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We tested two new models from OSD Audio and Dual Electronics and added the Dual LU53PW as a budget pick.
Best Outdoor Speakers On A Budget
We love the convenience of portable Bluetooth speakers. But for those who want a more durable, higher-quality audio solution for the patio or deck, we suggest a good pair of weatherproof outdoor speakers. The OSD Audio AP650 speakers are your best choice because they sound great, are easy to mount and are built to withstand harsh weather conditions and protect against insect and dust invasion.
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The AP650 speakers have a clear and full sound that works well for any type of music. And they have no openings that let in water or insects.
The OSD Audio AP650 speakers are the best value we’ve found in a pair of outdoor speakers. Their clarity surpasses anything we’ve heard from other models priced under $200 a pair. And they have full, powerful sound that can easily fill an outdoor space, up to approximately 1,500 square feet. The AP650 speakers have enough bass for R&B, hip-hop and rock music. And they don’t need a lot of power to deliver volume, so you can pair them with a small amp. Because they have a fully sealed design, there is no worry about water, dust or insects getting in. This pair is also better built than most outdoor speakers under $200, with a thicker case and a sturdy, powder-coated mounting bracket.
The NS-AW294 speakers provide full sound, but are not the best choice for locations with harsh weather conditions.
If you want to spend a little less to get good sound outside, the Yamaha NS-AW294 speakers are a good choice – as long as you don’t live in a place where heavy storms are common, as their portable design can allow water to enter. , potentially causing damage. The NS-AW294 speakers don’t sound as clear as our top pick, but they have a solid amount of bass and can play pretty loud.
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The Dayton Audio IO8XTB speaker is roughly twice the price and size of our OSD and Yamaha picks, but it’s safe to say that this speaker offers at least twice the performance. Not only does it deliver a lot more bass, but its sound is clearer and smoother in the midrange and treble. Whether you listen to hip-hop, rock, folk or classical, you’ll appreciate the upgrade.
The LU53PW is a compact and affordable fully enclosed choice, but this pair doesn’t have as much bass and doesn’t sound as good at very high volumes.
Those who just want to listen to light music on the patio and want to keep their investment to a minimum will love the Dual Electronics LU53PW speakers. Although they don’t have much bass and can get quite loud when turned on, they sound good for background music, podcasts and internet radio. They’re also more compact than other cordless models we recommend and are fully sealed to prevent water ingress.
The BTP525 speakers have built-in Bluetooth and a stereo amplifier, which makes installation much easier. They sound good, but they won’t fill as large an area as our other picks.
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The OSD Audio BTP525 speakers are a good choice for someone who only needs sound for, say, a small yard, and someone who wants speakers that are very easy to install. All of our other outdoor speakers are the conventional, unamplified type—they can fill a yard with full, powerful sound, but require complicated installation and wiring. The BTP525 has built-in amplifiers and the power supply is waterproof. So you just need to mount the speakers, run a wire between them and connect power to the speakers and an external AC outlet. A built-in Bluetooth receiver lets you stream audio from smartphones and tablets wirelessly, and sound quality is similar—though not as loud or full—to that of the OSD Audio AP650 pair.
I can confidently say that I’ve reviewed more passive (ie, non-amplified, non-Bluetooth) external speakers than all the other audio journalists in the world combined – a fact that says far less to me than the near-total absence of attention these speakers receive from audio publications. My outdoor speaker testing experience includes numerous individual product reviews and seven multi-product shoots: one for Home Theater magazine, one for Home Entertainment magazine, one for Sound & Vision, and four for Wirecutter. I built an audio switcher specifically to do stealth branding testing. And, perhaps most importantly, I have a yard – and I’m not afraid to use it.
In addition to conducting my own off-brand listening tests, I also enlisted the help of several other listeners during the years-long evolution of this article. They include Wirecutter senior writer and headphone expert Lauren Dragan (who also writes audio reviews for Sound & Vision magazine and has a degree in music performance and audio production from Ithaca College), and writer Daniel Varghese.
These speakers are for people who are lucky enough to have an outdoor space to call their own—whether it’s a small yard or a full yard—and who love to listen to music or podcasts. The speakers are weatherproof, so in most cases you can leave them mounted outside for years without worrying about them breaking down due to water damage. (They may not survive severe weather like a hurricane, and some models will leak water under certain conditions.) These speakers have metal grilles and fairly rugged plastic housings. Therefore, they will usually survive any impact from stray volleyballs and it will be difficult or impossible for insects to nest in them. Most of them are powered by a separate amplifier, so they don’t need to be plugged in or charged – but you’ll need to use speaker wire.
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Outdoor speakers rarely sound as good as a good set of bookshelf speakers designed for indoor use. The plastic enclosures of outdoor speakers tend to vibrate and produce a rattling sound, and the perforated metal grilles tend to block or reflect some of the sound waves coming from the speaker drive. I also suspect that since the manufacturers know that their outdoor speakers are unlikely to undergo much testing, they don’t put as much effort into these designs as they do their indoor models.
Because you have to run speaker cable from the amplifier to the speakers, setting up a traditional pair of passive (unamplified) speakers outdoors requires more skill and effort than simply placing a portable Bluetooth speaker on a patio table. You can turn off the speakers of your existing home theater receiver if you have some unused amplifier channels. Most stereo receivers have a “speakers A/B” button that lets you route the sound to a different set of speakers, or you can use an inexpensive speaker switcher. You can also use an inexpensive mini stereo amplifier from a brand such as Fosi Audio or Loxjie. Add a Bluetooth adapter (or buy an amplifier with built-in Bluetooth) and you can easily find digital music files, online audio streaming services and podcasts from a Bluetooth-equipped smartphone, tablet or computer (as long as you have a Bluetooth adapter close to where you are sitting outside – usually no more than 15 to 30 feet).
You will need to keep the amplifier indoors and run the wires through the walls or attic to the outside of the house. Of course, this operation requires a certain amount of skill and experience. Most localities allow low-voltage cables (ie audio, video and network) to run through walls without permission, but you should check your local building code to confirm. Be sure to use cables marked CL2 or CL3, which are fire resistant for safety.
An alternative to all that complexity would be to get a set of external speakers with a built-in amplifier and Bluetooth. With this option, the only wires you need to use are the cable between the two speakers and the power connection. You’ll need an external AC outlet nearby, and you’ll probably prefer to turn off the power when the speakers aren’t in use.
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Another option is a waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker big enough to fill your backyard (or at least the yard) with sound. You can find them in our guide to the best portable Bluetooth speakers.
The outdoor speaker industry moves much more slowly than most of the audio industry – it’s common for a model to remain on sale for many years. In fact, many of the speakers we tested years ago for this guide are still available. However, the rise of price-competitive vendors—such as Dayton Audio, OSD, and Monoprice—has greatly increased the number of models.
I began the testing process by breaking in each speaker with music played at an average volume for 10 hours. Then I heard them all in my yard for a few days. If a speaker exhibits serious anomalies—such as distortion in the deep bass notes or sharp vibrations that make voices sound shrill—I eliminated it, knowing that it would have no chance of being made the best solution.
Then we performed
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