Out­door Speaker Buyer Guide

From Por­ta­ble Blue­tooth Speak­ers to Ded­i­cated Out­door Speak­ers

NOVO - - AUDIO VECTOR - by Gae­len An­drews

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

Rukus Xtreme.

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!

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