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Outdoor speakers buying guide
Tips on how to choose and install outdoor speakers
The great outdoors presents a different listening environment than your typical room. Inside your home, there are walls to reinforce low-frequency response and reflect and contain sound. Outside, of course, it's wide open, and there's usually much more background noise — wind, traffic, barking dogs, and even crickets. Below, we'll discuss a few things to take into consideration when shopping for outdoor speakers. [Shop for outdoor speakers.]
Do they provide enough bass?
The difficult sonic conditions of the outdoors can make music sound thin and diluted. To keep a warm, full-bodied sound, choose outdoor speakers with good low-frequency response (60Hz or below) that produce enough bass for a satisfying listening experience. You may also want to consider an outdoor subwoofer for additional low-end punch.
Can they stand up to the elements?
It's also important to consider the durability of a pair of outdoor speakers. All of the outdoor speakers we carry are weather resistant, but some are rigorously tested under extreme environmental conditions. Most manufacturers recommend placing or mounting them in a protected location under cover for best results and a longer life. Beneath a porch roof or an eave works well.
Some models, however, are built extra tough for placement in exposed outdoor locations. To be sure you're getting speakers that can handle a direct assault from the elements, check our detailed product information on or give us a call.
Here are a few placement tips that should increase the performance of any outdoor speaker you buy:
- The higher you mount your speakers, the greater the sound projection, and the farther away you will get good sound. However, you generally don't want to place them more than about ten feet high, or else you'll get thin sound.
- Set your speakers approximately 12 feet from the listening area and 8-10 feet apart from each other for the best stereo imaging.
- Placing your speakers near a wall or other solid surface improves bass output.
- Alternate between left- and right-channel speakers if mounting more than one pair on the same wall. This ensures stereo sound no matter where you are on your patio or deck.
- Similarly, if mounting four speakers on a square deck with one in each corner, mount the two left-channel speakers in opposite corners and the two right-channel speakers in opposite corners. You basically want the speakers to alternate between left and right channels no matter how you look at the square, for good stereo sound in any location.
- If you have a long, rectangular patio, you can get good results by mounting three speakers along one of the long sides and one speaker on one of the short sides.
- If it's necessary to mount one or both speakers in an exposed location, make sure you choose speakers that are rated for extreme conditions. Also, when mounting the speakers, tilt the speakers so the cones face slightly down for drainage.
- If you find that you don't have sufficient sound coverage, it's better to add more speakers instead of more volume. For example, if you can't hear the speakers attached to the outside wall of your house at your pool, you'd want to add more speakers closer to the pool. The alternative, simply turning up the volume to your existing speakers, could cause them to be much too loud for people sitting on your deck.
Place outdoor speakers 12 feet from your listening area for the best stereo imaging. If you have a large area to cover, it's better to add more speakers than to crank up the volume. This ensures a consistent volume level no matter where you go.
Remember, these are just guidelines — there's no need to be exact. Aesthetics are important too, so if a speaker looks better in a certain location, don't be afraid to put it there.
Experiment with placement before permanently mounting the speakers. Place the speakers in a likely location, and walk around to determine how well the sound travels throughout the listening area. Once you're satisfied, it's time to mount the speakers.
Mounting your outdoor speakers
After determining the ideal spot for your speakers (hopefully with some overhead protection from the elements), it's time to mount them. Most of the outdoor speakers we carry include mounting brackets, and you'll want to follow the included instructions to make sure they're properly secured.
We've found that it is best to mount your speakers to a solid wood or masonry surface. We do not recommend attaching your speakers directly to aluminum or cedar sidings; they may not be strong enough to support the weight of your speakers.
For a closer look at mounting outdoor speakers, check out our Outdoor Speakers Installation Video.
You will need to run speaker wire through your walls to get the sound from your stereo to your outdoor speakers. Here are a few recommendations for running wire to your outdoor speakers that should simplify the installation process and save you maintenance time down the road:
- Speaker wire should be run through your walls and not sent out through a door or window jamb, as it is possible to crimp the cable and cause a short.
- Determine the cable's path, especially wall entry and exit points, and measure the path as precisely as you can. Add 10-15% of that length to your total measurement to give you some play when you install the cables.
- Decide on the gauge of wire you will use. You can typically use 16 gauge wire for runs of 80 feet or less. Use 14 gauge wire for runs of up to 200 feet.
- Consider how four conductor speaker wire could cut down on the number of runs you'll have to make. For instance you could make two runs of regular wire to power each speaker in a pair. If you use four conductor wire you will have only one run, since the wire jacket contains two pairs of wire.
- We recommend that you use speaker cable that complies with the national electrical code for in-wall installation. These types of wire come with a smooth casing that makes it easy to run through walls and other tight places. Plus, the casing stands up well against climate changes. Look for cable labeled CL2 or CL3.
- When running speaker wire underground, use wire rated for direct burial. It's specifically designed to handle underground temperature and moisture conditions.
- It's a good idea to run underground wire through PVC conduit, even when using direct-burial wire. Since it can be hard to remember exactly where you buried the wire, this will prevent you from cutting through it with a shovel or other gardening tool at some point down the road.
- Bring the speaker cable through the exterior wall very close to each speaker location. The less speaker wire you use outside your house, the better.
- No matter where your speaker wire will exit your house, the hole will need to be sealed with silicone or another appropriate sealant for insulation and as an insect barrier.
- If you run underground cable to a "planter" or "rock" speaker, you may want to coil up a few extra feet of wire and place it directly under the speaker. This way, you'll have some extra wire if you decide to move the speaker later on, and won't need to redo the entire underground run.
- If your speakers have binding posts that accept spade connectors, pins or banana plugs, we recommend them over bare wire connections. You'll find that Crutchfield has a good selection of high-quality speaker cable connectors.
Powering outdoor speakers
One common way of powering outdoor speakers is the use of a multi-zone receiver. This type of receiver lets you send audio signals from different sources to separate rooms. So you can listen to music favorites at your cookout without interrupting the kids' cartoons on the TV inside. Most multi-zone home receivers can power outdoor speakers while providing surround sound on your main system. Others require the use of a separate amplifier to power your second pair of speakers. See our receiver FAQ for more information.
We recommend installing separate volume controls for each pair of speakers. This will allow you to control the volume of each pair independently. You may want to install a volume control even if you only have one pair of outdoor speakers, so you won't need to run inside the house every time you want to adjust the volume. Make sure you choose weatherproof volume controls since, like outdoor speakers, they're designed to handle the elements.
If you need further assistance designing an outdoor speaker system, contact our A/V Design Group. They offer personalized assistance to help you build a system that's right for you.