Last year around this time I reviewed several portable Bluetooth speakers to help you take your favorite music outdoors as summer approached. This time I’m going old school and focusing on wired outdoor speakers.
Wireless outdoor speakers are all the rage nowadays, so why go wired? I ruled out outdoor Bluetooth speakers because of the potential for unreliable reception and running down my smartphone’s battery. My Wi-Fi coverage outside is shaky at best, so that took Wi-Fi speakers out of the equation. Either would also need to get power which wasn’t an option in my particular installation. Last but not least, I wanted to keep my budget at around $100 which would be tough for good sounding wireless speakers.
Mind you, wired outdoor speakers can be very expensive. High end speaker company Revel makes a pair of outdoor speakers that sell for almost $1,000. B&W has a set for $800. Coastal Source makes a “landscape speaker” with a built-in subwoofer for a cool $3,500 each. You can even buy an outdoor subwoofer if you really want to rock your rock garden. In my case, I wasn’t trying to have my speakers show up on a Richter scale. Would I be able to find a set of good sounding outdoor speakers for $100, or was I setting myself up for certain failure?
The Outdoor by Henry Kloss. Image from The Outdoor user manual.
My first experience with an outdoor speaker was with Massachusetts-based speaker company Cambridge SoundWorks at their South Portland, Maine store where I was the Assistant Manager. We made (in our Massachusetts factory) an outdoor speaker model called simply “The Outdoor” by Henry Kloss. I don’t remember how much it sold for, but I do remember being told a story about a customer who wrote us a letter (back when people still wrote letters) about his speakers which he had mounted on his boat. One of the speakers became dislodged and fell into the open water as his boat was moving at a good clip. He recounted how he observed the speaker violently bouncing around in the ocean as he brought his boat to a stop. Still connected to its speaker wire, he pulled the speaker in as if reeling in a fish on the end of a fishing line. When he brought it back on board the speaker was still playing music! He wiped it off and returned it back to its original location, making sure it was secure.
Rock Solid Sound
B&W’s Rock Solid Monitor. Image from a vintage Rock Solid B&W sales brochure.
The very first set of wired outdoor speakers I ever owned was a pair of B&W (B&W not BMW) Rock Solid Monitors. Rock Solid was B&W’s entry level plastic speaker line made in Japan. I worked for B&W at the time and fell so much in love with the cute indoor/outdoor speakers that I bought two pair. They sounded fantastic, reaching down to 50Hz when wall mounted, and had integrated metal stands that provided uniquely generous articulation from walls and ceilings. They even included little metal mesh bug screens you could pop in the front bass ports to prevent creepy crawlies from making their home inside the speaker housings. I recall sitting at an outdoor bar on Grand Cayman Island while on vacation almost 2 decades ago and listening to music. I looked up – and you guessed it – it was a pair of Rock Solid Monitors cranking out the tunes. Such was the world-wide popularity of these monitors which you can still find used on eBay.
The Yamaha NS-AW350. Image from usa.yamaha.com
My next pair of wired outdoor speakers was a set of Yamaha NS-AW350W’s. These were a considerable step-down from my Rock Solid speakers, both acoustically and cosmetically, but my budget was much smaller and I needed speakers with a smaller footprint. Frankly, they didn’t sound all that great, especially in the bass department, and their wall mounts only had 2 positions which forced me to choose between one or the other. But they allowed me to get my music outside for a reasonable price and they fit the only space I could install them.
Something I’ve never owned is a pair of those so-called “rock speakers”. They tend to sound as bad as they look. I also wasn’t interested in having the sound directed at my fibula instead of my ears, or serenading my plants which are challenged enough as it is with me as their caretaker. Funny enough, I’ve never seen a real rock that plays music and has perforations in a circular pattern.
This summer I wanted to find the holy grail of outdoor wired speakers…good sounding speakers (including decent bass) with full motion mounts for around one hundred bucks. I briefly considered buying a used set of Rock Solid Monitors but they were beyond my budget, as were B&W’s LM1’s which replaced the Rock Solid Monitor. I read loads of outdoor speaker reviews, but most of the $100 or less models failed the sound quality test and/or included wall mounts that were a joke. Then I stumbled upon the OSD Audio AP650.
I’ve worked in consumer audio for over 20 years and to be honest, I’d never heard of OSD (Outdoor Speaker Depot) before. Located in Brea, California, OSD does their design work in the USA while their manufacturing is done in Asia. They operate a 45,000 sq. ft. distribution center so whatever you order from them is probably in stock. In addition to a variety of outdoor speaker models, OSD also offers home speakers, amplifiers, mounts, audio cables, and even speaker wire in bulk.
The thought of buying speakers from an audio company with the word “Depot” in its name wasn’t comforting, but there were several things that sold me on the AP650 besides their price. As I mentioned, bass was important to me, and OSD claims the AP650’s bass response is rated down to 35Hz. I didn’t have a way to verify that but even if they’re off by 20Hz, which would be unusual, that’s still good bass for a budget outdoor speaker. The sensitivity is listed at 90dB and efficiency was another key spec since I’m using a low power amplifier. The AP650’s come with 180 degree swivel and 60 degree tilt wall brackets. This was critical because my speakers would be mounted up high and I needed the ability to both angle the speakers downward and toe them in in order to direct the sound at my seating area. Most wall mounts let you to do one or the other depending on whether you mount the speakers vertically or horizontally. Few mounts in this price range allow you to adjust both without having to commit to the orientation of the speaker.
Rock, Scissors, Paper
One thing of concern was the fact that the AP650’s use 6.5” paper cone woofers. Paper cones can yield excellent sound quality and have been used since the advent of loudspeakers, but paper isn’t the best material for outdoor use for obvious reasons. However, OSD treats the AP650’s woofer cones to make them water resistant. With their 23 engineers, you’d think they could’ve managed to obtain similar acoustic performance using polypropylene woofers like almost every other outdoor speaker employs. The speaker housings are sealed (no bass ports), yet only carry an IP54 (Ingress Protection) rating, which isn’t great for an outdoor product. They’ll be under eaves and they won’t be getting hit with a hose or splashes from a pool which should help their longevity. Only time will tell how well they’ll hold up.
Disappointingly, my search results didn’t reveal a lot of reviews of the AP650. I found a couple of reviews on YouTube but they were for OSD’s Bluetooth version of these speakers. On Amazon, the AP650’s are rated 4.6 out of 5 stars with such positive comments as, “I would buy this setup again 100 times over”, “these speakers sound amazing”, and “bass is much tighter.” OSD’s website also had reviews but I suspect they only posted the positive ones. Comments ranged from “awesome sound” to ” very happy with them” to “exactly what I was looking for”. The New York Times compared several different outdoor models and rated the AP650’s their best buy, calling them “the best value we’ve found in an outdoor pair. Their clarity beats anything we’ve heard from other models priced under $200 a pair. And they have a full, powerful sound that can easily fill an outdoor space, up to about 1,500 square feet. The AP650 speakers have enough bass for R&B, hip-hop, and rock music…This pair is also better made than most under-$200 outdoor speakers, with a thicker enclosure and a sturdy, powder-coated mounting bracket.”
I should point out that the AP650’s are listed for $195 per pair on Amazon which was almost double my budget. I ended up purchasing mine on eBay directly from OSD for $110 for the pair including shipping. I don’t understand why Outdoor Speaker Depot significantly undercuts their own prices on their website and in their Amazon listing, but ours is not to reason why. Outdoor Speaker Depot also offers the AP850 which boast 8” woofers and bass rated down to 32Hz, but at $300.pair, that wasn’t going to happen.
DIY Speaker Install
You can tell I’m not married because this mess would rate a zero on the Wife Acceptance Factor. Photo by Peter Skiera.
As I awaited the arrival of my new speakers, I set out to get my wiring in place. I wasn’t able to run speaker wire direct to my source, so I dug out my Rocketfish RF-WRSK18 2.4GHz wireless audio transmitter which I had packed away in my garage and connected it to the speaker outputs of my Dayton Audio HTA100 hybrid vacuum tube integrated amplifier. I used the HTA100 because it was my only option, not because I wanted a tube sound outdoors. I wall mounted the companion Rocketfish receiver (which has its own volume control) 19’ away from the transmitter and ran 16-gauge speaker wire from it to the places where I was going to mount each speaker outside. This required drilling a 5” deep hole through an exterior wall to get the speaker wire outside (which I later sealed up with caulk).
Hang In There
A pair in the open air: The OSD AP650’s. Photo by Peter Skiera.
Once I received my speakers, I installed the included wall mounts into studs and then mounted the speakers making sure to position them so they flooded the seating area with music. This wasn’t easy because the speakers weigh 9 pounds each, so juggling one in one hand with a screwdriver in the other while standing on a ladder was somewhat precarious. At nearly a foot tall and 8” wide, these speakers aren’t compact, so be certain your space will accommodate them. If you want outdoor speakers that blend into the background, these aren’t for you.
It’s A Cover Up
A binding post cover on the backside of the AP650. Photo by Peter Skiera.
Interestingly, both speakers came supplied with matching removable rear plastic covers with an exit for the speaker wire to help protect the binding posts from the elements. They also lent the speakers a nice clean look even though no one will probably ever notice them. Of course, the covers make no contribution to the sound quality, but it’s these little touches that let you know OSD’s designers were paying attention. I’ve never encountered such a feature on any other outdoor speaker, at least not in this price range.
Photo from outdoorspeakerdepot.com
My speakers also came with a 70 volt adjustment just above the biding posts which is typically reserved for commercial applications where many speakers are daisy chained together to cover very large spaces. There’s an 8 ohm setting if you’re just using one stereo pair, as in my case, but you can buy the speakers without the 70 volt option if you prefer.
Hi-fi outside: The AP650 outdoor speakers. Photo by Peter Skiera.
After breaking the speakers in for a couple weeks, my overall impression is very favorable. My Rocketfish transmitter is probably a weak link in the audio chain, but for my purposes, the sound quality is more than acceptable, including the bass. My HTA100 has Bluetooth 5.0 so I’m able to stream from the Spotify app and hear it on my outdoor speakers, but mostly I take the audio from my cable’s commercial-free music channels. This also allows me to listen to baseball games, news, etc. while outside. My patio is about as modest as they come…no hot tub, no in ground pool, no outdoor kitchen, no motorized awning, and no outdoor TV, but I still enjoy relaxing outside. Being able to listen to music on quality stereo speakers takes it to a whole other level. Considering what I paid, I think I got a bargain, which doesn’t happen very often in consumer audio. Ready, set, summer.
Full disclosure: I didn’t get the OSD AP650’s for free or at a discount in return for my review nor do I receive a commission should you buy them.
Did you appreciate the information in this article? Please help support my website blog by become a Patreon Supporter today for just $1. In return, you’ll get my Recommended and Hitchhiker Stations in your in box once a month as my thanks.