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Partying On The Patio |

Partying On The Patio

Monday, July 20th, 2009

Reprinted with permission from Chad Butterfield 

It’s about the time of year where most people are yearning to feel the warmth of the sun on their faces, dust off the grill and start enjoying outdoor activities around their home again. Gardening, BBQ’s, swimming, sunbathing; all activities that help us thaw out and gear up for summer. Aside from the beautiful warm weather that is required to enjoy these pleasures – one thing is almost requisite – MUSIC! 

I’m a huge fan of being able to listen to music outdoors. It helps set the mood no matter what activity is taking place. These days, there are more choices than ever to help you party on the patio. 

Before we begin, we must understand that nature is working against us. Unfortunately, an outdoor environment creates different acoustical challenges than a typical room which has reflective surfaces that enhance and reflect the sound. In most outdoor environments, it’s usually very open with fewer reflective surfaces, as well as a host of uncontrollable ambient sounds such as wind, traffic, kids and dogs. These are some of the factors to consider when choosing the right speaker for you. 

There are a multitude of choices when it comes to speaker types and shapes available. You can have speakers that look like rocks, flower planters, landscape lights and flying saucers. While each has its own targeted application, the most common design is a standard, box-shaped outdoor speaker. These look like the conventional speaker you would have in your living room – only smaller. These are usually black or white and mount with a separate C-shaped bracket. They are usually made of a hard plastic and have heavy-duty metal speaker wire connections. They can be mounted almost anywhere and can be easily removed for cleaning.  

 

Installation 

Many houses in the Austin area and the rest of the country are pre-wired (during construction) with speaker wires already run to the patio – along with other rooms in the house. If you were not so fortunate, it may still be possible to run wires to most locations you may desire. Contact a local Custom Electronics contractor in your area to find out your options.  

If running the wire yourself, choose a speaker cable that complies with the national electrical code for in-wall installation. These types of wires come with a smooth, durable casing that makes it easy to run through and stands up well against the elements.

At a minimum, mount your speakers to a solid wood or masonry surface. Do NOT attach a speaker directly to aluminum or cedar sidings; as they are not likely strong enough to support the weight.

Once wiring is in place, the speaker will mount to a solid surface with 2-3 small screws. Most can be removed easily for routine cleaning or re-positioning.  

 

How low can they go? 

Due to the lack of reflective surfaces mentioned earlier, the sound from a speaker placed outdoors can sound weak and lack the solid bass response you would get in a normal room. In order to overcome this, look for a speaker with a low-end frequency response in the 40-60hz range. This will ensure the speaker can reproduce the full range of sound you’d expect. Like all things, this requirement does come with a compromise – usually a larger speaker. To get good, consistent bass in a medium sized outdoor area (700-1,000 square feet), a speaker with a 6½” or larger woofer is recommended.  

 

How many do I need? 

In an outdoor setting, a larger number of speakers playing at a lower volume to minimize “hot” spots – areas where the sound is much louder than others is preferred. This can make conversing difficult and may irritate the neighbors as you will have to increase the volume to increase for the coverage area of each speaker. Sound travels much better outside than you might think. 

 

Plugging them in. 

Assuming the other end of the wires terminate inside your home; a simple, modestly powered (100-watt) stereo receiver will do the trick for two – four speakers. If using more than four speakers, you will need a special speaker switch to divide the power to each speaker safely so you do not damage the amplifier. You can pick up an amp for about $150 at a local electronics store, and a multiple speaker switch can another $150+ depending on what features you want and how many speakers are required. 

 

Can they take the heat (and cold)? 

It’s also important to consider the durability of outdoor speakers. All “Outdoor” speakers have some level of weather resistance, and some are certified to perform under extremely difficult environmental conditions (i.e. direct rain or snow). Most manufacturers recommend placing or mounting them in a protected location under cover for best results and a longer life. Under a porch roof or an eave works best in most applications.

If your mounting location is not sheltered, be sure you’re getting speakers that can handle a direct assault from the elements. These will cost more, but the expense is worth it in the long run.

Additional tips:

The higher you mount your speakers, the greater the sound projection and the coverage area. 

Placing your speakers near a wall or other solid surface usually improves bass output. When mounting the speakers, tilt the speakers so the cones face slightly down for so it does not collect water.  

Seal any areas where the speaker wire exits a wall with weatherproof silicone to ensure no leaks or insect entry. 

Experiment with different locations before permanently mounting the speakers. Place the speakers in a desired location, turn them on and walk around to determine how well the sound travels throughout the listening area. Once you are satisfied, mount the speakers.  

Try not to face speakers directly toward or mount them near a seating area or conversation spot, as it will be difficult to talk comfortably over the sound. 

Most of the speakers can be cleaned with any household kitchen-counter cleaner. A good wipe-down in early spring should keep them looking new in most conditions. 

If installed properly, a quality set of outdoor speakers will provide years of trouble free, year-round entertainment. 

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With 20+ years of Home Electronics experience, Chad Butterfield is the President and Founder of FunHouse Media, a full-service Home Electronics and Custom Installation firm based near Austin, Texas. They can be found online at www.funhousemedia.com

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