Perhaps you are looking to complement your new exterior TV with a nice set of speakers, or you are looking for the long term external solution for streaming music outside. You're going to need speakers for that, and you might be wondering if you really need to spend the extra money on outdoor speakers?
While you can use indoor speakers outside, they can be damaged by the weather more easily than hardware designed for outdoor use. If you are using indoor speakers outside, be sure to bring them inside when not in use.
Let’s say, hypothetically, you had an extra set of speakers (maybe from an upgrade) and you decided to start using them outside. What could go wrong with these speakers? When would it be okay to use them outside?
Outdoor speakers like the Polk Audio Outdoor Speakers (on Amazon) or the Sonos Outdoor Architectural Speakers (also on Amazon) are designed to deal with the elements. They have design elements specifically chosen to protect them from wind, rain, and hot/cold temperature swings. Indoor speakers simply don't have those things.
As with most electronics, audio systems left outside can be affected or compromised by weather and atmospheric conditions and can be damaged by dirt, water, and the sun. Here are the most common ways that indoor speakers will fail when used outdoors.
Many interior speakers use a paper cone driver, the piece that moves your speaker back and forth, that, while chemically treated, can be susceptible to humidity and tearing. If, however, you find your internal speaker is made with polyurethane or polypropylene, it should have a better chance at survival outdoors.
Similarly, the cases of interior speakers occasionally are made of a pressing of sawdust or other filler material into board. When water gets into and between the pressed layers of the fine material, it can wreak havoc on the protective outer casing, exposing the delicate interior to even further abuse.
You can spray or brush on a sealant to the exterior casing of your speakers, as well as caulking connection points of your casing, to prevent debris and moisture from entering your device. That can extend the life of indoor speakers being used outdoors.
Keep in mind that many interior speakers are not designed for mounting, instead, they're typically meant to be placed on an entertainment stand or next to your stereo. If you decide to DIY a mounting system for your speakers, be sure to weatherize and over-secure your materials, as mounts are an easy fail point for your exterior electronics.
Whether you are using interior or exterior speakers, a key component in the traditional receiver-speaker set up is the cabling. If you have a long run or are mounting your speakers further out in the yard, you will want to ensure, as much as possible, that your cable runs are insulated and secure.
Just as with the speaker itself, your cabling is susceptible to weather conditions and physical damage, even some products that say they are designed for such use. An uninsulated, unprotected cable can become useless quickly when damage prevents signals from travelling efficiently through the speaker wire.
Even when mounted on the exterior of the house, once that cable exits the safe interior of the home, temperature becomes a factor in the life expectancy of your cable. Purchasing a pre-insulated cable or buying an inexpensive insulation jacket for your cable is an easy way to extend the life of an outer cable run.
If you need to bury your cable to get further out in the yard, a cheap PVC piping can help regulate variation in temperature change, and will prevent physical damage from dirt, water, and digging animals. At a minimum, wrapping the cable in tape is a cheap and effective way to insulate your cabling.
An especially vulnerable point is the termination connection of your audio cable to your speaker. Often left exposed on interior speakers, this connection is ripe for issues, and unless you want to continually trim and reconnect your cable, it should be addressed.
There are some pre-made options some companies or third parties have available but can sometimes be miss-sized or chintzy at best. Other options include electrical tape, glue, or other insulators to cap and shield the cabling/connection point.
Most speakers are designed for a specific purpose. Every aspect of the speaker should be at its peak function when purchased, so adding, or altering, things can affect the sound coming through. The best advice to you here is to continually test and monitor your audio as you complete each line of defense for your speakers.
That way, if something does alter the sound of your speakers, you can easily identify what it was and how fixable it will be based on the route you chose.
You will probably also notice immediately that the speakers do not seem to be as loud as they were before you brought them outside. This is completely normal. While indoor speakers are usable outside, they were designed for performance indoors and, typically, are bass forward. Whereas, on the other hand, outdoor speakers are treble forward, to be more easily heard in open spaces.
If you are using your indoor speakers outside on occasion, you're probably not in any danger of harming your electronics. However, if you intend to keep your speakers outside, exposed to the elements, it is suggested you use some of the preventative measures discussed above, such as plastic cone drivers and non-pressed external cases.
In addition to those, some other options you can consider are mesh grill screen covers, additional interior insulation (for colder climates), additional slipcovers or wraps (when not in use), and to keep your speakers out of direct sunlight. Large temperature differences and direct sun damage can be electronic killers. If you want a few more ideas, we have a separate article that goes into more detail on protecting outdoor speakers.
A quick and effective way to accomplish many of the points we have discussed above is to purchase or build a well fitted protective speaker box for your equipment. Similar to the way an outdoor TV cabinet is recommended for an outdoor TV (our write-up), a speaker box is always recommended for outdoor speaker use when the speakers aren't rated for outdoor service.
These can provide extra insulation, protection from dirt and water with all-around protection and built-in screen covers, shielding for your cable connections, and physical protection should severe weather attempt to damage your speakers. You can then also implement many of the other tips outlined above, to thoroughly protect your investment.
If you read our guide on using outdoor TV’s, you will know that I will typically recommend a product designed for the job, and that is no different here. With the number of variables and potential problems of modifying an interior speaker to be used safely and effectively used outdoors, it can be time and stress saving to take the straightforward option.
Outdoor speakers were designed to be just that: outdoors. And They'll have the quality and, often, the warranty to back up their claims. Whether you choose the DIY route or the perhaps more costly exterior speaker route, you will get what you pay for.