The Park Stevens PS4 Satellite is open to all sorts of installation options, including spiked; two-on-a-spike; wall-mounted; ceiling-mounted; flush-mounted; or buried, pointing upward, with a top hat that disperses the sound outward. I should probably just go ahead and admit my biases from the giddy-up: my expectations for outdoor speakers have, generally speaking, always been pretty low, at least when compared with indoor speakers. If an all-weather speaker can withstand the elements here in Alabama, isn’t an absolute beast to install, and generally makes an agreeable (much less joyful) noise, I’m pretty easily impressed.
But every once in a while, an outdoor speaker system comes along that resets my expectations about just how good such a system can sound and blows the curve for everybody else. The Park Stevens landscape audio system (designed by Bay Audio but spun off into a separate company to allow integrators more choice in terms of which lines to carry) is such a package: beautifully designed, solidly constructed, with oodles of installation flexibility. But above all, what impresses me most is just how lovely it sounds. And I don’t mean that in a dismissive, patronizing, “for an outdoor” speaker sort of way.
The demo kit that Park Stevens sent me for review contained a nice mix-and-match of its offerings, including four PS4 Satellites, one PS4 dual driver speaker, and a PS10 subwoofer. Also included in the case was a QSC GX7 amp, which integrators can order from Park Stevens as part of a complete entertainment package. That’s optional, of course; you can order the speakers without the amp. But if you do opt for the QSC amp, Park Stevens also throws in its own stereo-to-mono adapter. My demo/review kit also included a handy little preamp/volume control with an auxiliary port in the front, which made plugging in my iPhone 5S super handy.
During the setup process, I got a call from Aaron Gutin, VP of sales and marketing for Bay Audio, who just wanted to make sure I had a handle on the various components in the demo kit. I’m glad he called, because the most valuable bit of information I took away from that call is the fact that the PS4 dual driver model is really designed to be installed on-wall or next to a boundary. So I placed it right up against a bend in the brick wall that surrounds my patio.
The PS4 satellite, meanwhile, is open to all sorts of installation options, including spiked; two-on-a-spike; wall-mounted; ceiling-mounted; flush-mounted; or buried, pointing upward, with a top hat that disperses the sound outward. The demo kit didn’t come with any mounts, though, so I placed three of the satellites on the aforementioned brick wall (two facing inward toward the patio; one firing out into the yard) and buried another one in a large flower pot next to the subwoofer, just off the patio, with a hat on top.
The PS4 Satellite is sold by default in a 70v version, although an 8-ohm version is available for integrators that want to install stereo systems outdoors. Bay Audio CEO Ira Friedman explained to me, though, that the company put a lot of effort into developing a transformer for the 70v speakers that had no effect on sonic performance, and although I haven’t heard the 8-ohm versions for comparison, I buy that claim wholeheartedly.
After getting everything hooked up, I plugged in my iPhone and threw the system what I considered to be an easy pitch: Grateful Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower.” It was a gorgeous, breezy afternoon, one of the rare nice days here in Alabama between our three weeks of brutal winter and nine months of insufferable summer. So, as I said above, my expectations couldn’t have been lower. If the Park Stevens system had rendered the vocals with any sufficient clarity and generally given the impression that some instruments were being played, I would have been peachy.
To my utter shock, the track positively came alive outdoors. Phil Lesh’s glorious loping bass line absolutely danced out of the PS10 subwoofer. Jerry Garcia’s Mixolydian guitar melodies simply sparkled through the PS4s. Well, most of them. It quickly became apparent that galericulating the PS4 satellite with its domed cap does rob the speaker of some of its high-frequency sparkle. That may be well and fine if all of the speakers in an outdoor system are capped, but with only one of out of five covered, it sort of threw the wonderful cohesiveness of the system out of whack. So I dug it up, uncapped it, perched it on my patio wall with the rest of its compatriots, and kept truckin’ on.
With two of the PS4s now beaming out into the backyard, I decided to walk the perimeter of the fence just to see if the speakers could fill my backyard with sweet sound. My lot is pretty tiny by Alabama standards, with only about 60-by-65 feet of space fenced in at the back of the house. But still, I was downright impressed by how well the Park Stevens speakers and subwoofer permeated the open air space. Even from 65 feet away, they still blended amazingly well and delivered a nice, spacious cloud of sound.
The author cued up “Hyperballad,” a song by Björk with oodles of bass spikes at around 40Hz and plenty of energy down below 30Hz, and marveled at the Park Stevens PS10 Subwoofer’s ability to crank out all of that subterranean thunder without a bit of effort, no matter where I wandered in the yard.
Back on the patio, I fiddled around with the taps on the side of one of the PS4 satellites to see what effect they had on performance. One of the speakers was a lot closer to my porch swing than the other satellite and dual-driver speaker, so I dialed its tap back from 32 watts to 16 watts to balance things out. You can also use the taps to limit the total power draw from your amp. So, say, if you’re running six PS4s on a 100-watt amp channel, you can set all six taps to 16 watts. Either way, adjusting the taps merely affects volume, not sound quality.
During our discussion, Gutin also mentioned that you can run up to 16 satellites from one amp, but for optimal performance, the company recommends keeping it down to eight sats and one sub. For my own yard, I can definitely verify that one sub is more than enough. I cued up “Hyperballad,” a song by Björk with oodles of bass spikes at around 40Hz and plenty of energy down below 30Hz, and marveled at the PS10’s ability to crank out all of that subterranean thunder without a bit of effort, no matter where I wandered in the yard.
Honestly, the only time the system every struggled at all was with very loud, very dynamically compressed rock music. The intro to Fleetwood Mac’s “My Little Demon” was nuanced and detailed, but once the track kicked in hard (when every element in the mix becomes loud, loud, loud), I had to pull back on the volume a little to alleviate a bit of strain.
Now that I think about it, though, my neighbors probably appreciated that.
Kudos The Park Stevens landscape audio system is a truly fantastic sounding, articulate, and impactful speaker setup with tons of installation flexibility, incredibly build quality, and one truly amazing subwoofer.
Concerns Clients that like to listen to a lot of loud, pounding, dynamically compressed hard rock music outdoors might be a weensy bit disappointed with the system’s preference for less aggressive tunes.
Product Specs PS4 Satellite • 90 dB Coverage Area: Up to 20′ (6.1 m) from speaker • Max Output: 100 dB each, with 32w • Weight: 4 lbs. (1.8 kg) • Dimensions: 6.5 x 9″ (165 x 229 mm)
PS4 Dual Driver
• 90 dB Coverage Area: Up to 20′ (6.1 m) from speaker • Max Output: 104 dB each, with 32w • Weight: 6 lbs. (2.7 kg) • Dimensions: 6.5 x 9″ (165 x 229 mm)
• 90 dB Coverage Area: Up to 40′ (12 m) from speaker • Max Output: 116 dB with 500w • Weight: 27 lbs. (12.2 kg) • Dimensions: 15.25 x 13.5″ (387 x 343 mm)