If your family and friends enjoy wakeboarding or waterskiing, you may have considered adding a set of wakeboard tower speakers to your boat. These marine audio speaker systems are designed to project sound to the person at the end of the tow rope rather than fill the boat with sound. Their design is often unique, and the speakers used are different from those mounted in the hull or a storage compartment. Let’s take a look at some design considerations for wakeboard tower speakers.
Wakeboard Tower Speaker Purchasing Considerations
The first thing you’ll need to decide when shopping for wakeboard tower speakers is their size. The size of the speaker has several benefits and a few drawbacks. The first consideration is how high your wakeboard tower bar is above the floor of your boat. If the bar is only 6 feet high, adding a 10-inch tower enclosure will result in you and your boatmates hitting your heads on them when you’re moving around. Tower speakers from various reputable companies are available in 6.5-, 7.7-, 8-, 10- and 12-inch diameters. Before you head off to a store to audition the speakers, check to see how much clearance you have.
The next consideration for speaker size is weight. It should go without saying that adding weight to your tower bar can, if the weight is significant enough, affect the stability or handling of your boat. Now, a pair of 8-inch wakeboard tower speakers isn’t likely to be noticeable. However, four 10- or 12-inch enclosures could easily weigh 60 pounds or more. If you have a 24-foot wakeboard boat that can take on a few thousand pounds of ballast, this is less of an issue than on a 20-foot boat with more limited weight-gaining abilities.
The benefit of larger-diameter speakers is their efficiency. A well-engineered 6.5-inch tower speaker might produce 88 dB SPL of output (at 1 meter) when driven with 1 watt of power. Moving up to a 10-inch speaker, that number can jump to a crazy 97 dB SPL. The smaller enclosures would need to be fed with 2.8 watts of power to produce the same output. At higher volume levels, the difference is more significant. To replicate the output of the big speakers getting 20 watts, the smaller, less-efficient solution would need to handle 159 watts of power. If you’re limited in how much power the electrical system on your boat can supply, then the efficiency of a larger speaker is quite worthwhile.
A second benefit of larger speakers is that they can often handle significantly more power than their smaller brethren. This added power handling typically translates into an increased maximum output level. You might consider a pair of 10-inch cans instead of four 8-inch speakers. The term “cans” is industry slang for a wakeboard tower speaker enclosure.
High-Efficiency or Full-Range?
There are two schools of thought when designing wakeboard tower speakers. First, some companies use somewhat of a conventional marine audio speaker in their enclosures but optimize them with less compliance (softer spider and surround) to play lower better when installed in a small enclosure. These enclosures are more a full-range solution and often produce reasonable midbass output.
The second type of power speaker uses a midrange driver that’s more like what you’d find in a concert or public address speaker system. These drivers have very light cones with shorter, lighter voice coil windings. These designs are quite efficient, but they don’t produce much midbass because the drivers have minimal excursion capability. As a result, if you try to crank up the bass on this type of speaker, it will distort and sound terrible. It could also be damaged easily.
Tower Mounting Brackets
When shopping for a tower speaker, you need to take a close look at the mounting system. A larger tower speaker could weigh 20 to 25 pounds. Consider the abuse it will take as your boat pounds over waves to fling the kids off a tube or other inflatable. That poor speaker enclosure could be subjected to several times its resting mass because of these g-forces.
The mounting hardware must be designed to perfectly fit the tower bar on your boat. You need to know whether your tower bar is round or oval, and you should have an exact measurement of its diameter or circumference. Most high-quality tower speakers have machined or cast aluminum brackets with rubber inserts. Your specific application may require that the speakers be angled relative to the mounting bracket. Consider the mounting options and inspect the mounting brackets at the store before purchasing to ensure that they’re robust and well-engineered. The last thing you want is for the speakers to be pointed at the sky or down at the water because they can be adjusted the way you want.
Marine Tower Speaker Lighting
If you’ve been paying attention to the marine speaker market over the last few years, you know cool lighting is all the rage. Most reputable companies have RGB LED lighting built into the speakers, and many have lighting upgrades for their tower speaker enclosures. If you want your speakers to look funky or cool, ask about the lighting controller options available for them. Most lighting controllers come with a radio-frequency remote control or Bluetooth connection to a smartphone app. A few will let your installer connect the output of your radio to the controller so the lighting can change with the beat of the music.
If you plan to upgrade all the speakers on your boat to units with lighting, be sure the controller has enough power output capability to drive them. Also, look for integrated lighting solutions that are 100% waterproof with an IPX6 or higher rating.
A clean and tidy wakeboard tower speaker installation will feature well-concealed wiring. Ideally, you don’t want speaker wires zip-tied to the outside of the wakeboard tower tubing. Talk with your installer about how they’ll run wiring and whether they’ll add weather-tight quick disconnects if you need to remove the tower for winter storage. Many tower speakers will include a Deutsch or Amphenol connector integrated into the fiberglass or plastic housing for speaker and lighting connections.
Additional considerations for tower speaker wiring are the wire size, construction and quality. For example, if you have a pair of 10-inch enclosures that will receive up to 250 watts of power from an amplifier, you could be wasting energy if the installer uses an 18-gauge wire. Therefore, we’d suggest that at least 14 AWG wire be used for high-power marine tower speaker installations.
Second, make sure the wire is high quality. Because it will be used in a high-humidity application, you’ll want to avoid copper-clad aluminum wiring. Avoiding aluminum wiring is even more critical if you use your boat in salt water. The ideal choice is a tinned copper wire. The tinning helps to prevent corrosion.
Depending on the design of your wakeboard tower, you may want to look for a speaker solution with wiring that is completely concealed. Many boat-brand-specific towers route the wiring up through the center of the mounting bracket. Check into this before you go shopping.
At the very least, your tower speakers will be exposed to the harsh sun for the entire summer. If you live in the South, they could be outdoors all year. Choosing products constructed with weather-resistant materials is crucial to the performance and longevity of your tower speaker system. You’ll want to make sure that the enclosures, wiring and speaker components (woofers cones, tweeter diaphragms and surrounds) are all designed to handle prolonged UV exposure. Confirmation that the products have passed a testing standard like ASTM D4329 is a minimum.
If you’re using your boat in salt water, then corrosion mitigation is also a concern. The ASTM B117 is a salt-fog exposure test that will tell you if components will corrode or discolor when exposed to salt water.
You’ll also want to ensure that the speaker system is water-resistant. An ingress protection rating of at least IPX6 is a good starting point.
Auditioning Wakeboard Tower Speakers
If you’ve been a longtime reader of BestCarAudio.com, you should be able to predict this last speaker-purchasing suggestion. You will want to audition the speakers you have in mind for your boat. Since this type of speaker will often be played at high volume levels, that’s how you want to audition them. We suggest starting by standing as far away from the speakers as possible and ask the product specialist to play your favorite music at a high volume. While you’re looking for output capability, what you want to capture from this experience is how clear the sound is. The speakers will sound garbled and unclear if they are overdriven because of too much bass information. The demonstration might need to include some setup for high-efficiency speaker designs.
Ultimately, you want to know what you’re buying to understand how they will sound when installed on your boat. If there is any harshness or muddiness in what you hear, you’ll want to keep shopping.
Upgrade Your Boat with New Wakeboard Tower Speakers
If you plan on spending a day on the water, having a great audio system can make things even more enjoyable. Your friends and family members at the end of the tow rope will love enjoying the music through a set of wakeboard tower speakers. Drop by a local specialty mobile enhancement retailer today to find out about the speakers they have available for your application.
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