When a load of journalists took a ride on a Grady-White Freedom 325 with Fusion Entertainment’s new Apollo stereo system, marketing manager Marcus Hamilton played a song that was considered a “good challenge” for its components. The techno sound was crisp and clear, but it wasn’t quite the experience that followed, aboard a Jupiter 38 center console with eight Fusion Signature 7.7-inch speakers, three 10-inch subwoofers and three Signature amplifiers.
On that boat, Dan Soeters, Fusion’s international sales director, who is Australian, assumed the role of DJ.
He cranked up AC/DC’s “It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock ’n’ Roll).” We felt the bass lines and Angus Young’s angry guitar licks pulse through the boat’s deck as we cruised the Intracoastal Waterway in Florida. When the bagpipes chimed in, the music woke a woman sleeping on a chaise about 50 yards away on shore.
I looked around the boat, and all six journalists were bobbing their heads to the music like Beavis and Butthead.
Now that’s how you show off a stereo — and it was only at about two thirds of maximum volume.
To introduce its RA770 and SRX400 stereo head units, Fusion hosted journalists representing approximately 27 media outlets at the Bahia Mar Resort & Yachting Center in Fort Lauderdale, letting them listen to the system on six boats with different equipment installations.
“The range is called the Apollo series, and we wanted to come up with something that is the pinnacle of what we do,” said Chris Baird, managing director of the 13-year-old company, which is based in Auckland, New Zealand, and which Garmin Marine bought four years ago. “We said, ‘How do we do it and not be a car audio company that paints a product white and calls it marine?’”
Baird says Fusion has doubled the size of its engineering team in the past two years and spent $4 million to develop the head units, with speakers and amplifiers scheduled to follow. The first manufacturer to commit to Fusion was Regal Marine, and Fusion is now the exclusive supplier of marine stereos for Sea Ray. It has field service engineers based in Florida and Arizona with support from Garmin’s service network.
Each new head unit is compact — the Apollo RA770 has a 4.3-inch touchscreen, and the Apollo SRX400 is 2.7 inches — but one of the most surprising features is the volume knob. Even in this age of flat-glass touchscreens, Baird said, nine out of 10 people surveyed want a volume knob.
In addition to that knob, the RA770 has an intuitive touch screen that lets users swipe across pages. The RA770 has Wi-Fi streaming and Fusion DSP technology, plus AM/FM, Bluetooth streaming and Optical Audio from TV through the stereo. There are USB audio inputs, universal plug-and-play ports, and a file distribution protocol that lets a user send audio files via Wi-Fi from a phone.
The stereo is also DAB compatible for the European market, and Fusion is in negotiations to gain access to Apple AirPlay. If an agreement is reached, the RA770 could be upgraded via Wi-Fi without having to pull out the stereo and touch the head unit after it’s installed. If you’ve ever had to pull a stereo to access the back of the head unit, you know why this is a big deal.
DSP basically acts as a digital equalizer, providing custom audio profiles for each zone in a boat. Whether the zone is indoors or out, above or belowdecks, or even abaft the boat in a wakesurfing application, DSP is engineered to eliminate distortion, even at maximum volume.
It worked on the Jupiter 38 CC we were on. Even with the tunes cranked up, a pretty strong breeze and all the ambient noise of the boat running on plane, we could hear every high-pitched word from AC/DC lead singer Bon Scott with maximum clarity.
Best of all for families with teenagers, DSP ensures that the speakers cannot be blown. This especially important in charter or rental applications. Imagine stepping aboard for the first day of a weeklong charger and turning on the stereo to hear the speakers vibrating like a cheap 1980s boombox.
Fusion’s PartyBus technology lets all the stereos on a boat sync to play music simultaneously, without any delay among units. In addition to letting the units communicate wirelessly, the tech simplifies rigging and installation because no wiring is needed among units, which can also be used independently. For example, if a family wants to listen to one station in the salon, but a 14-year-old niece wants to hibernate in the cabin, she can listen to her own music there. As many as four audio zones can be set up in a boat.
The music also can be controlled from a compatible multifunction display or Garmin watch. The Fusion system’s screen is bonded to the unit at the Garmin factory in Taiwan to prevent water intrusion. An internal Class-D amplifier is designed for efficient, powerful output, and the RA770 has 280 watts of peak power output. Two pairs of speakers per channel can be installed.
The SRX400 is for smaller boats and has many of the same features, including PartyBus, built-in Wi-Fi streaming and DSP. The SRX400 can link to the RA770 via Wi-Fi, so the larger unit can be installed in the salon while the smaller one can go in a stateroom and be linked wirelessly.
Apollo head units are NMEA 2000 compliant and have ethernet and USB ports. All software updates can be made over the air with the Fusion-Link app that’s available for Apple and Android smart devices.
If space is a concern, Fusion also has the Panel Stereo, a self-contained unit that measures 13 19/32 inches long by 6 5/32 inches wide and 2 inches deep. It includes the control panel, a bass radiator, a Class D amplifier and two 3-inch speakers. For installation, it needs a 12-volt ground and antenna connections.
The Panel Stereo has DSP, works with the Fusion-Link app and has Bluetooth audio streaming. A 1.7-inch surface-mounting spacer that is sold separately allows installation directly onto any flat surface with no cutouts.
Retail pricing for the RA770 starts at $649, and at $349 for the SRX400. The Panel Stereo is $399. Fusion provides a three-year warranty for its products.
On the Water
All the boats we tested the stereos in had Fusion’s Signature series speakers designed for the marine environment with CURV, a woven polypropylene composite cone that is heat-pressed. All components are sealed to prevent water intrusion, and the speakers have basket construction with engineered plastics for durability. The Signature series is available in 6.5-, 7.7- and 8.8-inch diameters, in a variety of colors and with LED lighting. Subwoofers have a large-diameter voice coil, 450 watts of peak power and dual-color LED lighting.
We started the on-water demonstrations with a Sea Ray SDX 290 O/B that had the RA770 head unit with two zones: one in the cockpit and one in the bow. There were two speakers per zone.
The RA770 had been installed as a retrofit, but I couldn’t tell by looking. Located to port of the steering wheel, the compact unit fit cleanly and was easy to use by sweeping the screen or turning the volume knob. Because it used only the built-in amplifier, the SDX 290 O/B was a good test bed for Fusion’s DSP. Whether I sat in the bow or cockpit, the sound quality was clear and crisp.
Stepping up in terms of installation complexity, we headed out on a Regal 25 RX Surf with the RA770, eight 6.5-inch speakers and a 10-inch subwoofer. The boat had three zones: one in the bow, another in the cockpit and twin aft-facing speakers in powder-coated aluminum canisters mounted on the tower to pump the tunes to the boarder/surfer.
I could feel the music in the cockpit and bow, in a boat that is designed to accommodate a crowd. Wakesurfing is as much about the social aspect as riding the wake, so high sound quality is a must. The stereo package in the Regal was estimated at about $1,800.
Next up was the Grady-White Freedom 325, a dual-console model that had one zone in the cockpit and a second in the bow with two 6.5-inch speakers in each area. Of the boats on the water, this one had the most separation between the zones because the walk-through to the bow can be closed off. Yet, with two speakers in the bow, the sound was plentiful with good quality.
A 51-foot Leopard catamaran demonstrated the stereo system’s versatility with an RA770 in the salon that controlled three other zones in the bow, bridge and master stateroom. There were Fusion remote controls for the zones, while an SRX400 let guests take control in the master stateroom via the PartyBus. There were two Panel Stereos in the guest staterooms that had good sound quality.
There was one boat on land: a Streamline 28 with an RA770, six 8.8-inch speakers and two 10-inch subwoofers. Baird cranked up the tunes and did some impressive air guitar to The Eagles’ “Hotel California.” Whether the band is from Australia or the good old USA, you need classic rock to properly demonstrate a stereo.
This article originally appeared in the June 2018 issue.