Sounds Of Nature

By Eric Christensen

January 24, 2013 5 min read

Whether you're lying by the pool, socializing with friends in the backyard or cooking dinner on the grill, an outdoor audio system could help you relax, get the party started or listen to the game. You may think an outdoor audio system is too big a project or too expensive. That is no longer the case. Whatever your budget and however big your backyard, there is a system that is just right for you.

The simplest and least expensive option is a speaker for your MP3 player or cellphone that plugs directly into your device. Some speakers plug into the headphone port, while others serve as a dock, letting you both play music and charge your device. IHome makes a wide variety of these speakers. These devices are often small and easily portable. However, they often have inferior sound and limited range.

Another option is a compact speaker that lets you stream music through your device's Bluetooth connection. Popular examples include the Jawbone Jambox and the Creative D100 and D200 speakers. Small, portable and wireless, these speakers can be tossed in a backpack and travel with the party. Despite their diminutive size, these Bluetooth speakers produce more robust sound than most docks, allowing them to compete with a small party. Accordingly, they also carry a higher price tag.

Continuing up the price and power ladder are wireless music systems. These systems consist of a central station and a series of wireless speakers that can be placed throughout a house. For example, the Sonos system can be expanded to include 32 rooms. Although these speakers cannot be tossed in a backpack, at ten pounds or less, they are still quite portable. These systems are elegant and simple, able to stream music from an Apple or Android phone that also serves as a remote control. Other than the power cord, there are no wires, minimizing clutter. The sound quality and volume is impressive as well.

Of course, the main problem all of the above systems have is that they are not weather-resistant. Although they can be moved outside during a party or while relaxing poolside, they cannot be left outside year-round. For that, you will need to step up yet another rung on the price ladder to the weather-resistant outdoor stereo system. This option is the most difficult and expensive to install, but it will offer the best sound quality and coverage.

There are three types of outdoor speakers: omni-directional speakers, decorative speakers and patio speakers. When placed in gardens or open areas, omni-directional speakers distribute sound in all directions. Decorative speakers are disguised as rocks to fade into the background. Patio speakers are the most common outdoor speakers. They deliver the best sound quality of the three types.

Patio speakers should be mounted off the ground in order to improve sound projection, but beyond ten feet up, sound quality diminishes. Place the speakers 12 feet from the listening area, with eight to ten feet between speakers, alternating between left- and right-channel speakers. Mount the speakers at a downward angle so that water will drain instead of pooling inside the speaker. Place them under an awning or overhang to minimize exposure.

Unless you are using wireless speakers, place the audio wire in walls, underground, or in other unobtrusive places. But if you bury the wire, place the wire deep enough that lawn tools will not cut the wire. After measuring your wire needs, purchase an additional 10 percent just in case.

Connect your outdoor speakers to your indoor receiver through the Speaker B terminal or a speaker switcher. If you are using a switcher, look for one with impedance matching to protect your receiver and independent volume controls so you can set indoor music at one level and outdoor music at another level.

Homeowners can install a complete outdoor stereo system by themselves or hire a contractor. But such complex and expensive projects are becoming increasingly unnecessary. Audio equipment manufacturers are responding to consumer demand for streaming audio and superior sound regardless of environment. Speakers are becoming more powerful, smaller and cheaper, and they are syncing with devices more easily and across greater distances. Music -- and the party -- can move with you, indoors and out.

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