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Installing a digital sound system in a cooler

We deck out a cooler, Crutchfield-style

Jon Paulette is a veteran automotive writer who has spent a fair portion of his life hanging out at racetracks and talking to amazing people who make extremely loud cars reach ridiculous speeds. Despite all that, he still has enough hearing left to enjoy a stupidly large music collection. A native Virginian, Jon lives in the Charlottesville area, roots for the Nationals and would like a good BBQ sandwich right about now.

More from Jon Paulette

cooler with kicker speakers

In a Nutshell

This article will explain how to install a Bluetooth digital audio system and marine speakers in an ordinary cooler. It's a great way to take what's already an outdoor essential into an entertainment center.

This is just how we did our cooler, by the way. If you have some ideas about what you want to do with yours, give us a call and talk to our advisors.

Full Story

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.

A Kicker PXi amp, similar to the one used in this cooler, has an auxiliary input for your music source and Bluetooth connectivity, so you don't need to plug the phone in at all. This water-resistant amp is 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.

Subs are ideal for your cooler project—or your boat.

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!

  • Devan from 62204

    Posted on 6/8/2015

    Hello, I am building a stereo cooler but i wanted a tray or insert to the top to put couple of bottles of drink. The components are at the bottles but the rest is waste of space and wanted something to sit at the top

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/8/2015

    Devan,
    The best part of a project like this is that you have the chance to come up with a truly unique solution. You can start with ABS plastic panels like we did, or come up with something even niftier. It'll take some clever fabrication, but if you already have the gear installed, you're probably up to the task. Good luck!

  • David from Richmond, VA

    Posted on 6/20/2015

    What a great project!!! How much play time can you get out of a charge? Also, how do you recharge the battery?

  • Robert Ferency-Viars from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/22/2015

    David, I'm not sure how long the battery holds out, but it should cover a full day, at least. We installed a charging port in place of the cooler's drain plug, so we can just plug it in to recharge.

  • Ryan from Grapevine,Tx

    Posted on 7/5/2015

    Great job guys! Couple questions as this would be my 3rd itteration on cooler radios. How do you keep the back of the speakers dry? I'm assuming you just use a separate fabric type cooler to put on your shelf? Lastly, how hot does it get under the shelf? Batteries and electronics don't really like heat and i would imagine being in a small compact space, all the equipment could get pretty hot pretty quick. Following up with David's question, have y'all had a chance to test the duration of a charge on the battery? Thanks for all the help!

  • Ryan from Grapevine,Tx

    Posted on 7/5/2015

    Also, do you need the XS Power AK1000 Secondary battery wiring kit for the battery? Thanks again!

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/7/2015

    Ryan, good point regarding the heat. Using ice packs in the upper level should help to keep the electronics cool below. And if you use a soft cooler inside the larger cooler as you suggest, that should protect the speakers from moisture. The battery has a capacity of 22 amp-hours, so depending on how hard you push the system, you should have enough juice to enjoy a day at the beach. As far as the XS Power AK1000 Secondary Battery Wiring Kit goes, that's probably more than you need for this job. Give us a call, and an advisor can help you put together a wiring package, or you'll find everything your need here. And if you're looking for more cooler inspiration, check out this article.

  • Chris

    Posted on 7/15/2015

    Did you use ice in the cooler? If so how much water leaked to the bottom and and do it harm the electronics?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/15/2015

    Chris, we used ice packs in place of ice. We don't recommend using ice with this design, but you might be interested in this customer's approach that took the cooler idea to the next level.

  • Kris Whorley from roanoke

    Posted on 7/25/2015

    How much, and can I get a college team logo on one

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/27/2015

    Kris, It depends on how much you want to spend, really. The size of your cooler is a big factor, because the more space you have, the more gear you can install. The cost of the gear itself will also vary. As for the logo question, we found some small-ish hard-side coolers with college team logos online. If you want to do something bigger, or can't find a cooler with your team's logo, you could always find (or paint) one in an appropriate color and add a sticker or two. There's plenty of room for creativity in a project like this, so have fun with it!

  • Michael from Anderson, SC

    Posted on 8/5/2015

    How do you keep the melting ice from ruining the electronics below the plastic and foam shelf ?

  • Alexander Hrabe from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/5/2015

    Michael, we used ice packs in place of ice. We don't recommend using ice with this design, but you might be interested in this customer's approach that took the cooler idea to the next level.

  • Josh siefken from West Bend

    Posted on 9/7/2015

    Are you guy able to build one of these for me to buy from you? How much would it cost? Thank you

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 9/8/2015

    Josh, Unfortunately, that's not a service we offer. But we can sell you the gear for your DIY project, and you'll be able to take advantage of lifetime tech support. It's a fun project, so give it a try!

  • Garrett

    Posted on 12/18/2015

    Not sure I missed this but how do you charge the battery? Is there an adapter to plug into wall, etc?? And do you need a fan to keep amps cool?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 12/18/2015

    Garrett, We installed a charging port in place of the cooler's drain plug, so we can just plug it in to recharge. As for cooling, ice packs (NOT bags of ice!) keep everything from running too hot.

  • Darrin from Metairie

    Posted on 1/12/2016

    How did you ground the amp in this scenario?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 1/13/2016

    Darrin, We connected it directly to the negative terminal of the marine battery.

  • Mike from bossier city

    Posted on 2/10/2016

    Is this safe for carbonated beverages(i.e. beer)? Seems like it would rattle all your drinks especially with ice packs.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/10/2016

    Mike, Whether through motion or music, your carbonated beverages could indeed get all shook up in a cooler like this. In our experience, it's always wise to give any can a couple of snappy finger taps before popping the top. Drink responsibly, and always have a designated driver.

  • Ivan from Miami

    Posted on 2/26/2016

    How do you install the remote turn-on in this set up?

  • Greg from Harlan, IA

    Posted on 3/2/2016

    Jon, I have created my own cooler system that I haul on RAGBRAI. It is quite the system and the only thing that I am hesitant to do is to make it so I can actually hold beverages in the cooler itself. I'm not sure if it would get to hot in the bottom of the cooler or not. If you would like to email me and I can share pictures/specs etc. to see what you think!

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/3/2016

    Greg, We used ice packs in place of ice, and that seemed to work fine. The best way to share pix of your system (and it does sound cool) is to check us out on social media or send some photos and info to our Custom Car Showroom. Good luck!

  • Lyle O from Richmond TX

    Posted on 3/23/2016

    Minor detail. The amp has a 12v ignition red wire and a blue remote turn on wire. The yellow 12v wire runs to positive post on the battery how did you wire the red and blue wires? Did you install a switch to from the battery to the red 12v wire to simulate an ignition switch?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 3/24/2016

    Lyle, That's a good question, so I went to a good source for the answer: "I believe that everything wired to the battery, and we used the power button on the remote to turn everything on and off," said one of our installers after going through the photos. "However, installing either a toggle to simulate an ignition would work, or connecting all power leads to the battery, then using a circuit breaker instead of a fuse could work to be able to shut everything off, too." Hope that helps!

  • Adam from Chicago

    Posted on 4/4/2016

    I have a 12V power outlet in the rear cargo area of my vehicle. Would simply plugging my cooler directly in to this outlet charge that type of battery sufficiently or do I have to use a battery charger? It would be nice to be able to charge it while on the road.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/4/2016

    Adam, We recommend using a trickle charger. A full charge should give you a full day's worth of music.

  • MikeS from Houston

    Posted on 6/12/2016

    Great write up. How is the mono sub connected with/to the primary Bluetooth sub?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/13/2016

    Mike, we used marine-rated wiring from JL Audio.

  • nicholas trammell from Mansfield

    Posted on 7/20/2016

    im using my old fisher speakers they are 3 way and can play down to 14herts they are 60watt i plan on using the original enclosure not sure what amp or battery im going to use/get and will the bass have a defect in sound since the amp and battery will be in the enclosure or should i build a small box and attach it to the bottom or top of the speaker the speaker will have wheels and a handle like a suit case has. could you help me pick the best amp and battery price does not matter up to 1k if you have any ideas on what other features i should add let me know.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/21/2016

    Nicholas, I've sent your question to our sales team for the best answer, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Brad from Worden

    Posted on 8/9/2016

    I just built my 1st cooler using 4 Boss speakers with a control unit just like the kicker one plus a similar amp. It's a marine system and I have a marine battery. Should I use silicone behind my speakers to ensure no water seepage inside the cooler or should that not be a big deal?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/10/2016

    Brad, If your cooler is going to be getting a ton of spray, that might not be a bad idea.

  • Jason from Baltimore

    Posted on 8/23/2016

    I have a need to take this to the next level. I would like to take this system to semi portable. 4 sub speakers and 4-8 and marine speakers. What amps should I use?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/23/2016

    Jason, We can totally help you with that. I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • John from LA

    Posted on 10/12/2016

    The audio device is only connecting to the speaker amp via BT so how did you connect in the subwoofer amp to make it all work together?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/13/2016

    John, The PXi amp (the main amp) has a set of preamp outputs. We ran an RCA cable from that amp's outputs to the sub amp's inputs.

  • Victor M Arce from La Vista , NE

    Posted on 2/24/2017

    Question about this speaker cooler set up. How loud can this system get? I want to use it for bike rides(pulling it with a cart).

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 2/27/2017

    Victor, Loud is relative, of course, but this cooler pumped out a pretty big noise. The loudness of your cooler will depend on the gear you choose and the cooler itself. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors about your plans. We can help you choose speakers that have the qualities you're looking for.

  • William from Dearborn, MI

    Posted on 4/10/2017

    Can you guys point me in the direction of the connector you used to charge the battery? I've been looking for a flush mount solution that is similar to the 2 pin cable used on most battery chargers like a battery tender brand and can't really find anything. Thanks!

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 4/11/2017

    William, Absolutely. I've sent your question to our sales team, and they'll be contacting you via email soon. For immediate help, you can contact them via phone or chat.

  • Eli from Centerville OH

    Posted on 5/18/2017

    I read where you added the charging port to help recharge the battery but I am having a hard time picture the connection.. Is it a special plug that just connects to the battery than you just plug in???

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/19/2017

    Eli, For our project, we used an 8-gauge connector that you can find at your local hardware store. For your cooler, use the connector that works best with your trickle charger. Check out the Crutchfield MasterSheet link in the article for more details. Or, if you're planning your own project, give us a call and talk to one of our expert advisors.

  • Mike from Independence IA

    Posted on 5/22/2017

    Do you just wire both amps up to the controller and it will play one source to both amps?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 5/22/2017

    Mike, Yes, the amps will work with the source you've chosen to use.

  • Cole from Angleton

    Posted on 6/19/2017

    If your not using subs do you have to have the extra amp

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/20/2017

    Cole, Exactly. If you're not planning to install a sub, you won't need the extra amp.

  • Caio from Columbus, OH

    Posted on 6/26/2017

    Congratulations for this wonderful project! I would like to build a nice and loud boombox out of an old leather square suitcase. The cooler is the closest project I could find. Would you have something more specific to point me to? If not, could you please refer some substitute hardware, definitely Bluetooth capable but not needing to be water proof? Thanks!

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/27/2017

    Caio, The suitcase idea sounds pretty cool, so definitely go for it. We haven't done anything like that (yet, anyway), but we'd like to see what you come up with! To get started, give us a call and talk to one of our experts. We definitely can help you choose the right gear.

  • Richard. S from Brooklyn

    Posted on 6/29/2017

    How often should you charge the battery? I know if the battery reaches a low volt that can damage the battery.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 6/29/2017

    Richard, It depends on how often and how hard you use the cooler, of course, but in normal use, the battery will last a while. If you're putting the cooler away for the winter, you can attach a trickle charger to the battery.

  • mike from oklahoma city

    Posted on 7/17/2017

    i just bought everything to build my cool exactly like the one you guys built with the two subs. i'm hoping this will be loud enough for my softball team to her while they are warming up. How do you wire the mono subs to the amp?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/18/2017

    Mike, It's a pretty standard hook-up. The cool thing is that if you bought your gear from Crutchfield, you can call Tech Support for free help troubleshooting your system -- even for coolers! If you purchased your equipment elsewhere, you can still get expert Crutchfield Tech Support - 90 days-worth for only $30. Check out our tech support page for details.

  • Don from Apple Valley

    Posted on 8/3/2017

    Pretty cool write up. Needs updating though. Some items are no longer available. One question, not knowing must about speaker setups. Can I run just one Sub rather then two, with the components you've listed?

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 8/3/2017

    Don, Thanks for the heads-up. The neat thing about these cooler systems is that you can build the best system for you --and the cooler. Give us a call and talk to one of our advisors about what you want to build. We'll make sure you get everything you need.

  • Tony from Ruskin

    Posted on 10/16/2017

    I want to attempt to make one of these but want to use the igloo 70 qt trail mate as I go to the beach a lot and the big wheels are a plus! Is this a feasible cooler for putting a sub, two speaker and a possible head unit while still have space for drinks? The retractable handle seems as it maybe in the way of mounting speakers... I would probably actually use the same stuff as Marty Cs custom party cooler.

  • Jon Paulette from Crutchfield

    Posted on 10/19/2017

    Tony, With a project like this, 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 for your cooler and give you some helpful advice on how to install it.

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