Powered Speakers VS. Passive Speakers: The Differences

Jun 24, 2020 | 0 comments

Speakers can be divided into two types, namely powered speakers and passive speakers. “But they both just produce sound, right?” This is correct, however, there are major differences that can influence which system suits you best. In this article we explain the differences between the two and which is best for your situation.

PASSIVE SPEAKERS

Most speakers that are sold are passive. This means that you connect them via an loudspeaker cable to an amplifier or AV-receiver, which in turn is linked to a source. This can be, for example, a Blu-ray player or game console. Passive speakers are often used with fixed installations. Also DJ’s or sound technicians who like to assemble their own setup often use passive speakers.

With passive speakers it is important to have a good balance between the speaker and amplifier. Ideally, the amplifier has slightly more power than the speaker can theoretically handle. This means that the amplifier does not have to work as hard to obtain the required power. If this does not happen, there is a good chance that you will see the well-known ‘clip’ lights on. This means that the amplifier gives its maximum output and hopelessly tries to increase it even further, with the result that a distorted signal is sent to the speaker. In addition to the power of the amplifier, there are other factors that affect the quality. Due to the large amount of speakers and amplifiers, it is incredibly difficult to match all these factors well, and thus get the perfect sound from your speakers.

VEDDAN Origin speaker black in living room
Image: The components in a powered speaker have been selected to be a perfect match.

POWERED SPEAKERS

Unlike passive speakers, powered speakers do have a built-in amplifier. These speakers are also referred to as ‘active-speakers’ or ‘self-powered speakers’. All components are perfectly matched, so that they work well together and you do not have to worry about this. As a result, powered speakers can be seen as ‘plug-and-play’ systems. Today, many powered speakers are equipped with Wireless Audio and Sound (WiSA). This eliminates the need for cables from the speakers to your amplifier. You just have to make sure that the speakers are connected to the mains.

If you read the above, you may think that powered speakers are mainly interesting for people who want the most minimal setup possible. In terms of size, there is little difference between the two systems. Because the amplifier is already built into the powered speaker, there is no need for an extra device. However, powered speakers still need to be connected to the mains. Passive speakers are powered by a speaker cable from the external amplifier. It is not the case that the choice for powered speakers means that you need fewer cables, unless you use WiSA speakers.

CUSTOMIZATION OPTIONS

If you choose a set of passive speakers, this means that you generally have more influence on the sound. This has to do with the fact that you can combine the components yourself. However, this does not mean that you cannot make adjustments to powered speakers. Manufacturers are increasingly adding a DSP hatch to powered speakers. A Digital Sound Processor is a chip that can manipulate the digital sound signal. You could compare this to an equalizer, but more flexible and programmable. An additional advantage is also that the manufacturer can intervene remotely when a problem arises.

FREEDOM OF CHOICE

Now that you know that powered speakers have a built-in amplifier and that they come loose with passive speakers, it is easy to say that you have more freedom of choice with passive speakers. For example, this is ideal for people who want to slowly expand their setup.

Imagine you want to buy a new car. Do you buy one without a motor, just so that you can choose it yourself? This sounds very illogical and that is how it feels for many people when they buy a set of passive speakers. This makes powered speakers an ideal solution for these people. The difficult thinking has already been done by the manufacturer, you only have to worry about where you place the speakers.

OTHER DIFFERENCES?

Because the amplifier is built-in in powered speakers, these are generally a lot heavier than a set of passive speakers. The question is whether this is a direct drawback. Speakers often have a fixed location and do not need to be moved often. It is sometimes stated that any repairs to passive speakers are easier, because the electronics are not built-in. A malfunction remains a malfunction, which means that this statement can be quickly invalidated. Both systems will no longer function in the event of a malfunction. If you use multiple powered speakers, you will even see that only the one with malfunction no longer works, so you will not be completely without music.

It is impossible to say that one is better than the other. Both types are available with different quality. In particular, combining the right passive speaker with an amplifier can be a huge challenge. Ultimately, this depends entirely on your situation and wishes. It certainly does not hurt to have yourself properly informed about this by an expert.

At VEDDAN we want to get the very best from our own drivers. We did this by choosing the amplifier with the utmost care. Curious about the result? Schedule a listening session and experience the beauty of powered speakers.