The sun’s finally coming out, you’ve unboxed your slick new outdoor speakers, and you’ve set them up… only to realize that you can’t use them because they don’t have a requisite but separately sold power source in order to function. That is a real bummer that many non-audiophiles have no doubt run into.
Indeed, many outdoor speakers require a separately sold component to actually work: namely an amplifier or a receiver. Not sure if you need either? Or what specifically to get? This article will cover everything you need to know, and we’ll make some product recommendations too.
Article Sections Navigation
- First: What Is an Amplifier or a Receiver?
- Do You Always Need An Amplifier or a Receiver To Use Outdoor Speakers?
- How Much Extra Will An Amp or Receiver Cost?
- Does an Amplifier or a Receiver for Outdoor Speakers Need to Be Weatherproof Too
- How Many Speakers Will There Be (Or That You Want to Have Room For)?
- Do You Want to Add an Outdoor Subwoofer?
- You Need Enough Power
- Wireless Compatibility
- The Important Truth About Buying Audio Equipment
- The Best Budget Bluetooth Amplifier For Outdoor Speakers: Fosi Audio BT30D
- The Ultra Budget Honorable Mention: Fosi Audio BT10A
- The Best Bluetooth Stereo Receiver for Outdoor Speakers: Yamaha R-S202
- Honorable Mention: The Sony STRDH190
- Relevant Articles
First: What Is an Amplifier or a Receiver?
Most decent and higher end speakers, outdoor or otherwise, are called “passive,” which means they don’t have any active electronics inside them and they don’t actually generate the necessary amount of power that they need to function.
The fundamental purpose of an amplifier is to provide that power – it takes the relatively weak (or wireless) 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 piece of equipment with an amplifier built into it along with additional components and features – it might include a radio tuner, CD drive, source and EQ controls, and a whole bunch of other potential stuff.
Receivers are what are most commonly used with sound systems or full on home theater systems, but a plain amplifier can work just fine for powering speakers, and in some cases is a simpler, smaller, and cheaper option that is more appealing.
Do You Always Need An Amplifier or a Receiver To Use Outdoor Speakers?
Not necessarily – the alternative to passive speakers are called “active” or “powered” speakers, which are fundamentally the same as passive speakers but they additionally have amplifiers built in to them.
Powered speakers can be an attractive option, especially for the average non-audiophile customer, because they just plug right into a standard wall socket in the familiar way that most other home electronics do. No need to worry about separate components or running speaker wire to connect things.
Up until pretty recently the selection of powered outdoor speakers with built-in amplifiers was sparse, and they were generally inferior and a significantly less overall value than their passive counterparts. But that has fortunately changed – in just the last few years a lot of powered outdoor speakers have been developed and released, and many of them are quite good.
Related: Our current picks for the best outdoor speakers
All that said, passive outdoor speakers are still going to give you the best value, maximum possible performance, upgrade potential, and positional flexibility. If you’re looking to set up a more permanent sound system that you can use for many years, we definitely recommend opting for passive speakers. It’s more work to initially set them up, and doing so might seem a bit scary to the uninitiated, but it’s actually not all that hard to do and well worth the effort.
Related: Our full outdoor speaker installation guide
How Much Extra Will An Amp or Receiver Cost?
A small two channel amplifier is often enough to power a pair of outdoor speakers, and you can easily get a decent one of those for less than $100.
If you want the additional features of a full fledged receiver, a basic two channel unit will start at around $200.
There are other factors that might require something that’s more expensive, for example: if you want to connect more than two speakers or a subwoofer, or your specific speakers need a lot of power, or the wire run to one or more of the speakers is longer. Ball park though, most people will need to spend somewhere between $75 to $300.
Does an Amplifier or a Receiver for Outdoor Speakers Need to Be Weatherproof Too
No, nor does it really make sense for it to be – there’s not really such a thing as a weatherproof outdoor amplifier or receiver that you can even buy.
Most modern receivers and even many modern basic amplifiers have Bluetooth, so while you’re hanging out outside you can easily control one with your phone or other such source while the amp/receiver is sitting inside.
Generally the proper way to connect an amp or receiver to outdoor speakers is to run the speaker wire through a drilled hole in the wall or some other conduit, and it is imperative that your speaker wire is properly graded for through-wall runs, outdoor runs, and/or underground runs, depending on the situation.
Related: How to pick the correct and best outdoor speaker wire
A quick PSA that’s relevant here and worth stating: running speaker wire through doors, windows, etc. is a bad idea – it’s a tripping hazard and it makes the wire vulnerable to getting crimped, severed, or otherwise damaged. Compromised speaker wire can irreparably damage loudspeakers, and replacing it is a hassle that can also get expensive.
Alright – now that you hopefully understand and know 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.
Do You Want to Add an Outdoor Subwoofer?
Pretty much all modern home theater subwoofers are powered, but outdoor subwoofers are generally passive (putting active electronics in outdoor products, especially those closer to the ground, is a lot trickier).
The reason this is mention worthy is that most subwoofer connections on amplifiers and receivers are pre-out, meaning they are unamplified and thus not compatible with most outdoor subwoofers. If you want to add a passive subwoofer (outdoor or otherwise) to a subwoofer pre-out, you will need an additional amplifier to send the correct signal through speaker wire to the subwoofer.
A few companies have recently released inexpensive amplifiers with passive subwoofer terminals, and this is probably the ideal solution for those who want to add an outdoor subwoofer.
Related: Our current picks for the best outdoor subwoofers
Here are two diagrams that visualize all this:
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.
Related: How many watts does an amp need to power a specific speaker?
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.
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.
Alright – 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 Budget Bluetooth Amplifier For Outdoor Speakers: 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 Ultra Budget Honorable Mention: 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 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)
Read our full product review here
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)
Read our full product review here
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