Coastal Source 8.0 Mini Bollard Outdoor Loudspeaker Review
Cris Martinez enjoys this great outdoor speaker system…
8.0 Mini Bollard Outdoor Loudspeaker
USD$695 / $CAD950 each
The outdoor speaker market has traditionally been dominated by inconspicuous, lightweight contenders that produce bland background music designed not to offend the neighbours. Things are changing, though, and the market is beginning to grow rapidly as a result. Coastal Source has emerged as a serious player, producing a wide selection of premium outdoor loudspeaker designs, and lights. My modest yard required no more than the smallest, most affordable model – the 8.0 Mini Bollard you see here.
At US$695 each, the four-speaker system reviewed brings the total to $2,780. That's almost equivalent to my main hi-fi speakers inside, but if you're serious about getting a comparable listening experience outdoors, then the cost shouldn't surprise you. As soon as you hold one in your hand, you'll begin to understand why the price is what it is. Other speakers would not want to look across the ring and see the 8.0 Mini Bollard staring back at them. It's a two-way design featuring a 6.5” polypropylene woofer and 1” articulating titanium dome tweeter, standing 17.65” tall and weighing a formidable 10.5 pounds. Specs-wise, it's claimed to go all the way down to 70Hz and can handle a robust 100 watts.
The 8.0 Mini Bollard certainly feels substantial – tough enough to withstand the punishing elements outside – and conveys the impression that it will last even longer than my mortgage. The rounded, fibreglass enclosure and angled top confer an ergonomic, modern appearance that minimizes its grand, imposing stature. The slanted top is an attractive design touch, and the associated angled baffle effectively pitches the sound upward towards ear level.
The drivers are water-resistant, but the design begs the question of what comes of the inevitable moisture penetrating the corrosion-resistant aluminum grill? Reading the manual enlightened me to the fact that a small, almost imperceptible slot located below the grill is an escape drain for rain. With two large dogs roaming the yard, hopefully, it will not be called upon to drain any other liquids that might prevent me from being able to return these speakers in good conscience and condition!
Compared to the diminutive stake-mounted megaphone-shaped satellites or antiquated wall-mounted designs, the Mini Bollard is at once a giant leap in evolution and a giant of a speaker. Wall-mounted designs are typically about the size of average bookshelf speakers, so they can produce a decently wide frequency response. They are normally mounted to the wall, soffit or some similar area of the house and will acceptably fill the immediate surrounding area with sound – but straying away inevitably results in waning performance.
Strategic placement of satellites allows comprehensive coverage, but their small enclosures exhibit limited bass capability, which already tends to dissipate quickly outdoors. A sub can be added to reinforce the bass of satellites but also tends to create bass hotspots and dead zones. The bollard design cleverly combines the placement versatility of a satellite with the added cabinet volume and dynamic ability of the wall mounts. About a third of the 8.0 Mini Bollard's height can be buried for a significantly stealthier approach. I chose this option myself for the higher wife acceptance factor and to help camouflage them further from the curious canines.
Having installed a few outdoor systems over the years, I appreciated several unique features that Coastal Source offers to ease the process. These speakers will not only potentially last as long as my mortgage, but they're also worth almost as much as my house, and I admit being worried about the possibility of an acoustic admirer choosing to pilfer them. After all, they're not locked down, right? Wrong. A stake can be attached to the bottom of the speaker, and a large “Theft Guard” plate can then attach to it. Once these items are in place and the speaker is buried, it is effectively anchored in place. Brilliant!
Another feature I appreciated is the patented Coastal Connector, a screw-on terminal that provides a waterproof, direct burial connection. Coastal source offers pre-terminated lengths of their wire equipped with the connection, or accessories that permit standard wire to be used. Coastal Source pigtail cables convert the Coastal Connector on the speaker to a typical two-conductor wire that connects to my amplifier.
My yard measures 35 feet wide and 20 feet deep, including a small deck area. I positioned the two speakers 25 feet apart, angled slightly inwards, two feet from the back fence, nestled in front of cedars and between the hostas and flowers. Despite their size, they were virtually unnoticeable among the flora. However, the dogs noticed them, which caused me a moment of worry since their normal action to anything newly introduced would void the warranty and any chance of return. Two more speakers were placed 15 feet away from the other speaker and 20 feet apart, bookending the deck and surrounded by flowers. Coastal Source makes amplifiers as well, but I used an AudioControl Rialto 400 amplifier, a Coastal Source Parallel Adaptor to connect all four channels, and an Arcam rDAC streamer as the main source.
I was immediately struck by the realization that I was auditioning something unique in its category. The overall tonal character was surprisingly vibrant and balanced, with the slightest hedge towards warmth. This was appreciated since most outdoor speakers slant towards a colder, high frequency-heavy presentation. Treble at first was slightly wanting, but pivoting the tweeter downwards resulted in perfectly proportioned highs that were sharply detailed and precise. Once tweaked, the 8.0 Mini Bollard exhibited the speed and control of a race car, with the comfort and smoothness of a luxury sedan. Every square foot of the yard was evenly and thoroughly immersed in the sound field. Most enjoyably and surprisingly, I connected to the music and got lost in it, in a way that I was accustomed to indoors but never experienced outdoors.
From the opening notes of When the Man Comes Around by Johnny Cash, I was as fully engaged with the Man in Black as when hearing him through my home hi-fi system. This wasn't the ambient listening experience normally associated with outdoor speakers; it was grippingly involving. The gravitas of his voice and the impact of the bass notes were compellingly presented, quite the feat as this range tends to dissipate quickly outdoors. Snaps of strings and cymbals were precisely positioned in space and provided a perfectly weighted counterbalance. Only the ongoing nervous need to monitor the dogs investigating the new sonic addition kept me from being fully swept away…
Lady Gaga's live version of The Edge of Glory was a superb demonstration of high-frequency control and transient speed by the Coastal Source 8.0 Mini Bollard system. Even when I generously opened the throttle, it never became sibilant, as the head Monster's commanding voice maintained clarity and silky smoothness. Transients propagated by a mix of the strings and piano structure provided an attack that was vibrant, quick, and full. The notes decayed a little faster than when played indoors, but still very naturally and far better than should be expected of an outdoor system.
Beethoven's 9th Symphony from Otto Klemperer's Klemperer Legacy - Beethoven brought a new appreciation for the system. The dynamic control and harmonious interlacing of varying instruments in a full orchestra should be commended because it was truly inspiring. Yet, it was another characteristic that caught my attention even more; the thunderous glory brought me to my feet. As I marched around the yard with flailing arms, I noticed the expected shift in soundstaging – but there was no escape from the enveloping symphony. I had always experienced hot and cold spots with other outdoor setups, but the Coastal Source was spatially exceptionally thorough and remarkably even.
After all this drama, I finally lowered my listening level to something more neighbour-friendly. Things were a little less impressive at moderate listening levels, understandably perhaps. A high-performance car is most enjoyable when driven hard on an open road and far less when limited by traffic. The Coastal Source is the outdoor speaker market's Ferrari equivalent and shines substantially more at higher volumes than lower levels. My review speakers still exhibited better bass and crisper highs than other outdoor systems I've heard and proved potent and enjoyable at moderate levels. Yet, the design's core strengths really shine through when you drive with a heavy foot.
When it comes to outdoor loudspeakers, the Coastal Source 8.0 Mini Bollard system confirms what we really all knew anyway – that bigger is better. To my ears, at least, it's the new, undisputed heavyweight champion in the outdoor speaker category. It punches with more authority and delivers more dynamic excitement than all its rivals that I've heard. True, you just might cause your neighbours to start hating you, but that's the only buyer's remorse you shall ever have.
The seemingly harmless decision of working at a high end audio boutique drove Cris to unwillingly become the unfortunate friend to whom all go for tech support and free service. Thinking he could escape this curse by subsequently starting a career in custom installation made it worse. He loves consumer electronics but hates his friends.
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