For many of us, being outdoors means sitting outside with the wind in our faces, the barbecue cranking out great food and our music setup pumping out the best tunes. On that last point, it's imperative that you pick an outdoor speaker that not only works for your patio or backyard but also gives you great sound at a fair price.
Our top pick overall is the Yamaha NS-AW390 ($119), which combines quality audio and an attractive design for a good price. If you're on a budget, the Acoustic Research Pasadena ($80) delivers excellent sound for under $100. And if you're looking for some music poolside, there's Fugoo's Style-S speaker which is water, dust and shockproof, is a rugged party in a box. But there are plenty of great options out there — ranging from wireless Bluetooth setups, to speakers mounted up high, to units that can blend seamlessly into your garden — so make sure you select the one that's right for you.
How We Tested
For this comparison, we set a price limit of $500. We tested 14 outdoor speakers from 13 manufacturers, using a wide range of music to keep an emphasis on how bass and treble came through. Single-unit speakers were placed at floor level. Speakers in pairs were tested from a height of 7 feet and were placed 8 feet apart. The overall design, quality of materials, ease of installation and price all varied considerably from speaker to speaker and factored heavily into the final ratings.
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Yamaha NS-AW390: Best Overall
These Yamaha speakers get all of the points (at least in comparison to other wired models) for going against the grain, almost universally to their benefit. But where these midsize models really stand out is in their superior sound quality, especially considering that you can get a pair for under $100.
The AW390 speakers' grilles bulge noticeably from the surrounding casing, giving them a bulbous, home-theater-type aesthetic. The bracket mounts on the underside swing top to bottom, rather than the far more common left to right movement. Yamaha even includes safety wires and screws to make sure your speakers don't fall from their mounted perch.
On the inside, the AW390 speakers deliver in spades. The sound quality, coming from a 1-inch dome tweeter and a 6.5-inch woofer, produces sharp highs and well-defined lows — a marked improvement over similarly sized speakers. Heavy, guitar-laden rock and smooth jazz popped with equal quality, and it's this versatility that puts the Yamaha ahead of the pack. Consider that you're paying well under $100 per unit, and it's hard to pass up.
Klipsch AWR-650-SM Outdoor Rock: Best Hidden Speakers
You have to give the folks at Klipsch credit: When they promise you a speaker that looks like a rock and can seamlessly blend into your backyard surroundings, they really deliver. The AWR-650-SM is more than a speaker that's part garden decor and part undercover agent; it also delivers spectacular sound.
The housings of these ingeniously designed speakers are made to resemble 17-inch-high hunks of either sandstone or granite, depending on the overall aesthetic of your patio or garden. The undersides are slathered with sealant, and the wiring is thick and waterproof. But on the inside, Klipsch has packed these faux boulders with punch: Dual 0.75-inch tweeters and a 6.5-inch woofer deliver superior sound quality, with brass that pops and bass that comes in heavy and authoritative.
The biggest knock on these rocks? Price. Each one will set you back almost $300, and they really should be experienced as a pair. The 13-pound weight is not terribly heavy, but these are clunky to carry. (They are, in essence, large rocks, and should expect to be handled like such.) But if you're willing to go the distance for maximum outdoor sound and minimal footprint around your grounds, pony up a few extra clams for these secret speakers.
Fugoo Style-S: Best Portable
For the money, you won't find a speaker that sounds better or has more features than the Fugoo Style-S. And it's as tough as any wireless speaker you'll find thanks to its IP67 rating, which means it's water, dust and shock-proof and with its tweed cover, it's super-stylish. But of tweed isn't your thing, Fugoo sells a number of covers that you can swap at your leisure.
But the Style-S just look good and play rough. It also delivers well-balanced sound across the spectrum — treble, midrange and bass — making it a versatile performer. Equipped with four acoustic drivers including a pair of bass radiators and two full-range, the Style-S is capable of dlivering 360-degree audio. Boasting up to 15 hours of battery life, this slick and durable speaker hits the sweet spot of price and performance, while sounding almost as good as speakers that cost $200 or more. Purchase one or more of the speakers optional mounts and you have a mini party in the box that's ready to go any and everywhere.
Other Products Reviewed
We tested a number of outdoor systems like the BRV-HD Bluetooth Speaker, which offers great audio and can charge mobile devices or the Polk Audio Atrium 5 Speakers which deliver good lows and a sturdy build. We also spent time with the Fugoo Tough, OSD Audio Patio Speakers However, these systems didn't rise to the standard of being recommended as top picks for a number of reasons such as cost, ease of use and audio quality.