Here are five important tips to help you achieve outstanding results:
1. Ask the Right Qualification Questions
The first step in designing an outdoor theater system is to assess the area and the homeowner’s needs. Some of the key questions to ask are:
- How large is the space you have to fill?
- How many viewers does the system need to accommodate?
- Is the area hardscape (paved)?
- What kind of programming is the customer most interested in: TV sports only, TV news, rom-com movies, action movies, or some combination of all?
- What are the customer’s performance aspirations?
Someone with a high-ticket custom indoor home theater will likely have higher performance expectations than someone with only a soundbar indoors. These considerations will influence the type, number, and mounting locations of the speakers as well as amplifier choice.
For example, let’s assume the homeowner wants to watch mostly TV sports outdoors and the seating area is small with room for just a few seats on a paved patio.
In this case, a two-channel system with 5.25-inch two-way speakers, possibly with an on-ground subwoofer or an outdoor rated soundbar, would be adequate.
But be cautious of two-channel systems. Listeners seated well outside of the center “sweet spot” will lose the illusion that centered dialog is anchored to the screen.
2. Distance Determines Loudness
The outdoors is big. With no room surfaces to contain the sound and with the high ambient noise typically found outdoors, a critical issue in outdoor theaters is the amount of sound.
How much sound is enough? Sound outdoors follows the Inverse Square Law, where each doubling of distance between speaker and listener drops the output by an audibly significant 6dB.
If a speaker is playing at, let’s say, 70dB at 1 meter (~3 ft.), at 2 meters (~6 ft.) the sound pressure will be 64dB, and so on.
3. Use Omnidirectional Speakers
I have long been a proponent of omnidirectional speakers for outdoor listening, but not for the front channels of outdoor theaters.
For front stage (LCR) speakers, I’ve found that low to medium dispersion (60- to 120-degree) speakers best focus the mids and highs in the listening area and deliver maximum sound pressure where it’s needed.
Most speakers with forward-facing driver arrays are low to medium dispersion designs. Omnidirectional speakers are most appropriate as side and rear channel speakers in surround systems.
By Bill Kieltyka
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