Tips for Buying and Connecting Outdoor Speakers

Turn your backyard into the perfect hangout spot with outdoor speakers

Whether for hosting parties or providing a soundtrack to a lazy Sunday, outdoor speakers can help transform a mundane outdoor patio into a musical heaven. Although somewhat more involved than indoor speakers, outdoor speakers can be fairly easy to install, but the last thing you want to do is rush the process. It helps to have a plan and to consider all the steps involved before you do anything.

Here are some tips for buying and setting up speakers outside your home.

Get the Lay of the Land

Consider where guests would likely be in order to determine the best location for the speakers. Large yards and patios may warrant more than two speakers, but you should be aware of your neighbors.

In deciding the right location for the speakers, consider the logistics of running speaker wire to them: Are there any pathways, walls, plants, or trees in the way? Do you want speakers to be in plain sight or blend in with the environment?

Outdoor Speakers Are a Must

When it comes to mother nature, you can't leave electrical equipment to chance. Any speaker or electrical system meant to work outdoors must be weatherproof. These outdoor speakers, for example, are made to withstand heat, wind, dust, moisture, direct sun, and most other weather conditions.

Outdoor speakers come in a range of prices that fit most budgets. Here are some features to consider when shopping for the right set of speakers for your backyard:

  • Easy under eaves: Outdoor speakers that are installed under eaves or a covered patio are popular. The installation process is faster and easier when compared to speakers located further away from the house. Wires can be run through the house, and the speakers are more protected from the elements. Although they tend to be in plain sight, many of these models can be painted to match the color of your house.
  • Decorative and disguised: If you have a decorative garden, consider an outdoor speaker that looks like a rock, tree stump, lantern, or some other rustic ornament. If the colors are chosen carefully, the speakers will camouflage with the landscape. The installation process for these speakers is more difficult, as you need to dig shallow trenches to run the speaker wire. It may also be necessary to route wire around or beneath obstacles, such as concrete walkways or raised garden beds.
  • Classic in-ground: In-ground speakers avoid the potentially gaudy look of disguised speakers. They are big enough to produce great sound and can be partially buried so that only the tops of the speakers are seen. These kinds of speakers are often used in commercial settings, like campuses and amusement parks. They can be tucked away behind foliage, shrubs, or bushes.
  • Supplemental subwoofer: Most outdoor speakers struggle to push low-end frequencies, as there are few, if any, walls or barriers to help the bass bounce around. Indoor speakers, on the other hand, deliver an intense low end due to the confines of the room they sit in. If you want your backyard to deliver fuller, richer bass, opt for an outdoor subwoofer. Some may be the decorative type, while others are in-ground.

Mind Your Length and Gauge

You should estimate how much speaker wire is needed to run from the amplifier or receiver to the speakers. This prevents the frustration of coming up short and also determines the right wire gauge to use. 16 gauge wire is fine for most distances up to about twenty feet. Beyond that, consider thicker 14, 12, or 10 gauge wire, especially if you have lower-impedance speakers.

Unless you decide to purchase direct burial wire for in-ground installations, make sure to use proper wire conduits or containers. Regular PVC piping, for example, may not provide adequate protection from moisture or extreme temperatures.

In addition to installing a remote volume control, it's smart to use banana plugs for connecting the outdoor speakers. These connectors tend to be more reliable, easier to manage, and less exposed to the elements than bare wires.

Test Before Finalizing

Before you dig trenches or mount brackets, make sure you like what you hear. Location and height matter in terms of overall balance, fidelity, and projection. Speakers should sit far enough away to create the desired stereo image, but not too far as to sound thin. Compensating for distance with higher volume levels can lead to unwanted distortion.

This is also a good time to inspect the locations for the speakers. Drywall, siding, or worn-out surfaces can pose problems over the long run. Mounted speakers need to have their full weight safely supported. If the speakers aren't designed to prevent pooling water, you may need to tilt them down to allow runoff.

If holes need to be drilled to run wire through exterior walls, you'll want to have easy access on both sides of the wall. You'll also want to seal the holes with silicone to maintain your home's insulation and keep out pests.

Connect and Enjoy

With the outdoor speakers installed, all that's left is to connect the receiver or amplifier. If you have indoor speakers set up, the outdoor ones likely plug into the speaker B terminal of the receiver. If you have more than one pair of outdoor speakers, use a speaker selector switch to handle four, six, or eight more pairs. These switches act as a hub and handle the load while protecting the receiver from damage. Some offer independent volume controls.

If everything has been connected properly, all that's left is to plan some parties or simply relax and enjoy the musical fruits of your labor.

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