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Active vs Passive Speakers – What’s the Difference? 2024

The terms “active” and “passive” frequently appear while looking for loudspeakers or drawing out plans for a speaker system. What distinguishes passive speakers from active speakers? Active speakers require power, but passive speakers don’t, and this is the fundamental distinction between the two types of speakers. As opposed to passive models, which require additional amplifiers, active models come with built-in amplifiers.

In order to assist you choose which type is best for you and your specific setup, we’ll go into more detail about the distinctions between passive and active speakers in this post.

What are passive speakers?

A source component, or the equipment that plays the music, comes first. This could be a CD player, music streamer, record player, computer, phone, or even a record collection. The preamplifier portion follows, which switches between sources and regulates volume.

If you have a record player, you’ll also need a phono stage (we’ve left it out of our diagram to keep things simple) to raise the output from your cartridge to line level and equalize the signal before sending it to the preamp circuit. The power amplifier is what you need now because it has the strength to take the line-level signal from the preamp and boost it so it can drive a pair of speakers. The driving units in your speakers are not directly connected to this, though. Its output must travel via a crossover filter network, which divides the signal in a two-way speaker into just the high frequencies (to go to the tweeter) and everything else (to go to the larger mid/bass unit).

With a three-way speaker, the crossover divides the sound into the treble, middle, and bass components. Since this crossover network doesn’t require a power source to function, it is passive in that sense. In a typical passive setup, that is essentially the signal path.

What are active speakers?

Up until the preamp stage, everything in an active system remains the same. The preamp’s output signal enters a crossover network that is actively running. Although it does the same task as the passive crossover, this operates at line level (about 2 volts) rather than speaker level (typically 15-35v).

The components utilized can be optimized for precision rather than power handling while working at lower signal levels. To get the most out of the drive units, such a design would often utilize active components and, on more advanced devices, some type of signal processing (whether digital or not).

The end result is a filter network that (possibly) operates much more accurately and produces a sound that is more seamlessly blended and optimized. This line-level signal is split into its individual frequency bands, which are then delivered to separate power amplifiers that feed as many drive units as are responsible for delivering each frequency band.

Active vs passive speakers: which is better?

Active speakers appear to have a wide range of benefits. When compared to a passive filter alternative, their crossover design allows the designer a lot more control over the signal and is far less prone to losses and distortion.

Power amplification can be tailored for a particular drive unit because it is incorporated into the design. Since the speaker is typically integrated into the box, there is no need for lengthy speaker cables to connect the two, preventing any distortion or loss brought on by the wires. Simply put, there is better control and more grip.

Active speakers appear to have a significant advantage because of these advantages, but there are drawbacks as well. The typical method is to purchase modules from an OEM provider because not many speaker manufacturers are also capable of producing amplification. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this, but in practice, things frequently go wrong. As a result, the final active speaker’s sound quality is rarely as good as it may be.

On the shop floor, active speakers also have a negative impact on their perceived worth. Although their electronics are typically concealed, they will clearly cost more than passive options with a similar appearance. When you compare the costs of the two options, it usually becomes clear that the active option is more cost-effective because it uses multiple power amplifiers (even a simple two-way speaker requires four mono power amplifiers), whereas a passive set only needs a single stereo amplifier to operate its four drive units.

Additionally, the amount of upgradeable active designs is constrained. For instance, you cannot simply swap out the power amps; everything must be removed. There is less room for experimentation for enthusiasts as a result. Either you agree with the power amplifier and speaker system as a whole or you don’t.