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Looking Inside The Outdoor-Speaker Systems

NEW YORK — Sales of installed outdoor-audio systems are heading up, thanks to rising new-home construction and stepped-up marketing by electronic systems contractors (ESCs) to new-construction projects and to existing homes already equipped with indoor multizone-audio systems, suppliers said.

Not only are homeowners expanding existing indoor systems to add one or more outdoor zones, but they’re also replacing and expanding existing outdooraudio systems.

Some of the market’s gain is also attributable to growing consumer interest in outdoor-living products such as outdoor kitchens and grilling stations. “The outdoor living trend is driving a certain amount of business,” said Bill Hensley, Core Brands marketing communications director.

With new-home construction rising again, and with installers actively pitching outdoor audio more aggressively to old and new clients, Origin Acoustics marketing VP Dave Donald believes outdoor-speaker sales could be growing at a double-digit percentage rate, perhaps 20 percent, though others says 2014 posted single-digit percentage growth. The Consumer Electronics Association’s factory-level sales stats show unit shipments in 2013 grew 17.8 percent to 734,000 units, though estimated 2014 growth fell to 5 percent.

Sales are also up because outdoor systems are expanding beyond the back deck and pool to more parts of the yard, Donald added, thanks to the growing selection in recent years of in-ground speakers and subwoofers and the growing selection of Malibu-style speakers, which look like spotlights staked into the ground or hung on trees.

“It makes more sense to do a lot of speakers at low listening levels to deliver a wonderful experience for everyone” as opposed to installing a few speakers that have to be turned up to project into the yard but play uncomfortably loud for people near them on a deck, he said.

“No one spent $30,000 on outdoor audio before unless they were building a $20 million mansion,” Donald noted.

Donald believes about half of outdoor speakers sold are going to existing homes rather than into new construction, but Bill Kieltyka, GM of Bogen’s NEAR division, believes the number could be closer to 80 percent. That 80 percent is used to add an outdoor zone or zones to existing in-door systems, to expand an existing outdoor system, or to replace an existing outdoor system, he said.

Necessity Drives Sales

In large part, necessity drove installers to aggressively pursue outdoor audio following the collapse of the new-home market between 2006 and 2011. ESCs targeted existing homes to upgrade previously installed multiroom-audio systems, often with tablet and smartphone control, better speakers, addition inside zones, Internet music sources, and outdoor speakers, suppliers said. “Dealers pitched it [outdoor systems], saw success, and it caught on with more dealers,” Donald said.” Dealers realized people were willing to spend on outdoor systems.”

Installers who are replacing existing outdoor speakers are usually replacing one or two pair of small onwall or under-eave speakers, Kieltyka said. Sometimes they’re replacing speakers that simply didn’t hold up. “Many people make outdoor speakers that are in-door speakers in a plastic cabinet,” he said. Chlorine-laced pool water splashing onto poolside speakers, or chlorine fumes themselves, will attack rubber surrounds, as will lawn fertilizer, he explained.

Once a consumer starts replacing speakers, they often expand the speaker system, often by extending sound out by the pool or into the garden, he added.

Big Picture

Sound, however, isn’t the only thing going into outdoor entertainment systems. Outdoor-audio installs are often accompanied by the installation of other outdoor electronics. A mid-2014 CEDIA survey of systems integrators, A/V installers, electrical contractors, security installers and others found that outdoor TVs turned up in 24 percent of outdoor-entertainment installs in 2013, with respondents expecting that to rise to 27 percent in 2014. Outdoor lighting controls were included in 12 percent of outdoor installs in 2013, with installers expecting that to rise to 15 percent in 2014.

Audio, however, dominates outdoor systems. Speakers were included in 81 percent of 2013’s outdoor installs, with installers expecting that to rise to 82 percent in 2014. Speaker-install rates are up substantially from 2012, when the rate was only 58 percent.

Suppliers haven’t yet seen many homeowners adding surround sound to outdoor TVs, but the clear trend in home ownership is making outdoor spaces “as entertainment- friendly and comfortable as in-door dining and kitchen experiences,” Kieltyka said.

Outdoor and interior architectural speakers are part of installed multizone-audio systems whose prices to consumers averaged about $15,100 in 2013, including labor, according to the CEDIA survey. Installers polled at the time projected that the average price would grow 20 percent in 2014.

Outdoor-speaker margins are similar to in-ceiling and in-wall speaker margins, or around 60 points excluding installation, suppliers noted.

Market Splits

If a multiroom-audio system incorporates an outdoor component, the type of outdoor speaker most likely to be used is a weather-proof box-type speaker mounted by a bracket to an exterior wall or under an eave. About 50 percent of outdoor-speaker unit sales consist of these types, with the remaining split about equally between geo-realistic speakers (rock-style speakers and speaker embedded in patio planters) and landscape speakers, which include in-ground speakers and subwoofers and speakers that mimic landscape lights, said CoreBrands marketing manager Matt Dever. Origin’s Donald sees a similar split.

The category posting the fastest growth is landscape speakers, which stretch the sound system farther into the yard, Dever and Donald agreed. Planter speakers work well on smaller patios and porches, and window-box speakers are suited for condos and apartments, Dever added.

Rock speakers work well in yards designed to use little water, particularly in dry climates and drought areas, Core Brands’ Hensley said. Rock speakers blend in well with pea gravel and succulents, he explained.

For his part, Kieltyka is partial to outdoor box speakers and in-ground speakers. His in-ground speakers take two forms. One features a taperedenclosure with dome woofer and tweeter positioned to deliver a 360-degree soundfield. The speaker can be placed on top of the ground, but if almost completely buried, cabinet resonances are reduced to improve clarity and definition, he said. They’re also less likely to be stolen.

A second in-ground speaker type in NEAR’s line is a small box speaker staked to the ground and painted a mulch color.

Kieltyka believe box speakers account for as much as 60 percent or more of outdoor speaker sales, higher than Core Brands’ estimate, but whatever the sales mix, outdoor speakers of all types give installers the option of adding another zone and additional profits to a multiroom-audio install.