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Build a cheap smart outdoor speaker?

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If necessity is the mother of invention, then thrift and ingenuity must at least be second cousins.

This story begins in 2018 when yours truly moved to the suburbs after 14 years sifting through Boston.

My three favorite things about my house are the driveway, garage, and deck. However, the deck needed tunes, and my desire for an expensive wireless speaker was diametrically opposed to my desire not to spend any money.

I did it by streaming music from my phone to a Bluetooth speaker the first summer, but the problem with Bluetooth is that as soon as you walk away, the music sputters and dies, leaving your guests craving the soft sounds of yacht rock.

There’s also the problem of constantly having to keep the speaker charged, and either pay more for a waterproof speaker or move the speaker inside every time it starts to rain or snow.

Then I turned my attention to Sonos, which doesn’t require a constant connection. But the speakers start at a whopping $200, and there’s still the issue of how to leave one out without it getting damaged by the elements. There had to be a better, cheaper way.

Spoiler: there it is. Here’s how I did it.

Measure twice, order once

The heart of the system here is an Amazon Echo Dot or a similarly sized smart speaker. The current generation Echo Dot is way too big so we need either $30 third generation Echo Dot (which is 3.9 inches wide) or a $20 second generation Echo Dot (which is 3.3 inches wide). Yes, the Google Nest Mini is also 3.9 inches wide but also more expensive.

Why the size restrictions? Well, we are going to house the speaker in an outdoor lighting lamp, which is designed to protect a light bulb from rain, sleet, snow and wind. If a third-generation Echo Dot fits, great. They sound better than the second-generation version anyway and only cost about $10 more.

So yes, you lose a light bulb in exchange for hands-free, voice-activated, streaming music.

Take care of the power

Of course, we need to power the speaker. To do that, you’ll need a lightweight outlet-to-wall adapter. I have a two pack for $5.

Remove the light bulb and then screw the adapter into place. Congratulations, you now have a two-prong outlet in your ramp.

Now there are two additional, optional items that you can use to clean up this setup a bit. If you want to use the Echo Dot’s bulky power adapter and bundle the long power cord, fine.

But I chose to use a small, iPhone-like power cube—this one costs $5—and a 6-inch micro USB cablewhich is also $5.

Connect it all together

So the light bulb to power adapter is screwed into the light socket, the small USB power cube is then plugged into the power adapter, the 6″ USB cable is then plugged into the cube and finally the Echo Dot is plugged into the USB cable stabbed .

A quick whiff of ozone later, and you’ve got a fully powered, hands-free, smart outdoor speaker.

Although I live in the Northeast, I keep mine plugged in year round. It has survived hurricanes, snow storms, 100-degree days and frigid winters. The only downside is that the sound quality is only so-so. If you’re an audiophile, this probably won’t work for you. However, if you only want tunes, you’ll probably be happy – and the entire installation process takes about five minutes.

Total bill: $20 to $30 for the Echo Dot, depending on the version, then about $15 for the adapter, plug, and cord. Enjoying!

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