When I installed a new pool in my backyard last year, I realized my efforts of entertaining my friends had better change. I had to up the ante to complement my new backyard. Disco was dead and so was the technology that ushered in afros, go-go boots, pastel leisure suits, and my old speakers. What I was looking for was a good set of outdoor speakers. Not just good sounding speakers I could use in perfect weather mind you, but high performance loudspeakers that could take the abuse of high desert temperatures in the summer and snow in the winter. My search ended with three very different outdoor speaker sets. They included an economical pair of speakers from JBL, a mid-priced set from Infinity and a high-end set from Polk. My testing began poolside in the Las Vegas heat and ended with snowfall outside my new Montana home.
JBL Northridge E Series 24AWII - The AW in 24AWII stands for all weather, and that's exactly what I was looking for. Speakers that would play loud and accurate in all types of conditions. The JBL Northridge E Series 24AWII are moderately priced ($199/pair) compact speakers that would be just as at home on a bookshelf as they would be attached to an exterior wall. JBL uses a specially designed weather resistant 3/4 inch titanium-laminate dome high frequency driver with EOS wave-guide and a four-inch low frequency driver for the bass and mid-bass. The four-inch driver has a weather resistant WeatherPlas cone which uses polymer coated cellulose fiber -- the same technology found in JBL's professional commercial speakers. The drivers feature high temperature oversized Kapton voice coils and a special motor structure JBL calls HeatScape to allow the speakers to handle all types of movies and music without concern of heat-degraded sound. For crossovers, JBL takes the KISS approach (Keep It Simple, Stupid) and includes simple straight-line signal path crossover networks to minimize processing. The benefit to such an uncomplicated method is a signal that has less change of degrading through over-processing.
The 24AWII speaker cabinet is small, but efficient. A flared port on the front baffle helps increase bass response, without adding unwanted port noise. The high impact molded enclosures are only offered in off-white, with a matching off-white hard mesh grille to keep out critters. On the rear of each cabinet are two quality binding posts below a threaded mounting point for the wall-mounting bracket. The speakers can be attached to a wall from the back of the cabinet or reversed from an additional threaded mounting point on the bottom. JBL recommends the 24AWII set be placed on a flat surface such as a bookshelf, or mounted to a wall with the included wall-mount brackets. The product is not intended for ceiling mounting, and despite having the moniker "all weather", they aren't "waterproof'. Therefore, protecting the speakers from harsh elements, like flooding and snow, is crucial. JBL recommends mounting the 24AWII set under a patio awning or roof eaves versus being directly exposed to outside elements.
Infinity Outrigger - Sure to keep the tunes pumping, the moderately priced Infinity Outrigger speaker set ($299/pair) is as attractive as it is functional. The two-way 80-watt speakers have waterproof drivers with non-corrosive parts made of aluminum, brass and stainless steel. The high frequency driver is a one-inch Polycell dome tweeter and the bass speaker is a 5 1/4 inch driver made with a polypropylene cone and rubber surround. The rugged and inert-mineral filled polypropylene enclosures have an attractive and unique design. The grille is concave, which adds to the mystique of an outdoor loudspeaker. The enclosure comes in white, but if the color doesn't match your decor, Infinity advocates painting the grille and cabinet. There are even painting instructions in the user's manual for the do-it-yourselfer.
Like the JBL speakers, Outriggers can be placed flat on a level surface or attached to a wall. The mounting brackets included with the Infinity set can be used both horizontally or vertically by changing the position of the brackets. The speakers are water resistant, not waterproof. Therefore, Infinity recommends installing the Outriggers in a protected area away from direct elements. For the perfectionist, the Infinity logo can rotate to an upright position, no matter if the speakers are mounted vertically or horizontally.Polk Atrium 6501 - The Atrium 65SDI is on the high end of the outdoor speaker spectrum, with an emphasis on performance outdoors. They are sold individually, not in pairs ($329.95 each). Each enclosure houses two one-inch dome tweeters with neodymium magnets and a 6.5-inch long throw polymer cone driver with butyl rubber suspension for greater bass and midrange response. The Atrium 65SDI has an innovative dual crossover network that is enabled or disengaged via a simple switch located over the binding post connectors. This unique Dual Input/Single Input switch allows the Atrium 65SDI to be used as either a single high performance stereo loud-speaker, or the left-or-right speaker in a high performance stereo pair. The dual tweeter array has stereo tweeter aiming for good imaging, even in a one-speaker application.