Outdoor Audio Systems: 5 Things To Consider When Adding Sound Outside

All right. Today, we’re going to talk a little bit about outdoor speakers and the variety of options you have for placing them and some things to keep in mind because outdoor speakers, depending on the environment may not work in the same way that they do with a pair of speakers that you’d have in your living room or your home theater. So, we’re standing in a very nice screen room of a summer home on the lake.

And this is an environment that’s probably as close as you’re going to get to having a pair of outdoor speakers in an actual room. You’ve got boundaries here, you’ve got a wall, you’ve got sidewalls, and you’re going to get reasonable reinforcement from those boundaries, which are going to help with bass and help with the sensitivity and the efficiency or perceived level of the speaker for a given amplifier power.

Now, why this is important is that when you’ve got the speakers in a room, a lot of the efficiency that you get is because of the boundary loading because of the reflections that are in the room.

If we have a pair of outdoor speakers that are truly in free space so that they’re not mounted against any boundary or near any walls, the perceived level for a given amount of amplifier power goes down significantly. So you need to keep that in mind. If you’re going to be trying to fill a large open patio space with a pair of speakers, even if they’re mounted up against one wall boundary, you’re going to actually have to have more amplifier power available for whatever listening level you’re looking to achieve than you would in a typical living room or family room. So, don’t skimp on amplifier power just because it’s an outdoor system.

Unless you’re going to be listening just at the quietest background levels, you may find you need more amplifier power than you think. One other thing to keep in mind is sound doesn’t travel very well at some frequencies in open space. And it’s again because you don’t have this enclosed environment of a room. So, having multiple outdoor speakers rather than just a single pair of speakers is better if you’re trying to fill a large open area with good sound quality.

Now, one thing to keep in mind, in an environment like this where you’ve got a room that’s maybe 12 or 15 feet wide, you’re still going to get some good sense of stereo reproduction.

And in environments where you’re placing the speakers as far apart as you would in a typical listening room, you can still expect to get good stereo sound. But we have to think about that a little bit if you’re trying to fill a large open space with sound. Stereo actually can be a detriment in those cases.

And what you might want to think of doing is actually running a model setup, which can be done in software if you’re using digital files and some preamplifiers and processors have a mono setting that you can use. This essentially will mix the left and right information into all of the speakers, so you get an environment where you get a good spread of sound, and you’re not worried about stereo separation, which can be weird if you have some instruments in the left speakers and some instruments in the right speakers.

Another thing with digital files that’s very easy is something called normalizing. That’s something that you might want to do if you’re using iTunes for instance, you might want to keep a version of your library available for outdoor use that’s normalized. That’s just going to compress the levels so that what happens is that if you’ve got a recording that’s got very, very quiet parts, it will bring them up. Those quiet parts usually would be completely inaudible in an outdoor situation. So, there’s a few things to think about when you’re setting up positioning and thinking about purchasing your outdoor speakers.

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