Listening to Rocks
Niles RS6 Outdoor Speakers
By Grant Clauser
While it's not necessarily the time of year to be thinking about outdoor audio—at least in CR's neck of the woods—plenty of customers are ready for some tunes by the pool or the yard, and as a reseller, you've got to be ready for them.
Unfortunately, most outdoor speakers look like the kind of thing that you'd see hung from a pole at the community pool and sound like the high school intercom. Niles' new RS6 series of outdoor loudspeakers were designed to look like ornamental rocks—they call them GeoRealistic—and sound like music. Is it too much to ask for rocks that sound good?
First, I should point out that these speakers arrived at our offices in the heart of winter with snow, below zero temperatures and flu season in full swing. Needless to say, I didn't actually take them outside for a listen. But I did the next best thing, I set them up in the largest room I could find and dumped water on them.
For starters, these speakers actually look like rocks, not like styrofoam pretending to be rocks. Some people place fake rocks over their speakers, but these speakers are built right into the enclosure. They're sturdy enough to stand on (I did) and hurt when you drop them on your foot (I did that too). They come in three styles: Gray granite, tan sandstone and white coral. The coral ones are my favorite since they look the most like the thing they're trying to imitate. They won't go over big here in Philadelphia, but they'd be perfect for Palm Beach, or Palm Springs, for that matter.
Making speakers that not only sound good, but also withstand the elements is a challenge. The RS6 series meets this challenge with fiberglass construction and double seals on the tweeters, woofers and enclosure covers. Water (rain, snow melt...) drains right away rather than puddling up in the cabinet.
When I set out to listen to these speakers, I was a bit skeptical. I'd heard outdoor speakers before, some sounding very good, some not so good. The rock-like speakers I'd experienced at vacation resorts sounded just a rung above a high school PA system. Yet these RS6s proved to be a real surprise. Figuring I'd give them the best opportunity I could, I hooked them up to a Yamaha DVD-A/SACD player, and cued up a few SACD tracks. There are a few things you might figure you'll give up when listening to speakers outdoors—primarily imaging and bass. In both those cases, the Niles speakers outperformed a good many indoor speaker systems that I've heard. In fact the biggest surprise was the amount of bass. Niles lists the frequency response as going from 60Hz to 21kHz, and while I didn't put them to a meter, they really did produce a striking amount of detailed bass. Overall they sounded very musical, exhibiting none of the harshness or hollowness sometimes found on outdoor speakers. They also produced a very pleasing soundstage, though that will vary greatly with the placement of the speakers.
To keep visitors from accidentally moving the speakers and to discourage theft, the RS6s come with a security spike and cable you can use to attach them to the ground. The speaker wires are rated for burial, so you don't need to concern yourself with getting them wet. Speaking of getting them wet, I did actually pour water over one speaker, and true to the company literature, they kept right on playing. When I picked it up later and shook it, I couldn't hear any water inside. Try that with your home speakers.
For many customers, the yard is their favorite part of the house; integrators can't afford to miss this opportunity. These rock speakers treat the music they'll hear outdoors as well as the music they'll hear inside.
Niles RS6 Outdoor Speakers
60Hz to 21 kHz frequency response
89 dB sensitivity