June 10, 2009
| by Lisa Montgomery
My husband and I are losing friends fast. It’s not that we’re horrible people. It’s just that they can’t stand to listen to our music system anymore. Whenever we get together with our friends—and typically happens at our place—the tunes get turned on. We’ve got a great music collection, nobody complains about that, but the playback is horrible.
During the summer, most get-togethers happen outside, so we’ve tried everything to make the music sound better. We invested in a pair of wireless speakers a few years ago and have since pitched them in the trash. We’ve hooked up our ‘80s style stereo in the “clean” portion of our barn and cranked it. We’ve carried out boomboxes. And yes, we’ve even blasted music from the speakers of someone’s car stereo. Pretty sad, I know. I’d love to revisit the wireless speaker solution, but frankly, the bad experience we had with our first set has left me somewhat skeptical. I decided to call a few custom electronics professionals to help set me straight. Most of them, as I expected, advised against wireless.
“There just seems to be too many problems [with wireless],” says Howard Zebersky of Automatic Home Systems in Hempstead, N.Y. “We’ve done just about everything under the sun to get speaker wire feeds hardwired to where they need to be outside.” I agree that hardwiring is ideal, but trenching wire is not something I want to do across our 5-acre lawn. We’d need speakers by the volleyball net and the firepit, oh, and also by the pond, the deck and the barn. That’s just too much ground to cover.
Finally, I received some positive feedback. Yes, there are I can have wireless outdoor speakers, and yes, they really do rock. Michael Curtin of EPI Systems Integration, Pelham, N.Y., touted the AW822 transmitter and speaker setup ($129) from Acoustic Research as one of the best. With a range of 200 feet, music will be able to reach the pond, at least.
Another option recommended by Jeff Cooper of Simply Sight & Sound, Sun City, Calif., is the Outcast ($799) from Soundcast Systems. This system plows through 350 feet and transmits audio from either a stereo system or an iPod. According to Cooper can feed music to two wireless speakers. What I really like about this system though, is that I can control the music remotely by pressing buttons built into the top of the speaker.
Any time sound has to travel, it degrades over distance. Amplifiers can give your system the audio muscle it needs to go the distance, and the best place to put them is as close to the speakers as possible. Curtin found some great wireless amps that’ll work with any speaker I choose. The 5.8GHz Digital Wireless Audio Transmitter/Amplifier system ($199) from Amphony comes with an amp for each speaker. These amps can be located up to 200 feet from the transmitter.
While I like the idea of being able to keep all of my audio components safe inside my house, I’m not totally against carrying out something with me to the deck and patio—especially if it’ll make my music sound amazing. For a higher fidelity experience, Curtin recommends the Sonos 150 Bundle system ($999). It comes with a transmitter (ZP90) and receiver unit (Sonos ZP120) that plugs into a power outlet in the outdoor listening area. Wireless speakers attach to it, and a super-cool wireless controller puts your entire music collection in the palm of your hand. You just scroll through your library like you would on an iPod. A built-in screen displays the cover art and song titles. The transmission distance from your indoor audio gear to the Sonos receiver is less than the other setups—100 feet, but the nifty controller makes up for it.
Features to Look for in Wireless Outdoor Speakers
- Range: over 200 feet is preferable
- Rechargeable batteries
- Multiple frequencies: in case there’s interference on one channel, you can switch to another
- Automatic level control: prevents dramatic volume changes and keeps peace with the neighbors
- Stereo settings: the ability to select the speaker as mono or right and left channel for a stereo application
- Tuning indicator light: that tells you you’re locked in
- Volume control: obvious, but some speakers don’t come with it
- Off button: you can turn the music off without having to go inside
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Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.