If you’ve come here to read this, then chances are you’re in the market for making an investment – likely a sizable one at that – into a great outdoor sound system.
The problem? Most people aren’t audiophiles – there are a lot of apparent choices for outdoor speakers, some of which have seemingly glammed up sales pages, but how do you know which ones are the best?
More importantly: which ones are the best for you?
And yes, that is indeed an important distinction. Sure, there are a number of outdoor speakers that are *generally* superior purely based on specs (the important ones that matter), but, that doesn’t mean any given speaker is going to sound best in your backyard, deck, patio, or whatever.
This article is going to help you figure that out – not just what the objectively best outdoor speakers are on the market, but what’s going to be the best set of outdoor speakers for you.
Lets’s get started – below is a clickable table of contents that outlines everything we’re going to cover. Feel free to jump to the pertinent section if you wish.
Table of Contents Navigation
- A Basic overview Of The Specs That (Actually) Matter
- …BUT, Baseline Specs Aren’t Everything
- Try to Actually Listen to Them
- The Truth About Prices: They Fluctuate, and by Quite A Lot in Cases
- Our (Current) Favorite Brands of Outdoor Speaker Manufacturer
- What’s the Deal With 70 Volt Outdoor Speakers – Do You Need Them?
- Our (Current) Favorite Wired/Permanent Outdoor Speakers
- Additional Resources and Links
A Basic overview Of The Specs That (Actually) Matter
Here’s a rundown of what’s generally important:
Nominal/Peak operating power – Expressed in watts (W). How much power a speaker safely receive, which dictates how loud they can get, which of course dictates how well they’ll sound in a given enclosure. A very rough rule of thumb is that a total of 100W of nominal/continuous power (e.g. a pair 50W+ speakers) can adequately fill any “normally” sized backyard.
Sensitivity – Expressed in decibels per watt per meter (dB/W/m). How efficiently a speaker converts power into sound. Sensitivity and power handling are complementary – a higher sensitivity means a speaker can play louder with less power, and thus might fill a room equally well with less needed power.
Frequency Response Range – Expressed in hertz (Hz, or kHz). How well a speaker can produce the range of low to high pitches. A low floor is particularly important for outdoor speakers since bass in particular doesn’t carry as well outdoors. A very rough rule of thumb is to go for a range equal or greater to 60Hz – 20kHz.
Frequency Response Variance – Expressed in Decibels (+/- dB). Basically, how accurate is the volume at varying frequencies. 3 or less is generally standard.
Impedance – Expressed in Ohms. How much resistance a speaker has to it’s given electrical current. Most mainstream units are either 6 or 8 ohms, and thus pair with *most* receivers/amplifiers. Anything less than this is often considered a specialty product that likely requires a higher powered amp, but deviation from 6-8 ohms is not common amongst flagship outdoor speaker products.
And that’s pretty much it, basically at least. The main goal for getting the most value for your dollar is to get a high operating power (ideally with a higher end sensitivity) paired with a wide enough frequency response range.
…BUT, Baseline Specs Aren’t Everything
As you can imagine, specs give you a basic idea of the caliber of product you’re dealing with, and in general you get what you pay for.
That said… and this is important:
A speaker that’s more powerful on paper might not necessarily sound better. Why?
Well, firstly, the specs themselves are somewhat limited information. For example, while a frequency response range can tell you which pitches a speaker can technically reproduce, it doesn’t tell you how uniform they will be. If you imagine the frequency response as an X-Y graph, you’d want to see a relatively flat and smooth distribution – this tells you the speaker’s reproduction is balanced and accurate. A stated frequency response range alone can’t tell you whether that’s true or not. Also consider that companies might fudge their numbers. For example, if a company specifies peak power handling but not continuous power handling, or if the stated continuous power handling is an abnormally large percentage of the peak power handling (we’d put that at greater than 50%), that’s somewhat suspect as well.
Secondarily, you also need to consider whether or not you even need a certain level of power. If you’re simply looking for ambient music for your small patio, say less than 10 feet across, a simple wireless speaker might honestly be plenty loud enough, and a higher-end speaker might merely sound washed out and/or be way too loud. The best (or sufficient, perhaps) power rating depends on how far away it will be from the hypothetical listener. Here is a link to a good calculator to see if a given set of speakers will be sufficiently (or too) loud – a max target of ~90dB is good to shoot for. Anything more than that will likely start to sound unpleasantly loud, or may even be enough to cause long-term hearing damage over time.
And finally, sound quality is always subjective. If you read test-based reviews you’ll notice that authors use vague descriptors such as “thin,” or “muffled,” or “punchy,” etc. etc. Which now leads us to an important follow up…
Try to Actually Listen to Them
The only way to truly compare the best outdoor speakers is to actually listen to them yourself.
But we do realize that this isn’t exactly easy to do. You’d need to theoretically venture to an establishment that actually carries (and has set up) the products you’re interested in. Additionally, there’s the discrepancy of how well speaker sounds in an enclosed indoor showroom as opposed to where it’s actually going to end up in your open-air yard/patio/wherever.
There’s no easy solution here. You could find an pay someone to do all of this for you (and perhaps do the wiring/set up), but that’s going to cost money – money you could otherwise invest into the system itself or perhaps keep for your next mortgage payment.
Alternatively, it might be prudent to just take an educated guess, reconciled with what’s the best deal currently (we’ll discuss pricing in a moment), and take advantage of a hopefully forgiving return policy if you need to. But even if you can seamlessly return/exchange products, that still a laborious drag at best.
There are other things to consider as well besides power and quality:
- Is the product sufficiently graded to resist your climate? There’s indeed a difference between, say, a temperate and dry area vs a beachfront area with routine rain, salt water humidity, etc.
- How’s the warranty? Klipsch, for example, has lifetime warranties on their outdoor speakers, whereas other cheaper products have no apparent warranty.
- Do you care how they look?
- How much work are you willing to put into a set up?
- How much will the extraneous requirements, such as speaker wire, cost?
- Do you have a place to mount them, or, do you need to go with an “on the floor” unit?
The Truth About Prices: They Fluctuate, and by Quite A Lot in Cases
The ultimate value of a speaker system will always depend on it’s price, but it’s possible the best deal today won’t be the best deal tomorrow. Thus, our general recommendation for picking the “best” outdoor speaker set/system for you:
- Go with a reputable brand, ideally one that has a generous warranty and return policy.
- In general, you’re looking for speakers with a higher nominal power and sensitivity rating, and a sufficiently wide frequency response range.
- Don’t overpay for power that you don’t actually need.
- Think about how much work you’re honestly willing to do with set up.
- Customer reviews can help, but take them with a grain of salt, and focus on those who give detailed critiques
- The best choice will, in all honestly, often depend on whatever the best deal is at the time
For more information on the wide range of what’s available, check out our comparison table here, which also links to full reviews of specific products.
Also… we’ve got a customized Amazon search link that show you how to filter by current % discount – this is a nifty trick to snag the currently best available deal. Skip ahead to the Additional Resources and Links section if you’d like to use it.
Our (Current) Favorite Brands of Outdoor Speaker Manufacturer
Having reviewed and compared just about every flagship outdoor speaker currently on the market, we definitely notice that certain brands are at the head of the curve:
Klipsch – Why? High power/sensitivity for the price, and a lifetime warranty. Klipsch speakers tend to be a little pricier though, we do admit.
Definitive Technology – Why? Similarly high power/sensitivity for the price, a 5 year warranty, and a particularly good bass with a low frequency response range floor.
Yamaha – Why? They make a lot of great lower-priced units for those who are on a budget.
Dayton Audio – Why? Same reason we like Yamaha – they make great lower-priced units that particularly excel in bass production, which is commonly lacking in budget-tier speakers.
What’s the Deal With 70 Volt Outdoor Speakers – Do You Need Them?
The short answer is that if you have to ask, then you probably don’t.
The norm for a “residential” outdoor speaker is a single connection terminal with 6-8 ohms of impedance, which can pair with most decent receivers. A 70 Volt speaker, alternatively, has multiple terminals, or “taps,” that allow you to adjust the impedance and thus the amount of power a speaker can get. This is primarily applicable to commercial/professional grade set ups where a single amp must power many different speakers, some of which are perhaps connected over very long runs of wire (think giant warehouse expos, concert halls, etc.). 70 Volt speakers generally need an external transformer if one isn’t built into it.
If you’re merely creating a boilerplate set up, say a pair or two of speakers with ~50 ft wire runs to the receiver, then you absolutely don’t need to pay a premium for 70 Volt speakers with components that will never need to be used.
(As of this writing we’ve only actually seen two non-commercial 70 Volt outdoor speakers with a built in transformer anyhow)
Our (Current) Favorite Wired/Permanent Outdoor Speakers
Listed below, and in no particular order (because, remember, the best product for you will depend).
A concluding note: Content on makeitsoundgreat.com is very much evergreen – we periodically update our reviews, comparisons, articles, and guides as newer/better products become available. Feel free to check back here any time in the future to see our then current favorite products.
Additional Resources and Links
For a list of the current best selling outdoor speakers on Amazon, click here (includes wireless).
Remember how we said prices fluctuate, and that the best product will likely depend on what’s going for the best price at the time? Well, check out this link to see which outdoor speaker products are currently being discounted by 25% or more. If you find something there that you’ve got your eye on or that we’ve highly recommended, then now’s as good a time as any to pull the trigger and get it.
For an updated full comparison table with specs of every wired outdoor speaker product we’ve reviewed on this site, click here.
Most speakers need separately sold speaker wire. Read this guide on how to pick the correct speaker wire for all-weather/outdoor speakers.