Having music in your garden needn’t involve resurrecting your old ‘boom box’ portable stereo and wishing that you’d taken shares in Duracell – there are a number of outdoor speaker solutions that will let you listen to music outdoors all year round.
The most basic approach is to mount weather-proof cabinet speakers on the exterior walls of your property. These are relatively inexpensive and straightforward to fit – cabling can often be run through the attic space and dropped down through the eaves of the property, or brought directly through the walls for termination directly to the speakers. This type of speaker comes in a white finish as standard, although they can often be spray-painted to match the colour of your property (always check the manufacturer specifications to avoid damaging your speakers). This is a great solution if you want music on the patio or have a small garden, but if you want music in more than one outside area, speakers fixed to the walls of your property may not be ideal.
If you are looking for something a little more discrete, you could look at disguised speakers. These come in various forms, looking like rocks, planters, outdoor lights or garden ornaments. By carefully choosing the location of this type of speaker, the installation can be almost invisible and you can create very effective coverage.
In order to be discrete, many ‘disguised’ speakers employ fairly small speaker drive units. Small speakers do not produce much in the way of bass energy and the resultant audio performance can be ‘disappointing’ to say the least. This shortfall in performance can be overcome by employing a separate subwoofer to handle bass reproduction. But aren’t subwoofers big boxes with large speakers I hear you say? This is true, but don’t panic – these can also be hidden from view. Outdoor subwoofers can come disguised as planters, or you can get units that are designed to be buried in the ground, with just a small ported outlet above ground level. A buried subwoofer can disappear completely once a few plants or flowers grow up around it. Bear in mind that, unlike the active subwoofer in your home theater, an outdoor subwoofer will be passive and will require a separate, external amplifier which is often supplied with the subwoofer.
There are a number of ‘novelty’ outdoor speaker products out there – to be assured of quality performance, try and stick with a reputable manufacturer (SpeakerCraft, or Definitive Technology for example).
There are some important considerations to bear in mind when installing outdoor speakers (beyond how loud you can play your outdoor music before the neighbours complain). Firstly, speakers require amplification to drive them and this amplification is going to require an electrical supply. Common sense should be telling you that the amplification cannot be located outdoors – it needs to be located either inside the main house, or within a weather-tight garden building that has an electricity supply. Try and locate the amplifier as close to the speakers as you can, to avoid unnecessarily long cable runs.
Once you have a suitable location for the amplification, you then need to get cable to the speakers. This also needs to be handled carefully – you don’t want to put a spade through the speaker cable or run over it with the lawnmower. If you are running cable outside, you should always use an armoured ‘direct burial’ speaker cable. Try to ensure that speaker cables are buried at least 6” deep to prevent damage from every day gardening activities and always use a dedicated waterproof connector wherever you need to make a connection in the speaker cable.
Where speaker cable needs to come outside, don’t run it through door frames or window openings – not only will this leave a lot to be desired aesthetically, it will also leave the cable prone to damage from pinching. Instead, bring cables through the walls of your property (as close as possible to the intended speaker location) and always remember to fill the hole that the cable comes through with a suitable sealant to prevent moisture ingress or insect invasion!
If you’d rather avoid the issue of cabling altogether you could look at a wireless outdoor speaker solution like the Soundcast Outcast. This battery-operated unit works in conjunction with a wireless iPod dock that lets you control the remotely-docked iPod using buttons on top of the speaker unit. Outcast has a 350ft wireless range and will run for up to 10 hours on a single charge. Alternatively, you can plug an audio device directly into the side of the Outcast and take the speaker anywhere – perfect for days on the beach, fishing trips or for boating! You can see some great videos demonstrating just how durable the Outcast is on uberHome’s YouTube channel (www.youtube.com/uberhome)
To get the best outdoor music experience with the minimum aesthetic impact on your outside space it is always best to get professional advice. Choose a reputable electronics system integrator who will be able to work hand-in-hand with your landscape designer. Employing this type of partnership will ensure that you get the very best results possible from both the audio performance and landscape design perspectives.