How to choose speakers for your outdoor movie system
No doubt, it takes more than one post to talk about acoustics for outdoor projection and the sound system features are so extensive that we will have more than one article devoted to this. So here let's address the basics.
The selection of an appropriate sound system for an outdoor projection system is an important element in your viewers' audiovisual experience.
On the one hand, there are fewer requirements here -- if compared with home Hi-Fi systems -- since power is more important than the sound bandwidth. On the other hand, in addition to power, it is necessary to ensure the high-quality transmission of both voice and musical accompaniment.
The lineup of outdoor acoustics is represented by many brands: some are almost like household names. Others you might have never heard of. This does not always mean that the little-known speaker brand is bad. Sometimes niche brands make acoustics for a very narrow client base, for example, concert organizers.
How to choose an outdoor speaker for your backyard theater system
Big Screen Pro experts have been testing various systems for outdoor cinemas for many years. Testing and comparing them. The choice of outdoor speakers, from our experience, is determined by the following criteria:
- Sound quality.
- Cost depending on your client's expectations.
- High reliability.
- Availability of the product on the market.
- Availability of the nearest customer center.
- Acoustic power.
- Power consumption.
1- Sound quality of outdoor speakers
When operating outdoors, most of the sound waves are scattered since they simply have nothing to reflect from. This loss is compensated by the power of your outdoor sound system.
However, as the power is increased, it is often difficult to maintain the sound detail. Of course, speaker manufacturers are working to strike a balance between power and sound quality.
This is enabled by the special efficient amplifiers and several speakers inside each speaker that fetch high and low frequencies. These speakers are tuned to work with the outdoor sound environment. The design of your speakers also includes special air exhaust channels, called phase inverters.
How and where this air is released during the operation of the speakers greatly affects what your viewers will eventually hear. Therefore, the acoustic systems marketed as "Home" are not suitable for street screenings.
There are unending disputes about the sound quality of certain audio systems among different manufacturers, and there will always be such disputes. This can be compared to a similar debate around cars. Some folks like the German cars, others prefer the Japanese or American makes. However, each of them deserves respect.
In the case of speakers, Big Screen Pro specialists, based on our team's own experience and customer feedback, prefer the outdoor sound systems by Mackie. We always recommend listening to acoustics before purchasing, but if constrained to make a blind choice, we recommend you consider this.
Something cheap cannot be good. To create good acoustics, high-quality components are selected, hundreds of engineers work in sync, fine-tuning and testing things.
However, this does not mean that by purchasing the most expensive system on the market, you will get the perfect product. Very often in those cases you will end up paying for the work of marketers and a recognizable brand on the speaker.
You should rather choose strictly based on your needs and taking a sound system's technical specs. Never opt for the cheap stuff when it comes to outdoor movie speakers, nor go for the top price offer on the price list. Below we list several options for sound systems that are an optimal choice for street screenings.
We all love reliability. Nobody wants to waste their time on repairs. In the case of home sound systems, such speakers are not exposed to aggressive external environments such as street dust, pollen and precipitation. Nor the mechanical stress during transportation.
Manufacturers who feel responsible for their product, include a special margin of safety in their outdoor systems, in the load-bearing part of the body. Components are better protected from moisture (not to confuse with fully waterproof systems!), the electronic part is more securely mounted inside the speaker body.
Such manufacturers install stronger grating at the front of the speaker to protect the speaker, and also make such a grating easily replaceable in the event of a mechanical deformation.
When choosing a system, always look at the quality of its assembly, check if the set you are about to buy has carrying handles. What about any design gaps? Quality compromise in such surface elements may already indicate that such a sound system will not serve you long.
4- Product availability on the market
A very important point when choosing a sound system. The manufacturer whose product you are considering must be positioned on the market as producing a widely available product, not limited editions.
Offering constant supplies through their dealers. Since speakers come in pairs (as in a stereo system), in case of a serious breakdown, mechanical destruction or loss of one of the speakers, you will need to replace it with a similar unit. If that one speaker unit is not on sale, you will end up having to change both speakers.
5- Availability of customer service centers
Any, even a very reliable thing, can fail. A speaker manufacturer with an extensive network of service centers will provide you with an opportunity to quickly repair the product, as well as save on logistics costs.
6- Acoustic power
For many, loudspeaker power is the basis for their choice. In general, we agree with this approach. But after carefully reading the above tips, it becomes clear that not only power plays a role here -- though speaker power is an extremely important characteristic of any sound system.
On the speakers, we can often see such markings as "1,000 Watt", "1,500 Watt" and other numbers. Very often, unscrupulous manufacturers use those hoping that the consumer will not check the veracity of those markings. Well-known brands on the market do not do this.
However, they can indicate excessive power and will be partially right, since the amplifier inside the speaker may live up to such claims, but the speakers themselves are not designed for it. Why so? Very often, if the input signal to the speaker is too quiet, a more powerful amplifier is used, the power of which compensates for the low level of the input signal.
As a rule, the more powerful the speaker unit, the larger its speaker is because it needs to work correctly at high signal power from the amplifier and not go into "overload".
But why then not make all the speaker columns very large? The fact is that the larger the speaker body, the more difficult it is to set in motion its electromagnetic coils, and -- at low volume -- it can lose much of it's efficiency and quality. This is why it is important to choose the optimal system for your individual needs.
The gold standard for outdoor display is 1,000W speakers. However, in combination with some screen sizes, like the 30-40 feet wide ones, 2 or 3 stereo sets can be used at the same time. By adding another set of speakers, you double the power.
That is, when using six speakers of 1,000 watts each, you will get 6,000 watts of sound power.
7- Power consumption
Many people are confused by the concept of sound power. Users believe that if acoustics produce 1,000 watts of power then the sound system consumes that much power. Modern speakers use highly efficient amplifiers that can produce 1,000 watts of sound power, while consuming many times less.
Our recommendations for best outdoor speakers to use with Open Air cinema systems
Consider the following speaker options used with the systems from Open Air Cinema as an example:
Outdoor Movie System
Audience Size (viewers)
E30 (4 speakers)
E40 (6 speakers)
Frequently asked questions when choosing the right speaker for your outdoor projector
How often will it be used?
When visiting cinemas, we are accustomed to the sound around us, 5.1, 7.1 systems and other multispeakers are considered by us as the standard for cinemas.
The situation with outdoor cinemas is somewhat different. Due to the sound dispersion effect outdoors, the side and rear speakers become ineffective. They also need to be installed at certain angles and a clear location must be selected, long wires are laid to reach each of them.
In indoor cinemas, this is done by sound specialists, and it can take a week -- sometimes even a month -- to set up such a sound system. And this is despite the fact that the chairs where the viewers sit are rigidly fixed.
In the case of an event under the stars, the positioning of the viewers is often random and chaotic, and there can be no talk of sound tuning a week ahead of the screening. So the best solution is a stereo pair -- two speakers on both sides of the screen.
How are the speakers connected?
For street shows, we recommend using active speakers -- that is, speakers that already have an amplifier built in. A manufacturer of such speakers optimally matches the amplifier inside the speaker body with the speakers that are installed.
To connect such speakers, you need a 110/220V power source, as well as a sound cable that is connected to the mixer on the one side and to the speaker on the other.
How to adjust the sound volume?
Active speakers have a built-in volume control. Depending on the model, active speakers are also equipped with treble and bass level controls. Other functionality can be added. But the volume is the most important and basic option.
A few important tips from your Big Screen Pro experts:
- First, connect the audio cable, and only then turn on the power of the speaker.
- Always turn the volume control of the speaker to position 0 before turning it on.
- First, feed 30% of the volume from your mixer and after that turn up the volume on each of the speakers.
- As a rule, manufacturers indicate the average value of the regulator, and it is optimal. Further, the sound volume is controlled from the mixer.
- Always test the sound on quiet and loud scenes of a movie before showing it.
- Try to keep your technician near the mixer throughout the show, for optimal adjustment of the sound volume.
Do I need a separate subwoofer?
The subwoofer gives good infrabass, but this is especially effective in enclosed spaces. An outdoor subwoofer requires a larger driver cone, and therefore it will be very large in size and weight.
Good stereo speakers provide enough low frequency sound for an outdoor movie show. Most of our clients do not use separate subwoofers for their outdoor screenings.
We strongly advise you to take into account all of the above recommendations. If the choice of a speaker system is still not obvious to you, then you can always contact our specialists and get qualified assistance in selecting and purchasing audio equipment for outdoor movie shows.
You might also be interested in reading our article how to choose speakers wires to connect an audio source with an amplifier.