Easy Listening

Innovative Outdoor Speakers

Manufacturers continue to tinker with their outdoor speakers to give you get the best sound for your dollar. And now you have a wider choice than ever before of how your sounds fit in with your outdoor living space.

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Boston Acoustics

Depending on where you live, you can spend 4 to 12 months outside enjoying quality time with family and friends on your patio or deck, or in your backyard. And, let’s face it: Whenever we go outside, we want to take our music with us.

For your listening pleasure, you now can choose from more types of outdoor speakers than ever before as manufacturers look for innovative ways to make your music blend in with your scenery. And it’s easier than ever before to add speakers outdoors, because most audio/video receivers today have settings that let you control the sound in separate areas, so you don’t have to pay for a separate receiver for your outdoor music. Manufacturers also continue to fine-tune their speakers to give you the best possible listening experience, although how each manufacturer addresses this differs from the next.

These advances have happened despite a near-collapse of the market. Sales of outdoor speakers dropped to 676,000 units in 2009 (the latest data available) from a high of 1.05 million units in 2006 because of the housing bust and recession, according to Consumer Electronics Association. Despite this development, prices have held fairly steady over the past 5 years.

SOUND DESIGN. In the past 5 years, manufacturers have improved the enclosures of their outdoor speakers to make them more impervious to the elements by using better (read: waterproof) sealants and composites that are more resistant to the sun’s ultraviolet rays. Another thing that manufacturers have done to make their outdoor speakers better handle the elements is to eliminate metal in the drivers. Instead, they use noncorrosive materials, such as plastic. This switch solves the problem of corrosion; however, a change in materials affects sound quality, although to what degree depends on the materials that are used.

SpeakerCraft developed a special plastic for the enclosure of its Ruckus series of rock-shape outdoor speakers, so even if the enclosure gets nicked or a piece is broken off—a chip off the old rock—the color and texture remain the same throughout.

Some manufacturers have bolstered their outdoor speakers in terms of sound quality by improving the design of their drivers to handle power more efficiently and deliver a fuller sound. Other manufacturers have focused on driver placement or the design of the speaker enclosure itself. The bottom line is that no one solution seems to be universally better than another, so you shouldn’t pay extra for a specific technology without first giving it a test-listen.

And the creativity of today’s outdoor-speaker designs knows no bounds, although the sound quality of the various designs can be hit-or-miss. In addition to putting speakers in tree stumps (StereoStone), coconuts (Rockustics) and frogs (OSD Audio), companies now include speakers in lighting fixtures that are integrated into the speaker enclosure at all prices. These fixtures can look like wall sconces or hanging Mission-style lanterns (Acoustic Research), and they start at $100.

Hunter Fan in 2009 added a speaker to a line of indoor/outdoor fans and sells through its Casablanca Fan division a light fixture that includes a speaker that can be attached to several Casablanca models, including those that can be used outdoors. Cool! But you’ll pay at least $400 to enjoy your tunes and a cool breeze at the same time.

Other companies have gone in a different direction in terms of having the design of their outdoor speakers blend in with your outdoor space. Specifically, more models that resemble outdoor path lighting or uplighting have appeared on the scene. Five years ago, Bose was virtually the only manufacturer that used this design, for its $450 Free Space 51 speakers. Now at least 14 brands use a similar design, and prices for these models start at less than $80.

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