As you can see in the buying guide that follows, speakers for outdoor use come in many forms and sizes. The most basic and inexpensive are the widely available box-style weatherproof models, which are made to withstand the stresses and extremes of the outdoor environment. These speakers - which typically come in white or black, but can often be painted to match their environment - are usually mounted under the eaves of the house. "We use a good, basic outdoor speaker because you get a lot more sound for the money without all the fancy cosmetics," says Audio Advisors' Hoover. "We usually build them into soffits or eaves to make them less obtrusive. A number of good in-ceiling speakers are waterproof and can be adapted for outdoor use in these locations."
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There's also a number of "architectural" speakers that can project sound into outer yard areas like a pool or garden. You'll find speakers shaped like rocks and planters, speakers that hide in plants and shrubs, speakers that can be buried in the ground - Rockustics even makes speakers shaped like coconuts. Combine these with a custom installer's tricks of the trade, and the possibilities are endless.
"The solutions are as varied as the houses," explains Steve Hayes. "We've built speakers into potting structures. We've built outbuildings for speakers. We've buried them so they look like sprinkler heads in the lawn. We even built dormers on a roof and put speakers in them for a rock star who wanted to play outdoor music at a crazy volume."
If you're powering only a couple of speakers off your home receiver, wiring them shouldn't be an ordeal. The most you'll have to worry about is how to hide the wire in a crawl space or snake it through the wall. But once you get into more elaborate multispeaker setups, figuring out a connection scheme becomes more complicated. It's not surprising, then, that wiring an extensive outdoor audio system is typically the province of custom installers.
Regardless of whether or not you go pro, you'll need to use "direct-burial cable" sheathed in heavy-duty casing if you have to run any wire through the yard. Many installers take the extra precaution of running the cable through a PVC conduit. "A lot of people get into trouble when they don't use a conduit," says Michael Taylor, "because somebody can end up digging up cables when they're working in the garden. That happens a lot."
Also keep in mind that local building codes will dictate how and where you can place certain components outdoors. Experienced installers are usually aware of these regulations. "Each state has different building codes," notes Taylor, "but they're all pretty standard. For instance, you can't put a keypad where you can stand in a pool and have direct access to it." Jeff Hoover points out that building codes might prevent you from installing speakers close to a pool or hot tub, "even though it's not all that dangerous voltage-wise."
Go Outside and Play
Using a volume-control knob, IR repeater, or keypad is okay, but many more sophisticated options are available, especially when the outdoor audio zone feeds off a whole-house entertainment system. Some keypads have IR receiving eyes so you can also use a remote handset - you won't have to leave your chaise longue to change the volume, radio channel, or CD track. But the eyes have limited mounting options - and therefore control range - since the keypads have to be placed away from the elements, like under a covered patio.
Some high-end controllers, from companies like Crestron and AMX, have LCD screens that detach from wall-mounted docking stations so you can take command from anywhere in your yard. "Hit a code and it unlatches the handheld controller," Craig Abplanalp explains. "When you're done, all you have to do is pop it back into the docking station." Not surprisingly, these controllers can be expensive, starting at about $500 and going up to $5,000 - one reason why they're usually installed just inside the doorway rather than outside.
LCD controllers that use radio-frequency (RF) signals instead of IR can even be linked to surveillance cameras elsewhere in the house. RF controllers have a longer range and are more flexible than IR models since they don't have to rely on line of sight and the signal doesn't get washed out in bright sunlight. "Say you're in the backyard, and you hear the doorbell," says Abplanalp. "You just have to look at the LCD screen to see who's at the front door. It can get as wacky as you want."
Or as reasonable as you want, because regardless of your budget, lifestyle, yard size, or existing A/V system, you'll be able to find a way to get your music outside. All you need to do is supply the soundtrack - and the sunscreen.
Moving Pictures Outdoors
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