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Panasonic 160 watt speakers distorting - upgrade choices?

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I hoping someone can share their expertise for my future speaker upgrade. I am primarily doing this for my daughter and her friends who I visit three or four times a year when going boating on the Sacramento Delta. My daughter likes to turn the music volume up high while under way. I am changing out the Panasonic 6 1/2’ 160 watt speakers which I noticed to distort really bad. I never noticed it before since I don’t turn the volume that high, and my wife and I are always at anchor while we play music.

I have the Clarion CMS2. The spec sheet states - (20 watts RMS CEA-2006/50 peak x 4 channels) per channel. I do not have a wake board tower. No sub woofer.  I contacted Crutchfield and they say that it is most likely the speakers, that they cannot handle the high output. I did notice that the Clarion was set to the loud mode, and when turned it to (OFF) it did sound better.  Still, I think I’ll replace the speakers.

I’m looking at the 6.5” replacements - JL M6 or M3, or Wet Sounds Revo’s. Is this over kill for my current setup?  Will my current setup sound good with these potential choices for upgraded speakers since they need more power? What do you guys suggest?  Remember, I’m only interested in changing out the speakers - for now.

Thanks Dennis

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I will be interested to see what others offer for solutions. It seems to me like the head unit amp is underpowered to produce the sound/volume you are trying to hit. Look up “chirping”. Your speaker max Power is way higher then the 20rms and 50 peak so I dont think that is the problem. If true, adding a 100 watt amp with the existing speakers might be a better solution. If you stick to speakers, it would seem you need more efficient versus high maximum watt speakers.

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You have a lack of wattage and lack of tuning flexibility issue. You have a speaker with a rating (thermal power handling of 160W. This likely puts their RMS in the 80W range. You have a head unit rated at 20W rms and 50W peak. 

IMO, you need a quality external amp.  

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I ran the Kicker marine speaker off my Clarion head unit for about 6 months before adding a amp and they sounded great. Also much cheaper than JL and Wet Sounds.  I now run 75w RMS to them and am still impressed for the money. 

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Thanks guys. I never realized it would be the underpowered amp that would cause this distortion.  Does anyone else have the Clarion CMS2 with these Panasonic speakers in their boat?   I am the second owner of the boat. The original owner did say it has the premium sound system. I wonder if not having a Radar arch and no tower speakers caused Chaparral to just put this head unit with a small amp in this boat. If you google Clarion CMS2 a link appears with Crutchfield.   It appears the Clarion CMS2 with this amp was a package deal. It is discontinued but the new model CMS20 has the same specs. Do you guys having any suggestions as to what amp I should put in?  Make and model?  I am a DIY guy, but stereo electronics can be a little intimidating. 



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In follow up on WWT's opinion, I would point out that I had these "cheap" Boss 6x9 speakers that I thought were total trash.  

I was planning to swap them out with other JL products to match the JL MX 650's (now the M3's you referenced) in boat speakers that I previously added.  

However, once I installed a JL 600/6 amp, it really cleaned up the Boss speakers.  They sound much better than they did with a cheap Boss amp.  

It you are looking for quality sound, don't skimp on the amp.  You might be surprised as it may bring your old speakers to life.  

JL 600/6 is my vote (depending on how many channels you need), but not cheap. 


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Thanks very much VAboater. I am going to invest in the JL 600/6 amp. Do I wire it with 8 gauge power for the amp directly to the house battery?  I kinda wish this was going to be plug and play. As far as the upgrade for the speakers - this is the response from the JL AUDIO TEAM:



Aug 4, 2020, 11:29 AM EDT 

I have purchased (through Crutchfield -currently on back-order, so I still have options to cancel) the M6-650X for my Chaparral boat. No tower - so only 4 speakers. I would like to use my existing factory installed Clarion CMS2. It only puts out RMS 20 watts, peak 50 watts. Will I experience problems with this setup at higher volumes? Distortion? Any foreseen problems? This purchase will allow potential, if needed, upgrades to my existing setup. See pictures of my (head unit and amp) taken from Crutchfield website.

Submitted from: https://www.jlaudio.com/collections/marine-audio



Mike Fukuda (JL Audio) 

Aug 4, 2020, 11:53 AM EDT 

Good Morning Dennis,
Of course you will have no issues with using just the CMS2 to power (4) M6-650X speakers.

I do understand your concerns about the power output of the CMS2 to the M6-650X speakers. However, since the M6-650X speakers have the following ratings:
Continuous Power Handling (RMS) of 75W
Recommend Amplifier Power (RMS) range of 25W to 150W per channel

Experiencing clipping or distortion would really not have an impact. Since the M6-650X speakers can handle more power that what is supplied by the CMS2. The use of a 4-channel amplifier is highly recommended so you can obtain the best speaker performance and audio experience.

I would recommend either the MX280/4; 4-channel Class-D Amplifier (70W x 4 @ 4-Ohms) or the M400/4; 4-channel Class-D Amplifier (75W x 4 @ 4-O)hms.

MX280/4 link: https://www.jlaudio.com/collections/marine-audio-amplifiers-mx/products/mx280-4-car-audio-mx-amplifiers-98405

M400/4 link: https://www.jlaudio.com/collections/m-series-marine-amplifiers/products/m400-4-marine-audio-m-series-amplifiers-98271

I hope this addresses your concerns.

Please let me know if you have any additional questions.

Visit the JL Audio Website
Get more answers in the Help Center
Test drive TüN DSP Software for FREE


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Hey, I have a the same stereo, with the same panasonic speakers, but the boat also has the JL 4/400 amp you reference above.  The speakers suck.  one of my plans for this offseason is to upgrade them.  I have 6 speakers in my 297, but no sub.  I do have a tower, but no speakers in it either.  

I am not looking to spend thousands, as my goal isn't to be the loudest on the bay, but to be able to run with the stereo on and cleanly heard.  I have been looking at the kickers, rockford fosgate and Infinity speakers.  I had infinity's in my last boat and they were a great budget speaker.  Ideally I want to add a second amp and sub, but honestly not sure I will get the go ahead from the CFO to spend that much more....

just my 2 cents, change the speakers, as even with what is supposedly a good amp, they are underwhelming....

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I changed all my in boat speakers to the kicker marine 8" model on amazon for $75 a speaker, they also have the 6.5" direct replacements too.  But, speakers alone aren't gonna give you clean crisp sound while running at speed.  You need a good quality amp to drive those speakers with clean power.  I put a JL Audio HD 600/4 on my 8" speakers and I can hear my radio at 50mph with the captains call exhaust open with my 496 HO.  That is probably a lot more than you are looking for, but my point is, the amplifier with the appropriate power rating for the speakers you put in will make all the difference in the world.


These speakers paired with this amp should translate to a nice sounding system that you can hear while running across the water.  That amp at 12volts will feed those speakers the exact RMS power they need to sound good.  




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Thanks Summerx and Stretch79. I did order 4 x JL M6-650X. I would like to add a good Sub later, so I will be in the hunt for nice 5-6 channel amp The speakers are plug and play albeit drilling new holes in the boat. I plan on using the factory Stainless Steel premium cover over these speakers. (They should fit) With regard to the amp, it sounds like JL is the way to go, pricey, but good quality.  Running new gauge power wire and learning how to connect everything up is the learning curve.



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Realize that any project you do can be part of a longer term journey.  You don't have to do it all at once.  I do think if you just replace the speakers on your existing head unit, you are going to be disappointed in the results after what you are going to shell out for those M6 speakers.  

If you are buying JL.  go to their website and look at the cutout dimensions.  they are posted there.  I think I had the same Panasonic's you have and even though they are both 6.5" speakers, they are not identical cutouts.  The JL 6.5 worked for me without any fiberglass cutting.  The bolt hole pattern will obviously be different.  


You can gain confidence as you go with projects.  Do the speakers first (as I did).  Then decide if you have the power you need to them and add the amp.  

Crutchfield will take anything back for 60 days for any reason, so they are great to work with if you get in over your head.  

You can learn the amp wiring with some internet research or by asking questions here.  Crutchfield sells a JL branded amp wiring kit that is marine rated.  
I got the 6 gauge 20 ft kit and it worked perfect.  If you want to save some money, you can piece together a wiring kit.  I think the 600/6 amp recommends larger 4 g wiring, but the 6 gauge has worked fine.  The kit costs a little more, but it comes with a 50 amp fuse (same rating the 600/6 requires) that you will install close to your battery.  

Make sure your Clarion head unit has preamp outputs. ( the RCA type cables coming out of the back).  You will need those along with some RCA patch cables to connect to a JL M series amp.  

I like your idea to do a 5 or 6 channel amp to keep your options for a sub open later.  (without having to purchase and wire a second amp).  

Depending on your need / desires, I think the M6 series is overkill.  The M3's give plenty of quality sound in my opinion.  I have one set of 6.5 and one set of 7.7's.  

You could potentially save some money on the M3's vs M6's, but I'm sure you can find an audiophile who will disagree with that swap.  

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Thanks VAboater.  Crutchfield sent me an email updating my order status stating the M6's are still on back order and won't arrive in their warehouse until August 17th.  This is my opportunity to rethink the M6's.  I will research the M3's. Thanks again for your sound advise.


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