Extending Our Whole House Audio To The Back Yard

audio-trioLike many people we have a wooden deck at the back of the house into the back yard. It has long been my intent to extend our ability to play music to the back yard, but it has only recently com to pass. It’s essentially the next step in my long standing plans to deploy Whole House Audio, a project that recalls some of the earliest posts to this site.

As I described so long ago, we love our Logitech Squeezeboxes. They still form the basis of how we play music around here, even though Logitech has abandoned the product line. In fact, when my one Squeezebox Touch died I was inspired to purchase another Squeezebox 3 on E-bay, just to have a spare.

The music is sourced from a small Acer Aspire Revo net-top that’s been upgraded with a 750 GB internal hard drive. That provides streams for several Squeezeboxes:

That last entry in the list are the new goods. Do you see the break in the pattern? All listening indoors is via a Squeezebox connected to a pair of powered audio monitors of some sort.

While that approach works well inside, it’s just not practical outdoors. I had to resort to a little more old school approach of an amplifier driving otherwise passive outdoor speakers.

In truth, this is not my first attempt at speakers mounted under the eve on the garage. That first effort was such a disappointment that I prefer to forget about it. I bought some cheap outdoor speakers from a Parts Express sale, and got exactly what I paid for. That was so long ago that I still had the old Carver amp to drive them. All that remained of that effort now are the mounting positions that I had fit between the rafter-tails under the eves.

For the longest time I made do by opening the large garage door when we were in the back yard. That allowed me to use the gear installed in the garage for music. The trouble is that it meant I had to turn up the level a lot to reach listing positions on the deck, and expose a view of the chaos this is the internal of our garage. Not good in either case.

I cannot exactly recall how I came to be aware of Definitive Technology’s outdoor speakers. I think it might have been an email promotion from Amazon.com. What impressed me was the fact that they stick to that companies design philosophy of using a passive radiator to augment the bass output. This sets them apart from everything else that I had seen.

AW6500White_large_15After reading a couple of good reviews online, I rather impulsively ordered a pair of the larger AW 6500 models, intending to mount them on our front porch. The AW 6500 has a 6.5” woofer and 1” aluminum dome tweeter on the front face. The back face has a 5.5 x 10” passive radiator. They are rated at 92 db/1w @ 1m making them reasonably efficient.

When they arrived it became apparent that they were physically too large for the font porch. My wife balked at their size, so I decided to mount then to the garage in service of the deck in the back of the house. If the AW 6500s were satisfactory in the back yard I could eventually put the smaller AW 5500s on the front porch.

The decision to mount the speakers to the garage implied that the signal source and amplifier would live there as well. The most suitable location seemed to be the small, built-in rack that houses my network core, including the music server. That also meant that I could power the gear from my UPS, potentially providing a little protection from power line issues.

Next came the decision on how to provide amplification. The nice thing about powered audio monitors is that they need only AC power and a signal source. The passive Definitive Technology speakers require external amplification, and I was on a budget.

Long ago I admired the idea of class D, switched mode amplification. When it first came to my attention such power amps were rare. It was initially very difficult to find high-power transistors capable of switching at the very high-frequency required by such circuit designs.

Just as processor (CPU) chips keep getting smaller and faster, other aspects of silicon evolution continually progress as well. In recent years fast, high-power output transistors have become commodity items. These kinds of devices have resulted in professional audio power amplifiers that weigh only 20-25 pounds but deliver massive (> 2 Kw!) audio output. In a switched mode amplifier very little energy is wasted as heat.

Further, there are switched mode amps now implemented as chips. These are often called “Class T” amplifiers after the TriPath chips that lead in the space. While these provide less power than larger devices, they are reputed to sound very good. Best of all they are readily available and very inexpensive.

DTA-100A-AmplifierThis seemed ideal for my needs, as well as appealing to my curiosity about such devices. I ordered a Dayton Audio DTA-100a capable of driving 50 watts into each AW 6500 for a modest $96.

When the amplifier arrived I was intrigued by its tiny dimensions. It’s teenie.  Also, it uses an external power supply brick not at all unlike what you’d find with laptop.

With the DTA-100a connected to Squeezebox #4, and speaker leads run to the speakers under the eves, I was ready to annoy the neighbors.

Happily, I find that the combination delivers enough oomph to annoy my wife, even if the neighbors have yet to complain. When driving the music to party levels, or as close as a dare, the amp gets warm but never hot to the touch. At any reasonable volume the music sounds great on the deck.

The Definitive Technology speakers definitely outperform any outdoor speakers that I’ve heard in the past. Their bass output is such that I have shelved plans to build a Decware WO32 folded horn subwoofer for use outside. That is, until some future time when I get an itch to do some woodworking….and presuming that I can find some way to hide it away, removing the issue of spousal approval.

With this fourth Squeezebox now in service I am reminded of one of features I appreciate about the devices. I can sync them such that the same playlist is running everywhere, with playback volume varied as appropriate for each location. I’ve already had the same music playing in the office, garage and back yard…all at modest levels. It makes working on projects in the yard very pleasant. Running to the rest room or the tool bench stays in the musical zone, without any one area being too loud.

Logitech Squeezebox Remote On Nexus7
Logitech Squeezebox Remote On Nexus7

The final phase of this little project has yet to be considered. I was initially inclined to add an infra-red repeater near one of the loudspeakers. This would allow us to retain the use of the Squeezebox remote control from the deck. However, a recent change to our Wifi network has allowed us to start using the Logitech Squeezebox Controller app for Android. That app loaded to my Nexus 7 tablet may be a better solution than the IR repeater.

Yes, we still love our Squeezeboxes. It’s something of a pity that we’re now entering the time of year when it’s just too hot to be comfortable lounging on the deck.

  • Greg

    Very nice setup. I do something similar with a roku playing Pandora driven through the primary amp in the game room. The outdoor speakers are on channel B. I then control Pandora though a smartphone app via wifi while out on the porch.

    • mjgraves

      We use Pandora as well. It’s basically a source to the Logitech SqueezeCenter software that runs on the net-top music server. So are our favorite radio stations online streams. The individual players can be switched between local files and streaming sources.