Do Outdoor Speakers Need A Receiver? Speakers 101

photo of outdoor speaker

Outdoor speakers are something I never gave much thought into. I would just bring a portable bluetooth speaker and put it on the lounge chair. This was fine for a while until I came to the conclusion that the sound output by the speaker just wasn’t enough for me. I wanted more. More bass and more volume. I then asked myself the question of if my new outdoor speakers would need a receiver.

Outdoor speakers may or may not need a receiver depending on the type of speaker. Active speakers have a built-in amplifier. All that is required to operate is a power source and audio source. Passive speakers do not have an amplifier built-in and require external amplification, usually by an audio-video receiver.

Let’s break down exactly what all the parts are, and how to choose the right outdoor speakers for you, taking into account the cost, ease of use, and features.

What Is A Receiver?

A receiver, or as it is also known as, an audio/video (AV) receiver, is an electronic device that you would typically see in a home theater setup. Its main function is to receive audio signals from many different audio sources. These typically include items like TV audio through an audio return channel (or ARC), a gaming system such as a PS4 or Xbox, DVD players, and media streamers like a Roku box or Amazon Fire Stick. The receiver has tons of different inputs to accommodate almost anything you could throw at it and allows for one central device to maintain your whole-home entertainment system through one remote or phone app.

The receiver also has many different outputs. Of course, you have your audio outputs which connect the receiver to the speakers using a speaker wire. Speaker wire comes in different gauges and different receivers include different amounts of audio output ports. To keep it simple, a wire gauge of 16 is generally sufficient, although 12 to 14 gauge wire is best for longer wire runs. The most common speaker setups are 2.1, 5.1, and 7.1, with the first digit being the number of speakers in the setup, and the second is usually how many subs are connected.

photo of a receiver

You also have a number of video outputs to display your consoles and media players. In today’s modern world, the connector of choice will be HDMI ports. The receiver takes the video signal carried on the cable and pushes it to its “HDMI Out” port, which you then connect to your display, These HDMI ports can carry many different forms of video and audio, including 8k resolution that gets techies like me excited.

If you’re not completely up to date with all of your gadgets at home, there are some AV receivers that have legacy connections like composite and component ports AKA You’re red, yellow, and white cables, or you red, green, blue cables. If you have that Nintendo 64 sitting in the attic collecting dust, you could now dust it off, blow out that cartridge, and get to playing!

Tip: If you plan on investing into an AV receiver and you would like to support 8K resolution, ensure you have an AV receiver with HDMI ports that are rated at version 2.1 or higher, as HDMI 2.0 ports do not have enough bandwidth to support that high of a resolution. You will need HDMI cables that also support version 2.1 or higher as well!

As for audio, these AV receivers allow you to plug in all sorts of different speakers in all sorts of configurations. Maybe you’ve been to the movie theater and seen things like Dolby Digital, Dolby Atmos, DTS, etc., these are audio standards that use specific speaker configurations that most modern AV receivers support as well. The speakers you plug into an AV receiver will generally need to be passive in nature, meaning they require amplification on order to turn the electrical signals sent from your audio source into sound.

The Difference Between Active & Passive Speakers

So the main difference between active and passive can really be defined on where the speaker receives the required amplification. Let’s get a little nerdy in here!

With active speakers, the amplification takes place within the unit. The speaker is connected to AC power, and a sound signal from your audio source, that signal is then amplified from the speaker housing in order to create sound. Passive speakers on the other hand are fed, through speaker wire, the signal that has already been amplified from an AV receiver.

Active vs Passive Speakers: What’s The Best Choice?

Active and passive speakers both can create room-filling sound — or backyard filling sound, with deep lows and crisp highs. They truly can create a wonderful listening experience. The difference though is in how these speakers work and what the end goals are for the user. That is ultimately what need’s to be decided before making a choice.

Active Speakers Are Your Choice If:

  1. You want a simple set-up
  2. You want a “hard-to-kill” speaker
  3. You want to go wireless
photo of portable speaker

Outdoor Active Speakers Are Easy To Use & Usually Portable!

So even though we dipped our toes in signal amplification, the depth of engineering and technology is truthfully beyond the scope of what I want this article to be about. That being said, active speakers are probably the best choice for someone who isn’t tech-savvy, or just doesn’t like to deal with a more complicated setup. You generally just plug them in (unless they contain a battery!) and connect your audio source.

Don’t fret, these active speaker units still come with plenty of input ports and have customization options such as simple equalizer levels or presets to change how the speakers sound. This can include bass, treble, fade, and more. They also can support sound standards such as Dolby Digital, DTS, etc. Just be sure to check the specs or your system to verify what audio and video formats it supports!

Active Speakers AKA Hard-to-Kill Speakers

The amp, crossover, and drivers of an active speaker setup have been chosen by the manufacturer to work well together. While pushing your active speaker may distort the sound that is output, under and over-powering the speaker through amplification is usually not an issue, so the chances of blowing out the speaker are minimal.

Active Speakers Have Wireless Capabilities

Something that isn’t available yet, as of me writing this article, are wireless passive speakers. As I said at the top of this article, I’ve been using a small Bluetooth speaker in order to listen to my music while outside this summer. Well, that is one example of an active speaker! Remember, any sound signal, wired or wireless needs to be amplified in order to create perceivable sound.

Passive Speakers: Are Your Choice If:

  1. You want weatherproof speakers
  2. You want more choice in the type of speakers
  3. You want louder speakers

Related: 5 Simple Tips To Make Your Outdoor Speakers Last Longer

Outdoor Passive Speakers Are Made To Withstand The Elements

Speaker units that are engineered for the outdoors have been engineered to operate in the ickiest of conditions and are thus a better choice if you want to affix your speakers outside permanently. Outdoor speakers may even carry an IP Rating. This IP rating, aka Ingress Protection rating, measures the effectiveness of its seals. You may have seen these ratings on your smartphone as well. Keep in mind that not all speakers will have an IP rating, but most outdoor speakers can handle a typical rainstorm and extreme temperatures.

Tip: I would caution anyone hooking up a speaker system outside that wasn’t rated for outdoor use. Besides it causing a safety hazard, if it were to cause a fire or electrocution, insurance may or may not cover the any damages.

Their Are More Passive Speakers To Choose From

photo of speaker store

While there are definitely active, weatherproof, outdoor speakers, these are typically portable units that aren’t capable of driving a signal as well as a decent passive speaker. Because passive speakers are easier to weatherproof, there are many more to choose from, and they come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Besides your standard rectangular speaker, they can also come in the shape of cylinders, and even rocks, or wood logs.

Outdoor Passive Speakers Can Get Really Loud!

Because active outdoor speakers are usually smaller and designed to be portable, they typically have smaller speakers in them. In the years I have seen portable speakers on the market they have gotten exponentially better throughout the years, but they just can’t compete with the ability to have a wired system with a separate amplifier, as you see with passive speakers. Active speakers that I have eyed on amazon top out around 100-watts. Passive speaker systems come in with an average of about 350-watts. More watts means more boom-boom!

Pricing An Active vs Passive Outdoor Speaker Setup

The cost of an outdoor speaker setup can literally be a difference of hundreds and dollars and really depends on what kind of setup you are looking for. Even though active speakers contain an amplifier, they are generally no more expensive than a standalone passive speaker. Another advantage is the fact that a separate AV receiver is not needed. So the cost of your active speaker is the final cost unless you want to add extra features that the speaker does not have built-in.

Just because passive speakers require an external amplifier does not mean that you will be spending hundreds on your setup. You can get a simple AV receiver capable of driving 100-watt speakers for under $100. Although, due to the fact the AV receivers can play audio from multiple “zones” I think it is worth it to invest in a high-quality receiver and deck out your TV room as well! Passive speakers will also need to have speaker wire ran to wherever you choose to place the speaker, so be sure to include the price to fish the wire to the exterior of your home.

photo of my portable speaker

Update: In case anyone was curious, I received an upgraded portable outdoor speaker as a gift shortly after writing this article. For now, my search is over.

Related Questions

Can you connect powered speakers to a receiver?

AV Receivers have “pre-out” ports that are generally used to hook up subwoofers, which have their own power source. A receiver may also contain extra pre-out ports that can be uses with powered or active speakers. These speakers should not be connected to a receiver’s normal speaker outputs as this can damage the speaker, as well as the receiver.

photo of speakers into home

Does an outdoor receiver need to be weatherproof?

What I am sure is due to the small amount of market demand, weatherproof receivers are not really a thing. If you are using a receiver with passive speakers it should be placed indoors with speaker wire ran outside through a conduit and into the speakers.

Michael Carpenter

Hi, I'm Mike. I grew up in North Carolina having a blast on trampolines, go-karts, and just sitting on the porch with my friends. I have since moved to Las Vegas with my wife, 2 children, and 3 dogs. When I'm not chasing the kids around the house, I am probably chasing them around the backyard!

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