Garden Audio

Music in the garden was something Gloria and I occasionally chatted about, but we decided it wasn’t a priority. It was nice to have a little quiet background music on the patio when we were eating or on the rare occasion we were entertaining, and I usually had the radio on if I was working in the vegetable garden or tinkering in the shed, but at the time other things took priority.

A ‘shed’ speaker – its amazing what you can find in other peoples rubbish!

I started to collect the various bits and pieces I would need to implement a simple system as far back as spring 2018, starting with a reel of 43 strand speaker cable and the speakers for the shed.

A friend had “rescued” the shed speakers from a skip, why they were thrown away I don’t know. They were in almost perfect condition, and have served me well since going “live” in the spring of 2020.

With Gloria now sadly gone I decided that, as it was something we said we would eventually do, it was time I buckled down and got on with it.

A trench was dug across the garden, going under two paths, and conduit and speaker cable installed.

An Eagle ‘Rock’ speaker lurking in the corner of the flower bed…

I coveted a particular pair of speakers for the patio for a long time. Made by Eagle, they looked like sandstone rocks that would blend in nicely in one of our flower beds. Unfortunately, they were out of production when I tried to purchase a pair and I had to work my way through a long list of stockists before I finally managed to find some, but as you can see from the image it was worth the effort, more to the point, they sound OK too!

Just so the ‘Vegetable Garden’ didn’t feel left out…

Fitting speakers in the vegetable garden was actually an afterthought. Because of the garden layout running an additional pair of speaker cables was almost zero effort, and I already had a three-way speaker switch in the mix, so with the addition of a small pair of waterproof speakers the job was done.

Finding the right amplifier for the system was a different story. It was to be installed in the shed, which whilst “dry”, was subject to the vagaries of the English climate (humidity and temperature). Additionally, because of its location, I didn’t want to spend a fortune on it.

So far a fairly easy specification to meet – but I wanted a radio (DAB would be nice, but FM would do) and the ability to play music from USB sticks, a Bluetooth link for smartphones, and an audio input I could hook up to a Raspberry Pi running Kodi (which would network with the house media servers).

On location in the shed with
the amp and speaker switch…

I eventually found a “qtx KAD‑2BT” on Amazon which ticked almost all of my boxes. It was a small Class D amplifier, which, whilst not Hi-Fi, was good enough for my needs. It had a built-in FM radio receiver, connections for external audio sources (which was great for the Pi), and could play Bluetooth audio and music from a USB stick. Best of all it was cheap! With the addition of a homemade FM dipole antenna, I had permanent garden “sounds” at last.

The only problem was Bluetooth. The amplifier happily played Bluetooth audio but the range of its internal PCB antenna, especially from inside the shed, was dire, to say the least!

In the past, I had upgraded WiFi modules in a couple of old laptops and noticed that the new cards I fitted provided both WiFi and Bluetooth connectivity using just one antenna which got me thinking…

Finally, an antenna that would ‘Go the distance…’

A little internet research confirmed that the older 2.4GHz WiFi and Bluetooth both operated in the same frequency band, and could, therefore, use the same antenna.

Again on the internet, I found an outdoor 2.4Ghz, 9dbi directional flat panel WiFi antenna with a long tail I could fit outside the shed, and set about invalidating the amplifier manufacturers’ warranty and fitted a Reverse SMA connector for the antenna to the back. The tail from this new connector was soldered to a calculated spot on the Bluetooth PCB with copious amounts of hot glue added to the cable and the board for physical support. Job done – I now have a Bluetooth connection with a range of around 30m!

I only wish Gloria was here to hear it, she would have loved sitting on the patio listening to her favourite music gently drifting across the garden. The next step will be fitting the Pi and hooking up to the house network, but that’s for another day…