Fusion Entertainment, just a few years ago, had tons of ideas but not enough money. Enter the powerhouse Garmin, which bought the New Zealand-based marine entertainment company and spent the past few years injecting capital and technology into the mix.
“It’s like we have rocket fuel behind us,” says Marcus Hamilton, Fusion’s marketing director. “Now it’s all coming quickly to fruition.”
The biggest debut has been the Apollo RA770, which earned awards at the IBEX trade show and from the National Marine Electronics Association. The idea behind Apollo, Hamilton says, was to get quality audio “from the kick drum of the musician to the eardrum of the consumer,” with every component built to withstand wind and water.
While a lot of entertainment systems installed on boats let listeners stream music over Bluetooth, the Apollo uses Wi-Fi — even if there is no Wi-Fi router on board.
“It’s not that you’re still able to stream high-quality audio; it’s that you are able to stream high-quality audio,” says Andrew Golden of the Rushton Gregory public-relations firm. “Bluetooth is not high-quality audio.”
The Apollo also solves another problem that Bluetooth-streaming boaters encounter: music cutting in and out as the linked device, say, a smartphone, moves around the boat.
“Bluetooth originally was designed for in-car use, so that you would have your phone in your pocket and you’d Bluetooth to a radio that’s one yard away in the car,” says Fusion CEO Chris Baird. “But on a boat, it’s a totally different scenario. We walk all over the boat, and it’s 30 feet long, and say you’re at the bow, now you’re 30 feet away from where that stereo is. With Wi-Fi, you can get great access 80 or 90 feet away.”
Fusion also had two engineers spend 18 months creating audio profiles for every product the company makes. Now, no matter whether a stereo is installed in a small stateroom or an open flybridge, the sound can be more easily tuned to eliminate distortion, including at top volume.
Achieving that quality of sound on a boat is impossible, they say, with components built for land.
“When you come from a car audio background, the easiest market you could hit was the wakeboard market,” Baird says. “It was loud and in your face. Then it was the big saltwater fishing boats that wanted the big, brassy sound. But the majority of people who cruise and sail want to have a beer or wine on the back of the boat and watch the sun go down with really great music — those are the customers our products are for. It’s taken us a long time, but we’re really getting there now.”