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We tested two new models from OSD Audio and Dual Electronics and added the Dual LU53PW as a budget pick.
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We love the convenience of portable Bluetooth speakers. But for those who want a more durable, high-quality sound solution for the patio or deck, we offer a good pair of weatherproof outdoor speakers. The OSD Audio AP650 speakers are your best choice because they sound great, are easy to install, and are built to withstand harsh weather conditions and fend off bugs and dust.
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The AP650 speakers have a clean, full sound that is well suited for any type of music. And they don’t have ports that leak water or bugs.
The OSD Audio AP650 speakers are the best value we’ve found in outdoor pairings. Their clarity surpasses anything we’ve heard from other models under $200 a pair. And they have full, powerful sound that can easily fill an outdoor space, up to about 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 produce big tones, so you can pair them with a small amp. Since they have a fully enclosed design, you don’t have to worry about water, dust or insects getting in. This pair is also better built than most street speakers under $200, with a thicker body and a durable powder-coated mounting bracket.
The NS-AW294 speakers provide full sound, but they are not the best choice for locations with severe weather conditions.
If you want to spend a little less to get decent outdoor sound, the Yamaha NS-AW294 speakers are a good choice – as long as you don’t live in a place that gets a lot of rain, as their portable design can leak water, potentially regrettable. The NS-AW294 speakers don’t sound as crisp as our top pick, but they have a solid amount of bass and can get pretty loud.
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The Dayton Audio IO8XTB speaker is about twice the price and size of our OSD and Yamaha, but we can safely say that this speaker delivers at least twice the performance. Not only does it deliver much more bass, but its sound is cleaner and smoother in the mids and highs. Whether you listen to hip-hop, rock, folk or classical, you’ll appreciate the improvement.
The LU53PW is a compact, affordable choice that’s fully sealed, but this pair doesn’t have as much bass and doesn’t sound as good at very loud volumes.
Those who just want to listen to light music in the backyard and keep their investment to a minimum will love the Dual Electronics LU53PW speakers. While they don’t have much bass and can be quite loud when turned up loud, they sound decent for background music, podcasts, and internet radio. They’re also more compact than other non-powered models we recommend and are fully sealed to prevent water ingress.
The BTP525 speakers have built-in Bluetooth and a stereo amplifier, which greatly simplifies the installation. They sound good, but they won’t take up as much space as our other picks.
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The OSD Audio BTP525 speakers are a good choice for those who only need sound for, say, a small yard, and for those who need speakers that are very easy to install. All of the other outdoor speakers we feature are conventional, non-amplified outdoor speakers – they can fill your yard with full, reliable sound, but require complex installation and wiring. The BTP525 has built-in amplifiers and a waterproof power supply. 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 allows for wireless streaming of audio from smartphones and tablets, and the sound quality is similar – though not as loud or full – to that of the OSD Audio AP650.
I can safely say that I’ve reviewed more passive (ie non-amplified and non-Bluetooth) external speakers than all the other audio journalists in the world combined – a fact that says far less about me than it does about my near-total lack of attention to of these speakers in audio publications. My outdoor speaker testing experience includes numerous single-product reviews and seven multi-product shootouts: one for Home Theater Magazine, one for Home Entertainment Magazine, one for Sound & Vision, and four for Wirecutter. I ordered a custom volume switch specifically for testing, hidden from the brand. And perhaps most importantly, I have a yard — and I’m not afraid to use it.
In addition to conducting my own hidden brand listening tests, I also enlisted the help of several other listeners during the years-long evolution of this article. They include Wirecutter senior contributor and headphone expert Lauren Dragan (who also writes audio reviews for Sound & Vision magazine and holds a degree in music performance and audio production from Ithaca College) and writer Danielle Varghese.
These speakers are designed 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 enjoy listening to music or podcasts. The speakers are weatherproof, so in most cases you can leave them installed outside for years without worrying about them failing due to water damage. (They may not survive severe weather such as hurricanes, and some models accept water under certain conditions.) These speakers have metal grilles and a fairly sturdy plastic housing. As such, they tend to take any hit from random volleys and make it difficult or impossible for bed bugs to nest in them. And most of them are disconnected from the individual amplifier, so they don’t need to be plugged in or charged – but you will need to run speaker wire.
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Outdoor speakers rarely sound as good as a decent set of bookshelf speakers designed for indoor use. Plastic outdoor speaker enclosures tend to vibrate and create a booming sound, and perforated metal grilles tend to block or reflect some of the sound waves coming from the speaker drivers. I also suspect that because the manufacturers know that their outdoor speakers are unlikely to be subjected to serious testing, they don’t put as much work into these designs as they do their in-house models.
Because you need to run a speaker cable from the amplifier to the speaker, setting up a traditional pair of passive (unamplified) outdoor speakers requires more skill and effort than simply setting up a portable Bluetooth speaker on a patio table. You can disable the speakers on your existing home theater receiver if you have several unused amplifier channels. Most stereos have a “speaker A/B” button that allows you to route the sound to a second set of speakers, or you can use an inexpensive speaker switcher. You can also use an inexpensive stereo mini amplifier from brands like Fosi Audio or Loxjie. Add a Bluetooth adapter (or buy an amplifier with built-in Bluetooth) and you can easily receive digital music files, online audio streaming services, and podcasts from your Bluetooth-equipped smartphone, tablet, or computer (as long as you keep the Bluetooth adapter nearby, where you sit outside – usually 15 to 30 feet at most).
You will need to keep the amplifier inside and run the wires through the walls or ceiling to the outside of the house. Obviously, this operation requires a certain skill and experience. Most localities allow low voltage cables (namely audio, video and network) to be run through walls without a permit, but you should check your local building code to confirm. Make sure you use CL2 or CL3 rated cables which are flame retardant for safety.
An alternative to all this complexity would be to purchase a set of external speakers with built-in amplifiers and Bluetooth. With this option, the only wires you need to include 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 alternative is to have a waterproof portable Bluetooth speaker big enough to fill your yard (or at least the yard) with sound. You can find them in our best portable Bluetooth speaker guide.
The street speaker industry develops much more slowly than most of the audio industry – often a model remains on sale for years. In fact, many of the speakers we tested years ago for this guide are still available. However, the rise of highly competitively priced suppliers – such as Dayton Audio, OSD and Monoprice – has greatly expanded the number of models.
I started the testing process by playing music on each speaker at a moderate volume for 10 hours. Then I listened to them all in my backyard for days. If a speaker exhibited serious abnormalities—such as distortion in the deep bass or sharp treble that made voices sound harsh—I eliminated it, knowing it would have no chance of being the best choice.
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