Outdoor Speaker Buyer Guide
From Portable Bluetooth Speakers to Dedicated Outdoor Speakers
Ifyou enjoy the great outdoors as much as you enjoy music, you’ll be happy to know that more types of outdoor speakers available today than ever before. Whether you plan to listen to music in your backyard, on the balcony, while camping or at the beach, today’s outdoor speakers offer versatility, portability and of course great sound. This guide will take you on an exploration of everything that you’ll want to consider so you can experience quality sound outside, anywhere you’ll be this sunny season.
A speaker isn’t just a speaker, especially when we’re outside. An outdoor speaker is significantly different than an indoor one, as a lot of its design goes into ensuring it is weatherproof, and making it sound good in open air. When choosing an outdoor speaker, how much you spend dictates how weatherproof they are, what the speakers can connect to, and obviously how good they sound. Outdoor speakers range from a small portable model with a headphone jack, to a solar powered Bluetooth speaker you can take swimming, to even to a multi-channel system that wirelessly integrates with your home and can withstand a nasty storm. Whatever your situation, this guide will help you find enhanced ways to enjoy your music outside.
your outdoor space
There are unique challenges to designing a speaker to be used in open air. The main challenge is volume. Outside, sound waves can spread their wings and quickly dissipate, as opposed to bouncing around from wall to wall inside of a room. For the same reason, bass feels especially light when you’re outside. The main rule about volume is if you need more of it, you need more speakers. For the majority of outdoor environments, a single speaker can provide enough volume for a small group of people. A good example of this is a wireless speaker placed on a table in your backyard. In a bigger space, it’s best to have at least two or more speakers surrounding you, so one area won’t be deafening while another area is too quiet, making it easier on your ears and your gear.
outdoor speaker placement
Keeping in mind how open air affects the volume and quality, where you place the speaker(s) can have a surprising impact on their performance. To prove this to yourself, play music straight from your phone’s tiny speakers and then put your phone into an empty glass or bowl. See how much louder your music gets?
The basic rules of outdoor speaker placement are to put your speakers above you, and against something. Height is important as focusing a speaker down, towards your listening area will give you better sound and more volume than if the speaker is facing the sky (you can also try this with your phone). If you’re installing speakers on a wall, they should be mounted about 10 feet high, and angled down toward the listening area. Even if you’re listening to a portable speaker, giving it a bit of height and angle will help, and some portable speakers have built-in straps for mounting. If you’re mounting speakers try to do so under a roof overhang, placed close to the wall, or best, in a corner – remember the bowl effect. This will help with weather
protection, sound quality, volume, and bass response. Thankfully, outdoor subwoofers are also available. Even ones that shake the earth, literally – you bury them.
the music source
Now it’s time to think about how you’ll get your music to the speaker. If you’re listening to AM/FM radio, CDs, or the TV, you’ll likely have to connect your outdoor speakers to your existing AV receiver. Nowadays, most people have music stored digitally on their smart phones and tablets, so naturally the producers of outdoor speakers have developed slick ways of integrating with your device. Most wireless speakers available today allow you to stream music from your device of choice through a Bluetooth or NFC (Near Field Communication) connection. Some wireless speakers can also stream music from your home network. With older portable speakers that don’t offer wireless connectivity, you’ll have to connect the headphone output of your device to the speaker using a 3.5mm cable.
Some portable speakers offer a voiceactivated noise-cancelling microphone, effectively turning the speaker into a speaker phone. This can be very handy if someone calls your phone while you’re listening to music.
portable indoor / outdoor bluetooth speakers
To enjoy music outside, the most cost effective option is to use a portable Bluetooth speaker. While there are many portable speakers on the market, going for one that is built for outdoor use is recommended since they will inevitably get dropped, dirty, or wet. Portable speakers range from as little as $15 and run all the way up to $400+. Most current portable speakers are equipped with Bluetooth connectivity so you can stream the music from your phone directly to the speaker, but some also offer additional legacy inputs. The least expensive models are outfitted with a single speaker driver, while premium models offer multiple drivers and even a subwoofer.
I don’t recommend speakers under $50, since most in this price range produce a tiny, thin sound. The sweet spot for portable speakers lands somewhere around $150, if you’re looking for decent sound. For this price you should get a good sounding Bluetooth speaker that’ll survive being outside. Your main consideration should be the space where you’ll be placing the speaker and whether you prefer a wired or battery powered model. There are some very small and light weight speakers available, but their diminutive size also means there is a trade-off in sound quality and battery life.
You’ll likely come across an IPX rating, which is worth paying attention to as it describes how resistant the device is to water and dust. Basically, you’ll want IPX4 or higher for outdoor use. The rating goes from 0-8 for water-proofing, and 0-6 for dustproofing.
An incredible selection of portable outdoor speakers can be found in boutique hifi retailers, big-box stores and online. As with any other hifi product, online research is important to finding a model that fits your budget, listening needs and audio performance . Professional and customer reviews are your best tools. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, it’s always best to also listen to the speaker at a local retailer.
For starters, I recommend taking a look at speakers from Braven and Eton. Braven’s Outdoor Series consists of seven models, ranging in sizes, performance and prices from $79 to $349. Eton makes a speaker with a sustainable design element, as their competitive advantage is that they are solar powered. Eton makes solar powered models starting with a small and lightweight portable model called the Rugged Rukus, ranging to the company’s flagship model the
If you lead a more active lifestyle, exercise can now usually be accompanied with your music (even while swimming). One of the more innovative outdoor speakers is made to go in the water bottle holder of your bicycle. The Scosche boomBOTTLE ($75) will also work very well as a speaker to take anywhere. Being light and compact with a speaker at either end of the “bottle”, and a ported subwoofer in the middle, it pumps the volume loud enough to keep you rockin’ out, and pedaling hard.
Other notable brands that produce portable outdoor speakers include Monster, Cambridge Soundworks, Philips and SoundPEATS.
dedicated outdoor speakers and home integration
If you are going this route, good planning is paramount. As discussed, well positioned speakers sound a lot better, and poorly installed speakers can spiral into a renovation making you wish you’d never thought of music outside.
It’s an attractive idea to add some outdoor speakers to your existing system. Many receivers have an A and B set of speakers, or multiple “zones”, so you can listen to speakers in multiple spaces. When connecting outdoor speakers to a receiver / source that’s located indoors, use speaker wire that is designed for in-wall (CL2 or CL3) applications. Lead the wires in from the outside and seal the drill holes shut with some silicon. If you’re not handy with a drill however, there are some simpler solutions.
Wireless technology has become very cost effective, thus wireless speakers have become more popular. Keeping in mind that wireless speakers still have to be plugged into a power outlet, they make setup easier. Integrating with your music library or internet radio via a wireless router, you can hide a small amplifier inside your home close to where your outdoor speakers are mounted, minimizing unsightly wires.
Sonos is one of the companies that offers a solution that is hard to beat in terms of sound quality, affordability, ease of setup (with a 1 button setup), and allows you stream music from just about any source you can name - from music stored on your home network to internet radio to the tunes on your smart phone. While Sonos does not offer an outdoor speaker, its Connect: AMP is ideal for powering and streaming music to a pair of good quality outdoor speakers. The Sonos can be set up in a multi-room configuration and allows you to control playback from your smart phone / tablet thanks to a very slick app. Check out our detailed guide to “Building an Affordable Multi-room Audio System With Sonos” in the FEATURES section of www.novo.press; this guide also features a review of the system.
If you’re planning to get a pair of great sounding outdoor speakers, a Canadian company called Blue Sound has similar ease of setup and stream-ability as Sonos, but is “designed by audiophiles”. They offer an amp called the Powernode that connects with your router wirelessly that would be excellent to power any good pair of outdoor speakers. The Powernode is powerful, plays hi res files in their native formats, and can be controlled with Windows, iOS, and Andriod devices.
Another company worth looking at in this space is called MainStream Audio. Their range of products offers functionally very similar to Sonos components, albeit at much more affordable price points.
Choosing your favorite outdoor speaker is done best by listening to them, and if that is not possible, going with a brand you already have confidence in is recommended. Most popular brands offer outdoor speakers, and of course we have a few options to get you started. Monitor Audio has been winning awards for their speakers for many years and the company offers an extensive selection of outdoor speakers. If you’re looking for an outdoor wall-mounted model, check out their Climate series (I actually have a pair of Climate CL80 speakers installed on my back patio and I absolutely love their sound). Monitor Audio also offers a Climate Garden range that includes a speaker which can be staked into the ground or mounted to a wall or a tree. There’s even a matching Climate Garden subwoofer. Paradigm is another excellent speaker maker that offers three outdoor speakers series: the Stylus Outdoor, Garden Oasis and Rock Monitor (rockshaped speakers). JBL has almost certainly provided sound at outdoor concerts you’ve attended, so not surprisingly that they also offer great outdoor speaker called the JBL Control X. Other notable brands that offer outdoor speakers include Yamaha, Focal, Cambridge Audio, Polk Audio, Bose, Definitive Technology, MartinLogan, Bowers&Wilkins, Sonance and Klipsch.
For those who prefer feng shui designs over mounted speakers, there are companies who make camouflaged outdoor speakers that blend into the outdoor landscape. One company that makes good quality speakers is StereoStone, offering a selection of planters with speakers discreetly builtin, rock-shaped speakers with options for colour, size, and the type of speaker you’d prefer – they even offer subwoofers. There are some attractive options for planters that allow the sound to disperse 360 degrees from their bases. Since most of these options are not wireless, you will have to run cables underground and it is best if they’re encased in a PVC pipe.
Now that you have some ideas of how to bring your music with you, get outside and enjoy the summer while it lasts!