Playing Musical Decks
Gone are the days of grilling outside to the sounds of a portable boom box. Outdoor cooking has been upgraded to include extensive decks with outdoor kitchens, not just grills. With that upgrade comes the need to turn the outside music up a notch as well.
This doesn’t necessarily mean turning the volume up, but it does mean installing a more serious outdoor sound system to match the extravagant deck, patio or spa areas that exist in so many mountain homes these days.
“People really want to be living in the outdoors as much as they can,” says Louise Lafitte, co-owner of Allegro Custom Electronics Systems in Carbondale. “(With an outdoor sound system) you can get great quality and volume without having to blast the neighbors into Kingdom Come.”
Outdoor sound systems cover a wide range of possibilities. It’s a personal preference for homeowners, depending on where they spend their outdoor time, how often they’re out there and how loud or clear they want music to sound. Regardless of the type of system people want, Colorado’s mountain homes are practically incomplete without them.
“If it’s a project in Colorado, it has outdoor audio, almost without exception,” says Anson Fogel, chief operating officer at Electronic Systems Consultants in Aspen.
MP3 players and iPods are still relatively new in the world of sound technology, but people are used to having music at their fingertips.
“Certainly media is more a part of people’s lives today,” Fogel says. “With the advent of the iPod … I think people listen to music more than they used to.”
Nobody actually needs an outdoor sound system, says Eric Hoffman, of All Sound and Security in Grand Junction. “But once you’ve got it and you experience the ease of use, the next thing you know you’ll be having dinner out there on the patio,” he says. “I think people start listening to more music than they’ve listened to in their lives (when they install an outdoor system).”
It’s easier to install the systems these days, experts say. Homebuilders are typically wiring new homes for it, making retrofitted systems easier and cheaper to install. Hoffman says if a home is wired for it already, homeowners could have patio speakers installed for about $400.
Lafitte says that because of all the new technologies, many of which include wireless options, people don’t have to worry about much infrastructure.
“It’s not nearly as expensive as it used to be, which allows you to put more money into the actual audio system and speakers, rather than spending everything on wiring,” she says.
The cost of an outdoor sound system depends on the home and the owner’s goals. Hoffman says people aren’t as concerned with getting the highest possible quality in their outdoor systems, because outdoor noises will interfere anyway.
Prices can range from less than $200 a pair for speakers that fit under the eves of a home. Custom painting them costs more. On the other end of the spectrum, a spa-area system Earle Bidez, owner of Custom Audio Video in Minturn, recently installed cost about $3,500 ” and that was just for a small area.
“You can get kind of crazy with it,” he says of all the options available.
Big sounds outside don’t necessarily mean large speakers that change the landscape of the backyard. Depending on the type of sound coverage a homeowner is seeking, there are many options to blend speakers into the surroundings.
Experts have differing opinions on which speakers are more aesthetically pleasing. Speakers made to look like rocks, or “rockustics,” come in all kinds of sizes, from small garden rocks to large boulders. Lafitte says they’re charming and sound great, but Fogel says they do a “pretty poor job of looking like a rock.”
Rockustics are popular around pools and spas where there aren’t as many surfaces to mount speakers, says Hoffman.
Fogel likes to use smaller landscape speakers, about the size of a personal water bottle, that are installed into planting beds or shrubs or mounted on the ground. Having several small speakers instead of a few big ones gives better sound coverage to the yard or deck, he says.
Don’t wake up the neighbors
Most people generally like to have nice sound coverage with a consistent volume. If you want your backyard to sound like a Kiss concert, that’s possible too, but you might want to clear it with the neighbors first.
“Typically we find that people are looking for more background music than foreground music,” Fogel says.
Volume controls range from keypads mounted on walls to handheld touch-screens or wireless remotes. For spas, Electronic Systems Consultants uses a waterproof wireless remote that floats. For the rest of the outdoor audio, technicians usually use the same keypads they would use in the house, but it really depends on the home, Fogel says.
One key piece of advice for those looking to install an outdoor sound system: Hire a professional.
“You want to make sure you have somebody who knows what they’re doing so they don’t go plowing into your sprinkler line,” Lafitte says.
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