Alan Rottner’s home in Southern California is not your typical-size household. On any given night, the home can play host to a dozen or more people. “We have seven grown children and nine grandchildren,” says Rottner. “Boyfriends, girlfriends and spouses are here on a regular basis.”
That’s a horde to hold in a kitchen or family room, but it isn’t a concern at the Rottners. “Most home theaters, kitchens and living rooms aren’t designed for the size of our family,” Rottner says. “Most evenings, we all gather on the patio, where we are known to play bingo and hold-‘em and to watch the fireworks from the nearby minor league baseball stadium.”
The backyard patio also has a pool with pondlike curves and a waterfall and spa, as well as a three-zone audio system that’s invisible to the untrained eye. “We spend a great deal of time in the backyard, though not a lot in the pool, so the pool, waterfall and audio are background to the many hours we spend outdoors,” says Rottner.
In a lush garden area between the pool and boundary wall are a line of garden stones that provide the area with all the necessary sound. That’s because some are not rocks at all but rather speakers disguised to blend in with the landscape and made by Rottner’s family-owned company, StereoStone. In fact, nothing is as it seems here. See the rocks with the visible grilles? They’re not speakers but low-voltage halogen lights hidden under StereoStone’s Classic and Sierra enclosures and shining through the holes. The rocks that don’t have grille openings are the real speakers. That big planter in the corner? It has a speaker that fires from the openings at the bottom on the pot. And that stump is really an 8-inch, 250-watt subwoofer. (We bet that’s the loudest tree that never fell in the woods.)
But eight speakers and three independent audio zones for this size of patio and pool area? We’re not talking about acres here, after all. “The three zones are designed not for the area but for effect,” explains Rottner. “The first zone is the pair of [DaVinci] Cinema Rocks, which are directly adjacent to the spa. These are set up in very close proximity and at head level for listening while in the spa. To that we added two Gibraltar Stealth models (one on the outside of each Cinema Rock) for added sound coverage in the yard, patio and pool area for a full sound throughout the backyard. We have a third option that adds two Gibraltar Sub Rocks, which are used for parties predominantly by my grown children, who really like a lot of bass for their hip-hop. I like it, too, but I don’t typically have a need for the additional bass when listening to ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s music, which is my normal background while in the backyard. Besides, the Cinema Rocks, with their bass porting, offer up a huge amount of additional bass to begin with.” (The Stump sub was placed there for testing, and the Omni planter usually serves another area with sound.)
Rottner adds that the speakers are situated fairly close together for consistent coverage, a detail that’s often overlooked when placing backyard speakers. “Wherever you are in the yard, you are getting a similar sound,” he says.
The audio equipment powering the speakers is located under the counter area of the patio’s built-in kitchen. That includes a 100-watt-per-channel amplifier with a six-zone switcher and a StereoStone-powered subwoofer amplifier “There is a CD player, though the kids typically plug in their MP3 players for source material. We also have an AM/FM booster antenna for the easy listening the older generation uses.”
In the future, the Rottners may add video to their patio pleasures. “We are considering mounting a JVC projector under the patio roof and shooting it at a retractable screen mounted at the back wall of the property,” Rottner says. Though nothing has been done on that yet. The Rottners must be too busy entertaining their growing family.
Follow Electronic House
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates