Panbo

Fusion MS-RA200, little stereo w/ big features

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Feb 23, 2010
Fusion_MS-RA200.JPG

What's it going to take before more boaters realize how thoroughly Fusion is reinventing marine stereo? The new RA-200 introduced in Miami is not only an attractively smaller and less expensive ($170 retail) unit, but it includes neat new features that aren't even in the higher-end series yet. These guys can't help themselves!...

For instance, the RA-200's receiver has a VHF band as well as FM and AM, and Fusion built in controls so you scan favorite channels.  That's a nice feature right there, given how superior the audio quality will be compared to a regular low-wattage small-speakered VHF radio.  But Fusion is already working on an added feature whereby you'll be able to listen to a non-receiver source like an iPod, or Sirius Radio, but have it fade out if selected VHF channels break squelch (much like all the Fusions can fade themselves out if a docked iPhone rings).
   The RA-200 is also the first Fusion with a USB port. That means that you can listen to a memory stick full of MP3 audio files or that you access/control (and charge) an iPod or iPhone using its standard USB cable (instead of using Fusion's $50 waterproof dock).  But it also means that this set will eventually work with a very interesting second-generation iPod dock that Fusion is developing...a $100 iPod/iPhone dock with not only an auxiliary USB port but also video outputs so you can watch TV shows, vidcasts, movies, etc. on your boat's big monitor with sound and program control by Fusion.  That could be a big deal for some of us who like to watch a little something aboard but aren't willing to spring for a real satellite TV system, especially now that Apple is trying to force down the pricing.
    Might all this be a little confusing for stereo shoppers?  I'd have to say yes, but also that Fusion is brave for going this route.  They could have waited for the next generation high-end series to introduce these features, but instead they're just adding them in as they roll out new models.  But, then again, even an early generation Fusion is pretty far ahead of the competition, I suspect.  There is one area, though, where the company is slow, and that's getting the goods up on their web site.  There is a teaser about the RA-200, and also a press release here, but darned if I can find what the thing's dimensions are.  I can note that it doesn't have the power efficient Class D amplification of its big brothers, and is only two zone -- both ways to bring the price down -- but also that I saw how the reduced-button interface needed to make it smaller still seems quite easy to manage.  I can also add, size-wise, that the RA-200 fits in that empty hole I saw below when Fusion visited in December.  It also seems that sweet RA-200 package deals are already available.  I'll add links to more specs when possible.


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Comments

Posted by: Ben at February 23, 2010 8:42 PM | Reply

Ben, I either have to stop reading Panbo or you have to stop discovering all these products that we can no longer live without.
I found the Fusion MS-RA200 at iMarine but it seems that all the retailers are backordered with supply expected 4/19. No surprise considering the specs and convenience of usb/iPhone play.
Other shoppers - watch the product designations as there are at least three sku's to buy depending on tie ins. Since there is a usb port on the front of the radio at least iPhone owners will not need anything else - at least for now.
PS - My boat has been 'away' from home [meaning my workshop] for the past 5 years so I guess I developed a pent up need to do projects.

Posted by: bstrong at February 23, 2010 10:34 PM | Reply

I am sooo waiting for this thing to be available.

But I am pussled by you noting "that it doesn't have the power efficient Class D amplification" ?

Where is that info from? I can't find it in any of the webb info, and not on the paper spec sheet that I got at METS.

It also seems strange to me that a company that has a superior four channel class D amp in all of its other units would suddenly drop it for a less efficient new design...?

/j

Posted by: JesperW at February 24, 2010 2:51 AM | Reply

I'm not 100% positive, Jesper, but I'm pretty sure I asked Todd Crocker about that last December when he told me about the RA-200 off the record. I believe losing Class D is one of the concessions they made to get the price down. I think Fusion has done fairly well by building a true marine stereo, but is still regarded by some boaters (who may be paying attention to the details) as too expensive.

Incidentally I also asked for more detail regarding the power efficiency of Class D amplifiers. According to Todd, it varies somewhat depending on the volume set, and how dense the audio source is, but may well yield a 30-40% power savings. I'm pretty sure that the PolyPlanar system I have on Gizmo is one of my major power sucks as I use it a lot while tied up, and I think it uses a fair amount of juice even if I only have one of the two zones playing quietly. I will try to analyze this, and may change stereos.

Posted by: Ben at February 24, 2010 9:01 AM | Reply

I've got the Fusion MSCD500, which is a class 4 amplifier, and I noticed much lower power consumption than my older KVH Suitcase system. I did need to get more efficient speakers to get decent volume, but you can get loud without watts:-)

The only issue with mine is the ipod dock I got to go with it- the Fusion only has partial control of the ipod- I assume Apple upgrades without a lot of concern about 3rd party control. If I was to do it again I'd go the simple cable route and control the ipod itself- the dock protects the ipod from weather but you pay a price.

Posted by: Jesse Deupree at February 24, 2010 9:57 AM | Reply

The real advantage of class D comes when playing low volumes, since its idle consumption is near zero (no bias current in the output transistors). As you play louder the actual power delivered to the speaker becomes the larger component, and the difference thus smaller.

Unfortunately most car audio manufacturers pay little or no attention to power consumption, leading to unnecessary high consumption in the non PA-parts of the unit too (Since 20W idle power is nothing in a car but significant in a yacht...)

It would of course be most interesting, Ben, if you could get some official data on the RA200 power!

/j

Posted by: JesperW at February 24, 2010 1:11 PM | Reply

Any idea what the antenna arrangement is for the VHF receive capability? Combined with the AM/FM antenna or separate PL-259 connector?

Posted by: notshore at February 25, 2010 11:36 AM | Reply

I am looking to get a marine stereo (eventually non-marine) with an internal HD of 80Gb or bigger so I can load all my MP3 from my PC and do not need to connect any external Ipod or others. That way I can also see the tags on the stereo display.
Anything out there?

PS: I know some Korean made busses have such stereo that also play movies on monitor over the driver. But the stereo is an unknown brand and quite complicated to use!

Posted by: lucseawalker at February 27, 2010 9:16 PM | Reply

Sorry, don't know of any gear like that. But do note that the Fusion interface to an iPod lets you see, and search on, all the normal tags like artist, album, song title, etc. It doesn't show cover art, but otherwise seems quite able.

Posted by: Ben at February 27, 2010 10:10 PM | Reply

@lucseawalker: Note that the MS-RA200 AFAICS will let you do exactly that if you hook an external USB drive with USB power. A 120GB external USB drive should be less than 100$.

Posted by: JesperW at February 28, 2010 7:15 AM | Reply

Hi Ben,

Love your site.

I see that the Fusion site has been updated to reflect a release date; MAY 2010
see their (long) link at http://bit.ly/coWGlA

They also note that there are two compatible iPod docks, one with an extra USB port. That would mean that with the base dock plugged in, you lose USB drive capability, because the dock uses the USB port on the RA200. Still, I have one on order!


Posted by: Clay Babcock at March 12, 2010 9:44 PM | Reply

Good catch, Clay; thanks! Note that the MS-DKIPUSB dock (a mouthful of a model name) has two USB ports on the back, so you won't lose anything when one is connected to the RA-200 port, plus it has another USB port inside for jump drives. And it does iPod/iPhone video as promised. I think you picked a winner.

Posted by: Ben at March 12, 2010 9:56 PM | Reply

Ben,
I had several frustrating exchanges with Fusion regarding the FM sensitivity & rejection of the MS-RA200, concluding with their response that the information was not available.

While a good antenna is an important part of good reception, sensitivity and rejection are equally so (in my humble opinion).

(In relation to this, one of the biggest gaffes of this industry was the loss of the mono/stereo switch for FM. They advertise that they can "automatically blend" the signal to compensate for increased noise, etc, but I would rather just go to mono myself.)

This is why I am feeling conflicted about what to get for Old Squaw's new stereo. The Fusion with iphone box seems tremendous, but the Sony CDX-H910UI has decent specs and a mono/stereo switch.

john hinckley

Posted by: John Hinckley at June 6, 2010 4:10 PM | Reply

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