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
- How We Evaluate and Compare The Options
- What’s New With Outdoor Speakers in 2018?
- A Basic overview Of The Specs That (Actually) Matter
- …BUT, Baseline Specs Aren’t Everything
- Try to Actually Listen to Them If You Can
- 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) Picks For The Best
- The Best Outdoor Speakers With Maximum Power and Loudness: The Klipsch AW-650
- The Best Environmental Rock Outdoor Speakers: The Klipsch AW-650-SM
- The Best Cheap Omnidirectional On-Ground Outdoor Speakers: The TIC GS3
- The Best Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass: The Definitive Technology 6500 (or the smaller 5500)
- The Best Cheap/Budget Outdoor Speakers: The Yamaha NS-AW150
- The Best Cheap Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass: The Dayton IO655 (or the smaller 525)
- The Best Active/Powered Outdoor Speakers: The OSD Audio BTP650
- Additional Resources and Links
How We Evaluate and Compare The Options
We’re scrutinized and reviewed just about every popular and viable product on the market, thumbing through user manuals to find out product specs that (actually) matter – more on that in a moment.
You can see our full powered outdoor speaker product comparison table here, which also contains links to individual reviews.
What’s New With Outdoor Speakers in 2018?
Honestly? Not much. While a 10 year old computer or cell phone will be utterly obsolete, the fundamental technology and design of speakers hasn’t really changed in decades. There are plenty of companies who still sell 10+ year old speakers – many of which we strongly recommend – as their flagship products. That’s good for you in that if you invest in a good speaker set now, and you take adequate care of it, it will last for a plenty long time.
Insofar as this article is concerned? Our recommendations remain unchanged from 2017, but we did add two additional recommendations for those who are interested in omnidirectional on-ground units or active speakers (setup requirements for passive speakers might not be feasible for some people). There are a few new one off products out there, but nothing worth mentioning as of now. The choices below remain the best in our opinion. But that might change of course – we’re perpetually on the look out for newer/better products and update our articles accordingly. As we say all the time, the best choice often comes down to the best deal that’s currently available (read more here: how to find a good deal).
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 If You Can
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 not only carries a full selection of specialty outdoor speakers, but has them actually set up for listening. Such places are going to be far and few in between. Even less likely that they’ll offer the best price.
An additional concern that’s pertinent is an unavoidable 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.
Not to mention that even if the “brick and mortar” route is feasible, it’s going to take time and driving.
You could try to find and 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 currently the best deal (we’ll discuss pricing in a moment), and take advantage of a return or exchange policy if you need to. One of the reasons we like Amazon is that they (and their subsidiaries) generally have a good return/exchange policy. One thing worth mentioning here: Just be sure to check the actual policies of the vendor you decide – for example, even if you buy something on Amazon, it might actually be fulfilled by a 3rd party that has their own return/exchange policy.
Though sounds is ultimately important, there are other important things to consider as well:
- 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 necessary ancillaries, 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 which give detailed and specific 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 on the more expensive side, but often come at the best value, if that makes sense.
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) Picks For The Best
And now, without further ado, listed below are what we think the best overall outdoor speakers are. Not ranked in any particular order or by any particular metric, but rather based on what “category” consumers are typically interested in. What is it that you want specifically? Maximum power? The best value? Something that’s inexpensive? Or something that’s simple and easy to set up? There’s no wrong answer here obviously, and there are a wide range of products that cater to all such preferences.
The Best Outdoor Speakers With Maximum Power and Loudness: The Klipsch AW-650
Why we like them: The most power we’ve seen in a set of non commercial outdoor speakers, and at a good price for that matter – you’re going to get maximum value for your dollar (which doesn’t mean least expensive, understand). If your priority is a permanent fixture with high fidelity, these are a great choice. Not to mention Klipsch’s lifetime warranty.
The Best Environmental Rock Outdoor Speakers: The Klipsch AW-650-SM
Why we like them: The same reason we like the 650s – definitely the most powerful non commercial speakers available in the on-ground “environmental/aesthetic” variety, and also a great value power/dollar ratio like the 650s above. And the same lifetime warranty too, of course. Do note these are typically sold as singles, so you’ll need to get two of them for a pair.
The Best Cheap Omnidirectional On-Ground Outdoor Speakers: The TIC GS3
Why we like them: These are the best budget-tier 360 degree speakers that we’ve seen. Similar power metrics to the seemingly more popular Bose Freespace 51s, but a fraction of the price. TIC is an interesting company because they specifically focus on the outdoor/all-weather audio gear niche. These are a good less expensive alternative to a set of the Klipsch rock speakers.
The Best Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass: The Definitive Technology 6500 (or the smaller 5500)
Why we like them: The lowest frequency response floor that we’ve seen on outdoor speakers, which in addition to overall power is the most important spec for strong bass. If that’s you’re focus, the DTs are a great choice, and they’re a perfectly decent alternative to the 650s above. You can’t really go wrong with either. To be honest the best choice might honestly depend on what’s currently going for the best deal. Speaking of which, because these DTs are older, we’ve seen them get heavily discounted. Also note again that these are typically sold as singles, so you’ll have to get two for a set.
The Best Cheap/Budget Outdoor Speakers: The Yamaha NS-AW150
Why we like them: For the penny pinchers, the 150s have remained the best deal for years – they’re a good set that you can get for under three figures, not to mention they come with speaker wire which is a rarity (do note that it might not be the right speaker wire for you, which can depend on your situation).
The Best Cheap Outdoor Speakers With Strong Bass: The Dayton IO655 (or the smaller 525)
Why we like them: A similar budget alternative for the bass lovers, with specs close to on par with the DT 6500s/5500s mentioned above. Not quite as great a deal as the Yamahas, but, still a good one nonetheless that’s hard to go wrong with. If your priority is strong bass and you’re on a budget, these are a great choice.
The Best Active/Powered Outdoor Speakers: The OSD Audio BTP650
Why we like them: It’s great to see a very solid option available for those who either want active/powered speakers, or those who can’t manage the set up for passive speakers. These speakers simply need to be plugged into a standard wall socket and they’re ready to go, no receiver or speaker wire required. The savings and convenience is definitely an appealing option for those who want to keep things easy and simple. Worth honorable mention are the very similar Sound Appeal BT Blast 6s – the best pick among the two might simply be whichever’s the best deal at the time.
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.
Most speakers also need a receiver or amplifier to power them – not sure what to get? Check out our current picks for best receivers/amplifiers for outdoor speakers here.