HomeToys Interview – Outdoor Sound

Alan Rottner – StereoStone Vice President – Sales

StereoStone Inc., based in North Hollywood, Calif., has been manufacturing high-quality and critically acclaimed architectural outdoor weatherproof speakers since 1988. The StereoStone line now boasts more than 100 models, including rock, planter, tree stump, and water fountain designs to fit any outdoor aesthetic requirement, and are available in six basic colors. StereoStone stands behind its products with a lifetime warranty and StereoStone products are consistently reviewed as having the premier sound quality, fit and finish in the industry, StereoStone products can be found in amusement parks, hotels, restaurants and backyards throughout the world.
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1- What should one take into consideration when choosing the right outdoor systems for their needs, such as power requirements, aesthetics, and the increasingly popular “WAF”, or Wife Acceptance Factor?

Stereostone was created for the “waf”, as you put it. In general, women did not like seeing boxes hanging from the eves on their patio. They were also more conscious of the sound going “out” to the neigbors vs. The rocks which project “in” towards the patio and listener.

2- What are the benefits of StereoStone landscape speakers versus traditional outdoor “box” speakers, such as blending into the landscape, placement, weatherproofing, and performance?

Benefits include – completely weatherproof vs. Needing an eve for some protection; undectable – not easily seen by listener or visitor; performance- much “fuller” sound as the box speakers are limited in size and thus performance whereas the rock speakers can be substantially larger housing up to 10″ diameter loudspeakers for much greater bass frequencies.

3- Obviously, the outdoor elements, such as heat, rain, insects, and UV rays, are a big consideration when selecting outdoor audio systems. What should one consider when selecting outdoor speaker systems, and what makes StereoStone products stand apart from other traditional and landscape audio products?

Stereostone stands apart from the bulk of the architectural speakers with not only its realistic look (which most have tried to copy by going outside of the usa to have their rock speakers
Made) but, by the use of synthetics such as neoprene, santoprene and nylon to protect against the elements and insect infestation.

Furthermore, stereostone loudspeakers are all manufactured with ferro-fluid technology which adds not only to the efficiency of the product but, to the weatherproofing as well by filling the voids within the loudspeaker with the ferrous material. Hard to beat having the best sounding as well as the best looking rocks on the market and, made in the usa as we have done for 20 years.

4- Can Stereostone outdoor speakers be used year round in all climates or should they be protected from harsh winter environments?

Yes. Year round is completely acceptable. Caution though must be taken in ice/freezing environments to make sure that there is not frozen ice/snow blocking loudspeaker opening and thus hampering air flow.

5- Installing outdoor audio systems can be a daunting project for some. What are some points you can suggest for taking on such a project, such as suggested wire/cable, trenching depths, placement and installation of speakers, use of volume controls, hooking up to indoor or outdoor receiver/amplifiers, etc.?

Not really all that daunting. The best time for installation is when trenching is already being done for pool/spa installations. Even if only installing the speakers, simply a matter of getting some 3/4 pvc conduit below the grass and running to your equiptment. Though 16 gauge buriable cable should be sufficient in most cases, one might consider 14 or 12 gauge cable for longer runs over 100 or 150 feet. (use of buriable low voltage wire for lighting is “not” suggested due to the quality of the copper). For the most part, outdoor speakers should be placed with “coverage” in mind and not a stereo soundfield. Use mono. There is no way to discern a stereo soundfield in the backyard without walls and ceiling. Also, remember that this is typically a very large space. A standard backyard in many parts of the country is (even at the smallest postage stamp size properties) some 3,000 square feet. In a standard 7:1 surround living room that is only 400-500 square feet, you have seven speakers within the space. Don’t try to fill the yard with sound with only a couple of speakers. Place them approx. Every 15 feet for an even sound across the yard. (this will also lead towards less chance of overpowering the speakers with more power than the amp is able to efficiently put out and thus “blowing” the speaker). Should really consider a minimum of 100w per channel for the outdoor speakers.

6- What about wireless technology to eliminate the installation of wire in the landscape? What are the possibilities, problems etc.?

Not a possibility at this time. There is a great deal of pride we have in the sound quality and, wireless just does not duplicate that quality. (uses same technology as cordless phones). Though we have done tests with wireless, we are not inclined to go forward at this time. Wireless is a bit of a misleading title as well in that the speakers have to have a “power source” of either a 120v immediately at the speaker (this requires permits and exceptional cost to install at each speaker) or one must constantly change batteries within the speaker (or recharge batteries). Hard wiring is the appropriate way to go at this time.

7- People in condos and apartments typically don’t have front or back yards. What systems are typical for small patios and what does StereoStone have to offer these customers?

For those in condos or apartments, we began designing hard surface architectural speakers some 10 years ago. We currently have the rectangular “planter speaker” as well as the “omni planter”. The smaller planter speaker is great for an apartment balcony whereas the omni planter can be used in any size patio with excellent bass sound in that it uses our 250w 8-inch loudspeaker. We have also just introduced a “fountain speaker” which uses a dvc 8-inch loudspeaker producing a “stereo soundfield” from a single point. This model comes with a 110v fountain pump as well as submersible low-voltage lighting with built in transformer. A sure conversation piece on any balcony, patio or yard.

8- A manufacturer’s history and experience, where its products are designed and manufactured, and the warranties it offers for its outdoor systems are generally a big consideration for many customers. How long has StereoStone been in business, where are its products designed and manufactured, and what warranties does StereoStone offer for its products and customers?

Stereostone products are, and have been, manufactured in north hollywood, calif. For the past 20 years. Though we have had to move to larger buildings a couple of times in our initial growth, we’ve never moved more than a block from our original building. All the rock, stone and tree stump speakers carry a lifetime warranty to the original end-user. The planters and fountain carry a two-year warranty. (the omni planter, as it is “roto-molded” is done so outside of the stereostone facility). Stereostone is also noteable as a privately owned family manufacturing business with all designs, engineering and molding done in-house.

9- What’s next for outdoor entertainment systems? Can you give us an idea of where this sector is going and some of the products we may see in the near and distant future?

Outdoor entertainment is already seeing complete living spaces designed for the outdoors. It began with outdoor kitchens and now, outdoor entertainment areas with weatherproof lcd/plasma screens and projection units becoming more and more common. There is also the weatherproof pool table and many other non-swimming pool toys which are now common forms of entertainment outside of the walls and ceilings of the home. For those who entertain, the days of moving features outside “only” for the party are over. Almost any form of entertainment which is now regularly enjoyed indoors can be enjoyed on the patio in an outdoor setting.