Looking for outdoor party speakers?

I wanted to get speakers for karaoke parties at home. My requirement was that the speakers should work well for both indoors and outdoors. Now, I am not talking about the speaker system that is built into a home in the family room or in the basement home theater or the patio. These aren’t enough when you have some 50-70 people unless you have a really good amplifier. The key here is that the sound should carry to the back of the party. So if you have a large basement and have the whole basement covered by the in-wall speakers, then you might be fine. But what about outdoors? When you have open space, there is nothing for the sound to bounce off of and hence these in-wall speakers get challenged. They are okay to have light background music at a pool party. But if you are going to have a dance party or a karaoke night, then you need something more suitable.

So while looking for such speakers I spent quite a bit of time researching what I should get. I haven’t yet decided what to get, but that doesn’t mean I stop writing here. I did learn quite a bit and wanted to share that. First off here are some questions

1. Do you need one or two speakers?

2. Do you need an amplifier?

3. Do you need active or passive speakers?

4. Do you need a sub-woofer?

5. How much power do you need i.e., wattage of the speakers?

6. What size – 10″, 12″, 15″

If you start looking at the specs of speakers, there is a lot more than Wattage. We will talk about these a bit later.

#1. One or two speakers. Assuming your requirements is bent on a portable setup so that you can move the speakers both indoors and outdoors, you want something very portable. One speaker is better than two here obviously. Pay attention to the weight. You will be surprised these speakers might have similar dimensions, but their weight can vary a bit

#2. Do you need an amplifier? Yes, you will need one as for the outdoors, you need adequate wattage to cover the area. But the amplifier need not be a separate module. Many speakers come pre-built with an amplifier. These are so called Active speakers.

#3. Active or passive speakers. #2 answered this. Passive speakers don’t have a built-in amplifier. Thus, they need something to feed in an input to them that matches their output. Thus if you have a 1000W speaker, obviously the output from your ipod isn’t 1000w. Something has to increase the output from the iPod to 1000W or enough for everyone to hear it. That is what the amplifier does.

#4. Do you need a sub-woofer? A sub-woofer is to present the lower frequencies of sound clearly.  These are the thump-thumps you would hear in a dance floor. Many speakers have built in woofer and that would be sufficient for my king of setting i.e., a family room 20×20 or a back yard patio of 50×50 yards where people will be hanging around.

#5. How much wattage should the speaker(s) have. This varies by opinion and setting, but going by what some of my friends have (a Samson expedition 308i, which does well in similar family room size and also did well in a party hall of about 100 seatings), I think 300Watts should be more than sufficient. It would be safe to have at least 500W for the yard space after reading a bit around the internet. When reading wattage look out for the term RMS – Root Mean Squared. This is the most applicable wattage not the peak that many manufacturers (such as Behringer) only mention.

#6. Size: a 15″ speaker can be very tall, almost 2.5 feet as there is a 8-12″ woofer on top of the speaker horn. This can be overwhelming in terms of portability. A 10-12″ is a safe bet.

So altogether, we have nailed down a single speaker, with about 300-500 Watts output, with a built in amplifier and a woofer! We aren’t rushing into choices yet as there was more learning involved. An alternative to active speakers is PA systems (Public Announcement) which are geared to do the job for both voice-only and/or music events. A PS system will be self-contained in that it has all the components – amplifier, speaker, woofer – in one unit.

The amplifier of choice now-a-days is a Class D amplifier – this is more efficient in how it handles the sound and thus generates less heat. When the speakers work continuously to shell out sound, they generate heat and a Class-D is best at doing this so much so that many of these speakers now-a-days don’t need a fan, but just convection cooling is sufiicient. The less the moving parts, the less the weight.

If you choose to get a passive speaker and a separate amplifier, then you need to pay attention to the output wattage of both. They have to agree in essence. If your speakers output 1000Watts, then the amplifier should output at least 1000W else the speaker will have to do the work required to output so much wattage and this will heat them up. As a rule of thumb, you want to have 50% more wattage capacity in the amp than what the speaker requires. The good thing about a powered speaker is the manufacturer would have matched exactly the amp output to the speaker’s and there is less chance of blowing out the speaker. You have to pay attention to impedance matching between the two, but since we aren’t going that route, that can be something to read up.

When it comes to brands, there are numerous and same with the price points. You will be surprise that you can get a 500W powered speaker for $150 and the same with an established brand would run to $800. But the trade off is reliability and quality. Some speakers don’t do a good job of handling all the frequencies – the high, the medium and the low. In fact most won’t and hence we have a sub-woofer doing the job of outputting low frequencies separately in a more professional setup. Some of the brands I looked at are

– Pyle-Pro
– Gemini
– Gemsound
– Technical Pro
– Behringer
– American Audio
– Peavey
– Mackie
– Yamaha

I read low to middling reliability reviews for Pyle-pro, Gemini. No thumping hands-up for Technical Pro. None at all for Gemsound. The JBLs, Mackies were more of a safer bet balancing quality, reliability and price. The Yamahas are the standards to measure by – some of their speakers have a seven year warranty and I read people swearing by them even after 20 years of use.

If I were to make a choice today solely for price alone I would select the following 15″ or their 12″ counterparts for a bit lesser.

PylePro PPHP1588A 15-Inch 500 Watt (RMS), costs about $266. You can get a 600W (peak), 8″ Pylepro for $125 or a 10″, 600W (peak) for $159 at 123DJ.com!!

– Behringer B215D Eurolive Speaker Active 550-Watt $329. The Behringers are a hit or miss from much reading. The B212D (12″) goes for 279, the (10″) for 199.

For a middling combination of quality, reliability and specs and price

JBL EON 315 is $389. It outputs 280W RMS

Mackie Thump 15A is $349. It has about 150W RMS

A safe, long-term bet would be

Yamaha PA (public announcement) speakers – a pair of Stagepas 300 (300W), but these would set up apart by 500 bucks! This model is discontinued and the new line has the stagepas 400i that has two 200W speakers with a mixer. This sets you back by $699!!


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