Outdoor speakers system planning guide
What you need to know before you buy
Crutchfield A/V system designer Tony loves to talk about outdoor speaker systems.
“They let our customers show off their gear to the whole neighborhood,” Tony said. “We make barbecues rock.”
For the past 13 summers, Tony has helped Crutchfield customers with outdoor speaker systems in yards large and small. The key to success for each one? Having a solid plan.
SETUP 1: Small deck or patio
Stereo outdoor speakers give you good sound in a small area right outside the house. Figure out where you'll put them before you buy.
For the best stereo effect, Tony recommends mounting left and right speakers about 10 feet apart. Don’t try to cover a bigger space by moving them further apart.
“Depending on where you’re standing, you may only hear one ‘side’ of the song,” Tony said.
The dining table is in the sweet spot for stereo sound, about 12 feet from each speaker.
Have a covered porch?
Our Advisors often recommend in-ceiling speakers for covered outdoor spaces. Some are moisture resistant. They're made with bathrooms and saunas in mind, so they can handle the humidity.
Under the eaves, a popular mounting location
Many outdoor speakers are weather-resistant rather than weatherproof, so they’ll need some cover. Are your eaves close to the ground (or the deck)? Mount speakers underneath, to protect them from rain.
Just don’t mount them much higher than 10 feet above the listening area.
Mounting speakers under the eaves also helps hide them for a discreet look.
Music sources and wiring for simple stereo setups
You'll need a receiver or amp to power your speakers and connect music sources. Already have a home theater receiver with "Zone 2" or “ Zone B” speaker outputs? That may be all your need.
"But that may not be the best option," warned Tony. "How far is the receiver from your outdoor speaker locations? What route will the speaker wires take? And how will you control the receiver from your outdoor location?"
It might be much easier to install and operate a separate music source that can be placed much closer to your deck or patio. Consider adding a second receiver or a wireless music player that has a built-in amp, such as the Sonos CONNECT:AMP.
Tony recommends placing a Sonos CONNECT:AMP inside and close to your speakers, where it's easier to run wire.
Many home theater receivers can connect to your home network. Most of these let you wirelessly control key functions via a smartphone app. You won’t have to run inside to adjust volume or change playlists. Does your Wi-Fi® reach out into your yard? If not, a new Wi-Fi router or extender can boost your wireless coverage.
How much power do outdoor speakers need?
Inside your home, there are walls to reflect and contain sound. Outside, of course, it’s wide open.
“To get the same perceived volume outside as you do indoors, you need to double the power,” Tony said.
Want to play your outdoor music quite loud? A powerful receiver or amp would be a better choice than a Sonos CONNECT:AMP. If you’re a Sonos fan, hook a CONNECT (which has no amp) to your receiver.
SETUP 2: Music for a large yard
To enjoy music across a larger yard, you'll need to cover different areas or "zones" with sound. "Think of each zone in your yard as you would a room in your house," said Tony.
You need the right amount of speakers for each zone, so that it's never too loud or too soft in one area. Our A/V Design team can help with this — just send us your contact info and we'll be in touch.
Our in-house A/V designers can develop a plan that covers different "zones" with music.
Stereo setups don’t work well in large yards, either. You’ll want speakers that play both left and right channels. There are two ways to approach this. You can get stereo-input speakers that have left and right connections. Or you can get amps that combine left and right channels, sending mono signals to standard speakers.
Rock speakers blend into your landscaping. "They are a major hit with the fire pit crowd," Tony said.
Read our Outdoor speaker buying guide for more.
What about wiring?
You can buy in-wall speaker wire with two conductors or four. Use four-conductor cable with stereo-input speakers. These cables contain wires for both left- and right-channel inputs. Use 16 gauge cable for runs of 80 feet or less. Use 14-gauge cable for runs of up to 200 feet.
Our in-wall speaker cables can be buried, but it’s probably best practice to run buried cable through a hard plastic conduit, so you don’t cut it with a shovel. This also keeps the wire protected from rodents.
A PVC conduit gives you extra protection from lawn mowers, gardening tools, and critters.
Multi-channel amps deliver a lot of power, and they give you separate volume control for each area. You might want your music loud by the pool and softer near the grill. Or vice-versa.
A 70-volt commercial-grade amp can drive many more speakers than a comparably priced residential-grade amp. It’s easy to add speakers later on. And you’ll need much less wire.
Cost savings can be substantial with 70-volt systems, but system planning is more complicated. You’ll definitely want to contact an Advisor if you’re curious about this approach.
Volume control options
Sonos and other wireless audio systems let you control volume from your phone. But what if you’re on a call or your wireless network drops out? Separate, weatherproof volume controls come in handy, especially in pool areas near water, where you might not want your phone.
Separate volume controls let you turn your music up or down while you're outside — even while your phone is in use.
SETUP 3: Music for special events
Backyard BBQ bash or block party
Throw a lot of big parties? Need a sound system for an amateur band or DJ? Portable PA systems include mixers to plug in instruments, turntables, and microphones. Many have built-in Bluetooth or aux inputs so you can connect your phone for DJ duty.
We added a mic for a karaoke jam at our Crutchfield company picnic.
Need help getting started? Contact us
Sound like a lot to take in? "When you have someone to guide you, and break it down into specific projects, it's not so bad," Tony said.
Email one of our advisors for help, or call them at 1-800-555-7088. It’s like Tony told me, “We love figuring out this stuff. It’s fun!”