using a myriad of components which may or may not work well together with unknown install methods, and that EVERY install is different so an absolute how-to is virtually much impossible. Although i know Phil has done quite a few write-ups giving great baseline information on this and other forums.

    Yes I'm a high-fiver Exile loyalist, and for good reason imo; the quality of the gear, it looks good, fantastic results, company attitude and in part as well the support Brian himself gives, going out of his way to assist everyone who asks for help (not to reduce in anyway the product or assists Phil & David give as well ). But to clarify that doesn't mean that i'm (or anyone else for that matter) biased in any way against Dusty and yourself doing your installs or against the DIY guy, cause i'm one too! And no i'm not sucking up or being compensated for saying this. When i'm shown support I give back is all.

    And let's let it out in the open; of course these guys are here hoping you'll buy their product. I would if i was them! I also think that they are just warning (rightfully so) on the possible lack of support or service that could be an issue from internet or discount vendors. Not to get you to buy from them imo but to help save you possible heartaches down the road that could possibly cost you more money. Hey i've bought online myself to save money in the past and luckily I never had an issue.

    So for the record I'm currently on my third incarnation of my Moomba system (and probably my 7th-8th boat install overall). Each version has ramped up the quality and hence the expectations. If it's one thing i've learned is that it's easy to be disappointed in the outcome if you set the bar too high without taking all the factors into consideration. Hence the reason I'm going all Exile for this upcoming season, I'm confident in what the outcome will be and that my expectations will be met in every way. Is it feasible for everyone? Hell no it's not. Let's face it, not everyone can buy a Cadillac either right?

    I applaud you guys for doing your own, your way. Search real deep on this forum and you'll finds loads of guys that did the same going back a few years. Brian, Phil & David have been here helping all along with all the questions (no matter how repetitive, and they are!) to the DIYer. To expect these guys to layout a complete how-to from A-Z is unrealistic though imo. They have business's to run and paying clients to service. You wouldn't call a plumber and expect hours of free phone support from him telling you how to DIY your own plumbing would you? No, and this is no different imo either.

    I'm only saying this because I got a sense of anger on your part that the pro's aren't doing enough to support or that they're avoiding your questions for not buying their gear and instead going brand X. Just my opinions is all and it's all good. Sounds like you guys are going out of your way to make sure everything is done right and i sincerely hope your expectations are met! Long winded I know but I just kinda wanted to help clear the muddle a bit.
    2007 Mobius LSV

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