Kudos: Incredibly simple setup; amplifier offers tons of customization; incredibly even, detailed audio presentation
Concerns: Bass port noise when played at loud volumes
One of the biggest evolutions in the house-wide audio category in recent years has been the vast improvement in outdoor audio systems. For the longest time, outdoor audio simply meant mounting two to four speakers rated for “outdoor use” on a porch wall that would pump sound into the backyard. Over time these speakers changed from standard white/black wall-mount models to faux rocks in a variety of finishes designed to blend into landscaping. However, the one thing most of these outdoor audio systems didn’t address was the actual audio portion.
Visit a typical backyard entertaining area with speakers randomly placed around some semblance of the listening area, and what you generally end up with is lots of uneven sound — too loud here, inaudible there — and virtually no bass response at all. The great outdoors is just that: great. Without walls, ceilings, and defined/contained listening spaces, getting quality sound in a backyard is often easier said than done. This doesn’t even address the issue of far higher levels of background noise outside. And if you don’t have enough drivers and power behind your sound system, it’s going to get swallowed up, sounding thin and unimpressive.
A walk around the CEDIA floor this year revealed numerous outdoor audio systems from a bevy of speaker manufacturers, but one company that has been focusing exclusively on great sound in the great outdoors since its inception is NEAR (New England Audio Resource). During its 30-year existence, NEAR has products installed in some of the harshest environments — mountain tops, deserts, jungles, amusement parks, oceanfront — and the company has analyzed every failure point to continue developing the most reliable, durable, easy-to-use, high-performance speakers for use in either a residential or commercial market. The company’s latest offering, the NEARScapes IG44.1DSP, is designed as an all-in-one system to deliver unobtrusive, easy-to-install, high-performance sound to outdoor living spaces.
It’s fantastic when something touted and sold as a “system” actually comes as such, meaning it includes all necessary parts and hardware needed to work right out of the box, or boxes as is the case with the IG44.1DSP. Included with this system are four IG4M Satellites, four color-matched ground mounting stakes, an IGS100M subwoofer, an IE1 direct burial wiring junction box, four pre-terminated 20-foot burial rated speaker wires, and the NEAR 3XL power amplifier with digital signal processing. This package is designed to provide even sound coverage in areas up to 3000 square feet, but it is highly scalable to cover larger areas, with the single 3XL amplifier able to easily drive up to two IGS100M subs and 8 IG4M Satellites for 6000 square feet of coverage.
Click here to read Futuresource's take on the current trends in outdoor audio.
The bollard-style IG4M speakers can either be stake-mounted or semi-buried in the ground for a more discreet look. While burying is said to provide better bass performance, I opted for the stake-mount route because summer in Myrtle Beach is not exactly pleasant digging weather. The IGS100M subwoofer, however, is a different animal, and, at NEAR’s insistence, I buried this monster up to the port. The sub features a dual voice coil design capable of either mono or stereo wiring. (The suggestion is to run the system in mono.)
One of the things separating the IG4M from other outdoor audio systems is its ultra-wide dispersion pattern. While typical systems have around a 60-degree dispersion, the IG4M’s have an ultra-wide 120-degrees of coverage, meaning that fewer can be used to still blanket an area in even sound, creating a larger listener area with fewer speakers.
The IG4Ms can be set to either 70-volt (tap settings of 64, 32, and 16 watts) or in low impedance mode, where four satellites wired in parallel present a 4-ohm load to the 3XL amplifier. (Company founder, Bill Kieltyka, suggested the 16-watt setting would likely be too quiet for residential applications, and more suitable for a large commercial installation where low-level background listening across large areas is the goal. Should an integrator require an even larger system, Kieltyka recommended stepping up to the company’s 7XL amplifier, which doubles the amplification and can comfortably drive twice as many speakers, adding about $500 to the system price.)
If you’ve ever installed an outdoor audio system with speakers installed on or in the ground, then you’ll know the importance of making weatherproof speaker splice connections. NEAR takes all of the risk out of this by pre-terminating the included speaker wiring with “Perfect Fit” connectors. These IP-67 rated connectors prevent mis-wiring errors, and have a double O-ring design to prevent any water or dirt from corrupting the signal flow, ruining the wire or speaker over time. Each speaker has a twist-lock connection on the bottom for wire in and out, making connection simple, fast, and trouble free. Also, the pre-terminated 20-foot lengths help determine a more ideal speaker layout. Wire connections to the subwoofer are made to colored screw terminals inside the weatherproof IE1 junction box.
I have an in-ground money pit (i.e., swimming pool) in my backyard, and I spread the speakers around the outer perimeter of the pool, all aiming back towards the house/primary seating positions. I installed the subwoofer in the middle of the speaker chain. Besides focusing the sound towards the listening area, another great benefit is that it lessens the sound being fired towards neighbors, lowering sound pollution.
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All of the speakers feature a ton of tech that NEAR has developed and patented over time, such as rectangular grille perforations designed to better clear liquid. The cabinets are designed to have a permanent color finish, and the drivers feature a specially developed material that resists UV rays, chlorine, fertilizer, and salt spray, and exceeds Mil-Std-810 for humidity, salt air, heat, cold, and immersion. While in my possession, besides lasting through an entire Myrtle Beach summer, the speaker system literally survived a hurricane, soaking up feet of rain and high winds and shrugging it all off like a boss, so if that ain’t weatherproof, I don’t know what is.
The final piece of the IG44.1DSp puzzle is the 3XL DSP amplifier. This 350-watt x 2 amp not only powers the speakers, but is packed with tons of powerful DSP, allowing an integrator to dial-in and tailor the audio for the best sound at each install.
While the amp comes pre-loaded with 16 DSP files for a variety of NEAR speaker configurations, it offers an Ethernet connection (currently a peer-to-peer connection only, not over the network) and Web-based GUI to adjust a huge host of parameters including peak limiters, crossover slopes, multi-band parametric EQ, delays, and more. The amp features a built-in pink and white noise generator, which allows an integrator to perfectly shape the audio for each location. Another unique feature of the amp is built-in adjustable compression that allows you to reduce the dynamic range to account for the typically high amount of ambient noise found outside, making sure that quiet sounds aren’t lost or that loud sounds aren’t too overpowering.
I connected the 3XL DSP to the Zone 2 output of my Marantz AV8802A preamp, giving me complete source and volume control as I freely roamed my backyard. From the get go, it was apparent how clear, detailed, and even this speaker system sounds. Volume levels were incredibly consistent all around my pool, letting me roam freely and never feel like I was coming in-and-out of sonic bubbles. And this with only four satellites, each separated 20 feet from one another. The wide dispersion of the IG4M satellites is really impressive.
The blending between satellites and subwoofer was also very impressive, with the bass source impossible to localize until you walked up close to it. With the even coverage and compression settings in the amplifier there isn’t the need to play the system loud just to hear it; audio was always clear and detailed even at moderate levels. However, when you wanted to give the system some gas to kick the party up a notch, it was happy to respond, and I had no trouble getting 90-plus dB readings on an SPL meter at my primary listening position.
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I fed the system a variety of music, including jazz, electronic, pop, indie, and rock, and it always presented this wonderful wall of sound that just emanated from the entire backyard. Voices were clear, and fine details like brushes on cymbals or the pluck of a bass note were clear.
One thing I noticed was that when playing really bass-heavy music at higher volumes, say The Crystal Method’s “High Roller,” you could get some pretty audible bass port chuffing from the sub. Depending on the music, volume level, and your seating position, this could be very distracting. NEAR recommended some DSP adjustments that certainly reduced the chuffing, but I think the ultimate solution for me would be adding a second subwoofer.
Outdoor entertaining spaces are rapidly becoming a client expectation, and if you are looking for an all-in-one solution that can deliver the goods for years to come, the NEARScapes IG44.1DSP is certainly worthy of an audition.
Contact: 855-350-6327; nearspeakers.com
- NEARScapes IG44.1DSP includes one NEAR 3XL DSP amplifier, four IG4M satellites, four ground stakes, one IGS100M subwoofer, one IE1 direct burial junction box, and four 20-foot burial grade speaker wires
- System provides even audio coverage up to 3000 square feet, easily expandable to 6000 or more
- Satellites can be buried in-ground or stake mounted
- Speaker wiring pre-terminated with IP-67 rated screw-in weatherproof connectors
- Speakers meet/exceed Mil-Std-810 standard for durability in all weather conditions
- 3XL DSP amplifier: 350-watts x 2 Class D design with up to 90% efficiency; 70-volt or 4-ohm capable; 24-bit A/D convertors with 48kHz/24-bit DSP sample; pre-loaded with DSP settings for typical NEAR systems; configurable via Ethernet connection; 2 XLR balanced and 2 RCA unbalanced audio inputs; line outputs for linking additional amplifiers
- IG4M satellite features 4 ½-inch metal-alloy diaphragm woofer and 1.2-inch metal alloy diaphragm tweeter; 70 Hz–19 kHz response (+/- 3dB); 86 dB sensitivity; 120 degree vertical and horizontal dispersion; 70-volt (64/32/16-watt selectable) or 16-ohm bypass;
- IGS100M subwoofer features 10-inch metal-alloy UDIO woofer, with dual 8-ohm voice coils; 35 Hz to 100 Hz (+/- 3dB); 92 dB sensitivity; 360-degree dispersion
- 7.75-inch diameter at base, 19.5-inch High (stake-mounted), 10-12-inches high (buried); 8 pounds
- 19.5-inch diameter at base, 17.4-inch High; 36 pounds
3XL DSP Power Amplifier
- 20.5 x 20.5 x 5.5-inches (WxDxH); 17.7 pounds