Outdoor Speaker Planning and Installation Tips

AC 16

  1. Distinguish the differences between outdoor speakers. Many outdoor speakers need to be placed under the eaves for  protection from the elements. Higher quality speakers like Terra can be fully exposed and therefore placed almost anywhere. This allows for greater flexibility in system design and enhanced performance without worry.
  2. Make speakers part of the audio system and/or landscaping budget. The  difference in cost between cheap speakers and real hi-fidelity speakers  (that will also last longer) is negligible in most home improvement/building budgets. Like most everything else, when it comes to quality you get what  you pay for.
  3. The best time to design and install an outdoor audio system is while the landscaping is being planned or done. Having the ground open is ideal for  running speaker wires. Not only does this allow the wires to be covered up  with new sod, plants, or stonework, it also means the wires can easily be buried deeper. And considering distributed audio during the early design  stages results in better system coverage and sound performance.
  4. When running cables underground, use PVC pipe or conduit, if possible,  to protect the wires and facilitate future changes – such as adding lights near speaker locations.
  5. Weatherproof all your cabling and connections with a good silicon sealant.
  6. When proximity to neighbors is an issue, consider installing speakers along the perimeter of the yard at ground level or around the deck or patio, facing the house as opposed to hanging them on the house, facing out.  This makes for a more “stealth” installation that directs sound towards the listening area rather than at the neighbors. Speakers placed on the ground also deliver greater bass output!
  7. Be very skeptical about outdoor speakers priced at promotional prices that also claim to be weather resistant or weatherproof. All else being equal, truly weatherproof outdoor speakers will cost more and last longer than these “throw away” speakers. And remember how much it costs you to replace your client’s not so  weatherproof speakers multiple times, not to mention the questions it raises in their minds.
  8. Consider the dispersion and coverage characteristics of the  speakers you use. Some are optimized for wide dispersion;  others for deeper, more focused coverage. The best specialty retailers and custom installers should be conversant in such  details. While traditional speakers assume the listener will be positioned centered between a stereo pair, this may not be  practical in outdoor applications. Using several properly located speakers and running them at lower volume levels will provide  more even sound coverage with less chance of bothering the  neighbors and fewer dead or hot spots.
  9. Determine your system’s sonic architecture. If you want a “background sound” type of environment it’s better to go with  multiple pairs of carefully placed speakers throughout the yard or mounted on the house. Too many overlapping left-right  combinations, though, can be sonically problematic. An excellent solution is to send a mono signal to every speaker so everyone  listening hears all the music, all the time.
  10. If you want to create a stereo “sound stage” like that of a  normal stereo system, try to follow the same type of conventions  for placement as you would for an indoor system. Create an equilateral triangle between the speakers and the primary  listening area with about 45 to 60 degree corners.
  11. Outdoor surround sound systems are increasingly being  installed using weatherproof flat panel TVs and outdoor speakers. Be sure to include an outdoor subwoofer in such systems to ensure special effects impact. But remember,  generating bass outdoors isn’t like creating it indoors. There will be less impact and less overall volume outside, however the  good thing is standing waves usually won’t be an issue.
  12. In outdoor surround systems subwoofers should be located near  a foundation wall if possible, to increase bass output and impact. The  satellite speakers should be large enough to allow a crossover at 100Hz or below. Crossing over above 120Hz can lead to localizing the subwoofer and creating a disjointed sonic “picture” with male  voices seeming to come from both the sub and the satellites.
  13.  In a theater application the center channel speaker should be capable of significant output because it’s called upon to generate a great deal of the soundtrack. The amplifier must be capable of  producing enough power to drive all the satellites and the subwoofer(s) (if it’s not self-powered as most outdoor subs aren’t) to the output levels needed in “the great outdoors” too. Typical distributed audio 20 to 35 watt per channel amps simply won’t cut it in an outdoor theater.
  14. Compromises are not to be feared. Be creative in your  installation. Consider alternative techniques like mounting speakers  low to the ground and aiming them up (avoiding reflective surfaces)  for a diffuse, relatively non-localizable sound field. Simply mounting  the speakers on a wall or on the ground rather than on a post can  help enhance bass performance as well.
  15. Note that Terra speakers with their Location Balanced Sound™  are sonically balanced to be placed up against a wall or low to the  ground for bass enhancement. Or they can be used with our outdoor subwoofer to create a truly powerful full range outdoor system.
  16. Some wires rated for outdoor applications may not be rated for indoor use due to their construction.
  17. According to the NEC, wiring that enters from the exterior of a  building must be protected by a surge protector or fuse rated for use  as a primary entrance protection device. This device must be  installed as close as practical to where the cable enters the building,  but no more than 50 feet from that point. The protection device must  attach to an approved ground within 20 feet from its location.
  18. The wire from the exterior can’t be concealed before it has been  attached to the protection device. Please check the NEC as it details  all of these requirements.