Panbo

Poly-Planar MRD80i, another safe spot for digital audio

... written for Panbo by Ben Ellison and posted on Jul 26, 2011
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My photograph could be better, but hopefully it's clear that the Poly-Planar MRD80i has its own solution for docking iPods and iPhones safely inside a waterproof marine stereo. Instead of supplying a variety of sleeves so that different-size iThings can be inserted into the dock, like Fusion does, the 80i uses a drawer with a cushioned pad, a hook'n'loop hold down, and a wired connector. The docking process takes a tad longer but you'll never have to look for a box of sleeves when a guest brings a different model of iPod aboard, or you change up. And that's just the beginning of what makes this digital-media-friendly stereo different from Fusion's...

Note, for instance, the headphone jack so that you can also tuck non-Apple MP3 players in the 80i's dock, as well as an SD card slot that's also protected by the stereo's face plate. Fusion has neither, though its latest dock has USB sockets both inside and on the back, as seen in my first SonicHub test, while the MRD80i only has a single exterior USB port. I think it's great that these stereos support multiple digital music sources, and I use them, but none give you the sort of playlist and search abilities you get with the integration of an iTunes device. 
   Poly-Planar also favors more control buttons than Fusion, as can be seen by comparing the shot below with this entry showing the Fusion RA-200 and its larger mates. The result is that the 80i gives you quicker access to some functions, though the buttons are still big enough to manage rough conditions (and the whole face design does not look like it was designed for a car, which it wasn't). I must say, though, that I prefer Fusion's displays and especially like browsing my iPod Touch via the NSE12 color screen and SonicHub. The MRD80i's two line screen below can and does show tune titles, artists, etc. but the scrolling is often not as readable. Plus when you advance tracks, you get the data screen seen below instead of track title, which strikes me as the preferred choice. (But that's an interface software design choice that could be changeds, as the stereo is definitely saving titles and other info in memory, which is evident when you do searches.)  Aside from those quibbles, the MRD80i is impressive...

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One thing I explored in preparation for an October Cruising World article on stereos was the power demands of various stereos, and the MRD did well. I played the same music over the same speakers at about the same volumn levels on it, the original Fusion IP500, and the SonicHub, with the juice running from Gizmo's battery bank through my Medusa power analyzer. I wasn't surprised to see that the high-end Fusion with its power-efficient Class D amplification only consumes about 9 Watts in normal use and only gets up to about 12W when I pushed bass-heavy reggae almost to distort level (on pairs of Bose 9" and Fusion 5" speakers). Similarly, I wasn't terribly disappointed that the SonicHub now installed on Gizmo uses about 14 Watts in normal use and can peak into the upper 20's at high volume, because it's based on Fusion's RA200 design which sacrificed Class D for a lower price point. But, surprise, the MRD80i tested much nearer the IP500 -- about 10W normal, 13W loud -- though it makes no claims in this regard.
   The MRD80i is also IP66 waterproof front and back, appears solidly built, and works with all sorts of other Poly-Planar gear, like three choices of (wireless and wired) remotes. Of course there are many more details I haven't covered, as you may surmise from all those wires coming out the backside, but manual and more are downloadable here. Anyone in Panbo land tried one of these yet?

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Comments

we have no seen this unit this side of the waters. (Africa). First impression is its face design. Not very attractive. Looks like the design from the past years. Fusion has hit the market in Africa and is making an impression. I Like the fact that the MRD80 is capable of taking different units.

Posted by: MJ Taylor at July 28, 2011 7:05 AM | Reply

One thing to think about is how these units will respond to future changes in the software running the ipod etc. I have a Fusion from late 2008, and it wasn't long before its ability to control the ipod became limited and kludgy because Apple made some change in iTunes. I expect it my soon be unable to control the ipod at all- Apple has no reason at all to care about the installed base.

Until the stereo's themselves have the ability to be upgraded, you run the risk of losing control of the device. Way back in the day I had a wireless remote that controlled the ipod itself, but that kind of thing is gone too.

Posted by: Jesse Deupree at July 28, 2011 1:22 PM | Reply

Hey Ben,

While I agree that the iPod "sled" design looks like a superior solution to the sleeves used by Fusion I'm not sold that the SD support is such a big deal. I don't know of anyone carrying around their music library on a series of relatively low capacity cards. Guess I'd rate that a "nice to have".

What Fusion does have, and I'm loving on my Albin 35TE Convertible, is "zoned" remotes. With the main unit in the salon, a remote in the master and (with a small remote amp) one on the bridge I am able to easily change the volume without having to worry about finding the fader settings. Just grab the multifunction knob and turn it up without causing my bride to bounce out of the berth. Configuring the remote took all of 30 seconds and I can override the volume settings from the main unit if I want.

I also like that when Fusion sells you a remote the actually include a long cable in the package! No extra charge! Having installed other brands that charge about the same for an LCD, multifunction remote that provide only a 6" pigtail this was a pleasant discovery.

And finally, I have to agree with the comment above. It's looking (the poly planer) rather retro and cluttered. While I don't like minimalist controls when they are done solely for the sake of appearance I do find, as a member of the iPod world, that a simple, context aware knob is a great human interface model. I find the Fusion controls easy and intuitive.

All I need now if for Fusion to add multi-source and I'll have found marine audio bliss...

Posted by: Doug Campbell at July 28, 2011 1:52 PM | Reply

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