Comprehensive Planning Guide on Outdoor Speaker Setup
If you are someone who loves spending time in the yard gardening, barbequing or just soaking in the sun, you might want to consider setting up an outdoor entertainment system. It can make a huge difference to the way you relax and unwind. Outdoor speakers are also a great way to rev up a pool party or a Sunday brunch with friends and family. They add music to your outdoor spaces without being too obvious. Most have camouflage exteriors for blending in with the environment of a yard. Almost all are resistant to water, dirt and impact.
In this article, we will talk about everything you need to know about outdoor speakers. We will introduce you to the various types of outdoor speakers and discuss a little bit about how they work. We will help you plan an outdoor sound system for your backyard and share tips on how best to install it.
Planning Guide on Outdoor Speaker Setup :
What is an outdoor speaker ?
An outdoor speaker is a speaker that is designed to be installed or used out of doors. It has a sturdy enclosure made from waterproof material. Depending on its construction and ingress protection (IP) rating, it can resist moisture, rain, dust, sand, snow, salt, UV rays, corrosion and fluctuations in temperature.
Outdoor speakers are used in various settings. You may have seen them in vehicles, boats, jet-skies, golf carts, gardens, amusement parks, swimming pools, porches, gazebos and saunas. They come in various shapes and sizes. They have different power handling capacities and mounting options. For instance, a tailgate speaker and a shower speaker are both outdoor speakers, but they are very different from one another. A tailgate speaker is a large portable speaker, often with a telescopic handle and castor wheels. It has a high-volume output for catering to a large gathering. A shower speaker is a small portable speaker with a lanyard for hanging it from a shower head and/or a suction cup for sticking to tiled walls. It has a smaller output and is suitable for one or two listeners at the most. There are numerous other outdoor waterproof speakers, and each has its own unique features and usages.
Outdoor speakers are predominantly of 2 types:
- Permanently installed outdoor speakers
- Portable Bluetooth outdoor speakers
Permanently Installed Outdoor Speakers :
These speakers mount under eaves, and in walls and ceilings, in covered outdoor spaces like patios, verandahs and balconies. You can install them around a pool or in a porch, concentrating the sweet spot on the sitting or lounging area, or wherever you expect most of your guests to be.
The best speakers for this job are passive stereo speakers. They need to be hooked up to your home theatre receiver for power and input signal. They offer great stereo sound with distinct left and right channels. They can play music via Bluetooth provided your receiver is Bluetooth-enabled.
Two defining features of an outdoor speaker are :
- It is designed to function in all kinds of weather.
- It includes special outdoor mounting equipment.
Permanently installed outdoor speakers are ideal for those who want a permanent solution for their outdoor sound system. Most are weather-resistant and can withstand climatic abuse. Some high-end models can even survive driving rain, scorching heat and freezing sub-zero temperatures. Once you have installed the speakers, you can leave them outside without any worries. You don’t have to uninstall them and bring them inside every time the weather turns nasty. That being said, we would still advise you to check the instructions in the owner’s manual and the IP rating of the device. Not all outdoor speakers have the same waterproof standards. Some are more susceptible to water and dirt than others, and you need to pay attention to the fine print on the manual.
Outdoor speakers also come with special swivel mounting brackets. Some have paintable grilles and cabinets for matching them to outer walls and pillars of houses.
Ground-standing, stake-mount and in-ground outdoor speakers :
If the place where you wish to install the speakers is a little farther off from the main house, we would suggest you go for speakers that can be stood on the ground or mounted to stakes buried in the ground. That way you won’t have to bring the house down with loud ear-shattering music just so people in the pool can hear it. You won’t be annoying the people inside the house and your neighbors will also be happy.
Some brands offer packages of ground-standing and stake-mount outdoor speakers. You can install up to eight speakers to create an expanded soundstage encompassing your pool, gazebo and lawn. Since they are weather-resistant, you don’t have to cover them up or bring them inside after use. The speakers may be molded like rocks or may look like regular indoor speakers. Acoustic Landscape, JBL, OSD Audio, Sound Appeal, Innovative Technology, Theatre Solutions and ION Audio are some of the leading brands selling ground-standing and stake-mount speakers.
Some garden speakers are subterranean in nature and remain partially buried in the ground. They project 360ᵒ sound from the top of the enclosure while the rest of the speaker remains under the soil. Companies making in-ground speakers include Bose Audio, Niles and OSD Audio.
Stereo-input speakers :
If you have a large outdoor area and you want the music to reach all your guests irrespective of where they are sitting, we suggest you get yourself a good set of stereo-input speakers. If you have stereo speakers and you are in a spot where the right speaker is focused on, you might only hear the right channel sounds and miss out on the other half of the music. With a stereo-input speaker, this problem is taken care of because it has inputs for both left and right channels which enable it to play both halves of the track. Hence, you get stereo playback but from a single speaker instead of two. To wire a stereo-input speaker, you will need a special four-conductor cable which combines the wires for left and right channel inputs in a single case.
70-volt system :
If you want to set up multiple speakers in multiple outdoor locations, a 70-volt system is a good way to go. It can power several speakers from a single high-power amplifier. It saves energy and is ideal for large sound installations in landscape gardens and commercial places.
Portable Bluetooth Outdoor Speaker :
These speakers run on Bluetooth. You can pair them with a Bluetooth-enabled device like a smartphone or a tablet and play music wirelessly. Some have built-in Wi-Fi for streaming music from a phone on apps like Amazon Music, Spotify, Pandora, etc. If you are planning on getting Wi-Fi speakers, make sure your home network extends to the outdoor area where you plan to install the speakers.
Floating pool speakers are the best examples of portable Bluetooth outdoor speakers. They can play in water for hours until the battery lasts. They have watertight cabinets secured with sealants and rubber gaskets. Some rock speakers and patio speakers also have Bluetooth capability. Speaker coolers with Bluetooth are another example. However, not all Bluetooth speakers are water-resistant and can suffer damage if exposed to water or humidity. We advise you to read the product details carefully before going in for a purchase.
Planning An Outdoor Speaker System :
In this segment, we will help you plan and set up your outdoor sound system. We will split the discussion into 3 parts:
- Planning an outdoor speaker system for a small deck or porch
- Planning an outdoor speaker system for a large outdoor area
- Planning an outdoor speaker system for special occasions
Planning an outdoor speaker system for a small deck or porch :
Stereo speakers :
If you have a small deck or porch, a pair of left and right stereo speakers should do the job. Mount the speakers about 10 feet apart and 12 feet from the sitting/listening area. Refrain from mounting them too wide apart to create a larger sound arena. You will only end up diluting the audio and none of your guests will hear both sides of the soundtrack.
In-ceiling speakers :
If your patio is covered, you might want to go for in-ceiling speakers. They are designed to withstand humidity and mount discretely out of view. If you have a long outer corridor that you wish to line with an embedded sound system, in-ceiling speakers are the way to go. Spas and saunas also have this kind of audio installation. You can also spot them in restrooms in malls and offices.
Under the eaves :
Another way to install outdoor speakers is to mount them under the eaves of your house. The eaves provide protection from rain and sunlight. As most outdoor speakers are only water-resistant and not fully waterproof (cannot be immersed in water or hosed down), they need to be shielded from heavy rain. While selecting a spot for your speakers, make sure it is not farther than 10 or 12 feet from the listening area.
Sound sources and wiring :
Your outdoor speakers will have to be connected to a receiver or amplifier for power and audio signal. If you already have a home theatre system with Zone 2 or Zone B speaker outputs, you can directly plug into these.
But this set-up has a number of difficulties. First, the distance from the receiver to the speakers – how far apart are they going to be? Second, how do you plan to route the wires to the speakers? Leaving the wires exposed can pose a problem. Third, how do you plan to control the receiver from the outdoor location? If the distance is too great, or if there are obstructions in between, accessing the receiver might be tricky.
To avoid these issues, we suggest you install a second receiver closer to the outdoor listening area. You can also add a wireless music player with a built-in amp. Check out the Sonos amp or the Sonos Connect:Amp for a hassle-free connection. Of course, if your home theatre system is Wi-Fi-ready, you can easily control it with a smartphone app from outside. But you have to make sure the network reaches the outdoor area so you can access the receiver. For that you can add a new Wi-Fi router or an extender to increase the coverage area. That way you won’t have to hunt around for network in the yard or walk towards the house to get a signal.
Power rating :
Outdoor speakers need more power than indoor speakers. The reason for this is that indoor speakers have walls and other objects to bounce the sound back and prevent it from escaping, whereas outdoor speakers have to cope with open-air installation where the sound gets swept away very quickly. In order to provide more power for your speakers, we suggest you add an outboard amp to the set-up. If you do not want an amp, at least make sure the receiver has ample power handling capacity, especially RMS power, to drive all the speakers in the network.
Planning an outdoor speaker system for a large outdoor area :
As mentioned earlier, if you have a large yard, the best option is to get stereo-input speakers as they combine both left and right channels to deliver stereo sound from a single speaker. Alternately, you can get an amplifier that merges the left and right channels to send a mono signal to a regular stereo speaker.
When planning a sound system for a large ground, start by breaking up the space into smaller zones or listening areas. Treat each zone like a room in your house and install the speakers in such a way that every part of the ‘room’ receives crystal-clear stereo sound. The number of speakers may also vary depending on the layout and size of the zone. So make a note of the total number of speakers you would need to wire the entire ground.
To wire landscape speakers, you can opt for two-conductor or four-conductor in-wall speaker wire. For stereo-input speakers we recommend four-conductor cable. If a speaker is at a distance of 80 feet or less from the receiver, use 16 gauge cables, and if it is 80 to 200 feet away, use 14 gauge cables.
If you want to bury in-wall speaker wires in the ground, be sure to pass them through a hard hollow PVC pipe to protect them from water, shovels, lawn-mowers and rodents.
If you have multiple listening zones in your garden, using a multi-amp would be a good idea. It lets you control the volume of each zone separately. So, if you want to crank up the music in the deck but have it play softly near the fire-pit, you can do it easily.
If you have a large ground with several zones, we strongly recommend a 70-volt commercial-grade amplifier. It can drive more number of speakers with less wiring than a residential-grade amp. It also does a better job of boosting the audio signal.
Waterproof volume control
If you use your smartphone and Wi-Fi to control the volume of your outdoor speakers, you might not be able to do it when you are on a call or if the home network is down for some reason. In such situations, an outdoor waterproof volume control can come in handy. You can install it close to the seating area in a place where it is easy to reach. You can also have it near the pool so you don’t have to take your phone there.
Planning an outdoor speaker system for special occasions
If you are big on barbeques and like throwing outdoor lunch parties, it might be a good idea to invest in a portable PA system with a built-in rechargeable battery. PA systems have massive sound and are ideal for outdoor gatherings. They have plenty of cool features like Bluetooth connectivity, USB input, AUX input, SD card reader, microphone input for karaoke and line level input for connecting a guitar or other musical instrument. Some also feature onboard power-banks for charging small electronic devices. In short, if you want a sound system for special events in your backyard, but do not want a permanent set-up, we suggest you get yourself a portable battery-powered PA system. You can bring it out whenever you want, and after you’re done, pack it up and take it inside. Your guests are happy, your party’s a success and your device stays safe.
Tips on how to install an outdoor sound system
Use a cloth to catch the debris
While drilling holes, spread out a drop cloth on the floor to catch all the saw dust and debris. You don’t want to spend an hour installing the speakers and then another cleaning up the mess. A drop cloth lessens your work. It is a smart and faster way to do the job.
Drill at an angle
Angle your drills to coax the wire in the direction in which it is meant to proceed. If the wire has to move downwards, drill your hole with a slight downward slant; if it has to run horizontally to the left, drill the hole slightly angled towards your left. Avoid drilling straight at 90ᵒ angles unless you want to pass the wire directly to the other side.
Lining up your holes
If you are installing a speaker on an exterior wall and want to run the speaker wire through the wall, you can use 18-inch-long insulation support. Drill just below the mounting bracket on the outer side of the wall to gauge where the wire is going to come out from on the other side of the wall inside the house. Then, mark a spot on the floor directly under the hole you just made and drill down so it comes out through the basement ceiling. Then, go outside and drill a hole on the floor exactly below the first hole so it also goes through the basement roof. Now, when you look up from the basement, you will know exactly where you need to run the wire to keep it inside the wall. The two holes will act as markers indicating the thickness of the wall, and help you drill right though the centre of the wall.
Important tools for concealing wire
One of the most important tools for handling speaker wire is a fish stick with a hook. It helps you access wires inside spaces where your fingers can’t reach or where you can’t see the wire. In order to snake a wire through a tight space, first slice the top of the wire at a 45ᵒ angle and then tape it to the fish stick. The angled cut allows the wire to slide through narrow slit when you pull the stick. If you are unable to reach the wire once you’ve inserted it though a space, use another fish stick with a hook to pull if out.
Hide access holes
If you made an access hole to get to a wire, it is best to cover it up once you are done. You can use metal or plastic blanks sold in your local hardware store. It gives your wall a cleaner look, and prevents water, debris, insects and rodents from entering the hole.
Use sealants to make your device watertight
The most effective way to protect your outdoor speaker system from water-damage is to use silicone-based caulk. It seals the tiniest gaps that could let in rainwater and moisture. Apply it carefully to the top seam of the mounting bracket and other holes around the speaker installation.
Do not be too quick to cut off wire
While running wires from a landscape speaker out in the garden to a receiver in the house, you might want to leave a little extra on both ends in case you need to make adjustments. Do not be in a hurry to cut off excess wire. Study the installation and be absolutely sure everything is working fine before you snip off the wire to plug it into the terminals. Also, while stripping insulation around the wire, take care not to damage the copper inside. The strands are fairly delicate and even a slight graze from the cutter’s blade can cut them.