Ask LH: What’s The Best Way To Play Music Outdoors?

Ask LH: What’s The Best Way To Play Music Outdoors?
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Dear Lifehacker, I want to set up outdoor audio in both my garage and my patio area. I have moved into the Apple ecosystem with an Apple TV in the living room and find this useful for audio and video.

I am looking for a cheap solution to get music outside in the two areas. I am leaning towards non-powered speakers in each area, with an Airport Express for each area to enable different music to each location. Do you have any suggestions on cheap amplifiers that I could use? I would pay a little more for a “sleep” function which would reduce the power consumption of the amplifier when not being used. Any other advice? Thanks, My Neighbours Will Love This


As far as we know, AirPlay can only stream a single track to multiple Airport Express units; it’s not designed to play different music in individual rooms from the same source. In other words, you’re going to need a different source device for each location (if any readers know of a solution we’re missing, let MNWLT know in the comments section below).

As a general rule of thumb, you’re better off avoiding non-powered speakers — they tend to lack grunt, especially in non-enclosed environments. For your garage, we’d commandeer an AC outlet and go for a powered solution. (For the patio, an extension cord is your friend.)

If you’re determined to use powerless speakers, the Griffin Twenty is a pretty good bet. It allows you to play audio from iTunes and AirPlay-enabled apps to an existing set of speakers using your Airport Express and Apple’s AirPlay wireless protocol.

Another amplifier worth checking out is the Parasound Zamp — these are single zone amps for use with Airport Express that turn on and off by themselves, depending on when sound is passing through. You can pick one up for around $500.

You can buy audio systems specifically designed for multi-room play, which also come bundled with amplifiers — SONOS offers a variety of systems at different price points which let you play different songs in any room or the same song everywhere via the Sonos Controller for iPhone app.

Another possible solution would be to buy a cheap dock with a synced iPod plugged in. Dick Smith is currently selling the Sony X30 High-Performance Speaker Dock for $99 — that’s $100 off the usual asking price.

If any audiophile readers have suggestions of their own, let fly in the comments section below.


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  • An alternative to the iPod+dock is bluetooth speakers, which are a bit more future proof should you change your preferred tablet/smartphone ecosystem or they change their connectors…

    Perhaps aim for a battery powered one (more expensive) for your patio and a mains-powered unit for the garage. I have a Logitech one that I paid about $40 for from Officeworks a year or so ago and it is great for the money. I moved it around the house with me when I was painting and had it streaming from the iPhone in my pocket.

  • Do what I did.

    Old (outdated) surround sound amp sitting around. Run some wires speakers strategically placed outside.

    Then use a <$70 7″ tablet (who cares what features it’s got – as long as it runs android and has a headphone socket!) running XBMC to connect to your networked music collection – then use Yatse remote to connect to your xmbc server and let you sit outside with your android mobile phone and control the music!

    Limited cost and still works effectively! [plus your amp may even play that old FM radio thing!]

    Sure – a Sonos system would be awesome – but this was done on a budget!

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