The Workbench Life: Baby Blogs
By Ron Marr for The Workbench Life
With a yearning for country living, I purchased a home amidst the emerald plains of the rural Midwest. I imagined lazy afternoons at the picnic table, ribs on the grill and happy dogs in the yard. What could be better, I thought, than enhancing the silence with a little B.B. King?
My plan failed to account for massive tractors, crop-dusting biplanes and the nonstop parade of trucks traversing the neighbor’s cornfield. So, hooking up my dream outdoor stereo system became a bit of a challenge, but by asking the right questions prior to purchasing I transformed my back yard into a concert hall — and you can too.
Designing for your space
Pick speakers that match your activities. If you rarely leave the porch, choose directional patio speakers that provide optimum sound quality. Big, open backyards are better suited for omnidirectional speakers. Some people opt for decorative speakers crafted to resemble boulders, trees or bushes. These speakers are aesthetically pleasing, but their clarity is often lacking.
Moreover, your dog doesn’t know that the musical tree is fake. To him, it’s a glorified fire hydrant. Trust me … nothing wrecks a speaker faster than an incontinent canine.
What sounds good inside — where sound waves are reflected off of walls and slow-moving relatives — can seem awful outside. Outdoor speakers require heavy bass response. The perfect unit produces frequencies between 20 and 20,000 hertz, and features a cone 6.5–8 inches in diameter.
Your home’s 30-watt indoor system would register as a mere whisper outside. The standard ratio of outdoor square feet to volume is as follows:
• 300 square feet = 60 watts
• 500 square = 100 watts
• 800 square feet = 175 watts
• 1,000 square feet or more = 250 watts
Keeping the neighbors happy
Cranking up your Aerosmith at 250 watts leads to poor community relations. The solution is two-fold. If your backyard is large, install multiple speakers in strategic positions. Audio experts recommend placing speakers 10 feet apart and less than 12 feet from the listener. Speakers sporting individual volume controls will likely keep curmudgeonly Mrs. Grundy from calling the cops.
Wired or Wi-Fi
All speakers need power. Wired speakers require an amplifier or receiver and long runs of buried, shielded cable. The upside of wired speakers is that their sound quality is typically much better than their wireless counterparts. The downside is that installation is permanent.
Wireless speakers are mobile, but they still need power in the form of batteries (which usually last but a few hours) or an outdoor electrical plug. They’re convenient, but come with a caveat: Wireless speakers incorporate a radio-frequency transmitter and receiver that often operate on the same wavelength as phones, wireless Internet or even garage door openers.
Consequently, your smooth jazz might be interrupted by the occasional hiss, scratch, or bits of a teenager’s embarrassing cell phone conversation.
Withstanding the elements
Some outdoor speakers are waterproof. Some are weatherproof. The former refers to thunderstorms and pool splashes from a well-executed cannonball. The latter involves extreme temperatures. Insist on both — purchase speakers that can withstand both a good soaking and climatic abuse.
Just keep in mind that no speaker can survive the destructive qualities inherent in kids, pets, fireworks or the occasional drive-by tornado.