Landscape Music Systems and Sound – Outdoors vs. Indoors
By Guest Writer: Isaac Imig, Owner of Integrated Audio/Video
There is a beautiful new memory care facility in Bend, Oregon called Mt. Bachelor Memory Care. On their website, they state:
The mission of Mt. Bachelor Memory Care is to serve the special needs of individuals living with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia and other forms of memory loss. Equally impressive is our commitment to providing you and your loved one with impeccable service at every level. Every day at Mt. Bachelor Memory Care we make it a goal to go above and beyond to enrich the lives of our residents. We offer exceptional care, innovative wellness programs and life enriching activities in a family atmosphere to create a community that supports the needs of those who live here.
A few months ago, the AV Bend team was contracted to participate in the impeccable service the Memory Care staff are striving to provide their residents. What did they do? The team installed outside landscape speakers. Although most people listen to music in the comfort of their own home, office, or at a concert in a venue of some kind, the reality is that audio has better listening characteristics in the open spaces of the outdoors rather than inside.
When we listen to music outside, the environment has many effects on the audio properties compared to indoors. For starters, there are little to no boundaries. Inside, each wall, floor, or ceiling represents a boundary in audio terms. This has pros and cons. On one hand, they will increase the output of a given speaker by 3db for each boundary, but they also will reflect the sound being produced which, in general, is an undesirable effect (different materials are more offensive than others, such as glass vs carpet.)
Compare that to outside, where the only boundary might be a lawn (a highly absorptive surface). This means the speaker must play louder to achieve the same SPL as inside. It also means the sound is free to carry until it is dissipated by free air or reflected by the next boundary in line. Not to mention, the average outdoor recreation space, residential or commercial, is larger than its indoor counterpart.
Recently “landscape style” music systems have become popular because they resolve many inherent problems present in the outdoors. The speakers resemble landscape up-lighting and are usually accompanied by one or more burial subwoofers. Consider each advantage below:
Coverage: Landscape systems use many speakers playing at a lower volume as opposed to a pair of speakers blasting off the side of a building. This results in more intelligibility at lower volumes, all while reducing unwanted noise transfer to nearby spaces. It also helps to cover large areas.
Wiring/Scalability: Most of these systems use the 70V commercial wiring method. This results in less wiring, longer runs over smaller gauge wire, and the ability to easily add speakers after the fact. From a wiring standpoint, it is generally also easier to run wiring in the dirt than in the walls.
Tuning: As with all speakers that have multi-tap transformers, the landscape versions that have this feature allow fine tuning of volume per speaker. Most systems also use a DSP amplifier that has infinitely adjustable equalization and sound processing.
I have both specified and installed these systems numerous times. Here are a few tips to wrap up this article:
- Even though most landscape speakers can cover up to 300 sq. ft, consider whether the coverage area in front of the speaker is deep or shallow. If it is shallow, you may want to allow for more speakers so they can offer more uniform coverage.
- The lack of acoustic boundaries outside means bass response especially is diminished. A good rule of thumb for subwoofer coverage is 800 sq. ft. Also, choose your system before wiring. Some manufacturers use 8 ohm subwoofers which require heavier gauge wire and dedicated home-runs.
- Many people express concern that these systems are usually mono. However, this is ideal since a listener will rarely be able to stay in the stereo image in a large outdoor area. With twice the number of speakers and amplifier channels, it can be possible to create stereo.
- The satellite speakers are typically placed on stakes in the ground, pointing up toward the listening position. In areas that have a lot of rain and snowfall, be careful not to point the speaker too far upward. Some designs have a tendency to collect water if the angle is too steep and I have seen driver failures due to this. On occasion, it may make more sense to use a mounting surface higher than the ground, such as railing, an exterior wall, or trees, which can also enhance imaging at the listening position.
Isaac Imig, Owner of Integrated Audio/Video
Edited by: Lauren Breslin, AV Bend Social Media Coordinator