The Ins and Outs of Outdoor Media Systems 5

Sound Advice from Local
 Experts at AV by Design

Outdoor living rooms have become popular in our valley. Roaring Fork Lifestyle recently spoke to two expert A/V designers about how make the most of this trend with an outdoor theatre or sound system.

Tom Hiles started a home alarm business in Saint Louis in 1982, gradually adding home audio/videos system, CCTV and phone systems to the mix. He moved to Colorado in 2003 and co-founded AV by Design with David Oyler in 2009. Oyler, who was first trained in electronics by the U.S. Navy, has background in professional stage lighting, custom car audio installation and creating many SPL and Sound Quality award winning systems. The two hold a list of electronics licenses and certifications that would run for pages; a shortened list appears on the AV by Design website at

Lifestyle: Where have you installed outdoor systems?

David: Our installations range from simple patios to elaborate landscape scenes! We have mounted traditional speakers under the eaves and placed nearly invisible “rock” speakers in flower gardens or garden landscapes. We have installed satellite speakers disguised as landscape accent lights and buried outdoor subwoofers so that only a small, paintable, weatherproof vent cap is visible.

Lifestyle: What does it cost to have an audio system installed on a deck?

Tom: Cost is determined by whether this will be a separate, dedicated system or whether it’s extension of an existing indoor audio system. If it’s an extension, it means you’re adding another speaker zone, and the cost varies depending on whether speaker wires are already in place or have to be retrofit. There are also wireless speaker systems, but the worthwhile ones are quite expensive and are considered “portable”— only because they have handles! Freestanding units are actually quite heavy.

The sources available, the size of the coverage area and the amount of sound you want also affect pricing. The thing about outdoor audio is that you are, in fact, serenading the great outdoors. That takes substantial power! That being said, a pair of quality outdoor speakers would start at around $350 plus installation. A landscape speaker system can easily exceed $2,000 without the source devices. You could expect to pay anywhere from $350 for a pre-amp streaming source that connects to an existing system to $500 for one with a built-in amplifier running a single pair of speakers.

Lifestyle: If you’re connecting outdoor speakers to an indoor system, is it better to run speaker wires or to use a Bluetooth connection?

David: It’s always better to hardwire speakers. Bluetooth speakers are very limited in range. That’s why they’re typically relegated to the smaller “personal speaker” category.  On a side note: whenever possible, speakers should be oriented so they are pointing towards your house so you don’t un-necessarily serenade your neighbors.

Lifestyle: Can outdoor systems include TV components?

Tom: There are companies that provide outdoor TVs for truly big-screen outdoor entertainment. Those TVs range from 32 to 75 inches. They’re somewhat weather-resistant, and even though they’re able to handle incidental water contact, they should be protected from the elements. They’re rather expensive, ranging from $1,250 to $9,000.

David: Another option is a retractable projection screen. They come in many sizes, but because you also need a projection system, that means an even greater investment. One of the primary considerations involves screen orientation; you must protect the screen from the sun for early evening viewing. And that earlier side-note applies: you need to consider how receptive your neighbors are to having an outdoor movie venue next door!

Lifestyle: On a different topic, most of us have learned, sadly, that a universal remote does not even remotely come close to controlling the universe! Most of us are plagued by way too many remote controls…

Tom: The sad truth is that there are way too many poorly programmed universal remotes out there, and most of them function mainly as a source of frustration. Here’s the reality: a properly programmed, entry-level universal remote control will run rings around a poorly programmed high-end remote control. That’s why you really do need an experienced AV programmer to create a viable control solution. That expertise is really cost-effective!

On some of our integrated theater or media system projects, we have actually reduced costs in other areas so that we may provide the proper remote control and still stay within budget. That’s how vital it is to the system. An easy to use remote is definitely a worthwhile investment.