My Amazing Low Budget Alexa Enabled Backyard Audio Solution

Stop me if you’ve seen this setup.  You have an expensive stereo somewhere in your house which has the ability to play music in two zones (A/B).  You’ve paid someone to run speaker wires through your walls or ceiling, punching two holes in your house.  There are two medium sized outdoor speakers mounted on the back of your house.  When you’re out in the back yard you blast music from those speakers so you can hear it all over the yard.  It’s impossible to have a conversation near the speakers.  Your neighbors hate when you’re outside because they can’t stand your music.  The sound is directional, so standing to the left or right of the speakers drastically diminishes the volume of the speakers.  Every time you want to change the music you have to go into the house, often dripping wet from the pool.  This is not what I wanted at my house.

For years I searched for a backyard audio solution similar to what I’d experienced at resorts.  Small, clear sounding speakers spread out throughout the property, allowing for music to be enjoyed anywhere in the yard at a decent volume, but without impeding the ability to talk or bothering the neighbors.  What’s more, I wanted to be able to control the whole thing from my phone, but I also wanted others to be able to easily control it without having to constantly hand over my phone or have them install an app, and I wanted to be able to sync my outdoor music with my indoor music.  Systems like this are available, kind of, but extremely expensive, and they require not just a stereo head unit but a large amplifier capable of supporting all of those speakers.  What’s a smart home enthusiast to do?!

Here were my requirements:

  • Cost: Under $250
  • At least four speakers, easily concealed around my property
  • Preferably wireless speakers if possible
  • No large rack stereo required
  • Must work with existing whole house Echo audio
  • Bluetooth connection to stream music from phones or iPad
  • Ability to easily be controlled from a phone
  • Ability for guests to control without a phone
  • Water resistance preferred for the head unit

After much searching and scheming I came up with a simple solution that has worked out great!  One benefit for my bottom line was that we decided to do this project the week of Prime Day, so prices were slashed on everything we bought.

Here is the list of equipment I purchased to accomplish this:

An Amazon Echo Input - This little wafer of an echo goes on sale as low as $15 on Prime Day.  This is my main controller for music.  It addresses my requirements for whole house audio, phone control and guest control.
This Pyle 400w 4-channel Marine Amplifier - Learning about these little amplifiers was what made this project possible.  While there are some awful products in this market, Pyle has a great reputation and this unit in particular performs very well.  It was $68 on Prime Day and fills my requirements for Bluetooth, driving four speakers, and being water resistant.  I was also concerned about ants getting into my head unit, so having a sealed amp is a big win.  This added some other features that were very nice to have, like an SD card reader, a USB port for MP3's on a hard drive or thumb drive, RCA inputs, and an output for a subwoofer if I ever choose to add one.
A set of four rock speakers - I wanted to be a snob about this and go with the super expensive Bose outdoor speakers, but the budget just wouldn't allow for one pair, let alone two.  After searching everywhere I settled on these speakers and I haven't been disappointed.  They're a little bigger than a coffee can, and easy enough on the eyes that I don't mind the two that aren't fully concealed.  The sound out of them is clear and not at all tinny, and there isn't much distortion at higher volumes.  I had to give up on the idea of wireless speakers that would work for this project.  For one, these are spread out around my yard at least 50 feet from the amp.  Most of the Bluetooth speakers in this price range didn't have that kind of range.  Also, there was the issue of power.  Many "wireless" speakers need power outlets.  There are battery powered options, but it seems they tend to burn through batteries.  There are also solar options, but I don't trust most mid-range solar powered devices.  This meant I'd have to run speaker wire.
I've bought these 250 ft spools of NavePoint in wall speaker wire before and I haven't been disappointed.  It was $26 for the spool the day I ordered, and I'm sure I've seen it cheaper.  I actually had 75 feet remaining on an old spool, and I used all 325 feet on this project.  While I was sure that burying the wire deep enough would protect it from any opportunities to be severed, I decided to put in a little extra effort and bury PVC conduit for the two longest runs across my yard.  It's about $5 for 10 feet at Lowes or Home Depot and I needed six pieces, so that was an additional $30.  
I got one of these Kasa Smart Plugs as a free gift with an Echo Dot that I'd ordered a while back, so technically this was free.  I plugged the Pyle amp into this so that I can turn it on and off without walking out to my shed and flipping the switch every time I wanted to use it.  This created an interesting situation since the Echo Input is always on.  The Input can hear you, but can't respond without the amp being on.  So I've created a situation where Alexa has to turn herself on in order to work properly.  With this in place I can operate my landscape audio solution remotely without ever needing anything but my voice or phone.

My total all in cost for this project was $238 plus a lot of digging and cursing to install the speaker wire.  The results were fantastic.  I now have four speakers stashed around my yard providing sound in all of the main areas without being overpowering in any one area.  The sound is impressive given the cost, and the ease of use is the best part.  I’ve basically been able to build a 400w, four speaker, outdoor Amazon Echo for less than a Google Home Max or Apple HomePod.  And now that the hardest part is over, I can upgrade the speakers any time when I have more money to throw around.  The only drawback to this setup is that one speaker makes a bit of a buzz sound when it’s not playing music.  I attribute this to the almost 70 foot run of speaker wire and interference from the electric pool components the wire runs past.  It actually serves as a great reminder that the system is powered on, so I don’t mind all that much.

My Amazing Low Budget Alexa Enabled Backyard Audio Solution