Technology: Choosing Great Outdoor Speakers


Yesterday all my troubles seemed so far away. . .no sorry that’s a song. Here comes the sun, o that’s a song too. Today I sit looking out of my window at what can only be described as unrelentingly persistent precipitation, the sort that might well make Noah reach for his hammer and nails.

Yesterday, on the other hand, the sun reigned supreme from upon high and I went to work outside with my shirt off to catch a few rays. Elbow sang out from the 3mm speaker on the bottom of my phone, all was right in my world! Yesterday it was sunny and I was outside singing.

Today I am more troubled and the sun isn’t coming. It doesn’t take much to fill our little terrace with sound and actually the iPhone succeeds in making an acceptable noise to sing along to. You can’t beat an afternoon in the sun with your favourite music and that’s just the same for our customers but often their outdoor spaces are somewhat larger. Adding external speakers is a great way to add something a little special in to our projects and, hopefully, some well-earned additional profit. When designing and installing for outdoor spaces there are a few considerations to take into account.

Cabling must be done with external grade cable. These are typically rubberised to protect against the sun and moisture ingress and in some instances armoured. These direct burial cables can be unwieldy to manage inside the property so it might be worth creating a junction box where they enter the property so that you can solder on internal grade cables from there back to the rack. Don’t forget to quote for external cable too, it’s considerably more expensive. Whilst we’re on the topic of cabling it’s important that you understand how the speakers are wired at the design phase. Some systems such as the Sonance Sonarray use a non-standard (i.e., not star wired) configuration so be sure to check before you submit your schematics to site.

The landscape gardeners will not thank you if they have to dig up all of their planting to install new cables. The Sonarray also offers very directional sound, which leads me nicely on to my next point. Speaker placement should be done with care. Installing speakers under the eaves of the roof line two or three stories up will require them to be turned up pretty loud for the patio area down below. Blasting Shostakovich or some banging house music across the neighbourhood won’t win your clients or your company many friends. It’s worth a few well-placed questions to the customer, such as ‘How do the intend to use the outdoor system?’, ‘What will you be listening too?’, and ‘What time of day/year will you be listening?’ The answers will go some way towards informing your choice of speaker and the positioning thereof. Is it possible to get the speakers in a position where they are sheltered from the elements and are they aesthetically in keeping with the design of the building. Maintenance may become an issue if they are high up or exposed to some of our more demanding weather conditions.

Even if the speakers are weather proof the screws or connectors we use may not be—possibly time to break out the silicone sealant. Some may prefer speakers in disguise. If that’s the case look out for manufacturers creating look-a-like rocks or even vent covers that actually produce audio, the rocks are singing. Most people have a smartphone, which, as well as being a phone it is also the storage place of choice for lots and lots of people’s music. So if we’re putting in external speakers you need consider how to connect it to them. If the wireless network extends out in to the garden then that problem is pretty much solved. If not then a product such as the Soundcast Outcast may be the right choice. Fully portable and not relying on anything other than the phones Bluetooth to stream music these are perfect for impromptu BBQs at the beach, when no wires can be installed or the wireless signal simply doesn’t extend far enough. It has the added benefit that it can also connect to streaming devices such as Sonos, making it an extremely flexible choice too.

Soundcast for wireless streaming in the garden.[/caption] Whatever the choice of speakers your customer ends up with in the garden, on their terrace, or porch it is a great addition to any system. Whether it’s listening quietly alone whist soaking up the sun or enjoying an afternoon with friends it can really add an extra dimension to the great outdoors. Well designed and installed it will bring pleasure to your clients and a little extra to your bottom line. Right the sun’s out, I’m off to enjoy the rest of my Beatles playlist.

Simon Buddle is a consultant for Future Ready Homes, a specialist in BMS and ELV services system design. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires magazine, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award.