A good thing about speakers, outdoor or otherwise, is that they have distinct longevity. The fundamental technology and design of speakers hasn’t really changed in decades. While a ten year old computer or cell phone will be completely obsolete, there are plenty of 10+ year old speakers that companies not only continue to sell, but are often still top competitors that we presently recommend. And while product turnover has and continues to increase somewhat in the mainstream home audio market, it happens much less so in the wired outdoor/all-weather niche. Many of the good and popular outdoor speakers are several years old.
Point being: If you pick a solid product that you like, and you take care of it, you can expect it last for a very long time. So, it is absolutely worth it to do due diligent research before choosing what to buy, and that’s what this article intends to help you do. We will cover everything you need to know about picking good outdoor speakers, then make some brand and product recommendations as well.
Is there one outdoor speaker that’s absolutely the best for everyone? Not really, just like there isn’t a single best car for everyone. The best outdoor speakers for you will depend on a lot of factors, including some subjective personal preference.
The market for outdoor audio has also drastically expanded since we originally published this article. There are a lot more choices now. This includes all sorts of chargeable and portable speakers that get plenty loud and sound quite decent for a reasonable price.
Specs or Factors That Make An Outdoor Speaker Good
A lot of audio sales pages are convoluted marketing and filled with “information” that doesn’t actually matter. However, there are a few important specs or design attributes that do, and sometimes you unfortunately have to thumb through dense user manuals to actually find them.
Here’s a rundown of what we think is primarily important:
Continuous and Peak Power Handling
This is how much power a speaker can safely receive, which dictates how loud it can get. Power handling is expressed in watts (W). Continuous power handling (sometimes called nominal or RMS power handling) is how much power a speaker can handle constantly and over the long run. Peak power handling is how much power a speaker can handle in short bursts, to play intermittent loud sounds like a crashing symbol for example.
Power handling is vital up to the point where you need the volume to reach, but matters little beyond that. It is good to have some leeway, but, at a certain point more power handling isn’t necessarily better or worth paying more for. A very rough rule of thumb we use is that a total of 100W of nominal/continuous power (e.g. a pair 50W+ speakers) can adequately fill any normally or roughly medium sized outdoor enclosure.
Efficiency (sometimes called sensitivity) is complementary to power handling, and dictates how loud a speaker can get with a standardized amount of power at a standardized distance – usually 1 watt at 1 meter away. Efficiency is expressed as decibels (dB), which as you likely know is the measure of volume. A speaker with a high efficiency rating can get much louder than one with a low rating with the same amount of power.
Just like power handling, efficiency is vital up to the point where you need the volume to reach, but matters little beyond that. At a certain point it is neither better or worth paying for.
Frequency Response Range (Usually)
This is the range of how low a sound a speaker can create up to how high a sound it can create. FR range is expressed in hertz (Hz), which is the wave length of a given sound, or it’s pitch.
A low floor is particularly important for outdoor speakers because bass in particular doesn’t carry as well outdoors. Also, while adding a subwoofer to an indoor home theater system is generally very easy, adding one to outdoor speakers is somewhat more difficult and involved. It has gotten easier to do over the years thanks to new equipment solutions that have become available, but it’s still something that many people can’t or won’t want to do.
Here’s where the conditional “usually” comes in: When you add a subwoofer to any system the speaker’s response floor doesn’t really matter anymore, because a subwoofer will typically take over well above that. Adding a subwoofer can improve overall sound to a significantly noticeable degree and is a great idea if you can do it.
If there’s no subwoofer, then frequency response range becomes somewhat tricky for a regular two way speaker (one tweeter and one woofer). This is because it’s hard for a mid-sized woofer to get low without compromising the mid range. You can’t serve two masters, as they say, and a truly good response range is a balancing act.
Frequency Response Variance
This is kind of a corollary to response range, and is basically how consistent the volume is across the frequency range from low to high. Even if a speaker can technically make sound at a low 30 Hz, let’s say, if that sound is too quiet to even be heard then it doesn’t really matter. Big dips in volume at any point of the response curve will compromise sound quality.
A theoretically perfect response curve is a flat line from low to high (no variance) and plays all pitches at the same volume. In reality that’s just not possible to engineer, but the closer you can get to that the better. 3 or less dB is the generally accepted standard of a consistent frequency response curve. If a company denotes a +/- 3 dB with their response range spec that’s a good sign of quality.
Ingress Protection Code
You probably understand that good design and materials are essential for both sound quality and weatherproofing, but the specific spec you’re looking for here is the IP code – that’s the industry standard rating for how well any audio electronics are protected from the elements. The format is IPXY, where the penultimate “X” digit represents proofing against dust and debris, and the final “Y” digit represents proofing against water. If an outdoor speaker has a double digit IP code that’s a good sign its purported weatherproofing is legit. If not, then beware, regardless of what a sales page might claim.
A good warranty is particularly important with outdoor speakers because there’s more risk for deflective failure in the elements. Comparatively good coverage is 5 or more years of warranty for passive outdoor speakers and 2 or more years of warranty for powered outdoor speakers.
Baseline Specs Are By No Means Everything
Industry standard 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.
That said… A speaker that has better specs on paper might not necessarily sound better. Why?
Firstly, the specifics of any given room or area will significantly effect how a speaker sounds.
Secondly, there are a lot of design intangibles that influence sound quality that can’t really be quantified with standardized specs.
And thirdly, of course, is that sound quality is always subjective to a significant degree. Certain speakers or brands sometimes aim for certain styles – warm and bassy or crisp and bright for example – and these sound signatures aren’t objectively better or worse than one another, just different.
Ultimately, the best way to compare speakers you’re thinking about buying is to actually listen to them, if you can.
We realize this isn’t so easy to do with outdoor speakers. You’d need to 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/whatever.
The best alternative is to make an educated guess with the information that you do have, 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. Most reputable speaker companies have a return window of at least 30 days, which will at least give you some room to pick and choose.
One thing worth mentioning here: Make sure the return policy actually applies to the vendor selling the speaker, because sometimes it won’t.
The big and well known e-retailers like Amazon are usually “authorized” dealers for various audio companies, which means their respective return and warranty policies will apply as long as you purchase directly from those companies. Sometimes Amazon and other e-retailers will do third party fulfillment, which is especially more common with refurbished or second hand products, and while buying through Random Used Electronics Inc might get you a slightly better price, the return or warranty policy might be invalidated. Caveat emptor.
The Best Outdoor Speaker Brands
When in doubt, it’s always a good idea to go with a reputable brand. There are a handful of established audio companies that dedicate effort toward outdoor audio, which we will list below. This list is by no means fully inclusive, and not being on it is not meant to imply that any given audio company is bad, but we do know that the following companies produce a variety of decent outdoor speakers and are generally hard to go wrong with:
Dayton Audio – a variety of inexpensive outdoor speakers, including commercial 70 volt options, that have industry leading IP66 certified weather resistance.
Klipsch – a popular and prolific company that makes outdoor speakers with industry leading power specs. If you need something loud, Klipsch is often the choice.
OSD Audio – they make a bunch of outdoor speakers and subwoofers in just about every type and style, including powered Bluetooth options for those who can’t or don’t want to deal with speaker wire.
Polk – also a popular company, and their selection of outdoor speakers seems to be very well liked.
Yamaha – they make a variety of outdoor speakers and continue to produce much older (but still good!) models at very low prices. Yamaha is often the choice for the penny pinchers.
TIC – An interesting company that solely focuses on outdoor audio, and they produce a variety of omnidirectional speakers and subwoofers, which is a niche that has generally had limited selection.
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.
Specific Outdoor Speakers That We Recommend
Here we’ll point out some specific products that we think are good, based on some various but relatively common preferences:
Loud Outdoor Speakers: Klipsch AW-650
The AW650s have been around for a long time now, and they still offer the best power handling and efficiency for the price. If you need volume, to cover a larger area or to annoy your neighbors, these are a great choice. The Klipsch sound is pretty forward and bright, and not for everyone, but you’ll never have any trouble hearing it. Klipsch’s similarly longtime flagship AWR-650-SM rock speakers (affiliate link) have similarly industry leading power specs if you’re interested in on-ground environmental style speakers. Klipsch has also apparently brought back their outdoor product line lifetime warranty which is the best coverage available, and they might even replace what you return with a newer and better model.
Get the AW-650 on Amazon (affiliate link)
Highly Durable Outdoor Speakers: Dayton Audio IO65XTB
Dayton’s newest bookshelf indoor/outdoor speaker has an industry leading IP66 rating, which means it’s totally dust/debris tight and waterproof up to pressurized jets. So as long as you don’t drop it into the pool (and maybe even if you do and get it out fast enough), it’s not going to get damaged. These speakers also have 70/100v connection options to allow for daisy chaining several speakers over long runs, which is usually reserved for large commercial setups, but a nice option to have nonetheless. All Dayton outdoor speakers come with a five year warranty which is very good by industry standards.
Get the IO65XTB on Amazon (affiliate link)
Very Inexpensive Outdoor Speakers: Yamaha NS-AW150
These speakers are over 20 years old but still produced and available. They don’t look the best, but they bring a lot of specs for a a bare minimum price. Yamaha also often bundles them with speaker wire and one their receivers for a similarly cheap all-in-one option.
Get the NS-AW150 on Amazon (affiliate link)
Omnidirectional Outdoor Speakers: TIC-GS3
For those who are interested in an on-ground speaker that emits sound in all 360 degrees of direction, TIC makes a variety of them in this niche, which still doesn’t have all that much selection.
Get the TIC-GS3 on Amazon (affiliate link)
Best Wired Bluetooth Outdoor Speakers: OSD Audio BTP525/650
Can’t or just don’t want to deal with an external receiver/amplifier and speaker wire? OSD makes a great powered outdoor speaker that you can just plug right into a regular wall socket. They also have Bluetooth so you can easily control them with your phone or any similar source. They have an IP54 rating which means they’re fully resistant to debris/dust and water up to splashing. The only downside is the shorter one year warranty. They come in 5.25 inch and 6.5 inch woofer options.
Get the OSD BTP525/650 on Amazon (affiliate link)
• How to Plan, Install, and Maintain A Permanent Outdoor Speaker Setup
• How to Pick the Best and Correct Outdoor Speaker Wire
• Picking The Best and Correct Receiver or Amplifier for Outdoor Speakers
• Picking the Best Outdoor Subwoofer