Factors to consider when planning an outdoor sound system.
Anne K. Moore, owner and president of D&M Sound, offers advice on planning and buying a backyard sound system that best meets your needs. Homeowners want the same flexibility many enjoy indoors — zoned entertaining that offers the ability to live stream the ballgame on the patio, while the kids listen to rock ’n’ roll in the pool, and light jazz plays in the gazebo. Whatever your preferences, there are sound system designs and components that will keep you — and your neighbors — happy.
Rule No. 1: Electronics and moisture are completely incompatible; so all components should be designed specifically for outdoor use and impervious to moisture, typically with a warranty of two years or more. This includes speaker wiring, which is susceptible to the elements, including deterioration from sunlight.
“Do not even think about using speakers or components designed for inside use outdoors unless you’re prepared to bring all of it back inside every time immediately after use,” Moore says.
For any sound system project that extends beyond the protection of the eaves, wiring should be encased in conduit, Moore says.
And do plan ahead, she adds.
“If you think you might someday want a sound system around your pool, it is easier and cheaper to position and install the conduit at the time you build your pool than try to do it after,” she says. “Once the conduit is laid, you can come back in anytime to install the wiring and hook everything up.”
Rule No. 2: One of the unique factors of outdoor entertainment is that there are few surfaces to reverberate and magnify sound, meaning we’re often cranking up the volume and using more power to get the same impression of sound.
“You may well be entertaining your neighbors who do not appreciate being entertained,” Moore says.
Just as with interiors, every outdoor space has its own distinct qualities. The “right” speaker system and products will differ, depending upon location, need and desired use, Moore says.
Mounted under-eave or in-ceiling speakers are perfect for near-field range listening on a patio or deck, as they can be aimed down so sound reflects off the typically harder and more enclosed surfaces.
While a pair of these speakers could project 20 to 30 feet out to a pool area, for instance, the disadvantage is that you may be intruding upon your neighbors’ space, too.
“It’s just not practical in most situations to do that unless you’re out on acres of land and don’t need to worry,” Moore says.
Landscape speaker systems offer a solution. Designed specifically for outdoor spaces, these systems offer maximum flexibility for mounting fully waterproof speakers on trees, fences and within landscaping; they can even include in-ground subwoofers that vent upward through grating.
Multiple speakers and flexible placement allow for broader coverage and better quality sound. Speakers can be positioned to direct sound back toward the house to help contain and amplify naturally through reverberation against the house.
Another familiar outdoor speaker comes disguised as rocks to blend in with plantings or with built-in lighting for mounting on posts. Their best use is along pathways or other low volume use areas.
There are no wireless waterproof speakers yet, but you can add a specialized streaming amplifier to outside speaker systems, enabling music streaming from computers or phones.
Waterproof keypads control the systems; or you can download applications to your phone or tablet.
To use your phone or tablet as a remote control for the system, install outdoor wireless access points — they offer greater outdoor entertainment programming options and ensure online coverage for other phone, tablet and laptop uses. You can also manage outdoor lighting, water features and security systems — all with the touch of a waterproof keypad.