Outdoor AV Products Redefine the Traditional Backyard


By Llanor Alleyne March 6,2014


This Integration Guide to All-Weather AV was sponsored by Madison Fielding, Soundcast, and Stealth Acoustics as a supplement to Residential Systems, March 2014.

Sonance’s SONNARY SR1 System features eight small satellite speakers that are discreetly and evenly distributed throughout garden beds in addition to a below-ground subwoofer.
Beyond bright children’s swings, barbecue grills, and perfectly clipped hedges, the uses of the traditional residential backyard has been undergoing a transformation that reflects larger trends toward more contemporary concepts of living. With an economy that has forced many homeowners to rethink upgrading to new builds, the lightning-speed development of wireless communications and, with it, the rise of wireless AV products, as well as the glut of TV shows featuring world-renowned chefs cooking in elaborately constructed outdoor kitchens, it comes as little surprise that the backyard has become just as sophisticated and modern a space as many interior spaces.

“This desire to ‘live outdoors’ dovetails with the recent economic trend in the housing market,” noted Tom Dixon, VP of marketing for SunBriteTV. “In the last several years, it has been documented that homeowners are moving and buying new houses less frequently. Since they’re more likely to stay in their current home, they are investing more in these properties in an effort to increase value. Backyard expansion—or creation in some cases—is one of the most effective ways to not only boost a home’s value, but to also enhance quality of life.”

Madison Fielding’s Flagstone planter speakers resemble classic planters found in landscaped gardens and can hold both live and artificial plant life.
This re-thinking of the backyard isn’t just happening in the suburbs. As Jim Garrett, director of marketing and product development for the Harman Luxury Group pointed out, urban environments have also seen this drive to “maximize every square inch of real estate, where indoor space may be severely limited, access to rooftop gardens and entertainment spaces has exploded the need to offer access to all forms of entertainment everywhere possible.”

Planters and Rocks

It makes sense that speakers designed to mimic rocks and potted plants are hugely popular with homeowners. In addition to their form factor, which yields to the visual expectations of nature, planter and rock speakers are also discreet—adding aural sophistication without the aesthetic disruption.

Madison Fielding’s Flagstone planter speakers resemble classic planters found in landscaped gardens and can hold both live and artificial plant life. Featuring a three-way design, hand-made crossovers, and internal structural bracing, the standard model has a down firing 10-inch Eminence woofer and premium Audax drivers for the 4-inch mid-range and 1-inch tweeter. Custom configurations are also available.

“Our dealers tell us that wealthy clients want the same sound they have inside their homes for the outdoors and we can deliver that with style,” said Art Powers, Sr., president of Madison Fielding. “The fact that our Flagstones look like classic planters is a real plus as they blend into the outdoor designs so well that you only know they are speakers when the music is on.”

Powers Sr. went on to note that Madison Fielding will have a high-output version of the Flagstone specifically designed for home theater sonic demands by April of this year. Using a commercial- grade DVC 10-inch woofer, the new Flagstone can handle the bass requirements of a blockbuster movie without the need for a subwoofer by utilizing the bass management system of a surround processor to channel low frequencies to the left and right speaker.

Proficient’s R800G (granite finish) and R800S (sandstone finish) have proven popular for two reasons, as noted by parent company Core Brand’s audio marketing manager, Matthew Dever, who said, “They make for a very simple and inexpensive installation because you can just place the speakers in the garden then bury the cable. Still, they’re a high-quality product for the category.”

The R800G (granite finish) and R800S (sandstone finish) both feature an 8-inch woofer with graphite-impregnated cones and 1-inch polyamide tweeter. Fitted with molded enclosures to survive the elements, the R800G and R800S also offer high 95db sensitivity with a 10-watt amplifier to comfortably drive sound to “party-level” volumes.

Paradigm’s Rock Monitor Speakers are comprised of two affordable models: the 80-SM and the 60-SM, both of which are weatherproof, single-speaker systems designed to deliver two channels of L/R sound outdoors. Both are housed in PolyGlass enclosures with faux-stone finishes that are fully sealed (no ports) and highly damped, and also feature stainless steel grilles and self-draining natural rock fissures.

Proficient’s R800G (granite finish) and R800S (sandstone finish) have proven popular for two reasons. They make for a very simple and inexpensive installation because you can just place the speakers in the garden then bury the cable. Still, they’re a high-quality product for the category.
“With their Dual-Directional soundfield, Rock Monitors are often used to reinforce the soundscape, hidden among hardscaping, scattered throughout the outdoor area,” noted Zoltan Balla, product manager for Paradigm. “There are lots of rock speakers on the market but Paradigm’s are not your garden-variety design. The driver technology mirrors that of our indoor speakers. Their fauxstone finish is incredibly real, and it’s quite difficult to distinguish them from the rest of the hardscape.”

Wireless, weatherproof, mobile, and installer-friendly, IAV’s lightweight AudioRock speakers are powered by long-lasting and rechargeable lithium ion batteries. The system includes a wireless transmitter with two source inputs and two separate zone outputs, with the ability to add additional AudioRocks to create sound all around the outdoor space.

“They blend in nicely and are an easy addition to outdoor systems large and small,” said Krista Bergman, national sales manager for IAV. “Homeowners love their versatility as well as their affordability, and integrators have found them to be an excellent option either as a standalone solution or as part of larger installations.”

Tradition in Camouflage

Housed in weatherproof materials and designed to be discreetly installed under eaves or among foliage and furniture, traditional-looking speakers have also found a place in the evolving outdoor space. Sonance’s SLS (Sonance Landscape Series) speakers, for example, feature a great range of both satellite and subwoofer systems that provide even sound coverage and audiophile-quality sound while using the landscape as camouflage.

“SLS and SONARRAY provide an opportunity for homeowners to enjoy a whole new level of sonic performance and enhanced aesthetics compared to rock or weatherproof cabinet speakers,” said Simon Wehr, director of marketing for Sonance. “The broad product range and scalability of SLS provides the dealer with flexibility to design the perfect solution for any sized space. At the entry-level, SONARRAY is a packaged satellite subwoofer system for smaller areas, providing dealers with an excellent up-sell opportunity over traditional outdoor speakers.”

A bestseller for SpeakerCraft, the Outdoor Elements line is fairly traditional with a plastic enclosure but gains an edge with its acoustical design features, one of which involves ported enclosures to deliver much deeper bass response and efficiency, even when powered with a 20-watt-per-channel multiroom system.
Sonance’s SONNARY SR1 System features eight small satellite speakers that are discreetly and evenly distributed throughout garden beds in addition to a below-ground subwoofer, which disperses bass from a canopy hidden under foliage. All of the speakers face inward, containing sound within the outdoor space and keeping neighbor complaints at bay.

Stealth Acoustics continues to tout the benefits of its StingRay family of outdoor speakers, which are completely sealed with no exposed grills or drivers to corrode or break down. This unique line is offered in a variety of styles. Stock finishes include matte black or matte white—or in the case of the new Element Series—sleek brushed aluminum. The StingRay family can also be special ordered in sand, jade, or gray stone textured finishes or custom painted to match any décor. To offer a completely unique finish option, select the Image Wrap version and elect to have an actual photograph of the speaker’s surroundings or even artwork laminated directly to the face of the speaker.

JBL also designed its CBT Series of speakers to focus sound within designated areas while offering the best possible sound delivery. The CBT line is comprised of five models and features Harman’s patented Constant Beamwidth Technology that allows installers and designers to use fewer speakers to cover larger spaces.

Niles Audio has designed the Discrete Series, which combines an in-ground subwoofer with 4-inch stack-mounted and wall-mounted satellites.
“We can now more easily use a single speaker to cover 50 to 75 feet of open space with very high dialog and music intelligibility and SPL while at the same time, focusing the sound in the places that need it and not having sound bounce everywhere and annoy the neighbors,” Garrett said. “We have models that are designed for small areas up to 35 feet from the speaker, all the way to 200 feet from the speaker, depending on application.”

A bestseller for SpeakerCraft (a Core Brands company), the Outdoor Elements line is fairly traditional with a plastic enclosure but gains an edge with its acoustical design features, one of which involves ported enclosures to deliver much deeper bass response and efficiency, even when powered with a 20-watt-per-channel multiroom system.

“Other manufacturers tend to shy away from ports because they’re worried about moisture or insect incursion,” Dever explained. “We’ve completely solved those problems through the use of carefully designed curves in the port molding, which diffuse the energy and pressure of an accidental hose blast, and by sealing the end of the port inside the speaker with a fabric that resists water and bugs very well.”

Paradigm’s weather-resistant Stylus line is designed for use outdoors on a deck, patio, or around a pool.
Niles Audio, also part of the Core Brands family, has designed the Discrete Series, which combines an in-ground subwoofer with 4-inch stack-mounted and wall-mounted satellites. According to Dever, the GSS10 subwoofer extends the listening environment with deep rich bass, leaving only its fully paintable port tube visible on the surface, while the GS4 satellite enables full control over sound location and direction and features a 4-inch mineral-filled polypropylene woofer and a 1-inch Teteron tweeter to maximize the sound quality in the outdoor environment.

Bay Audio’s Park Stevens PS4 Satellite landscape speaker is smaller than a paperback book and is housed in 100 percent aluminum. With 12 mounting options, including complete burial, flush wall mounting, ground mounting, the PS4 comes in four models: a single driver 8-ohm and 70V version, and a dual driver 8-ohm and 70V version. The companion PS10 subwoofer is just as versatile with four ways to mount, including via a deck kit to strap underneath a deck or patio, the spike kit for garden and pathway mounting, the direct burial bandpass kit, or simple placement on a flat surface.

PSB’s CS1000 Outdoor/Universal Speaker System features mounting flexibility, and its rugged, weatherproof construction includes a UV-resistant polypropylene cabinet, aluminum grille, and rustproof terminals with a rubber cover for protection from the elements.
“The 70V version of the Park Stevens PS4 Satellite is our bestselling unit,” said Ira Friedman, CEO of Bay Audio. “The speaker has great utility—it can be direct buried, mounted on spikes, hung from a soffit, and it has a distinctive architectural look. We sell more 70V versions because our integrators are installing systems with dozens of speakers in large areas. We developed a high-performance 70V transformer that sounds as good as an 8-ohm speaker, so the listening experience is uncompromised.”

Paradigm’s weather-resistant Stylus line is designed for use outdoors on a deck, patio, or around a pool. With six models in the range, Balla noted that the most important thing about them is that they are made with the same performance technology that goes into the company’s indoor speakers.

“What we do is design enclosures to protect that interior investment—features such as fully sealed polyglass mineral-filled enclosures (no ports) with weather, water and UV-resistant aluminum grilles, stainless steel and brass hardware, gold-plated binding posts and stainless steel or polymer mounting brackets,” Balla said.

Crestron’s UFO waterproof wireless LCD remote has been well received by its dealer base and customers.
Typically, Paradigm’s Stylus speakers are used in a near-field audio experience, but the company also offers models for more demanding situations; stereo/mono models are ideal in small outdoor areas less suited to a stereo pair. Using multiple S/M models can eliminate the imbalances that occur with stereo sound as people move around or are seated closer to one speaker than the other.

PSB’s CS1000 Outdoor/Universal Speaker System is designed for outdoor spaces. As noted by Dean Miller, president and CEO, of parent company Lenbrook America, the CS1000, like its smaller sibling the CS500, features “exceptional mounting flexibility, rugged, weatherproof construction, including a UV-resistant polypropylene cabinet, aluminum grille, and rustproof terminals with a rubber cover for protection from the elements. The CS1000’s durable build will also stand up to the rigors of commercial use.”

Séura is set to ship a newer, thinner version of Storm outdoor TV in three configurations that will feature improved LuminOptics technology.
When wiring is not an option, Soundcast’s popular long-range OutCast music system offers a simplified solution. Self-contained, it features an omnidirectional 360-degree enclosure design with a down-firing subwoofer built-in.

“OutCast is equipped with a rechargeable battery system for 12 to 20 hours of play on a single charge,” said company president Mike Weaver, of other features. “The system can transmit up to 300 feet with an optional transmitter, and is weather resistant with its splash- and elements-proofed sealed enclosure.”

Televisions and Accessories

The new 47-inch Consumer Outdoor TV by Peerless-AV is an all-season solution that features an IP65 rating, which makes it water and dust resistant.
According to SunBriteTV’s Dixon, his company’s Signature Series SB-4660HD is not only the company’s most popular model, “it’s actually the best-selling outdoor television in the world.” The 46-inch full-HD 1080p LCD all-weather television is designed for permanent outdoor installation and includes an outdoor rated ASA high-impact resin exterior, built-in air flow cooling system, and an integrated 20-watt speaker.

“It’s available for $2,795 MSRP, a ‘sweet spot’ price point we carefully set after extensive research,” Dixon noted. “It sits at the cross-section of affordability and high-performance—it’s large enough to become the centerpiece of an outdoor room but it won’t break the bank for most consumers.”

Originally launched in 2011, Séura’s Storm outdoor TV is also a popular choice for integrators. This month the company is set to ship a newer, thinner version of Storm in three configurations that will feature improved LuminOptics technology, which is comprised of dual-layer anti-reflective and UV-coated tempered glass, as well as Séura’s proprietary Activ-Airflow System with heaters that allow the TV to withstand temperatures ranging from -30 to 140 degrees Fahrenheit, and moisture and dusty conditions.

Bay Audio’s Park Stevens PS4 Satellite landscape speaker is smaller than a paperback book and is housed in 100 percent aluminum. With 12 mounting options, including this flush wall mount application.
“Now 44 percent thinner than the leading competitive product, the new Storm features a sleek glass face and uniquely framed beveled edge and a tapered profile for the most elegant solution in the industry,” said Gretchen Gilbertson, CEO and co-founder of Séura. “The outdoor performance of the product has also been further developed. With more sophisticated glass coatings and expanded integration capabilities, Storm offers unsurpassed reliability, durability, and ease of integration for Séura dealers.”

The new 47-inch Consumer Outdoor TV by Peerless-AV is an all-season solution that features an IP65 rating, which makes it water and dust resistant.

“This TV is uniquely maintenance-free with no filters needing to be cleaned or replaced,” said Hal Traux, managing director, retail sales for Peerless-AV. “Plus, it withstands temperatures from -24 degrees Fahrenheit to 124 degrees Fahrenheit, offering year-round viewing for homeowners.”

It is important not to forget the control devices that are needed to operate outdoor devices, as often they too remain outside to fight the elements. Crestron, which also offers a weatherized line of AIR speaker has been selling its UFO waterproof wireless LCD remote for years. Encased in a rugged, rubberized outer skin, the UFO Waterproof Remote is completely immersible to depths of 10 feet, and can withstand the corrosive effects of chlorinated and salt water, explained Tom Barnett, Crestron’s director of residential marketing. Easy to hold with moist hands, the UFO floats when dropped in water and can control audio, video, and lighting.

Continued Expansion

For residential custom integrators, the current focus on high-end outdoor living isn’t actually new. This industry has been devising ways to rig audio and video systems in gardens for decades. What has changed is the products that they have to make these projects not only successful, but also longer lasting. As custom AV manufacturers taking advantage of improved technology that makes electronic components weather-friendly, wireless, and significantly smaller (and therefore more discreet), integrators now have a greater cache of products to draw from when designing AV-driven outdoor projects.

“Just as people grew to accept the technologies we find in smartphones, people will grow to love and expect some type of outdoor entertainment space,” noted Crestron’s Barnett. “And just like smartphones, they will continue to expect more out of the space. We already see outdoor TVs to go along with our speakers and remotes. I think that people will want more products that they can connect to their outdoor entertainment areas so that they can get virtually the same experience outside as they do inside. People will want high quality, attractive products that are not only userfriendly, but withstand environmental conditions.”

Llanor Alleyne is a contributing editor for Residential Systems.

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