Feature: Installing a sound outdoor solution

If you offer space at your venue for outdoor entertainment or dining, you are likely to want to round off your facilities with an option to play music. Bill Lumley looks at the considerations B&B owners should make when choosing outdoor speakers.

Speaker technology moves as fast as everything else. You’d be forgiven for suspecting that most modern amplifiers aren’t equipped with traditional audio jacks – rendering associated hi-fi components redundant – for the same reason CDs were developed: to make the consumer buy the products all over again.

If you cast your mind back to our long, hot summer this year you’ll probably recall evidence of typical British behaviour: when the sun shines the public want to spend most of their available time outside enjoying the warm weather and longer evenings.

For some this could involve firing up the barbecue in the back garden, or for those who don’t have sufficient outside space, it could mean sitting outside a restaurant or café whilst enjoying a meal or having a few drinks with friends.

Whatever your preference, one thing is for certain – the experience is richer when accompanied by some decent music. How- ever, when it comes to playing high quality music outdoors, businesses such as inns and B&Bs with outdoor spaces must make some key considerations.

First of all you have to consider ambient noise, Q Acoustics brand director Alex Munro tells Luxury Bed & Breakfast. “Music from outside speakers often has to fight with busy roads, passers-by and multiple voices. This means you must ensure you are investing in an audio solution that offers consistently high performance and clarity,” he says.

However, he cautions that at the same time you cannot afford either to drown out the conversations between your guests or disturb any neighbouring buildings or offices.

In addition, the speakers will have to be able to operate in different types of often challenging weather conditions and climates.

“British weather is extremely temperamental – one week there may be a heatwave, and the next the country could be experiencing sustained rainfall, and winter can bring a combination of snow and ice such as we encountered early this year. As a result, it is important to ensure you have a speaker solution that is fit for purpose despite fluctuating weather patterns,“ says Munro.

Manufacturers have a responsibility to create outdoor speakers to combat these challenges, and it is important that they listen to feedback from installers with solid experience working on projects across the hospitality sector, he says.

For instance, Q Acoustics manufactures in-ceiling and outdoor weatherproof speakers that have been equalised and the frequency shaped so that the speakers not only provide a large sound from the small- est possible enclosure size, but also don’t overly impede vocal frequencies.

“This meets requirements such that the music can be played at a low enough volume without disturbing conversation or neighbours, whilst also ensuring the sound itself is still of a high quality,” he says.

“Furthermore, the speakers have been specifically designed to withstand a wide variety of weather conditions.” By way of example, Q Acoustics has recently supplied install speakers to a number of outlets across Egypt including busy cities such as Cairo to holiday destinations such as Hurghada. “Across the installations in Egypt we supplied many in-ceiling background speakers, as well as weatherproof on-wall speakers,” Munro says.

Naturally, when you consider the term ‘weatherproof’, you assume the speakers can continue to operate when wet, which is certainly the case. But weather conditions can vary dramatically, and a manufacturer must be confident the optimum performance of its speakers will be maintained whether they are located in an après-ski  bar in the frozen Alps, or in a roadside coffee shop on a hectic main road in Riyadh, continuously subjected to hostile weather conditions and temperatures in excess of 35 degrees for several months a year.

“One of the greatest joys of summer is listening to music in the sun, but there   is a challenge for restaurants, bars and cafes to find the right speakers to enhance the overall dining experience – especially those situated in holiday hotspots where the speakers must perform perfectly for long hours in high temperatures,” he says. “Through constant research and development, specialist manufacturers are now helping business owners operating within the hospitality sector to hit the right note with their customers. “

He mentions the issues of outdoor speakers in summer, raising the question as to what the challenges are that an outdoor speaker must confront during a UK winter, and what differentiates those designed for outdoors with those that aren’t?

Munro says: “From an audio perspective there is not much difference between summer and winter. The useable temperature range of the Q Install Weatherproof Series of products is -20 to +80 degrees Centigrade. The difference between indoor and outdoor speakers is the level to which moisture-proof the design is. This starts with the diaphragms of the moving parts or drive-units. If they are mot moisture-proof and start to deteriorate then the sound will change. The next key component is the cabinetry.”

Most indoor speakers have an MDF cabinet which would attract moisture and ultimately lose their integrity, he says. “Outdoor speakers are more often constructed using plastic mouldings, which are water-proof and self-finished so there are no painted surfaces to degenerate. Ported speaker designs present a particular problem and often they are supplied with port bungs which must be inserted when used outside. This can modify the performance but prevents moisture or wildlife ingress.”

Outdoor speakers tend to be more expensive than indoor speakers  but almost always include the bracketry for fixing them, which can be an extra cost  with speakers designed for shelf or stand mounting in the home, in some cases cost- ing as much as the speakers themselves.

Meanwhile something to look out  for is the IP (ingress protection) rating of the speakers. IP ratings provide a classification system for the protection of electrical enclosures. IPX4 for example is suitable for outdoor use, and the speakers and packaging will be marked with this.

A B&B will often have a limited budget yet also consider the need outdoor speakers, for example to provide sound at outdoor events such as wedding receptions. Munro claims Q Acoustics has a reputation for providing the best sonic performance and reliability in any particular price category. “On-wall speakers in black or white or an on-ground speaker disguised as a garden rock will provide good background music coverage at a retail price of £200-250,” he says.

One of the concerns of B&B owners seeking to install outdoor speakers is the question of the extent of specialist installation they may require. But Munro puts it more simply: “If you can install an outdoor light, it is easier and safer to install an outdoor speaker. The cable and any conduit and junction boxes also need to be appro- priate for outdoor use. The source amplifier, powered from the mains, is normally installed indoors.”

One of the benefits of indoor speakers is that they require next to no maintenance once they have been installed. A concern regarding outdoor speakers is whether the same issue applies. In fact, Munro says: “They should require no maintenance.

Most speaker makers provide a five-year warranty for passive outdoor speakers and you ought to be able to expect a product life-time of more than double this.”

Something to look out for is that properties located very close to a beach should really have marine grade speakers installed if they are going to be exposed to salt water laden onshore winds, he adds.

Finally, the issue of maximizing sound is something to be aware of. “Maximising sound can be a real problem for neighbouring properties and we’d always recommend positioning the speakers to point back across the open garden area towards the building from where they are con- trolled. Thick vegetation can help reduce unwanted noise transmission and it’s best to avoid very low bass that can carry over long distances,” he says.

“Mounting the speakers under roof eves or pergolas, out of direct sun  and  rainfall, is generally recommended. Having a easily accessible volume control in the outdoor space is essential so they can be adjusted while you are able to hear them. A timer to ensure that they are switched off overnight or at a particular time each night can also benefit all parties,” he concludes.

WIRELESS SOUND

The evolution of wireless technology has meant the birth of the cable-free loud- speaker. However, wired speakers still generally offer the most dependable and highest-quality sound as compared to their wireless counterparts. Wired speakers are also rarely as affected by interference as wireless speakers are, they will never be affected by Wi-Fi outages, and they are relatively less expensive in comparison to wire- less speaker. And of course, wired speakers do not need charging every few hours.

Perhaps most pertinently, the sound delivered by even the priciest wireless speakers is modest compared to the wired speakers used to fill a  stadium. But  there are brands that now produce wireless party speakers that are light and powerful enough to make the walls shake.

For ambient sound Tuom makes a Bluetooth 50-watt speaker system but with 30 watts of that produced by the subwoofer. This is unlikely to have the capacity to excel outdoors.

By contrast Pyle makes wireless a powerful portable Bluetooth speaker with bangs out enough sound to entertain a sizeable party. If you have a maximum capacity for 20 guests, then the speaker’s audio needs are not the same as if you may sometimes accommodate 100 guests outdoors.

For sizeable outdoor parties you may consider tailgate speakers. Contender for the loudest portable Bluetooth battery powered speaker at 168 watts is the Soundboks 2, whose military grade batteries only require charging every 40 hours.

Sound Appeal’s BT Blast PRO Bluetooth Indoor/Outdoor weatherproof speakers meanwhile purport to have taken a leap forward in technology, capable of streaming music up to 60 feet away from your android, iPhone or other Bluetooth enabled device and is ideal for a modest outdoor patio.

There are numerous considerations to bear in mind when buying and installing your outdoor speakers but technological advances and falling prices mean today you have a wider choice than ever before.

This feature was first published in the October 2018 issue of Luxury B&B Magazine