The latest gadgets and gizmos always attract me. I embrace new technology with open arms, eagerly anticipating the next big thing. The latest iPhone, game, and other shiny new pieces of technology attract us. Sometimes, they even distract us from logical thought. After making a big mistake, I decided to research outdoor speakers before I spent any more money. This is the result of spending about forty hours talking with friends, listening to different systems, and reading all the reliable information I could find.
Search For the Perfect Outdoor Speakers
I’ve created an oasis in my backyard where life’s cares seem to disappear. I spend a lot of time there. As much as I love music, earbuds give me headaches. After trying several kinds, I gave up and just listened to the birds. When portable Bluetooth players came along, I was excited about bringing music into the yard with a Bose SoundLink Revolve. It was lovely having music in the yard.
At least it was lovely until the day I fell asleep in my ENO Double Nest Hammock that we talked about in this article. Thunderstorms rolled in and I didn’t notice until the rain soaked through my clothes. I dashed into the house without a thought for my expensive speaker.
Lesson learned! After the storm, it was too late. No amount of rice would bring the speaker back to life. I missed having music in my garden and was beating myself up about wasting $200 on a speaker I’d only enjoyed for a few months. That’s when my brother invited me to a party at his house and opened my eyes.
The Winner for the Best Outdoor Speaker: Bose 251 Wall Mount Outdoor Environmental Speakers
He had installed two Bose 251 wall mounted outdoor environmental speakers facing the horse barn and two more facing the area where the kids play off the deck where he keeps his grill (he lives on a mountain). I fell in love with the way the music he was blasting over the speakers made his yard a party paradise. My brother’s closest neighbors are in the opposite direction so he can crank the speakers up and not bother anyone. By the time I left the party, I’d decided to look into wired speakers for my yard.
Compare Outdoor Speakers
I compared three speakers, Bose 151 SE outdoor speakers, Bose 251 Wall Mount Outdoor Environmental Speakers, and Polk Audio Atrium 6 outdoor speakers. Deciding which speakers won was a difficult decision. It really depends on your priorities.
My choice for the winner is Bose 251 Wall Mount Outdoor Environmental Speakers because they are the best in every category. However, if you have a smaller suburban lot like mine, the runner-up may be a better pick for you.
Wired Speakers are the Best Choice for Outdoor Speakers
Wireless Bluetooth made me lose sight of logic and think wireless speakers were the best choice for outdoors. But the thunderstorm showed me I hadn’t thought it through. Wireless also won’t get you the best sound for your money. Most of the cost of wireless speakers support the electronics that add vulnerability and limit the life of outdoor speakers. If anything goes wrong with a wireless speaker exposed to the elements, it will be the electronics.
Wired speakers don’t pick up interference that can interfere with wireless speakers. We had a wireless intercom system that would randomly pick up our neighbor’s baby monitor. You can imagine the scare the first time that happened – we thought a baby had snuck in!
Sound Quality of Outdoor Speakers
Music sounds better when there are walls for it to bounce off of. Creating a satisfying listening experience in an open area is a challenge these outdoor speakers are ready to meet.
I was impressed by the ability of the 251’s to deliver on the deep rich bass. When the music is pumped up, the 251’s deliver a fuller sound without distortion. We pumped the music up until it felt like we were at a concert.
When the party was winding down and we were talking quietly out by the fire pit (about 70 feet from the speakers), we could hear the music clearly with the volume turned down.
Installing Outdoor Speakers
Wired speakers do not mean running 110-volt electricity to the speakers. Wired means running low voltage speaker wire from your amplifier to passive speakers. High-current electricity is dangerous outdoors!
You can use any amplifier that provides 20-200 watts per channel to power your Bose 251 speakers. If you love music, you probably already have an amplifier that will do the job.
Installation of the 251’s is easier than it was with the runner-up. It is the sort of project I’d recommend a novice with home improvement projects tackle. It will help them gain confidence that they can do things on their own.
Outdoor Speaker Care in Extreme Weather
They also make it easy to remove the speakers without tools if you want to bring them in during harsh winters or when you’re away on vacation. This would be a great feature if you’re leaving older teenagers alone and you don’t want to come home to noise complaints. These speakers would definitely give them all the power they needed to be a nuisance in a regular neighborhood.
Installing the speakers vertically supports the Stereo Everywhere® functionality. The manual was clear and easy to follow. My brother isn’t the most patient person and even he thought they were easy.
Durability of Outdoor Speakers
My brother’s place is at a high altitude and low temperatures fall below the -22° rating every winter. He does bring the speakers in during the coldest months. The upper-temperature threshold of 140° is more heat than his speakers will ever see. The speakers are snow, rain, and salt resistant.
These are so durable, people remove speakers that are several years old and take them with them when they sell the house. You wouldn’t bother with that if you expected them to fail anytime soon. They have a 5-year warranty – another reason these speakers beat the Polk Audio Atrium 6 speakers.
These particular outdoor speakers have a dual port enclosure and include:
- Two (2) 2 1⁄2″ environmental Twiddler drivers per speaker
- One (1) 5 1⁄4″ environmental woofer per speaker
They are the largest of the three at 13.5 H x 5.75 W x 8 D. Plus, they still only weigh 8 pounds each.
They operate between 20-200 watts per channel with a range of 4-8 ohms. The range of ohms instead of a set number of ohms helped the Bose speakers beat the Polk.
Runner-Up for Outdoor Speakers: Bose 151 Outdoor Speakers
The Bose 151 SE outdoor speakers are my choice for the runner-up because they are the best option for a typical suburban home with an average lot size, like mine. They give you the best quality for the money and don’t give you more speaker than you can use in a densely populated area.
The speakers are powerful enough to make my backyard oasis come alive with music.
The speakers drown out sounds I don’t want to hear. The irritating hum and occasional thunk that used to assault my ears when neighbors mow their lawn doesn’t penetrate when I have the music playing. They also drown out my neighbor’s arguments. The Bose 151 SE’s spare me from their marital discord. They also mask occasional cussing from not-so-gentlemanly people playing golf on the other side of the tree line.
Masking Unwanted Ambient Noise with Outdoor Speakers
I like to meditate on the deck in the early morning hours. There is nothing that can rip you out of the peaceful easy feeling you’re enjoying in the aftermath of meditation as fast as hearing golfers having a loud, ugly disagreement or vocalizing their disgust with the way the game is going. With my new Bose 151’s, I can’t hear them. It’s bliss.
Outdoor Speakers That Fit the Environment
The Bose 151’s won for smaller yards because I don’t want to start a war with my neighbors. The system is designed to be directional so the music that is easy to hear in the back is muted on the side toward the neighbors.
My Bose 151 SE speakers do the job perfectly. They are powerful enough so I don’t hear sounds I don’t want to hear but not so loud that I irritate my neighbors on my ¼ acre lot. These outdoor speakers are designed so that the music expands over the listening area to provide even distribution of the music across the yard.
Wired Outdoor Speakers
The Bose 151 SE outdoor speakers are the passive speakers I prefer because they run on low voltage speaker wire. All you need to do is hook it up to your amplifier. Your expensive electronics stay nice and safe in the house.
Sound Quality of Runner-Up Outdoor Speakers
To my ears, the sound quality is fantastic, clear, crisp, and all the volume I want is easy to achieve. Sometimes my spouse will play with the equalizer to adjust the base more to his liking but it sounds fine to me.
I listen to a lot of different types of music. Everything from classical, Karen Drucker’s inspirational songs, Motown, Jazz, Rock and Roll, and some country music is on rotation. One of the things I want most is the sense that the music is moving through me. It’s that feeling that makes you want to get up and dance. The Bose 151 SE speakers deliver.
I also listen to inspirational talk CDs. Noise from lawnmowers or golf carts with a sound system blaring parked on the green while the golfers search for their lost balls makes it hard to hear every word. It always seemed the most important parts were the ones ambient noises made unintelligible. The Bose 151 SE speakers deliver clear speech that doesn’t get drowned out.
Installing Outdoor Speakers
I mounted the speakers on the deck about twenty feet apart, both facing the golf course.
Installation was easy. The instructions were clear. Following the instructions for horizontal mounting ensures your speakers deliver Bose’s sound the way the Articulated Array® was designed to with its angled, full-range 2-1/2″ Twiddler drivers.
Wiring Outdoor Speakers
I did some research and learned that in-wall speaker wire has to be UL-rated with a CL2 or CL3 rating. Even though the wire was only going straight through the wall with less than 8” of wire in the wall, I like to think long-term. I don’t want to have to re-do it because the wire isn’t up to code when I sell the house.
I found 14 Gauge 4-Conductor Oxygen-Free Burial Speaker Cable that was UL-rated CL3. Even though I wasn’t burying these speakers, just mounting them on the deck with the brackets that came with them made me feel better. I like the protection of wire designed for full outdoor exposure. It doesn’t do much good to buy high-quality outdoor speakers and have them short out because the wire you use to attach them to the amplifier isn’t durable when it is exposed to the elements.
I left extra wire in the wall in case the wires become corroded. I’ll be able to snip the ends and attach fresh wire without rethreading the whole thing.
One speaker was installed right where the hole goes through the wall. I tucked the wire to the other speaker into the crevasse between the deck and the house for twenty feet where the other speaker was installed.
Flaws But Not a Dealbreaker
The mounting brackets are the only thing I would improve on these speakers. They work; I was able to install the speakers and angle them horizontally without help. The brackets didn’t feel as strong as I would have designed them. If the speakers were mounted where they could be bumped I’d expect them to eventually break. Since mine are high on the wall it shouldn’t be a problem.
Durability of Outdoor Speakers
Some of my friends have had Bose wired speakers outside for more than ten years and the sound quality has not suffered from its exposure to the elements. The 151’s are designed to hold up in all but the most extreme climates in the United States, from -40F to +158F with up to 100% humidity. The humidity and frequent heavy rains where I live haven’t hurt them at all.
Some people bring them in during the winter but I wouldn’t bother. Bose is a name I trust. I bought my first Bose product, a Wave CD player, in 1999. During the first several years I packed it up and brought it with me every weekend when I went to the lake house. It was banged around quite a bit. I even brought it with me on a cruise! It still works perfectly.
Bose 151 SE speakers come with a 5-year warranty.
The speakers deliver a lot of sound from a small package. At just 12 ½ inches wide and 4 ½ inches high, they are not very noticeable. They are 6 inches deep so the eves hang out more than the speakers do. The speakers weigh in at a mere two pounds.
Under the casing, each speaker has three 2 ½ inch full-range drivers. Bose 151 SE speakers will work with amplifiers that produce 10 to 100 watts per channel at 4 to 8 ohms.
Wrapping It Up
Bose 151 SE speakers aren’t the best outdoor speakers on the market. They aren’t even the best outdoor speakers Bose produces. But for a homeowner on an average sized lot who wants to enhance their outdoor space with speakers that deliver, they are the best choice.
Honorable Mention: Polk Atrium 6
Quality wired outdoor speakers are obviously something several manufacturers have mastered. The differences between these three speakers are subtle. If bass is your thing, the Polk Audio Atrium 6 outdoor speakers will beat the Bose 151 SE’s. Unless you pair a small subwoofer with the Bose 151 SE speakers, they will not provide the same quality of bass as these Polk speakersPolk speakers.
Consider the Environment When Choosing Outdoor Speakers
Reverberations from bass can be felt inside your neighbor’s homes. Ask yourself if you really want a lot of bass capability in speakers in your yard. The Bose 251’s deliver deep and rich bass at the same retail price as the Polk’s.
Wired Outdoor Speakers
The Polk Audio Atrium 6 speakers are passive speakers that must be wired to your amplifier.
I prefer the Bose speakers for sound with the exception of bass sounds in the 151’s.
Installation is easy. I preferred the illustrations and instructions in the Bose owner manual but the Polk instructions were okay. Well-written English and detailed diagrams are always appreciated. Standing on their own, the instructions were fine.
The actual installation was easy. The brackets detach from the speakers and have an innovative quick-connect feature.
The Polk Audio Atrium 6’s have a 2-year warranty compared to the Bose 5-year warranty. I’ve met quite a few people who have used the Bose for a decade or longer without problems. I don’t hear that about these Polk Audio Atrium 6’s .
These Polk Audio Atrium 6’s deliver great sound from speakers that are larger than the Bose 151 and a few pounds smaller than the Bose 251’s. They weigh 5.4 pounds each and are 11 11/16 inches high, 7 11/16 inches wide and 8 ¾ inches deep. Inside, the Tweeter a 1” Anodized Aluminum Dome Tweeter with a Neodymium motor structure is ready to deliver. The mid/woofer is 5 ¼ inches.
They produce 20 – 200 watts per channel which is the same as the Bose 251 but they are only compatible with 8 ohms instead of the range provided with both Bose speakers.
Wrapping it Up
The latest high-tech electronics aren’t a good investment for outdoor locations. Passive speakers remain a great option because they last a decade or longer even with exposure to brutal heat and bitter cold. When you plan your outdoor sound system, your first priorities are awesome sound and durability. If you plan well, you can have the convenience of Bluetooth with the durability of wired outdoor speakers.
Q & A:
Q: What sound quality I expect from outdoor speakers?
A: If you’ve been to concerts in both indoor and outdoor venues you’ve probably noticed that music sounds better when it can reverberate off walls. It is possible to experience great music outside. We wouldn’t have outdoor concerts if it wasn’t possible. What isn’t possible outside is the same experience music provides when it is contained by four walls. Outdoor concerts use a lean-to like enclosure where the music originates. The enclosure helps direct the music out to the audience.
Q: Why would I invest in quality wired speakers when I could just bring a portable Bluetooth player outside?
A: Quality wired speakers last ten or more years. One forgetful moment followed by an inconvenient thunderstorm or an automated sprinkler system will destroy electronics that are more expensive than wired speakers.
Q: Can outdoor speakers be painted?
A: Yes. All three of the speakers can be painted.
Q: What type of speaker wire should I use to install my outdoor speakers?
A: The right speaker wire depends on the distance between the amplifier and your speaker. The higher the gauge, the smaller the wire will be. Use this chart as a guide for the minimum gauge for your project:
|Length of Wire||Recommended Gauge|
|20 feet||18 gauge|
|30 feet||16 gauge|
|45 feet||14 gauge|
|70 feet||12 gauge|
Install UL-listed wire in projects that require wires to be run through walls. Always check your local building codes for the requirements in your location.
Q: Can I control the music with my iPod or Smart Phone or use Alexa?
A: Yes. Purchase a Wireless Bluetooth Home Audio Receivers that convert your amplifier into Wi-Fi or BlueTooth devices to operate it remotely. Any amplifier connected to your wired outdoor speakers can provide wireless control of durable wired speakers. The price of the receivers varies from around $20 to well over $200.