Speakers can be divided into two types, namely active speakers and passive speakers. “But they both just produce sound, right?” This is correct, but there are major differences that can influence which system suits you best. Many people who are new to the hi-fi and home cinema world are under the assumption that speakers only need to be connected to a source in order to play. However, this is a bit more complicated. In this article we compare active vs passive speakers and explain what option suits best for your situation.
WHAT ARE PASSIVE SPEAKERS?
Since the invention of loudspeakers, more passive than active speakers have been made and sold. Passive speakers must be linked to an amplifier, which in turn is linked to a source. This source can be a Blue-ray player, turntable, game console or your TV. For years, audio enthusiasts swore by passive systems, due to the fact that they are flexible in selecting the different elements. This makes the choice of speakers and amplifier extra important. A good match between these devices ultimately determines the quality and power of your sound.
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.
PASSIVE SPEAKERS ADVANTAGES
- Because passive speakers do not have an amplifier built-in, they are generally lighter in weight and therefore easier to move. However, you will have to walk extra to get the amplifier.
- Audio equipment is expensive, especially when you go for high-end products. For some this is not a problem, others will have to save a little longer for their ideal setup. Building a passive system is more flexible because you can buy the different devices separately. Yet you still need both a speaker and an amplifier to make music.
WHAT ARE ACTIVE SPEAKERS?
Unlike passive speakers, active speakers do have a built-in amplifier. These speakers only need to be connected to the mains (or a battery in case of an ‘active bluetooth speaker’) to work. Active speakers are also referred to as ‘powered speaker’ or ‘self-powered speaker’. As mentioned before, flexibility has always been one of the reasons for audio enthusiasts to choose passive speakers. For some this can be a fun project to do, for others it can be a huge challenge. Nowadays there is so much choice in speakers and amplifiers that it can be difficult to make the right choice. This is exactly why active speakers have entered the market. The components in these speakers have been selected by the manufacturer to be a match. The different parts work perfectly together, so you don’t have to worry about this. Active speakers can therefore be seen as ‘plug-and-play’ systems.
ACTIVE SPEAKERS ADVANTAGES
- The biggest advantage of active speakers is that they only need to be connected to the mains. But they still need a connection to a audio playing source. In most cases this can be done wirelessly, using WiFi, Bluetooth or with many new high-end speakers with Wireless Speakers and Sound (WiSA). Many of the more expensive model speakers also have an input for speaker cable, something the true audiophile will be happy with.
- One problem with passive setups, which the audio enthusiast themselves may not see as a problem, is their size. A set of speakers, external amplifier and subwoofer and the various cables between the devices. For many it is not easy to get rid of this neatly. Because the amplifier (and often the subwoofer) is built-in in active systems and fewer cables needs to be used, it is a lot easier to hide your equipment in a clean way.
- Imagine you want to buy a new car. Do you buy one without a motor, just so that you can choose it yourself? People who don’t understand cars will never do this. They are more likely to choose a car that they can drive away immediately. It doesn’t make sense to buy a non-working car and this is how many people feel when they buy passive speakers. This makes active speakers ideal for people who do not know everything about audio. The difficult choices have been made for you by the manufacturer, all you have to do is supply the speaker with power and determine which song you are going to listen to.
ADJUST THE SETTINGS OF YOUR SPEAKERS
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. It is also possible to change certain settings with external amplifiers. However, this does not mean that you cannot make adjustments to active speakers. Manufacturers are increasingly adding a DSP hatch to active 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.
Repairing broken parts is often mentioned as a difference between the two speaker types. “When a part is broken in an active system, you must immediately open the entire speaker to repair it.” This is of course true. But because all parts are selected to work together, the chance of a defect will be smaller. In addition, a defect remains a defect. Both systems will no longer function in the event of a defect. If you use multiple active speakers, you will 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. As mentioned before, combining the right passive speaker with an amplifier can be a huge challenge. Ultimately, this depends entirely on your situation and wishes. Are you considering buying new speakers? We advise you to always listen carefully to how they sound and what an expert has to say about which option is best for your personal situation. Consider carefully in advance what you will do with the speakers, how and where you will use the installation and what you want to spend on it.
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 active speakers.