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July 22, 2014

Outdoor Speaker Placement

Filed under: Audio Knowledge,How-To,Stereo,Uncategorized — Tags: — Andrew Welker @ 3:51 pm

Today’s topic is Outdoor Speaker placement.  There are a variety of options available for placing them, and some things you need to keep in mind when you are positioning and mounting them, because outdoor speakers, depending on the environment,  may not work the same way as a pair of speakers in your living room or home theater.

Let’s take a screened-in outdoor room as an example.  This is an environment that is as close as you’re going to get to an actual enclosed room.  You’ve got boundaries: you’ve got a rear wall, you’ve got side walls.  You’re going to get reasonable sound reinforcement from those boundaries.  This helps with bass, as well as sensitivity and efficiency (or the perceived level of the speaker for a given amplifier power.)

Why is this important?  When you’ve got the speakers in a typical room, a lot of the efficiency you get is because of the boundary loading (the reflections that are in the room).  If we have a pair of outdoor speakers that are truly in free space (so that they’re not mounted against any boundary or near any walls) the perceived level for a given amount of amplifier power goes down significantly.  So you need to keep that in mind.  If you’re going to try to fill a large open patio space with a pair of speakers, even if they’re mounted up against one wall boundary, you’re going to have to have more amplifier power available for whatever listening level you’re looking to achieve than you would in a typical living room or family room.

Tip:  Don’t skimp on amplifier power just because it’s an outdoor system.  Unless you’re going to be listening at just the quietest background levels, you may find you need more amplifier power than you think.

One other thing to keep in mind is that sound doesn’t travel very well at some frequencies in open space. Again, this is because you don’t have the enclosed environment of a room.  Having multiple outdoor speakers as opposed to just a single pair of speakers is better if you are trying to fill an area with good sound quality.

In an environment such as screened in room that is maybe 12 or 15 feet wide, you’re still going to get good stereo reproduction.  In an environment where you are placing speakers as far apart as you would in a typical listening room, you can still expect to get good stereo sound.

But you have to think about that a little bit if you are trying to fill a large open space with sound.  Stereo actually can be a detriment in those cases – it places some  instruments in the left speakers and some instruments in the right speakers, and the distances involved between speakers means that the instruments are not blending into a stereo presentation.

Tip:  What you might want to try is running a “mono” setup.  This can be done in software if you are using digital files.  Some pre-amps and processors have a mono setting you can use as well.  This mono setting essentially allows you to mix the right and left channels into all the speakers in your setup, so you get an environment where you get a good spread of sound, and you’re not worried about the distance between the speakers causing strange sounds.

For more information on creating an alternate mono library in iTunes, visit this link: https://discussions.apple.com/message/11789229

Another thing that is very easy to do with digital files is something called “normalizing”.  That’s something that you might want to do if you’re using iTunes for instance.  You can keep a normalized version of your library for use exclusively outside.  Normalization will compress the levels so that, for example,  if you have a recording that has very very quiet parts, it will bring them up.  Those quiet parts would be completely inaudible in an outdoor setting without normalization.

For more information on normalizing volume levels with iTunes, visit this link:  http://support.apple.com/kb/HT2425

Do you have software that you use for normalizing or for creating a mono library?  Or other tricks you are using in your outdoor installation?  Please share below!

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