Technology - Audio
Take it Outside
Today's outdoor speakers come in a wide variety of styles that can meet any need.
BY GEORGE MCCLURE
Photo courtesy of Sonance.
WHY LIMIT MUSIC TO INSIDE THE HOUSE? All-weather speakers let your clients enjoy their favorite tunes on the deck or patio, by the pool, in the garden and even out in the middle of the yard. Right now is the perfect time to start your projects so they can be done in time for the nice weather. Let’s take a look at some of the innovative products that are available.
conventional mountable models
In this age of ubiquitous portable Bluetooth speakers, a lot of folks just set one on a table or bench when they want to hear their music outside. But for a more elegant solution with better sound quality, the best option is stereo speakers that are connected to the rest of a whole-house audio system. Outdoor stereo speakers are similar to indoor speakers, but with the distinction of being either weatherproof — meaning they can withstand direct assaults of rain, sun, and cold, or weather-resistant — meaning they require some protection from the elements.
Most versions of these specialized speakers come with a flexible bracket system for vertical and horizontal mounting and dual-axis rotation. Other features generally include rust-proof terminals with a rubber weather seal, rigid construction to reduce vibration, and paintable grilles so you can match any décor. Wiring for outdoor setups can be tricky, because special weatherproof speaker wire is often needed to run through a wall or underground. As always, we suggest partnering with an experienced technology designer to make sure everything is done right the first time.
Here are two standout models in this category:
BOWERS & WILKINS AM-1
Bowers & Wilkins is perhaps best known for providing the speakers at the legendary Abbey Road studios in London. This highly lauded British company offers a wide range of speakers and other audio products, from compact models to floorstanding towers that are among the best in the world. Their AM-1 architectural monitor featured here brings the company’s premium sound to outdoor applications. Durable and great-sounding, with its weather-resistant enclosure it’s perfect for use around the pool or mounted outdoors year-round. The easy-install bracket allows the AM-1 to be mounted vertically or horizontally for total flexibility of installation.
As is the case with all outdoor models, the AM-1 needs a sealed enclosure to keep out the rain and other precipitation, but that’s not great for solid, powerful bass. So Bowers & Wilkins engineers designed an auxiliary bass radiator for extra low-end punch from these compact enclosures. The combination of a slender wall-bracket, a simple one-plug mounting system and 220-degree rotation means the AM-1 can deliver music wherever you want it.
Photo courtesy of Bowers & Wilkins.
Photo courtesy of Definitive Technology.
DEFINITIVE TECHNOLOGY AW6500
Definitive Technology has been making affordable high-performance speakers since 1990. They really hit a home run with their iconic AW 6500 and AW 5500 models, widely lauded as two of the best outdoor speakers ever. With a fully sealed design, they bring indoor speaker quality outside, and their rugged PolyStone™ enclosures protect the delicate electronics inside and ensure a great performance no matter what the weather’s doing.
An integrated galvanized steel mounting bracket and unique enclosure shape allow a full 360 degrees of rotation. Active drivers, in conjunction with the low bass radiator, double the bass output but still maintain a weather-tight seal, which allows for the ultimate in placement flexibility, reliability and performance.
A cool product category for decks, patios and poolside, PlanterSpeakers are the perfect solution for a project where you can’t — or don’t want to — use wall-mountable outdoor speakers. As the name implies, a PlanterSpeaker combines a fully functioning speaker with a beautiful flower planter. Most models may be used with live flowers or plants and come with a removeable SmartPot™. Premium PlanterSpeakers integrate beautifully into their surroundings and also serve as a focal point in any décor.
The Flagstone, for example, offers a timeless design with contemporary yet classic style. Inside the planter resides a powerful three-way speaker that cranks out solid bass, punchy vocals and clearly defined highs. Like all PlanterSpeakers, it will change your expectations for outdoor audio quality. The Flagstone is available in two sizes, multiple speaker configurations, and in four colors, blending seamlessly into any outdoor environment. A SmartPot interior planter tray is included for great drainage and easy planting. A pair of Flagstones can provide sound coverage for an area of up to 1,000 square feet.
Other planters come in a variety of designs and speaker configurations. The company also offers some unique alternatives for outdoor sound, including the new West Hampton and East Hampton tables, which feature a heavy stacked teak design that houses a speaker capable of radiating sound a whopping 270 degrees, so everyone can enjoy the tunes!
Photos courtesy of PlanterSpeakers.
In the Owner’s Own Words
Co-founder Art Powers Jr., tells us the company’s origin story.
PlanterSpeakers began in 1999 as a custom installation project when one of our clients in the Northeast asked me to find the best speakers available for outdoor use. I had an A/V installation business and was using bracket speakers for my outdoor jobs. The problem with this install was that there was no place to mount speakers on the house. Even if there were, the products available would only deliver mediocre sound, at best.
We had specified and installed beautiful speakers, subwoofers and great quality amps inside the house, and the customer said, “I want great sound outside, too.” At the time, there really wasn’t anything great, so we needed a new solution. I looked around the patio and spotted a good-sized planter in the corner and the light bulb went on. I asked the customer if he would be interested in some PlanterSpeakers, and when he said yes, I had to create them! So I went back to the shop and got to work. I considered sound quality, planting space, and drainage, not to mention environmental issues.
I had grown up in my dad’s audio store and, as a musician and avid music listener, was used to hearing some of the finest speakers and equipment. I knew that I wanted to make the best outdoor speaker possible, and you could plant in them! It was a true hybrid product.
We installed the first four Flagstone speakers on that job. When we turned them on, it sounded like there was a symphony orchestra in the backyard. Nearly 20 years later, they still sound great. To this day, we use only the highest quality materials and construction techniques, creating the best sounding products that will last in all kinds of weather. Over the years, we’ve enhanced the performance of our speakers and added new architectural styles.
Now, there are PlanterSpeakers for every personal taste and budget. Our Flagstone, Piermont, and Westport planters feature three-way speakers, all available in custom configurations. And our subwoofer PlanterSpeakers can be added for extra-deep bass, as well.
sound in the yard
Sonance has been widely recognized as the creator and consistent leader in the architectural audio category since it was founded in 1983. In last year’s Fall issue we profiled some of their cutting-edge in-house speakers; now let’s take a look at several outdoor solutions that have taken sound coverage and quality to a whole new level.
SONANCE LANDSCAPE SERIES (SLS)
This totally scalable outdoor speaker system delivers perfectly even volume coverage to nearly any size space. Described by one critic as outdoor sound to “knock their socks off,” SLS provides exquisite sonic performance from small satellite speakers and below-ground subwoofers that are hidden completely out of sight among plants and under foliage. The system blends seamlessly into the surroundings and visibly matches the shape and design of most landscape lighting.
SONANCE GAREN SERIES (SGS)
The perfect balance of performance and simplicity in an outdoor audio system, the Sonance Garden Series takes elements from the Sonance Landscape Series products and creates a simply scaled system ideal for outdoor areas up to 3,500 square feet. Eight satellite speakers and one in-ground subwoofer are wired to a single amplifier. The results are a beautiful blend of performance and ease of installation. The system provides even, balanced coverage and can be expanded for up to sixteen speakers and two subwoofers on a single amplifier.
The highly touted SONARRAY SR1 System features eight satellite speakers and a below-ground subwoofer that is designed to fill areas of up to 2,000 square feet with a perfectly even blanket of high quality sound. The SONARRAY SR1 satellite speakers are constructed from a natural earth tone color-molded composite that won’t corrode or flake over time and resists chips and scratches. Once installed, they are easily camouflaged amongst plants and foliage so that they literally disappear into a garden. Crystal clear music seems to come from the foliage, creating atmosphere and ambience.
Photos courtesy of Sonance.
Photos courtesy of Rockustics.
Another ingenious way to provide music in your yard is with rock speakers. Rockustics has been hand-building the industry’s best rock speakers in Denver, Colorado and Lenexa, Kansas since 1987. Over the years the line has grown to encompass 27 models of superior, all-weather outdoor speakers for home and commercial applications. Rockustics models can be found in backyards, theme parks, office complexes, hotels, resorts — and even the White House! The original Rocky Jr., was awarded the first U.S. patent for outdoor speakers, thus starting the entire outdoor category. Today’s updated version features powerful sound and a weathered lava rock design making it perfect for use in large outdoor settings.
According to T.R. Hoffman, Production Engineer for MSE Audio, Rockustics’ parent company, “One of the great things about our rock speakers is that the pigment we use to color them is impregnated in the resin. So even if you smash it with a weed-whacker, or if it gets dinged up, the color stays consistent all the way through. Similarly, when the rocks are just naturally weathering and being worn away, they stay consistent and weather like actual rocks. With some brands, whether it’s from landscaping guys or just people walking around, they get these gray or white scratch marks on them that just make them look fake. But the Rockustics models always look natural. And they can really withstand even extreme weather. We had one customer say he had three feet of snow on a rock speaker through the winter, and it all melted and created massive puddles. After it all went away though, the speakers worked fine. We’ve had other people tell us their rock speakers went through ten feet of mud-slide conditions and came out totally fine.”
and for the water
We referenced Bluetooth speakers at the beginning of this article, and here’s one with a fun twist: The UNA from POW Audio . This portable little speaker is splash-and-sink-proof; attach the included Lily Float and it will float on the water while creating amazing sound. Pop up the WaveBloom™ audio expansion chamber to enhance bass resonance, volume and overall sound quality.