Submitted by: Jason Hersh
Outdoor speakers can add a whole new level of enjoyment to your sound system. There s nothing quite like being able to listen to your favorite music when you are outside relaxing on the patio, in the pool, or working in the yard. Choosing the right outdoor speakers and positioning them in the best locations is key to creating an optimal listening experience outside your home.
Most likely your outdoor area is an open space, meaning there s background noise to overcome, and you have to consider the elements. These factors create a unique challenge, but fortunately these obstacles are all manageable with a little information.
First, you will want to assess the space you re working in to determine how many speakers you need. You don t want to have to blast the volume, potentially annoying guests in one area of your yard, just so those splashing in the pool can hear the music. You will be better off adding more speakers so you don t have to compensate for distance with volume.
When determining how many speakers you need, you will want to evaluate the placement of each speaker. Under an eave or close to the wall of your house or garage is ideal as it can help protect the speaker from the weather and also help push the sound outward. If you are working with a square space, you will probably want four speakers. If you are working with an oblong space, you may want four or more depending on how large the area is.
Aesthetics is also a factor as you determine placement. It may be that you just can t get around placing a speaker out in the open, in which case you may want to consider a model with a cabinet made to look like stone or a planter. Also, mounting speakers directly onto aluminum or cedar siding generally doesn t work well as these surfaces may not be strong enough. If you have either of these materials on the outside of your house and there are no eaves or a porch roof, you may need to consider using speakers that can sit on the ground.
In any case, you will want to choose speakers that are made to withstand the elements. How exposed your speakers are to the elements will inform how weather resistant they need to be. The level of exposure will also influence the way you mount or position the speaker; if it s highly exposed, you will want to be able to tilt the speaker down for drainage.
You can create the best sound by mounting your speakers about 8-10 feet off the ground, about 12 feet from your listening area, and 8-10 feet apart from one another. Alternating right and left channels will help create the best stereo imaging, If possible, find a way to temporarily mount your speakers in their positions and test the sound with a variety of music while moving around the different areas of your outdoor space before permanently installing your outdoor speakers. You may find that moving a speaker six inches up or down can make a big difference.
A common complaint about outdoor sound systems is that the music sounds flat or diluted. To combat this effect, which is caused by the open-nature of outdoor spaces, look for outdoor speakers that have a good low-frequency response of about 60Hz or below. You may also want to consider adding a subwoofer to warm up and round out the sound.
Once you ve determined the placement of your speakers and subwoofer, you will need to decide how to run your speaker wire. There are two simple rules to follow here: 1) the less speaker wire outside your house, the better; and 2) don t run your wire through door or window jambs. Both of these rules work to ensure a long life for your outdoor speakers and minimal maintenance, as exposed speaker wire and the potential kinking and crimping that can happen will damage your wire and impact the sound quality as a result.
If you are using rock or planter-style outdoor speakers, you may want to consider coiling a few feet of extra wire in a protected location inside or under the unit in case you need to move it in the future.
What type of wire you use will depend on where you are mounting your outdoor speakers. There are specific types of wire for burial and for in-wall installation, so be sure to identify how much of each type you may need, and then add 10-15% or so to allow for any unforeseen complications.
You will also want to take note of what type of speaker cable connectors your outdoor speakers use, such as binding posts that accept spade connectors, pins or banana plugs. These are generally recommended over bare wire connections for outdoor speaker installation.
Finally, you may want to consider adding separate volume controls for your various pairs of outdoor speakers. This allows you to control the volume in a specific area without having to adjust the volume for your entire outdoor space, and without having to run inside each time you need to turn the volume up or down. Be sure to use volume controls made specifically for outdoor use in order to preserve the life and quality of the device.
About the Author: I am a hands-on business owner, professional systems integrator, and long-time technology buff. I have received certifications from CEDIA, SpeakerCraft, Control4, and other organizations related to audio/video, low-voltage, and automation.