Product Review - Parasound "Outsiders" Outdoor Speakers - August, 2001
John E. Johnson, Jr.
Specifications (Outsiders Large Version):
Drivers: One 1" Aluminum Dome Tweeter, One 5 1/4" Kevlar Cone Mid/Bass
MFR: 50 Hz -22 kHz (± 3 dB)
Nominal Impedance: 8 Ohms
Sensitivity: 89 dB/w/m
Size: 11 3/8
" H x 7 1/2" W x 6 1/2" D
Weight: 6 1/2 Pounds Each
Parasound has long been known for their top quality amplifiers. But, they also make speakers too, of what they call "Architectural", which is a marketing term for such products as outdoor speakers, in-wall speakers, 12-channel amplifiers (multi-room), and other custom installer equipment. Most of us host parties on the deck, poolside, or in the garden from time to time, and having music to go with the wine and cheese is a nice addition. But, it is a little inconvenient to move our hi-fi speakers outside to the deck just for a party. People can trip over the wires, spill wine on the enclosures, etc. All sorts of problems. So, I think most of us just pass on the outdoor music, but maybe just have the stereo running inside, maybe a little too loud, so that everyone can hear it outside.
Parasound has learned from the mistakes of others in past designs of outdoor speakers, and have created their Outsiders line, which includes two models at present, the Large and the Small. We obtained a pair of the large ones for review. They have a 1" aluminum dome tweeter and a 5 1/4" Kevlar woofer. The crossover is 2nd order at 1.5 kHz.
The Outsiders are white plastic with stainless steel grilles. The rear panel has a very nice pair of gold-plated metal three-way spring-loaded speaker binding posts. Push up on the post, insert the wire or banana plug, and release the spring. Mounting-bracket holes are on the top and bottom of the enclosure. White metal brackets are included, and you attach them to the speakers with white plastic discs that have bolts on one side. This seals the mounting holes against the weather. The enclosures are sealed against moisture, i.e., no ports. That does not mean you should be careless when watering your hanging flower pots, but under average weather conditions, they are OK with rain, snow, heat, and hail. I don't know about F5 hurricanes in North Carolina. The only thing I could test them for here in our California summertime was the heat.
I tested the Outsiders with a Sony carousel CD player, Balanced Audio Technology VK-5i preamp, Balanced Audio VK-75 SE power amplifier, and Nordost cables. I wanted to see what the quality of these speakers really is, and a mass market setup wouldn't give me the answers I was looking for. But, with 89 dB sensitivity, they should be fine with just about any receiver. Use them with receivers that have a Zone 2 feature (you will need a separate stereo amp with these most of the time), or if your receiver has a second pair of speaker binding posts for the front two channels (usually called Speakers A and Speakers B), you can connect Speakers B to the Outsiders, and when using them, you just switch off Speakers A and switch in Speakers B.
I used a number of CDs with this setup, and in most cases, I set the volume low as would be the case with outdoor parties and dinners. In "Trios for 4", with the Palladian Ensemble (Honest Linn Records HON CD 5050), all of the instruments were clear with lots of detail. I found that I could sit quite far to the side and still hear pretty much everything. Obviously, the Outsiders have been designed for wide dispersion.
Franz Schubert's Impromptus (LaserLight 15 609) gave me great piano music, and again, off to the sides, I could hear each note delineated clearly, even to the point of hearing the pads of the hammers. The piano sounded very natural too, which is extremely important.
Another nice piece of chamber music is "Tafelmusik" (Reference Recordings RR-13 CD). It has a broad sampling of great masters, including Handel, Pachelbel, Bach, Purcell and Vivaldi. In fact, this is my favorite kind of music to listen to when I am in the mood to relax. These classic composers sounded great on the Outsiders, and in fact, they had more dispersion than my reference floor-standers, so I could enjoy the music even while sitting in a chair for off center. The price for this is that the sound stage is not very wide, but these speakers have a specific function, and I am pushing them a bit here.
Voices are a critical part of speaker evaluation, and one looks for a natural tonality without boominess, chestiness, nasality, or sibilance. The Outsiders are outstanding here. Their only problem is that they don't have much bass, so if you turn the volume down really low, the tweeter sort of takes charge, and voices, such as Pavarotti ("Favorite Arias by the World's Favorite Tenors", Sony Music MDK 47176) can sound a bit tizzy. The way around this is to boost the bass a bit either on the receiver's tone controls (some receivers have what is called a Loudness control for this), or use a subwoofer (mounted in a weather protected cabinet).
Although the Outsiders are made for outdoor use, I could not resist trying them as surround speakers in our home theater lab. I turned them sideways so that I could use the bracket to tilt them downwards at the center of the room, and put them about 7 feet off the floor, on the wall. (If you use them vertically, then they can only be rotated sideways.) These speakers turned out to be very, very nice as wall mounted home theater speakers. The treble was a little more laid back with them mounted sideways, and, they played surprisingly loud with great clarity. So, the Outsiders seem to be interesting Insiders too. With 89 dB sensitivity and 8 Ohms nominal impedance, they will work just fine with any mass market receiver. They are white, so they go with light colored walls, and come with very flexible mounting brackets all ready to go. Their wide dispersion will give them a diffuse quality, which works well with various home theater situations.
Parasound's new Outsider speakers have excellent build quality, sound great, look terrific, and go far beyond their original intended design, in that they can be used as party speakers outdoors, or as indoor speakers for a modern looking home theater setup. I highly recommend you give them a listen.
- John E. Johnson, Jr. -
© Copyright 2001 Secrets of Home Theater & High Fidelity
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