Now that the chill and gray weather is (hopefully) behind us for the season, many people will be stepping out of the dark caves of their home theaters and into the sunlight—in their back yards.
As any realtor or home remodeler will tell you, the backyard (or deck, patio, roof…) is the new favorite place for entertaining, relaxing and enjoying friends and family. Just look at the growth of the landscaping and outdoor kitchen business as proof. But what happens when you bring all your party guests over for some grilling, swimming and chillin, but the cool AV gear is all in the house?
Outdoor entertainment systems are popular, and very practical. They’re used frequently (depending on your climate of course) and bring a lot of ROI in terms of enjoyment. We spoke with Consumer Electronics Pro Steve Hunter of the Hunter Group for tips on planning an audio/video paradise of your own.
Getting the Best Sound
Let’s start with speakers. The market is flooded with inexpensive portable Bluetooth audio systems that have replaced the boomboxes of the past, but while they’re convenient, they’re a big letdown if you’re going from a killer indoor audio system to a couple of cheap drivers in a shoebox for the backyard.
Instead you should fill your outdoor space with quality outdoor speakers. There’s a variety of styles available, from in-wall/in-ceiling models (good for lanais and covered patios) , wall-mountable models (popular for hanging under a home’s eaves) to rock-shaped speakers and in-ground speakers (check out these 22 awesome outdoor speakers).
Speaker placement in a backyard or outdoor space can be trickier than in a living room or home theater. Outside sound travels and can either travel far, into the yard next door, or not far enough so you may only get sound in localized spots. “Placement really needs to be thought out carefully,” says Steve Hunter. “You want the sound to be even across the whole area.” He noted that in the west Los Angeles area where his business is, yards or patios can be small, so he needs to be careful about where the speakers are projecting. “Typically I’ll put a set of speakers in the back of the yard, on a wall [if the yard has a wall] so they’re facing toward the house, and a set on the patio under the eaves,” he explains. This way the sound is all focused toward the living area of the yard and not simply blasted out into the neighborhood. For larger yards he uses landscape speakers that look like landscape lights. He’ll place them roughly in a circle pointing toward the listening area so that everyone can hear at the same volume. Because low frequencies have very large waves, they tend to dissipate quickly, so Hunter also recommends a subwoofer to fill in the sound. Subwoofers that can be partially buried are a good option.
People understand the need for separate audio zones in a home, but in the back yard? Yes, multiple audio zones can be very helpful, even in outdoor spaces that aren’t very big. Hunter recently did an installation (pictured above) that includes a pool area, a cooking/BBQ area and a lanai (which includes an outdoor TV, which we’ll get to later). Now this entire yard could easily be filled with sound all at once, but what happens when not everyone wants to hear the music at the same level. Kids in the pool might want to turn up the volume to play over their own screaming, while the people at the BBQ or lanai want to tone it down to conversational levels. Speaker placement also comes into play here. If one seating area is closer to the speakers than another, someone’s going to be blown away with music while another person keeps cranking it up. Being able to control the volume and source independently makes the yard more enjoyable for all.
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.