I was wandering the show floor of CEDIA EXPO 2014 this morning, trying to knock the last few outdoor speaker demos off of my to-do list, when an overwhelming sense of déjà vu overtook me. “Self,” I said to myself, “I’m pretty sure you’ve already circled through this booth twice.” Honestly, I had to double-check my list to confirm that, no, I hadn’t actually already perused this company’s all-weather offerings.
I won’t name names (because to call out that manufacturer in particular would be unfair), but the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of outdoor speakers at this year’s show are practically indistinguishable from one another. It makes sense, I suppose; there are only so many ways to cram a waterproof speaker into a fake rock or a faux light fixture. But I think that’s why the handful of exceptions to this rule genuinely make me giddy.
No, seriously, I just used the words “giddy” and “outdoor speakers” in the same paragraph.
Let’s start with the least obvious example. Because if you just sort of casually strolled by Sonance’s booth, you would be excused for assuming it is more of the same. The company’s 2014 lineup looks a lot like its 2015 lineup. Sneak a few steps closer, though, and you notice everything is a good bit smaller. More streamlined. The same amount of driver (or even more) packed into more compact cabinets, with more power handling. That same philosophy extends to Sonance’s buried subs, as well, which deliver as much as three times the oomph with half the digging, especially with the new LSV10SUB.
Speaking of less digging, I also paid a brief visit to NEAR, whose LB 8 bracket-mount full-range outdoor speaker I just finished reviewing for the next issue of the magazine. I won’t spoil that review, except to say that the other offerings in the LB lineup offered the same beautiful build quality and rock-solid construction, just without the big 8-inch driver. But new to me was the IG Series in-ground and on-ground line, which sets itself apart by not looking even slightly igneous. Their UDIO (upside down/inside out) driver design, which centers on an inverted cone woofer driven by voice coils inside and outside the former, also piqued my interested. The intent, and the result, is to create a wide, immersive, enveloping soundfield even out in the elements, and it’s a design I expect to see other manufacturers borrowing heavily from in the coming years.
Also worth a look? Terra’s updated LS.32 LuminSound bollard speakers, which have seen a few updates, the most significant being the addition of dimmable and color-changing LED lighting. Is it kind of a gimmick? Yeah, it is. Is it a cool gimmick? Oh, you bet. Is anyone else doing anything remotely similar? Nope. And that alone makes it worth my (and your) attention.
The one major disappointment for me at this year’s show, at least in the outdoor audio arena, is that OSD didn’t bring back its life-sized German Shepard speaker. That momentary bummer was quickly rectified when I saw the company’s new(ish) bullfrog speakers (BTF-525), which were being demoed on battery power with a Bluetooth connection. In a word: adorable. In two words: really sweet sounding. Around the corner from the bullfrogs, OSD also had the only outdoor implementation of DTS’s Play-Fi wireless technology I’ve seen so far at the show.
Origin Acoustics Season OS86
If uniqueness is our criterion for interesting outdoor products from this year’s show, though, I think Jeremy Burkhardt’s Origin Acoustics takes the top prize. With approximately a bazillion and three new SKUs in a number of different categories on display, the all-weather stuff may not be the overwhelming bulk of Origin’s inventory, but it’s the stuff that makes my metaphorical tail wag. If I had to pick one speaker in particular that sums up Origin’s refreshingly different approach to the category, it would almost certainly be the Seasons OS86. This beast just screams “power,” with an eight-inch woofer behind an amiable concentric mid-tweeter array, all flanked by two ginormous high-aspect-ratio passive radiators. The fact that it can also withstand the elements is almost secondary to the fact that it’s simply a rocking speaker in its own right. I almost want to install a pair inside.