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How to decide between active and passive speakers

Here is everything you need to know.

active passive speakers
Image: Pixabay

From compact speakers that can be easily taken on the road to complex PA systems for large venues, your music source is very much dependent on your specific requirements.

If you take your music seriously, there are a number of things to take into account when setting up a sound system—one of them being whether to invest in active or passive speakers.

Active speakers also called powered or self-powered speakers, feature their own in-built amplifiers. Passive speakers, on the other hand, source their power from an external amplifier. Here is a list of the pros and cons of both speaker types to make your choice easier. 

Powered Speakers

  • Pros

Active speakers come with an integrated amp, limiting the risk that you may over or underpower them. The amp is usually already tuned to the speakers when you purchase them to ensure that you get the best possible sound right away. 

Active speakers also have a wide range of controls, such as digital signal processing, EQ, crossover frequency control, and signal filtering and limiting. Most active speakers are battery-powered, so you can take them with you anywhere you go without having to think about a potential power source. Some active speakers even feature a wireless connectivity option via Bluetooth.

  • Cons

As active speakers have an in-build amplifier, they can be heavier than passive speakers. They can also be more difficult to fix if they break down. 

Passive Speakers 

  • Pros

Passive speakers don’t have an integrated amplifier, which can have its benefits. If you want to upscale your sound system at a later date, you can simply add more speakers to the external amplifier (you only need to match their impedance and power rating). Conversely, you can also upgrade your amplifier and use your existing speakers. Better still, if the speaker or amplifier happens to break, you can get them fixed separately. 

Passive speakers can be controlled from a mixing area, eliminating the need to make adjustments to each speaker separately—this is great for large venues with permanent sound system set-ups. In addition, passive speakers are usually lighter than active speakers, making them easier to transport.

  • Cons

As passive speakers are run from an amplifier, a passive sound system generally makes for a larger set up than an active one. Matching an amplifier to speakers in terms of impedance and power rating can be tricky for those new to the sound system game.

If you have a lot of speakers connected to one amp, there is also a risk of signal loss (this usually happens if the distance from the amplifier to the speaker is greater than 18.5 feet).

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