Outdoor audio is a niche that has grown massively in the last several years. We’ve seen a boon of new all-weather portable speakers and wireless earbuds that can hold a charge, of course, but we’ve seen a big rise in home outdoor audio too – traditional loudspeakers and subwoofers that have been weatherproofed and allow people to create amazing sound systems outdoors that can sound as good or maybe even better than a lot of conventional home theater or stereo systems.
With that, we’ve also seen a boon of ancillary products – amplifiers and receivers in particular – to help make these systems work. Not that long ago there wasn’t an easy way to power a permanent wired outdoor speaker system, but now there are all kinds of great products that are specifically designed to do just that.
Not sure if you need a receiver or amplifier to power your outdoor speakers? Or which one to get? This article will fully cover all of that.
When Do You Need Amplifier or Receiver for Outdoor Sound Systems?
If you have or plan on getting passive outdoor speakers that have speaker wire connections you will need an amplifier or receiver in order to make them work. If you have or plan to get active/powered speakers that can plug into a regular outlet, you will not need an additional amplifier or receiver because powered outdoor speakers are an all-in-one solution that can work straight out of the box.
Do You Need a Outdoor Amplifier or Stereo Receiver to Power Outdoor Speakers that’s Weatherproof?
People who are interested in setting up an outdoor sound system often wonder and ask if they need a special type of “outdoor” or “all-weather” amp or receiver – something that’s also weatherproofed and specifically designed to sit outside – to power outdoor speakers.
The answer to that is actually no. You can connect and power outdoor speakers with a regular amplifier or receiver just fine, and that is in fact how you’re generally supposed to set up outdoor speakers. There isn’t really such a thing as an “all-weather” outdoor speaker amplifier or outdoor receiver. Rather, you run special outdoor speaker wire from the speakers outside to inside, usually through a wall, to an amp or receiver that sits inside exactly as a regular home theater amp or receiver would.
In fact it is entirely possible to use a receiver that’s already powering a home theater system to additionally power a set of outdoor speakers, provided it has the right inputs to do so.
What to Look For in an Outdoor Amplifier or Receiver
Now that you understand if you do or don’t need an amplifier or a receiver for your outdoor speakers, lets talk about how to pick the right product for you, based on a number of key factors:
How Many Speakers Will There Be (Or That You Want to Have Room For)?
Most people will opt for a simple 2.0 set up with a speaker on either side of a 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 or 5 speaker channels with 1 or 2 subwoofer channels. 5 Channel amps with 1-2 subwoofer channels also exist.
You Need Enough Power
Power handling is arguably the most important metric of quality for outdoor speakers, particularly because sound doesn’t carry as well outdoors. And the amplifier or receiver has to be able to supply enough 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 an amp or receiver with extra power and/or channels.
Watts per channel is what’s important here – our rough 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 to really be on the safe side. Beware: sometimes companies obfuscate watts per channel with total power (the sum of all the channels which is not actually all that useful information) and make it seem like their receivers or amps can supply a lot more power per channel than they actually can.
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 over distance calculator for certainty.
We assume anyone will want to be able to control the music while hanging out outdoors, so wireless compatibility is essentially a required feature: Bluetooth ideally or an included remote at a bare minimum. Beyond that, receivers come with all kinds of bells and whistles nowadays, so be sure that whatever you get has the features that you want to have.
Do You Want to Add an Outdoor Subwoofer?
Pretty much all modern home theater subwoofers are powered, but outdoor subwoofers are generally passive. What this means is that a passive subwoofer is not directly compatible with the sub-out input that most receivers have.
If you want to connect a passive subwoofer (outdoor or otherwise) to a subwoofer pre-out on a receiver, you will need to connect an additional separate amplifier to the sub-out input, then connect that to the passive subwoofer. This process is fully explained with diagrams in our outdoor subwoofer guide.
For a while this was the only realistic way to add an outdoor subwoofer to a system, but, in recent years a few companies have released decent and inexpensive amplifiers with passive subwoofer terminals that you can directly connect a passive outdoor subwoofer to. Though these products aren’t really “outdoor” amplifiers per-say, they are in effect specifically designed for outdoor speaker set ups and are thus a great option for a lot of people. We will discuss some of these specific products in the recommendations section shortly.
The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
We always say the same thing in each of 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 table below is populated in real time with data from these best-sellers lists. You’ll usually see our picks among them.
Our Picks for the Best Amplifiers and Receivers for Outdoor Speakers
Now that we’ve fully covered what you need to know about choosing the right receiver or amplifier for outdoor speakers, we’ll get into some specific product recommendations:
The Best Amplifier For Outdoor Speakers with Bluetooth: Fosi Audio BT30D
Fosi Audio is a little company that’s recently come about, and they’ve made great products that target this specific niche where before there weren’t really any at all. Namely, in this case, a simple, compact, and inexpensive amplifier with passive subwoofer terminals – it’s essentially the perfect Spartan’s solution for setting up a fully passive 2.1 outdoor speaker system. If we had to pick a current overall favorite this would be it.
You’ve got Bluetooth, or a simple RCA input if you want to connect a wired source. The speaker terminals are all 5 way binding posts so you can use your wire connector of choice. On the front you’ve got a volume knob and some basic EQ controls if you want to balance the sound at all. The speaker terminals are 50 watts per channel and the subwoofer terminal is 100 watts, which is enough to power pretty much any of the popular outdoor speakers currently on the market. And you get all of it for less than $100.
If you like the idea of this product but think you’ll need more power (most won’t), Fosi also has a pro version (affiliate link) of this product that has significantly more watts per channel and is not that much more expensive.
Get the Fosi Audio BT30D Bluetooth 2.1 channel amplifier on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Best Ultra Budget Amp for Outdoor Speakers: Fosi Audio BT10A
If you really want to pinch pennies and don’t care about adding an outdoor subwoofer (and many people will be perfectly happy with just a single pair of outdoor speakers), then the Fosi BT10A is a solid alternative – it’s basically the same as the BT30A and about as cheap as amplifiers get, but you sacrifice the sub-out terminals.
Get the Fosi Audio BT10A Bluetooth 2 channel amplifier on Amazon (affiliate link)
The Best Bluetooth 2-Channel Stereo Receiver for Outdoor Speakers: Yamaha R-S202
The R-S202 has been on our list for years now, and it used to be our top choice before the FOSI amps came along. Yamaha also often sells this with it’s various outdoor speakers as a set. It’s one of the cheapest two channel receivers available, it has plenty of power for essentially any outdoor speakers you could use, and it has the typical receiver features that you won’t get with a smaller amp: a radio tuner, multiple RCA inputs and a cycling source selector, EQ presets (and adjustors), and an extra set of speaker terminals that gives you the option of switching between two pairs of speakers – maybe you’d like a pair of indoor and outdoor speakers that you can swap between, for example.
The R-S202 doesn’t have a subwoofer terminal and can only support one pair of speakers at a time, so while it’s ideal for people who want a simple and inexpensive receiver based solution for a single pair of speakers, you’ll have to choose something else if you want the option to add a subwoofer or more than two speakers. The only other slight downside is the speaker terminals are spring clips, which are kind of annoying to deal with.
Get the Yamaha R-S202 stereo receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
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 receiver pick as the R-S202 becomes increasingly unavailable. If you can manage to find this one for cheaper now it’s definitely a solid choice.
Get the Sony STRDH190 stereo receiver on Amazon (affiliate link)
We’ve already linked to each of these in relevant sections of this article, but here’s a list of them again incase you missed something you might want to look at:
• 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
• A guide on how to install outdoor speakers
Frequently Asked Questions
How many outdoor speakers can an amplifier handle?
The number of open channels an amp has is the same number of outdoor speakers it can support. For example, a 2 channel amp can support two outdoor speakers, or perhaps a 7.2 receiver with a 5.1 home theater system already connected to it could additionally support two outdoor speakers and one outdoor subwoofer.
Can you use an indoor amp or receiver for outdoor speakers?
Yes, and in fact there’s really no such thing as an “outdoor” amp or receiver that’s weatherproof. Amps and receivers are supposed to stay indoors. Other articles that claim “outdoor” receivers need to be weatherproof or have an IP code are incorrect because such products don’t exist.
How do you wire outdoor speakers to a receiver or amp inside?
You use special outdoor speaker wire from inside to the outdoor speakers outside, usually through a hole drilled into the wall. Outdoor speaker wire is usually graded for through-wall runs.
How do you connect a passive outdoor subwoofer to an amp or receiver?
If the amp or receiver has a passive subwoofer output, you connect it exactly like you would outdoor speakers with two speaker wires. If the amp or receiver only has a line level sub-out input, you would need to connect that to a separate amplifier then connect that to the passive outdoor subwoofer. How to do this is fully explained in our outdoor subwoofer guide.
Do Powered Outdoor Speakers Need an Amp or Receiver?
No, powered (or sometimes called active) speakers have amplifiers built into them and merely need to be plugged into a standard wall socket like any other appliance. They are an attractive option for people who can’t or don’t want to set up outdoor speaker wire.