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Installing a digital sound system in a cooler

We deck out a cooler, Crutchfield-style

cooler with kicker speakers

In a nutshell: Here's how we installed a Bluetooth digital audio system and marine speakers in an ordinary cooler. If you're inspired to do one for yourself, give us a call and talk to our advisors!

The portable cooler is quite possibly one of the handier innovations of the 20th century. Without our coolers, we’d probably just hang around the house all weekend and stay close to the refrigerator. Instead, we’re loading up our coolers and hitting the road for a weekend of boating, camping, or tailgating. Life’s just a lot more fun when you have a cooler full of food and beverages.

But did you ever wonder how much more fun it could be if you had a cooler that was also a digital media sound system? We did, so we built one. And, as we suspected, it’s really, really awesome.

We used rugged, water-resistant, marine-grade gear to transform this ordinary 50-quart cooler into a high-performance portable stereo that still has room for a few sandwiches and a chilled six-pack. This cooler really is a “party on wheels.”

Check out our video and let our Car A/V Editor, Matt, tell you all about it:

Very cool – we build a cooler with a sound system

After deciding how we wanted to position the speakers and double-checking our measurements, we used a template to outline the speaker openings on the front of the cooler. We then used a jigsaw to cut the new openings. Cutting through plastic and foam can be tricky, so we worked carefully and let the saw do its job. Finally, we sanded the openings to ensure a smooth finish.

install

Our original design featured two Kicker marine speakers

Our initial design featured 6-1/2" Kicker marine speakers connected to a Bluetooth® enabled Kicker amplifier, and a compact battery designed for boats. The amp and the battery fit neatly underneath a shelf we made with lightweight foam and ABS plastic. This arrangement left plenty of room inside for snacks, beverages, and a few cooler packs to keep everything chilled.

plastic shelf above amp and battery

The lightweight plastic covers a sheet of soft foam, which protects the gear beneath

 
amplifier and battery installed

Here, we're just roughing in the location of the amp and the marine battery

The Kicker amp features built-in Bluetooth connectivity for wireless streaming. It also includes a wired remote for iPod® or iPhone® control, so we cut a hole in the front of the cooler and mounted it in an easy-to-reach spot.

The Bluetooth is great, but we also like the included 6-foot iPod/iPhone cable, which lets us play music and charge the device while it’s stored in the cooler.

Amazingly cool – we add more power and subs

Our basic system sounded great, but, being us, we just had to make it bigger and better. We wanted more bass, so we cut new openings, moved the original speakers up, then added a pair of 6-3/4" Kicker subs down below. A compact Kicker mono amplifier provided the power that took our cooler’s sound from, “Hey, that’s really neat!” to “Wow, that’s totally amazing!”

installing subwoofers in a cooler

When creating the openings, be sure to “measure twice, cut once”

installing subs and controller

The amp's weather-resistant controller (top center) is backlit, so it’s easy to find in low light

Totally cool – just for kicks, we add a hotspot

Sometimes, it’s great to get out and get away from it all. But it’s also nice to be connected to music and social media. An Autonet mobile router turned the “cooler cooler” into a 3G Wi-Fi® hotspot. The high-speed connection is great for streaming music, surfing the web, or (occasionally) checking in on the real world. A one-year service plan ($29.95 or $59.95) is required.

Want to build your own “cooler cooler”?

If you're thinking about doing it yourself, we have all the gear you’ll need, and we’ve even created an illustrated Crutchfield MasterSheet™ to help you along. It's just like our traditional MasterSheets that show you how to install gear in your car. And here's the rundown of all the gear we used:

Rugged, rockin’ Kicker 6-1/2" marine speakers sound great and stand up to the demands of outdoor life. They’re magnetically shielded, so they won’t interfere with compasses or sensitive marine electronics.

An all-weather amplifier similar to the now-discontinued Kicker model used in this cooler project, will offer an auxiliary input for your music source and Bluetooth connectivity, so you don't need to plug the phone in at all. These water-resistant amps are ideal for 12-volt powersports vehicles.

We used a set of compact, powerful Kicker marine subs that are no longer available. Here is our selection of similar, non-marine certified 6-3/4" subwoofers.

To power those subs, we added the Kicker 12PX200.1 subwoofer amplifier. It fits in the palm of your hand—or the bottom of your cooler—and delivers up to 200 watts RMS of bass power to your subs.

Since the subs didn't come with grilles, we added some. Made with impact-resistant ABS plastic, Kicker GR650 grilles will protect your subs from damage.

We used an XS Power XP750 battery to provide up to 750 amps of power to the sound system. The ventless design means you can install this marine-rated 12-volt battery in tight spaces without worrying about leaks or corrosion.

Finally, to take the cooler "over the top," we added an Autonet Mobile router.

xp battery

This XS Power battery keeps our cooler rockin'.

Questions?

If you want to build your own incredibly cool cooler, our Crutchfield Advisors can help. Just give us a call!

  • Heather from LAS VEGAS

    Posted on 8/6/2020

    I am planning to build a cooler myself. I have 4 6x9 and 1 10inch subwoofer. I need help with amps and how to wire it, making it Bluetooth. I also am not sure how to house the sub so it does not mess with the other speakers. On a side note: how do I keep it from rattling

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 8/7/2020

    Heather, With questions like that, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Steven E Stone from Roosevelt,N.Y. 11575

    Posted on 4/24/2020

    How much is that 'Cooler audio system'?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 4/27/2020

    Steven, It varies, of course. This installation is a few years old, but we can help you assemble a system that'll suit your budget. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Norris Johnson from Baltimore

    Posted on 4/13/2020

    Extremely Cool Cooler !!!! Luv it !!!!

  • Charlie from Rochester, NY

    Posted on 1/14/2020

    I have built one of these, i was able to keep most of everything within the walls of my RTIC cooler besides the battery. How did you guys seal that foam and plastic to prevent water from getting in?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 1/14/2020

    Charlie, We didn't worry too much about that, really. We used ice packs in place of ice, and that seemed to work fine.
  • Darin Wildermuth from Sierra Vista

    Posted on 4/23/2019

    I just have a quick question, what trickle charger were u using to charge the xs battery?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 4/24/2019

    Darrin, This was a while back, but I don't think we used one during the build and article-writing process. The XS Power battery holds a charge pretty well, too. There are several reliable trickle chargers on the market, though, so if you need one, check with a local auto parts store or general retailer.
  • kyle martin from mountain view

    Posted on 3/14/2019

    I'm building a similar project in a pelican case but I'd like to reduce weight as much as possible but still retain 6 hours of play time is there any battery that would be less that 4 lbs that could deliver that? I'm running 2 6inch boss Marine speakers and a boss Marine head unit. The battery is an 8 ah battery from my motorcycle and it clocks in at almost 6 lbs

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 3/15/2019

    With questions like that, it's always better to have a conversation with a real live human. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors. We can help you choose the right gear and give you the right advice on how to install it.
  • Scott Reber from Charlotte

    Posted on 1/2/2019

    Jon, loved your article and idea on speakers in a cooler. I have been renovating an old 1984 fire truck for tailgates and now it time to put the sound system in. Would you be interested in learning more about the project? thanks Scott

    Commenter image

    Jon Paul from Crutchfield

    on 1/2/2019

    Scott, That sounds really cool, and we'd definitely like to learn more. Take plenty of pictures, and when you're done with the project, visit our Custom Car Showroom and show us how it turned out!
  • Nate from Tyler, TX

    Posted on 8/14/2018

    Did you install any kind of cooling fan to combat the heat from the amps?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    on 8/15/2018

    Nate, The Kicker amp is designed to work in tight spaces, so we didn't need to install a separate fan.
  • Brian from Waipahu

    Posted on 6/27/2018

    How long does a single charge last?

    Commenter image

    Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    on 6/29/2018

    Brian, The XS Power battery has plenty of juice, so it'll last a while.
  • Jared from Lincoln

    Posted on 6/2/2018

    Just completed mine. Would love to share some pictures of it.

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