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Case Study: OWI Rock Speakers Blend in at Zoo

In outdoor settings, such as gardens, courtyards, restaurants, theme parks, and lifestyle centers, good audio is often meant to be heard and not seen. That’s when audio equipment should blend into the background as aesthetically and durably as possible. Unfortunately, traditional pole and building mounted outdoor spe

In outdoor settings, such as gardens, courtyards, restaurants, theme parks, and lifestyle centers, good audio is often meant to be heard and not seen. That’s when audio equipment should blend into the background as aesthetically and durably as possible.

Unfortunately, traditional pole and building mounted outdoor speakers can stick out like a sore thumb in venues demanding ambiance. Rock speakers, on the other hand, can bring a natural outdoor feel to audio equipment.

There’s a reason that some landscapers bring in rocks and boulders to enhance a landscape. Rocks, trees, and water have a natural harmony that’s been showcased in gardens, landscapes and artwork for centuries. Few rock speakers, however, look like real rock or are made of anything as strong as rock. Many, in fact, are made of artificial plastics and resins molded into boxy forms that resemble the shape of a speaker, not a rock. What often gives away these rock speakers as fakes is their unnatural sheen when light hits them, the way water beads on their plastic surfaces, and their typically single, dominant coloration. To top it off, some display obvious circular areas where their speaker grilles reveal themselves.

 “You want a rock speaker that realistically blends into the outdoor setting, or what’s the point?” stated Kevin Forsyth, owner of Forsyth Consulting, Inc., a audio-video systems integrator based in Birmingham, AL.

On a project Forsyth recently performed for the Birmingham Zoo, one of Alabama’s most popular attractions, Forsyth found what he was looking for in a rock speaker. The Zoo needed rugged rock speakers with natural aesthetics for their new exhibit, Trails of Africa, the world’s first exhibit featuring a herd of African bull elephants in a natural setting.

“For the variety of natural rock colors, shapes, and sizes we needed to truly blend into the setting, we turned to OWI’s L.A. Rocker Rock Speakers,” Forsyth said.

Since real rock has a textured, irregular shape with a subtle mix of colors that varies by location, OWI, a Carson, CA-based manufacturer of loudspeakers, set out to recreate the look of real rock in their rock speakers. In designing the aesthetics of their its weatherized speakers, the company took real rock samples from around the country such as Hawaiian lava rock, Florida reef rock, New Hampshire granite, and Colorado river rock. From these natural samples, they patterned the shape, color, and texture of their rock speaker casings.

Starting with glass fiber reinforced concrete for rock-like strength and texture, the company hand lays the concrete in rock molds. After each rock speaker casing cures for 25 days, it is hand painted with a mix of colors for a unique look. In shape and color, no two of its rock speaker casings is exactly alike, just like real rock.

“The L.A. Rocker Rock Speakers ended up being a perfect match, and actually looked like they were custom fabricated for the exhibit,” Forsyth said. “Each looks just like a rock, but has a high-quality speaker inside.”

One thing that landscapers, installers, and their customers can agree on is that they do not want outdoor rock speakers to fail or suffer problems shortly after installation. But far too many rock speakers are not designed for long-term, trouble-free, outdoor use. Many are designed for seasonal use, and should be brought indoors when the fair-weather is over because they are not truly weatherproof.

 Other plastic and resin-based rock speakers may crack under the weight of children standing on them or adults sitting on them. Or landscaping weedwackers and edge trimmers may chip away at their relatively thin speaker grilles or brittle casings until their surface is damaged. Cumulatively, cracks, chips, and harsh weather can allow moisture to intrude, hastening the failure of sub-par rock speakers.

Because OWI’s rock speaker casings are made from glass fiber reinforced concrete, they can withstand hundreds of pounds of standing weight, according to the manufacturer. And, because their speaker grilles are made of the same material, they can withstand weedwhackers and lawnmowers. As their speakers are weatherproof and made from stainless steel, they carry a five-year warranty and have been known to perform outdoors for over a decade.

“Like my customers, I just want rock speakers that work flawlessly after installation, without worrying about lawnmowers, kids, or bad weather,” Forsyth noted. “With these weatherproofed rock speakers made of reinforced concrete, that’s what you get.”

Of course, to audio-video contractors and their customers, what’s inside the rock speaker casing and how it performs is ultimately what matters. Because performance matters, it’s important to have a range of choices that fit the customer’s outdoor surroundings and application.

For instance, to complement its eight rock speaker casing models, OWI offers a full range of two- and three-way speakers from four to 12 inches in commercial 70V and 8-Ohm residential capacities. Subwoofer models are available, and the weight of these rock speakers can vary from 25 pounds to 200 pounds. They’re also UV resistant, bug-, puppy-, and lawnmower-proof, and have a built-in security cable attachment ring for anchoring the rocks on concrete. In residential applications, the weight of the rocks is enough to keep them in place.

“One of the things that surprised me on the Zoo job was how the sound dispersion pattern on the rock speaker was a lot broader and smoother than what you’d expect,” Forsyth said. “For listeners, that means better, more even audio coverage with no pattern disruption. From my experience, I wouldn’t consider specifying anything else.”

OWI has a 30-year history of consistently bringing innovative products to the audio market. They offer a full line of high-end speaker products including indoor/outdoor speakers, self-amplified ceiling, in-wall and trumpet speakers, pendant speakers, and weatherized speakers.

Del Williams is a technical writer based in Torrance, CA.