When selecting speakers for long-term outdoor use, it is important know they will stand the test of time when exposed to nature. Extreme temperatures, wind, humidity, UV radiation, rain, and salinity levels can wreak havoc on speakers unless they are designed specifically to survive and thrive in the often harsh environment of the great outdoors.
One common measure of suitability for outdoor use is the IP (Ingress Protection) rating system, which is defined by the international standard IEC 60529. IP ratings consist of two digits which indicate protection against solids and liquids, respectively. In short, the bigger the numbers, the better the protection. For example, an IP60 rated device would have strong protection against solids, but no protection against liquids. Conversely, an IP06 rated device would have no protection against solids, and strong protection against liquids (good luck trying to imagine such a device, though). The following charts define the numbers in greater detail.
IP ratings are useful, and I am glad they exist. For example, as someone who has destroyed several expensive cell phones after accidentally exposing them to water, the IP68 rating of my current phone—a Samsung Galaxy S8—was a major factor when I decided to purchase it. It is the reason I can take my phone into the shower on a daily basis (don’t judge me until you try it—bonus points for using a waterproof speaker such as the JBL Charge 3), run with my phone even when it’s raining, and laugh instead of curse when my 3 year old nephew spills orange soda directly onto my phone.
All these things happen without giving me a hint of anxiety, thanks to the IP68 rating which objectively means “waterproof.” However “waterproof” and “weatherproof” are two very different things. The IP68 rating means my phone can sink to the bottom of a hot tub without a hiccup, but it does not necessarily mean it would survive prolonged exposure to the sun or even salt water. That is because the scope of the IEC 60529 standard is narrower than the challenges Mother Nature presents. Furthermore, IEC 60529, like most standards, only calls for tests which are short in duration. In fact, none of the water resistance tests are longer than 15 minutes. Unfortunately, severe weather systems do not always obey the 15-minute rule. Therefore, even IP55 rated speakers (yes, even those heavily marketed as “weatherproof”) can fail quickly when exposed to the elements. Common failure points on speakers include rotting wood, rusty grilles and screws, peeling paint, and UV damaged materials (UV damaged foam behind the speaker grille is especially common). Therefore, when evaluating speakers for permanent outdoor installations, it is best to use IP ratings simply as a starting point, not a final measure of “weatherproof.”
For example, consider the new JBL VLA Compact line array, which comes IP55 rated as standard. That IP55 rating is useful and valuable, but there are several notable weather related features beyond the IP55 rating. First and foremost, the entire enclosure is made of fiberglass. This completely eliminates the possibility of wood rot, and it also makes the speaker less susceptible to physical damage from things like hail or falling branches. Also, zinc plated, powder coated, stainless steel hardware is used throughout the speaker to prevent rust and to maximize durability. Furthermore, UV rated materials are utilized to prevent damage from long term exposure to the sun. In short, the VLA Compact is an example of a speaker designed to beyond its IP rating to be suitable for long term outdoor use. For more info on the VLA Compact, please visit this webpage: http://jblpro.com/www/products/installed-sound/vla-compact-series