Most outdoor speakers will need a separate receiver or amplifier to work. Not sure if you need one? Or what specifically to get? This article will cover everything you need to know, and we’ll make some product recommendations too.
Table of Contents Navigation
- First: What Is An Amplifier or Receiver?
- Do You Need A Receiver/Amplifier For Your Outdoor Speakers?
- How Much Extra Will An Amp/Receiver Cost?
- Does a Receiver for Outdoor Speakers Need to be Weatherproof Too?
- First Consideration: How Many Speakers Will There Be?
- Second Consideration: You Need Enough Power
- Third Consideration: Features
- The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
- Our Current Overall Favorite: The Yamaha R-S202
- Honorable Mention: The Sony STRDH190
- A Great Budget and Outdoor Subwoofer Compatible Option: The Fosi BT30A
- Relevant Links and Resources
First: What Is An Amplifier or Receiver?
Most decent outdoor speakers are called “passive,” which means they don’t actually generate the power they need to function on their own. The fundamental purpose of an amplifier is to provide that power – it takes the relatively weak signal from your source (phone, computer, etc.), and drastically increases its electrical power so that it’s strong enough to actually move the components of the speaker to produce sound waves.
A receiver is simply a more feature rich piece of equipment that has an amplifier built in – it might include a radio tuner, CD drive, volume and EQ controls, and a whole bunch of other potential stuff. A receiver is usually what’s used and may be required in sound/home-theater setups, but a plain amplifier can work just as well for powering speakers.
Do You Need A Receiver/Amplifier For Your Outdoor Speakers?
You will if opt for passive speakers, which as we said most decent outdoor speakers are. Passive speakers won’t have any electrical plugs, audio jacks, or power adapter cables that you’re probably used to seeing with most electronics. Rather, in most cases, they’ll have a simple pair of terminals that connect to speaker wire, like so:
Alternatively, the “active” or self-powered outdoor speaker market has come a long way in just the last few years. If you can’t or would rather not deal with wiring up speakers (quick aside: it’s not actually hard at all to do), there are a number of solid “plug in and go” options to choose from. Check out our best outdoor speakers article for more information. Wireless/portable outdoor speakers have improved significantly in the last several years too and some are quite good, so that’s also an alternative option.
How Much Extra Will An Amp/Receiver Cost?
Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be at all exorbitant – you can get a decent bare-bones amplifier that can do the job for less than $100. Decent budget receivers will generally start at around $150-$200. You might need to spend more depending on what you need or want to be able to do.
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. Most modern receivers and even many modern budget amplifiers come with Bluetooth so you can control music while outside with your device.
What is imperative is that the wiring from a receiver/amplifier indoors to outdoor speakers is set up properly, which will indeed require the correct type of wire that’s specifically graded for outdoor runs, through-wall runs, or underground runs perhaps. See our full guide on outdoor speaker wire here for more information.
Alright – now that you hopefully understand and know if you do or don’t need an amplifier/receiver, lets talk about how to pick the right product based on a number of key factors:
First Consideration: How Many Speakers Will There Be?
Most people will opt for a simple 2.0 set up with a speaker on either side of the deck, for example, 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. There are a number of recently released budget amplifiers that have passive subwoofer inputs and are thus a great option – read further on for specific recommendations.
Second Consideration: You Need Enough Power
Power handling is perhaps the most telling 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, is that the receiver/amplifier has to be able to supply said power to the speakers. Too little power will cause speakers to underperform and is in fact what most commonly damages speakers as opposed to too much power.
Also consider that you might want to upgrade or increase the number of your speakers at some point, so it might be prudent to invest in a receiver that can sufficiently power any future upgrades.
Watts per channel is what’s important here – our go-to power guideline is that 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.
Further reading: FAQ: How Many Watts Does My Amp Need To Power My Speakers?
Another thing to consider is if you’re planning on doing exceptionally long wire runs. This probably won’t be a significant factor for most people, but the power that ultimately reaches a speaker will have started to drop off by about 5% on a wire run greater than 200 feet. Here’s a good power calculator for certainty.
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.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We *always* say this in our roundup articles:
Product prices can fluctuate significantly in the audio market, and often times for no apparent reason.
Therefore, the “best” product choice often comes down to whatever the best available deal is at the time among the top/popular contenders. It’s definitely worthwhile to shop around. One tool that’s useful for doing this is Amazon best-sellers lists – they update hourly and these good deals often rise to the top. The tables below are populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
Our Current Overall Favorite: The Yamaha R-S202
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 it’s simple and easy to use since it doesn’t have superfluous extras that can be needlessly confusing or expensive. It doesn’t have a dedicated subwoofer terminal, which is normally a deal breaker, but most people won’t need or use one with outdoor speakers.
Honorable Mention: The Sony STRDH190
This is a newer model that’s basically the same as the R-S202, and will likely become the new top pick as the R-S202 becomes increasingly unavailable. If you can manage to find it for cheaper now it’s definitely a solid choice.
A Great Budget and Outdoor Subwoofer Compatible Option: The Fosi BT30A
If you don’t need the extraneous bells and whistles that a receiver offers, Fosi Audio has recently come out with a variety of great basic two channel amplifiers that, in addition to having on-board Bluetooth, offer an excellent feature for outdoor speaker setups: passive sub-out terminals that give the option of directly hooking up an outdoor subwoofer.