If you’ve come here to read this, then chances are you’re in the market for making an investment – a sizable one perhaps – 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 2019?
- 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) Picks For The Best
- The Best Overall Outdoor Speakers: The Definitive Technology 6500 (or the smaller 5500)
- 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 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 2019?
Honestly? Not much actually. The uniquely good thing about the audio electronics market is that (good) products have distinct longevity – 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.
And while product variety and turnover has increased somewhat significantly in the conventional home audio market in the last decade or so, this happens much less so with outdoor/all-weather speakers. Just about all of the good and popular outdoor speakers are at least a few or even several years old.
So – insofar as this article is concerned? Other than a few minor changes in preference and opinion, our recommendations remain largely unchanged from 2018. It’s possible that a new product that’s mention-worthy has yet to be released for the 2019 spring/summer season – and we keep our eyes peeled and perpetually update our best of articles – but we’d say odds are that won’t happen.
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.
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/consistent is the volume at varying frequencies. A theoretically perfect response curve is flat (no variance) and plays all pitches at the same volume. In reality, 3 or less dB is generally the standard of quality.
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.
…BUT, Baseline Specs Aren’t Everything
Specs give you a basic idea of overall quality as well as a reasonably objective way to compare products, and generally you get what you pay for.
A speaker that has better specs 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.
Companies also fudge their numbers sometimes. 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.
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 of course there’s also cabinet/driver materials and design. Hypothetical speaker A or B might sound better than the other depending on the surroundings.
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 its price, but it’s possible the best deal today won’t be the best deal tomorrow. We’ve honestly seen speaker prices fluctuate by as much as 50-100% in the short term.
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.
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? Something that’s simple and easy to set up? There’s no unilaterally right/wrong choice, and there are a wide range of products that cater to all such preferences.
The Best Overall Outdoor Speakers: The Definitive Technology 6500 (or the smaller 5500)
If we had to recommend one pair of outdoor speakers overall, it’d be these. The main reason why is that they have the best response range that we’ve seen on outdoor speakers. Outdoor speakers that can reproduce adequate bass on their own are particularly desirable because, while it’s relatively easy to add a subwoofer to conventional indoor bookshelf speakers, it’s trickier to do so with outdoor speakers or sometimes not even feasible to begin with.
Beyond that, the DTs have great specs and a great build all for a solid price that’s been significantly discounted from the MSRP since they’re actually now over ten years old. And that’s actually a common advantage of older speakers – they remain just as good yet get an inevitable “age” discount due to the overall churn and burn nature of the electronics market. There’s a reason DT still makes these speakers as they are and they remain top sellers. Do note that these are typically sold as singles, so you’ll have to get two for a complete pair.
The Best Outdoor Speakers With Maximum Power and Loudness: The Klipsch AW-650
This was one thing that we changed our mind on in the 2019 update of this article – The 650s used to be our favorite overall outdoor speakers, but we subsequently decided the DTs above are actually slightly better overall. The main reason why is that, while the 650s have more power handling, the response floor is high enough that a two-way outdoor speaker might have perceptible drop off in the bass. As we said, this is generally not an issue with conventional speakers since you can just easily add on a subwoofer (most indoor subwoofers are self powered and merely need to be plugged in), but this isn’t so much the case with outdoor subwoofers. Some do exist, but they’re generally expensive and passive, meaning you’ll need a beefier receiver to additionally power it. Plus you’ll need to wire and position it, which is more difficult to do outdoors. Klipsch also used to offer a lifetime warranty on its outdoor speakers, which was absolutely amazing, but they’ve since downgraded it to 5 years (the same as DT’s warranty).
That said, Klipsch is usually the emphatic winner when it comes to maximum power for your dollar. The 650s still have 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 you need speakers to get big and loud, and don’t mind a potential drop off in bass, the 650s might be the best choice. But a lot of people simply don’t need this much power, or they might not like the forward kind of sound that Klipsch speakers generally have. Again, there’s no unilaterally right/wrong choice. Do note that these are also typically sold as singles, so you’ll have to get two for a complete pair.
The Best Environmental Rock Outdoor Speakers: The Klipsch AW-650-SM
There are several so called environmental speakers that look like rocks or other such inanimate outdoor objects, if you’re into that concept. Also more practically relevant is that rock speakers can rest on the ground and you don’t have to worry about mounting them (but they are a little more laborious to wire).
Most of the rock speakers we’ve reviewed (so far) aren’t that great, with the exception of Klipsch’s 650-SM – it’s still the most powerful non commercial grade speaker available of the on-ground “environmental/aesthetic” variety, and also a great value power/dollar ratio like their 650 outdoor box speaker discussed just prior.
The Best Cheap Omnidirectional On-Ground Outdoor Speakers: The TIC GS3
These remain 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 exclusively produce outdoor/all-weather audio gear, which is a pretty specific niche. These are a good less expensive alternative to a set of the Klipsch 650-SMs.
The Best Cheap/Budget Outdoor Speakers: The Yamaha NS-AW150
For the penny pinchers, the 150s have remained the best deal for years – they’re a good set that you can typically aquire for under three figures, not to mention they come with speaker wire which is actually not common (but 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)
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
It’s great to see a very solid active/powered outdoor option for those who either can’t or simply don’t want to deal with the set up for passive speakers, which entails running outdoor grade speaker wire through the appropriate conduits, often through a wall or underground, ultimately to a receiver, which is yet another additional required expense with passive speakers. These OSD speakers, in quite contrast, simply need to be plugged into a standard wall socket with the included AC adapter and they’re ready to go. The savings and convenience is definitely an appealing option for those who want to keep things easy and simple. These speakers are also Bluetooth compatible, so you can easily stream directly to them with a phone, tablet, laptop indoors, or any other such source device. Most receivers can now do that too though, mind you.
A product worth honorable mention here is the very similar Sound Appeal BT Blast 6 – the best pick between 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. And as we said, there’s a non insignificant chance that something might still come about for the 2019 season that changes this article. 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).
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.