The difference between an active and a passive speaker is how their amplifiers are connected to the sound system. Active speakers have their amps built-in, while passive speakers tend to have an external amp that is connected to the speakers via a wire.
I’ll go through the differences between an active and passive speaker and the instances in which active speakers are preferred over passive speakers and vice versa.
What Is an Active Speaker?
An active speaker is a type of speaker where you have built-in amplifiers. These speakers work by feeding the signal from the preamp to go to an active crossover network, which kind of works like the crossover network found in a passive speaker.
The main difference between these two crossover systems is that for the active speaker, it works at line level, which is at around 2 Volts, rather than speaker level, which works about 15 up to 35 Volts.
Most professionals use active speakers for their audio and PA systems, but regular people also use them as subwoofers, Bluetooth speakers, and other home audio speakers.
What Sets Active Speakers From Passive Speakers?
Now that you know what an active speaker is. Here are some advantages if you get active speakers over passive ones.
The availability of this feature is rapidly growing; it is not just for speakers but also for other electronic devices like keyboards, printers, etc. Some might not be bothered by a few wires, but this might be a dealbreaker to some. If extra cables concern you, an active speaker may be a better option. This way, you won’t have to worry about connecting your phone or any other device to your speakers.
Speaker and Amp Synergy
As stated a while ago, active speakers have built-in amplifiers inside, which would be a good or bad thing. This would not seem so advantageous for you if you plan to get a separate amplifier for your speakers. But for most people, this would save them the trouble of looking for an amplifier that would have a good effect when alongside the speaker you are using.
There’s more to it than just the amplifier used. Aside from the amp, which was intended to function well with the speaker, other components such as the crossover and drivers utilized in the active speaker are also developed with this in mind.
Greater Control Over Signal, Losses, and Distortion
Based on the design of active speakers, this comes before the amplifier; this means better control over the signal. This signal than would be amplified separately, which is known as active bi-amping.
Active bi-amping results to each channel are only reproducing the range of frequencies that it is required to. Another advantage of active bi-amping is that it reduces phase shifts between drivers.
How Does an Active Speaker Work?
The signal path of an active speaker goes from the source of the signal to the preamplifier, which serves to amplify the low-level signals to line level. After this, the signal goes to the crossover, where it gets filtered into different frequency ranges. These split signals then go to the amplifier then the speakers themselves.
In short, the signal in an active speaker goes from source > pre-amplifier > crossover > amplifier > speakers.
What Is the Difference Between Active and Powered Speakers?
The difference between active speakers and powered ones is in the setup. However, all active speakers can be considered powered speakers, but it is not the other way around.
The signal from powered speakers essentially has the same route with passive setups. However, the amplification of passive speakers is inside the speaker enclosure. Most powered speaker setups also have speaker wires linking the master speaker to the slave speakers. Additionally, powered speakers have stereo separation, which delivers separation between the right and left ear.
Most powered speakers are good to use for bedroom sound systems and work or office sound systems since it does not occupy a lot of space. Some powered speakers also have a Bluetooth feature which you can use to connect to any device. You can even use your powered speakers to play some tunes while having a backyard party or a chill BBQ day since all you need is a power source for your speaker and smartphone. So, you can definitely add this to the list of speakers you are considering.
What Is a Passive Speaker?
Unlike active speakers, passive speakers use external amplifiers connected to the passive speakers via wires. These usually have component systems where you can input the source signal. This usually comes before the preamplifier section of the speaker.
After the preamplifier section, the sound travels to the external amplifier via the speaker cord connecting the components. Then, the output would have to pass through a crossover filter which filters the output into different frequencies. Higher frequencies are directed to the tweeter for two-way speakers, and others directly go to the bass unit. While for three-way speakers, the crossover filters the output into treble, bass, and midrange frequencies.
What Sets Passive Speakers From Active Speakers?
We have covered the different pros that active speakers have over choosing passive speakers. Now, let us discuss the different advantages when buying passive speakers.
Easier Upgrades and Replacements
Passive speakers are usually easier to upgrade if you want to switch out your amplifier to another amp. This is not the case for active speakers since the amplifier is built-in. However, upgrading an active speaker’s amp is not a hot topic since there might be a specific reason why engineers used a specific amp for that active speaker. Maybe it is the perfect amp for the particular speaker to work optimally. That being said, you still need to swap the amp out of the active speaker if it malfunctions, which, in this case, makes it a bit difficult to source.
So, passive speakers are easier to deal with when it comes to handiness since you can easily swap out the components and upgrade them if needed.
Easier to Lift
Since these speakers do not have amplifiers built inside their bodies, passive speakers are lighter compared to active speakers. The lighter weight is advantageous to the people who want to have their speakers mounted on walls or even on top of shelves and not worry about the shelves collapsing or the mounts giving in.
If you have a limited budget, this might be a good choice for you since passive speakers tend to be more on the cheaper side than active speakers. You can limit your budget since the components are not all enclosed in the speaker you are buying. It also helps that it be easily upgraded later on when you feel like getting better, more expensive gear.
How Does a Passive Speaker Work?
A passive speaker has a source component which is the one that gives the signals or frequencies; this can be a CD player or your phone. The signal goes to the preamplifier section, which then controls the volume before the signal goes to the power amplifier, increasing the signal before going to the crossover filter network via wires.
The crossover filter network would then filter the signal into its corresponding frequencies before going to the speaker system. It splits the signal into high frequencies for two-way speakers, which go to the tweeter, and other frequencies that generally go to the larger mid/bass unit. However, this is different for three-way speakers because the crossover filter splits the signal into the treble, bass, and midrange.
In short, the signal would go from the sound source > preamplifier> amplifier > crossover filter > speakers.
Active vs Passive Speakers: Which Is Better?
This is a tricky question; after all, there is no distinct winner when it comes to the two because both have the edge over the other. These differences are there because of how these speakers were designed.
Active speakers are great for people who want a more compact speaker because of things like limited home space if they just do not want to bother buying a separate amplifier for their speakers.
You can also use powered speakers in places that do not permit these kinds of setups since they are more mobile and smaller than a complete stereo system. Moreover, it is pretty simple to install.
However, people on a tight budget would prefer to buy passive speakers since they are relatively cheaper and more customizable than what amplifier you want to get for your sound system.
So, having said that, it would be wise to look into the different unique features of active, passive, and powered speakers. Then, choose a type of speaker based on which features you think you would benefit most from.