Build Your Own Solar Cooler Stereo Project

cooler stereo

A reader emailed me about his solar powered cooler stereo. Looks like a fun project, just in time for summer! It’s actually a portable solar charging station, stereo, and LED light all  built into a playmate cooler. It is an all-in-one portable unit, as you can charge your phone or tablet with solar power, fill a room/beach/field with music, and also have an area light.

Pretty cool!

You can set this up at your home for everyday charging of your devices, and easily bring it with you for a day on the beach, on a camping trip, or anywhere else. It can be very useful during power outages, or even be a prime source of power in an off-grid cabin or home.

The design of this unit is very flexible, and you can choose features or expand on this to meet your specific needs. You can also take advantage of using scrap parts for its construction, with old car audio components, scrap wood, and spare wire that you might have lying around. I’ve found that you can borrow from a lot of “car accessories” that are 12V DC powered, or even use a small inverter for AC loads, to use this solar power for a wide range of devices.

inside of cooler

He used a marine unit with no CD player. You could do this or an old automotive CD player from a garage sale. Units with no cd player are actually only $25 now and have Bluetooth! Use what you have.

If you can install a stereo in your car you can install one in a cooler! Then add a solar panel and some switches and away you go! The wiring is easy, harder to make it look this neat.


Put the solar panel in the sun and enjoy tunes all day while keeping your phone charged at the same time.


These 3 LED light strips are a great idea for camping or power outages. Keep the parting going all night.

camping cooler-stereo-components

Here’s all the parts he used laid out on his floor.

Solar / Cooler / Stereo / Charger Parts List:

16 Qt Cooler
Bluetooth stereo (No CD)
5.25″ Marine Speakers
Battery: Use 1 or 2
Solar Panel – 10 Watt
Charge Controller (Optional)
Misc. Wire
Double USB Charging Port
Marine Cigarette Lighter




I chose the 16 Quart Igloo Playmate cooler for this build, since it’s big enough to hold everything, but still small enough to carry with one hand. The roll top is also quite useful, and makes access to everything very easy. (~$20, Target/elsewhere)


I used an scrap laminated bookshelf to mount everything on. I’ve used thin plywood for this before, but a thicker piece of wood makes the acoustics much better. (free/scrap)


Any standard 12V auto/marine stereo deck will work. I used a basic marine unit, since it somewhat more water resistant than a standard car deck. The cheaper units are “Mech-less” and have no cd-player. You could reuse an old unit, and go pick up a used deck from a junk yard / scrap exchange. ($30+ depending on features, Amazon/elsewhere)

marine speakersSpeakers:

I used a pair of 5.25″, 150 Watt, 2-way marine speakers, which fit quite nicely given the playmate dimensions. While you could use regular car speakers, marine speakers are waterproof (in theory) and are usually built to take more impact and abuse. Again, this is a spot where you could pick these up on the cheap as used car parts. (~$20, Amazon/elsewhere)


Small 12V AGM lead-acid batteries are very easy to find, as they are used in computer UPS units and fire-alarm systems. Like all batteries, their capacity is rated in Amp-Hours (Ah). Choosing the battery size is a trade-off between Ah capacity and weight, as this is by far the heaviest part. I chose to use two 12V, 8Ah batteries (wired in parallel for a total of 16Ah). At moderate volume, my stereo draws approximately 1 Amp, so in theory I could play music for 16 hours if I drained the battery from 100% to empty. Admittedly, this is overkill, you could get by with 5 – 10 Ah. (~$20 for a 8 Ah battery)

solarpanelSolar Panel:

Solar panels are getting cheaper by the day, and you can find a small one on eBay or elsewhere fairly easily. Since the battery is 12V, you want a solar panel that is rated for 12V. The “open-circuit voltage” of a 12V solar panel will be around 18V, but the charge controller will prevent overcharging. The size of the panel should depend on the battery size. As a starting point, I would suggest matching the wattage of the panel to the amp hour rating of the battery (10 Ah battery, 10 W panel), but also considering what loads you will have (a stereo will draw 5 – 20+ W). A 10 W panel will have an effective charging current of approximately 0.6 amps (10W / 18V), which will charge your battery from half to full in about 8 hours of full sun light. I used a 10W solar panel, but this will depend on your needs. (~$35 for 10W panel on Amazon or ebay)

chargecontrollerCharge Controller:

If you want to charge the system with a solar panel, you will have to use a charge controller to connect it to the battery. These devices regulate the battery voltage and disconnect the solar panel when fully charged, preventing overcharging and damage to the battery. Find one that has a current rating greater than the “short circuit” current rating of the solar panel (the smallest you will see are typically rated for 5 – 10A). A basic unit will do, but I chose a nicer one that has the PCB sealed in epoxy, making it moisture tolerant.

Some units will have a low-voltage disconnect (LVD) function, which will shut off the loads if the battery voltage gets too low, preventing damage to your battery. ($20-$60, Amazon/elsewhere)





– Multiple DC toggle power switches ($5)

– 12V cigarette ligher socket for accessories ($5) bus

– Fuses and fuse holder for different DC loads ($10)

led lights

– LED lights ($10)


– Short lengths of wire (scrap/free)

– Drawer handle, to pull the faceplate out ($2)


Total project costs:

– As built: $250

– Basic components, with same features: $150, (less with used audio parts)

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1 Response

  1. June 2, 2015

    […] from an old garage sales. I spied a dirty coleman cooler at the back of a pile and thought about Solar Burrio’s portable stereo in a cooler hack… hmm. I turn it over and notice it’s in good condition and has a motorized fan to keep the […]