today’s advanced outdoor audio systems add more speakers for better coverage.
BY BILL HENSLEY
THE GUITARIST HIT THE OPENING CHORD and the notes rang out . . . forever. It was punk-industrial-something-or-other (more than a few years ago) and it sounded fantastic. It was a Friday afternoon in the vast concrete multi-level plaza below the architecture building at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Then the drummer hit the snare and it, too, went blissfully . . . forever. Then the whole band kicked in and everything quickly turned to muck. Endlessly echoing muck. Let’s-get-out-of-here muck.
It wasn’t that the music was too loud, it was just too messy, reflecting off every available surface. Of course, later a friend who sat much closer to the band confirmed that “no, it was also way too loud!”
For some reason I flashed back to this moment shortly after joining the marketing crew at Core Brands, supporting SpeakerCraft and Niles among others. As we worked on materials for the outdoor speaker lines that summer, the team’s amazing sales and tech trainer, Eric Herdman, introduced me to a concept that was elegant in its simplicity — more speakers, not more volume.
Picture yourself on a large patio with a party of friends and there are two adequately powered speakers mounted on the wall. For the guests furthest from the house to hear the sound at a comfortable level, those closest to the speakers can end up getting blasted. That’s because sound disperses quickly. The Inverse Square Law describes: As the distance doubles, the dispersing of a single source spreads over four times the area and loses 75 percent of its intensity. Each factor of two in distance from the source leads to a decrease in intensity by a factor of four. The solution? More speakers strategically positioned to cover the space.
It’s a straightforward idea and a reason that modern outdoor systems like Sonance Sonarray or SpeakerCraft Terrazza (shown at left) are sold in multiples, not just pairs. And it has implications for how we design outdoor spaces, for which audio is becoming increasingly important. Landscape designers, as you bring audio into your clients’ outdoor environments, work with your technology pro from the initial design phase so you are not trying to “hide” extra speakers later on. Your clients will thank you.
Audio is just one of the numerous considerations that go into the design of outdoor spaces including sun, shade, landscape, plant life, surfaces, and structures. Sound is an emotional part of the outdoor space experience and one that can set the mood, whether it’s dinner on the deck or a party by the pool. In either case, hiding multiple satellites and burying a couple subwoofers can spread a pleasing wash of sound across your space. Outdoor surfaces and structures are likely concrete or other hard material, so make sure the design does not encourage sound reflection like the college example above. And for deck areas and patio floors of concrete, stone or brick, the SpeakerCraft Terrazza line simplifies the solution with a “hardscape” subwoofer (shwon at right) that sits on the surface, rather than being buried.
Beyond the stake-mounted satellites, there are other speaker style options including outdoor cabinets, planters and rocks, but the key point is more speakers, not more volume. The 70-volt-capable speaker systems like the two mentioned earlier make it easy to scale as needed, and multiple brands offer high performance systems for customers who expect the most from their audio. Yes, you can deliver indoor quality audio to your outdoor spaces with just the right amount of volume in the right place. And you can do so without bothering the neighbors . . . except perhaps when your kid’s retro-industrial punk band wants to light up the evening.