Picking The Best Receiver or Amplifier For Outdoor Speakers

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Quick bottom line: we think the Yamaha R-S202 is the best choice for most people – it has all the desired features, it’s simple and easy to use, and it’s remained the best deal for a few years now.

An amplifier or receiver is an essential component of most outdoor sound system setups. Not sure if you need one? Or what specifically to get? This article will cover what you need to know, and we’ll make some product recommendations too.

First: What Is A Receiver or Amplifier?

Most speakers, outdoor or otherwise, are called “passive,” meaning they don’t actually generate the power that’s needed to drive the components that create the sound. The basic function of an amplifier is to provide that power, and is called such because the power from a standard wall socket will generally need to be increased to sufficiently power the speakers it ultimately connects to. A receiver is simply a more feature rich piece of equipment that includes an amplifier and serves as a general user interface – such additional features might be a radio tuner, a CD/DVD Input, volume control, or Bluetooth to directly pair to a phone or computer as a source component (what actually tells the system what music to play). Receivers are usually what’s used, but plain amplifiers can certainly be as well.

Do You Need A Receiver For Your Outdoor Speakers?

You will if you opt for passive speakers, which most decent and higher end outdoor speakers are. There are, however, two decent active options: The OSD Audio BTP (reviewed here), or the Sound Appeal BT Blasts (reviewed here). Active speakers have amplifiers built in and can be plugged directly into a standard wall socket, so you don’t need to worry about a receiver or running speaker wire to outdoor speakers, which is a bit more involved than with regular indoor speakers. Both those speakers are also Bluetooth compatible so you can easily control the sound with any phone or other compatible device.

How Much Extra Will An Amp/Receiver Cost?

Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be exorbitant – There are plenty of viable choices that will keep your overall price tag in the low to mid three figures, but you might need to spend more depending on what you want it to do. You could have your receiver power both an indoor and outdoor speaker system for example.

Does a Receiver for Outdoor Speakers Need to be Weatherproof Too?

No it doesn’t, nor does it make sense for it to be – we haven’t really even seen any such kind of product on the market anyhow. There are two reasons for this generally: One, a receiver can simply have wireless capabilities so you can control it outdoors all the same; and two, often times a receiver will power, say, an indoor home theater in addition to outdoor speakers.

The important thing is that the wiring from an indoor receiver to outdoor speakers is set up properly, which will indeed require the correct wire that’s graded for outdoor runs, through-wall runs, or underground runs perhaps. See our full guide on outdoor speaker wire here for more information.

Alright, with that introductory information, now lets get down to brass tacks and talk about picking a product that will fulfill your set up.

First Consideration: How Many Speakers Will There Be?

Most people will opt for a simple 2.0 set up with a pair of speakers on either side of the deck, and pretty much any standard two channel receiver or amplifier will suffice. If you want to add more speakers or at least have the option to, you’ll simply need more channels. Most receivers have 2, 5, or 7 speaker channels with 1 or 2 subwoofer channels.

If you want to add an outdoor subwoofer, keep in mind that most outdoor subwoofers are passive while most home theater subwoofers are active/powered. Meaning, most receivers with a sub-out connection are not amplified and thus not directly compatible with a passive outdoor subwoofer. You’d need an additional separate amplifier between the receiver and outdoor subwoofer.

Second Consideration: You Need Enough Power

Power handling is perhaps the most important metric of quality for a set of all-weather loudspeakers, especially in an outdoor setting where sound doesn’t carry nearly as well. Complementary to that, of course, will be that the receiver has to be able to supply said power to the speakers. In fact, too little power can damage a speaker just as too much power can.

You also want to consider that you might want to upgrade your speakers at some point, so it might be prudent to invest in a receiver that can sufficiently power future higher end speakers.

Watts per channel is what’s important here – you want each channel to be able to supply at least a little more than the RMS/nominal power handling (not peak) of each speaker. Less reputable companies might use the same deception with receivers as they sometimes do with speakers when they claim, say, 100 watts of power without clearly specifying that this actually means, say, 50 watts per channel.

Third Consideration: Features

What do you want your receiver to be able to do? We assume you want to be able to control the music outdoors, so wireless compatibility is essentially a requirement – an included remote at a bare minimum, or ideally Bluetooth compatibility so you can control it directly from your source.

Our Current Overall Favorite: The Yamaha R-S202

Full review | Get it on Amazon

Yamaha’s R-S202 has remained our top pick for years now – it’s one of if not the cheapest two channel receivers available and is exactly what most people will need. It has all the important features like wireless/Bluetooth and doesn’t have superfluous extras that can be confusing or expensive. It’s also simple to set up and easy to use. It doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer terminal, but most people won’t need or use one with outdoor speakers.

For Higher-End Set Ups: We Like The Sony STRDN1080

Most people only need to power a single pair of outdoor speakers, and that’s going to be plenty satisfactory. But, if you want to add more pairs or a subwoofer, you’re going to need a unit with more channels than Yamaha’s R-S202. Unfortunately higher end receivers can quickly get very expensive, but, the Sony STRDN1080 is a 7.2 full fledged a/v receiver that has remained competitively priced for years:

Full review | Get it on Amazon

We have noticed in the last two or so years though that other companies have started to put out comparable products at similarly competitive prices, which now leads us to…

A concluding note: the truth about pricing in the audio world

Receiver prices can fluctuate significantly, and truthfully as long as you have enough channels and WpC (100 is fine for just about any non-commercial speaker available) and whatever features you want, we’d honestly say go with whichever reputable brand has the best deal at the time. Amazon best-sellers list are updated hourly and one of the best ways to find current deals:

Current best selling receivers on Amazon

Reputable and competitively priced receiver brands:

  • Denon
  • Yamaha
  • Onkyo
  • Pioneer
  • Sony

Relevant Links and Resources

See our current picks for the overall best outdoor speakers

See our current picks for the overall best outdoor subwoofers

A guide on how to pick the correct wire for outdoor speakers