Choose an Outdoor Audio System That Fits Your Landscape
A well-planned landscape design appeals to all the senses. There is always something pleasing to see, hear, touch smell and even taste outdoors. And, those sensations change from day to night and season to season. That’s why spending time outdoors is such a pleasure. It is an immersive experience that restores the spirit.
As landscape architects, we are always thinking of ways to perfect that outdoor experience for our clients in Potomac Maryland and throughout the Washington DC metro area. In this blogpost, we are going to focus on the experience of sound.
One way to experience sound outdoors would be to sit quietly and listen to the trickle of a fountain or bird calls—just enjoy what’s already there. Another way would involve installing an outdoor audio system to create and control the atmosphere for entertaining outdoors. An outdoor audio system lets you bring the party out onto the patio and pool deck. What makes all the difference in the success of an outdoor sound system is how well it integrates with the landscape design and uses those features to reflect or direct sound.
Outdoor Audio System Design Process
The outdoor audio design begins with speaker placement. The audio designer first walks the site to assess acoustic features and speaker placement opportunities that will direct sound toward points where people will be interacting. The designer makes note of:
- Speaker location
- Speaker size & range
- Reflective surfaces
Jon Bowman of Coastal Source Outdoor Audio says that standard speakers transmit mid to high range sound in a single focused direction. The larger the speaker the wider the range. So, location and number of speakers are determined by the distance sound must travel to reach listeners in the garden.
The types of surfaces in close proximity to the speakers can make a big difference in sound quality. When playing a system on a hardscape it may lose some richness of tone. It may even sound tinny. If it’s in a softscape there is more absorption of that sound.
Sample Audio Design Plan
Typically, we will use a wall or other solid structure to reflect low-frequency sound and give more depth to the bass. This site did not offer the necessary reflective structures in the right locations. So three subwoofers were employed in three separate zones.
This solution was necessary because the coverage area is so large and because the homeowner desired very high quality of sound overall. Note: The different colored lines represent the different audio channels.
Conditions Affecting Outdoor Audio Systems
A lot of the time it’s contaminants in the water that cause problems on the speaker cones themselves.—sometimes more than the moisture itself. Contaminants like iron or calcium build up on the speakers causing sound quality to deteriorate over time until the speaker sound quality is significantly effected.” Jon Bowman, Coastal Source Outdoor Audio” Jon Bowman, Coastal Source Outdoor Audio
Sometimes, audio equipment is damaged by gardening machinery. Or it deteriorates due to the effect of UV radiation. Acid rain, garden chemicals, and hard water from irrigation also take a toll on audio components. As with outdoor lighting systems, we see that standard landscape electrical cable will corrode at the connection points. Another problem is aesthetic. Speaker housings may not blend gracefully into the landscape. Sometimes the homeowner will bring in an audio contractor that isn’t experienced with landscape design. That contractor may put a big speaker or a sub-woofer in an awkward location.
New Solutions to Old Problems
The Coastal Source Outdoor Audio System is built to last. All parts are designed and tested to withstand exposure to the elements. Fixtures and speaker housings are made from 100% brass. Speaker grills use a Gortex fabric that sheds water. In addition, the internal parts of Coastal Source speakers are made from rubber, titanium, durable composites or marine grade stainless steel.
In terms of aesthetics, speaker housings are designed to blend discreetly into the landscaped environment without negatively impacting the visual composition created by the landscape designer.
Sound Quality Outdoors
When you are designing a system inside a house, it’s fairly simple. You are reflecting sound off the walls. It’s a controlled environment. To recreate indoor quality sound outdoors is not easy. You really have to count on the quality of the speaker to do it all.” Jon Bowman, Coastal Source Outdoor Audio
Aside from durability and waterproof connections, probably the biggest advantage of the Coastal Source system is in the quality of sound delivered by “direct-drive”. Other systems use an amplifier to bridge the distance from the electrical source (the house) to the speaker. They use a series of devices that boost the signal and then bring the voltage back down when it arrives at the speakers. A lot of sound definition gets lost in that transmission process. Whereas, Coastal Source system brings the amplification out into the garden where the speakers are. That eliminates the need for those intermediate devices to strengthen the signal and then bring it back down. Bowman says the Direct Drive system is extremely efficient: It uses less power to deliver a stronger signal to the speakers. And that translates into a sound quality that is clearer and louder.
So, there you are. Two ways to experience sound in the garden: enjoy the sounds your garden makes on its own, or create your own to suit your mood. Either way, you are still outdoors—which is where we want you to be.
If you have questions about how an outdoor audio system might add another level of enjoyment to your outdoor living space, please feel free to contact one of our landscape architects. We’d love to bounce ideas around with you.
If you’ve been thinking about investing in a landscape design project, our eBook: Expert Guide to Planning the Landscape Design of Your Dreams, is full of valuable information to help you get started.