Tips to Select, Install, and Connect Outdoor Speakers

A lush backyard lawn and illuminated patio at dusk

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As winter gradually gives way to warm spring, sizzling summer, and crisp fall days, it's a good opportunity to consider spending more time in the outdoors. Whether you're working in the garden, reading on the patio, or just relaxing in the shade of your favorite tree, outdoor speakers can transform a mundane experience into something far more satisfying. Just think of the incredible memories that can be made by having a soundtrack to parties and events hosted in the backyard!

Although somewhat more involved than the indoor kind, outdoor speakers can be just as easy to install and connect. But the last thing you'll want to do is rush the process and start shopping right away. It helps to have a smart plan and consider all the elements and steps involved beforehand. Here's what you should know ahead of time.

Get the Lay of the Land

Just like outdoor speakers, backyards can come in all shapes, sizes, types, and colors. You'll want to consider where guests would likely be in order to determine optimal speaker placement as well as the quantity to acquire. How much area needs to be covered (i.e. is it just a small patio, or do you also own a pool or spa)? Is your property close to neighbors, where volume and projection might be a concern? Are there fountains/features, concrete/brick pathways, or trees/gardens that might be in the direct path of running speaker wire (either by direct-burial or conduits)? Do you want speakers to be in plain sight or blend in with the environment? Once you can mentally answer these types of questions, it becomes easier to narrow down the actual speaker choices.

'Outdoor' Speakers Are a Must

Don't leave equipment up to chance with mother nature and/or random accidents. Anything can happen anytime, so make sure what you choose is designed specifically to be weatherproof. These kinds of outdoor speakers (and their included accessories) are made to withstand heat, wind, dust, moisture, direct sun, and most anything else (up to the range listed by the specifications) thrown at it.

Outdoor speakers come in a wide range of pricing that can fit most budgets, depending on the number required. With that in mind, you can decide on the type to suit needs and best complement your backyard oasis. Here are some different features and benefits to consider:

  • Easy under eaves: Outdoor speakers that are installed under eaves or a covered patio are one of the most common. The installation and connection process is faster and easier when compared to speakers located further away from the house. Wires can be run through attics and/or other rooms, and the speakers themselves are more protected and less exposed to rain and other outdoor elements. Although they tend to be in plain sight, many models can be painted a matching color to blend in better.
  • Decorative and disguised: If you have a decorative garden, you might consider the fun of choosing an outdoor speaker that looks like a rock, tree stump, lantern, Tiki mask, or some kind of creature/ornament. Newcomers won't know there's a speaker until you decide to play some music, especially if colors are carefully chosen to camouflage within the landscape! Installing speakers in the garden is a little trickier than under the eaves. Some digging will be required to bury the speaker wires and it may be necessary to route wire around or beneath obstacles, such as concrete walkways or raised garden beds.
  • Classic in-ground: If your backyard is more basic and bare, speakers pretending to be rocks might feel a little gaudy or out of place. So one other option for covering wider areas with audio is to install in-ground speakers. An advantage of this type of speaker is that they are large enough to produce good sound, yet are partially buried in the soil so only the top of the speaker can be seen. These are often used at amusement parks, tucked away in foliage, shrubs, or bushes.
  • Supplemental subwoofer: Due to size versus the amount of open space, most outdoor speakers can't really push out the lows. Not like the indoor ones, which benefit from playing within confines. So if you want your backyard music to deliver fuller, richer sound, you can opt for an outdoor subwoofer to cover that deep bass. Some may be the decorative type, while others are in-ground.

Mind Your Length and Gauge

You'll want to get an accurate estimate of how much wire will need to be run from the speakers to the amplifier/receiver. Not only is it frustrating to come up short, but the overall distance will help determine the gauge of wire to use. 16 gauge is fine for most speakers up to about twenty or so feet. But beyond that, you'll want to consider thicker 14, 12, or even 10 gauge wire, especially for lower-impedance speakers. Unless you decide to purchase direct burial wire for in-ground installations, make sure to use proper conduits. Regular PVC piping may not provide adequate underground moisture and/or temperature protection for cables running current. 

Test Before Finalizing

Before you start digging small trenches or mounting brackets to exterior surfaces, make sure you like what you hear first. Location and height matter in terms of overall balance, sound quality, and projection. Speakers should far enough to create the desired imaging, yet not too far as to sound thin. Compensating for distance with higher volume levels can lead to unwanted distortion. They should be high, but not too high.

This is also a good time to check the planned install locations, too. 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 downward to allow runoff.

If holes need to be drilled – never path through windows or doors as it can lead to wire damage – in order to feed the wire through exterior walls, you'll make it easier on yourself if the spot is reachable on both sides. Don't forget to seal all holes with silicone to maintain your home's insulation (it's also one less potential entryway for pests).

Connect and Enjoy

With the outdoor speakers installed and wires in place, all that's left is connecting the receiver or amplifier. If you already have indoor speakers set up, then the outdoor ones would likely plug into the speaker B terminal of the receiver. If you have more than one pair of outdoor speakers, you can use a speaker selector switch to handle four, six, or even eight more pairs. Such switches act as a hub and can handle the load while protecting the receiver/amplifier from damage. Some even offer independent volume controls, which can be convenient if located within easy reach outside.

In addition to installing a remote volume control (either by a separate box or the previously-mentioned switch), it's smart to use banana plugs for the outdoor speakers. They tend to be more reliable, easier to manage, and less exposed to the elements than that of bare wires. And if everything has been connected properly, all that's left is to plan some parties or simply relax and enjoy the fruits of your hard labor.