I don’t know how you spent the extra hour gained over the weekend thanks to Daylight Saving Time, but I was taking care of a few outdoor winterizing odds and ends. Packing up the trailer and filling its plumbing lines with anti-freeze, that kind of fun stuff. I was also checking around the outside of the house for any areas that needed sealing when it struck me that this would be a perfect time to test the outdoor rock speakers OSD had sent. “Your neighbors are going to hate you,” the company rep predicted when she was picking out a set that would be a match for the size of my back yard.
A few weeks later, the poor UPS guy lugged the two rather large boxes to my front door. A pair of OSD-RS840s. These are not exactly compact (10 3/4″ x 20″ x 19″ and 20 lb each), although smaller versions are available for those who have less room to rock. However, they are pretty convincing looking as far as fake rocks go. Much better than models I’ve seen in stores. And this is coming from a guy who owns a rock hammer and knows how to use it. I also know my way around stereo equipment and the specs on these are pretty decent, especially considering the price point. An 8″ woofer, 1 1/2″ dome tweeter, 24hHz – 20kHz frequency response and 250W per speaker power handling. The speaker enclosures may not be in as optimized a form factor or material as traditional indoor speakers, but given the fact that they’re disguised as natural looking rocks, I think I can cut them some slack there. The cabinets are definitely thick and feel solid. They’re weatherproof and made to withstand water, salt and pool chemicals. When I asked about winter conditions, the rep said wind and snow are no problem, but components can freeze in extremes and covering with a bag during blizzard conditions might not be a bad idea. Personally, I think I’d take them out for the winter if you’re in a snow-prone area -they’re going to get buried under the white stuff anyway, so why subject glues and solder to constant freeze thaw cycles?
Looking convincing is one thing, but sound is more important. For people who have ditched traditional component stereos for iPod docks, these are not for you; an amplifier is required. I have a decent amp hooked up to an iMac in my office (’cause nothing is more conducive to writing than music blasting loudly enough to shake the bookshelves), and this turned out to be the basis of a kickass outdoor music configuration. For the past few years, my usual procedure has been to lug an iPod dock outside when I want tunes in the back yard. Which is fine, but most docks are underpowered when you want to fill a yard with sound, and I’m always a little worried about their vulnerability to wayward footballs, frisbees, spilled drinks, etc…
I was able to quickly set up a backyard system using the RS840s, the iMac (housing my iTunes library), the amplifier that the iMac is connected to and my iPhone (and iPod Touch) running Apple’s iTunes Remote app. Since the iMac was already hooked up to the amp, all I had to do was fish speaker wire into the house from the back yard, connect the Rock Speakers to the amp, configure the Remote app on my iPhone to control my iTunes installation on the iMac and we were ready to rock the back yard. And rock it we did. The speakers sounded great, with sufficient volume to fill the yard with distortion-free sound. Of course, a good deal of this equation is the quality of music files being played and the amplifier being used to drive the speakers -I was using straight iTunes purchases (256 kbps files) and a very modest, 20 year old JVC amp, so they were hardly being driven by a powerhouse audiophile quality system. Bass was good but not overpowering, highs were good and there was no distortion evident even when we began pushing the volume. The speakers were able to project music towards the back 70 feet or so, without sounding muffled. The first time I ran the speakers through a session, it was only a degree above freezing and it’s been in the low fifties (Fahrenheit) on subsequent runs, and I’ve seen (or heard) no apparent temperature related issues. Alas, this being Southwestern Ontario, I will not be able to comment on warm weather performance for another eight months or so… For hanging out in the back yard, parties, etc…, I’m liking this setup much better than the iPod dock option. The Apple iTunes Remote app really makes something like this quite convenient, since it gives full music choice and volume control from outside. The whole project took about two hours, but the biggest chunk of that time was running the speaker wire, although the company does offer wireless versions for those who don’t like to drill holes or fish wire.
And yes, I’m pretty sure some of my neighbors hate me. At least when I’m outside with The Clash cranked up to 11.
Disclosure: Outdoor Speaker Depot provided GeekDad with sample speakers.
RS840 Ultra Fidelity 8″ Rock Speakers
$249.50/pair (volume discount available for really big yards)
3 year warranty
Wired: Speakers make pretty realistic rocks, weatherproof, sturdy enough to co-exist in a yard full of active kids and dogs, sound great.
Tired: Fishing speaker wire through the house and outdoors can be a bit of a pain (albeit a one-time thing).