By Randy Blanchard, Director of Audio Products, Vanco
Summer is here. After many months cooped up inside without entertaining friends, I for one am ready to host a summer barbecue—and I don’t think I am alone. When it comes to outdoor entertaining, you really can’t go all out without music. Whether it’s the best “yacht rock” tunes or the latest pop icon, music is essential to setting the party mood.
I know what you may be thinking: “I have a Bluetooth speaker that I can take outside when we host – I’m all set!” But I’ll argue you don’t want to carry one more thing when your hands are full with a pitcher of signature spicy margaritas. Joking aside, even the best Bluetooth speaker is designed to service one-to-two people. If you have 10 people, the experience is bad. If it’s 50, the experience is nonexistent. With that in mind, let me impart just a few tips for you as you consider what your outdoor audio system should look like.
Consider the True Goals
When you are outdoors, rarely is a group sitting in a defined position like they would in a home theater or a media room or even at a dinner party. Outdoors, people are going to socialize (especially after this past year), and they should have the same listening experience wherever they are. The goal of an outdoor system is coverage uniformity. If you’re standing by the firepit, the pool, or the grill, your experience should be the same. The job of an installed outdoor audio system is to discretely provide such great sound throughout the space that no one even thinks about where the speakers or the sources are located.
The Source Matters
The ideal source would be a streaming device like Sonos, Yamaha Musiccast or Denon Heos. These are great sources that are connected to their apps via WiFi. What happens when a guest or someone else wants to share their music? Chances are they don’t have the app and you probably don’t want them connected to your network. This is where Bluetooth audio is the gold standard
I understand the appeal of Bluetooth audio solutions for their interoperability and accessibility: homeowners can easily connect and start streaming from their phone. Even with a fully installed solution, this may be the expectation. However, the location of said phone can make things tricky; using a cellphone and Bluetooth means the source is in the user’s pocket outside. If the receiver is inside, there will be a lot of dropped packets, as the host travels around carrying their phone. As addicted as most people are to this little device, it’s unlikely anyone will want to just leave their phone by the amp.
You can combat these drops with an outdoor receiver. Products like the PulseAudio WiFi Streaming Receiver can capture the wireless signal and transport it to the amplifier over a wired connection. The signal can then be transported to the amplifier over a wired or wireless connection, enabling the homeowner to wirelessly stream music from their phone just like they’re accustomed to doing in their home or car.
The Right Place in the Space
Speaker placement is a critical consideration, indoors and out. As I already outlined, you’re looking for uniformity when it comes to the great outdoors. You also have a lot less control of the acoustics and materials than you do for indoor systems.
There are a multitude of possible materials to consider for an outdoor environment. For example, a sliding glass door is a highly reflective surface with no dispersion. Brick, on the other hand, acts as a natural diffuser. Earth and landscaping features will absorb sound, but a deck will give you some primary sound wave reflection benefits.
You’ll also want to think about the edges of the coverage area. If there are nearby neighbors, you’ll want directional speakers on the perimeter of the coverage area, pointing away from adjacent properties. Whatever the speakers’ spec sheets say, you have to account for the acoustical properties of the architectural features, test performance, and adjust to achieve the uniformity you’re looking for.
Don’t Overthink It
The true audiophiles in the crowd may be wondering how to get “perfect” stereo or surround sound outside. Here’s my advice: don’t. Choose a speaker brand with a great reputation (like Beale Street Audio) and a speaker that matches your requirements. Those effects depend on the listener staying in one defined area, and outside, you want to be free to party!
Instead, invest a in good third-party control system that makes the experience easy to use. A truly great outdoor system is one that becomes part of the landscape both sonically and visually, not one that stands out from it.
Technology in general brings the best experience when the user does not have to think about it – they can fire up the system, knowing it’s going to work reliably—leaving them free to enjoy whatever is cooking on the grill or whatever yard game is starting up.
Cheers to summer and to the best audio experiences outdoors!