Active vs. Passive Speakers – Difference and Recommendations


Active vs. Passive Speakers - The Difference and Recommendations

DJs, amazing bands, and the emotional music they play will only turn into a wonderful sound experience for you with the help of correspondingly high-quality speakers.

A fantastic sound experience through high-quality speakers makes the difference between moderate-quality and high-quality entertainment. I’m sure you’ll agree with me on that from your experience.

With few exceptions, today’s hi-fi world is dominated by passive loudspeakers. But is this dominance still justified? As we see recently, active speakers are obviously catching up technologically.

As you will see in this article, I always go into the specific application area, having the P2P (price-to-performance) ratio in mind. In my mind, it makes no sense to just go for the pricey hi-fi solutions.

So without further ado, let’s see what’s better for you, active or passive speakers?

Overview

When asking yourself which kind of speaker – active or passive – makes sense for you, you must always keep in mind the precise use of your speaker. This way, you decrease the risk that it won’t fit afterward.

But before I write about the suggested speaker models from both areas, I would like to give you a few things about the advantages and disadvantages, differences and uses, as well as the technology.

In the end – if you stick with it, you’d be rewarded – I’ll also tell you what’s my favorite speaker.

In my loudspeaker comparison, I try not to throw technical terms at you but to make the necessary explanation of the technology behind it as user-friendly as possible.

What’s the difference between active and passive speakers?

Let’s start with the active speakers. Here you essentially only need power and the music input to get started. The rest of the equipment is provided by or built into the speaker itself.

An active speaker already has an internal amplifier and its own power supply. That’s why it’s named an “active” speaker – it’s more independent and can take on more tasks.

A passive speaker usually doesn’t have its own power cable but is powered by a connected amplifier. The amplifier, in turn, is connected to the respective music source.

The benefit of active speakers for you is that you, as a user, don’t need to worry about the tuning of the technology. The respective manufacturer has already established the essential elements in the speaker.

A nice example of active speakers is the M-Audio BX5 D3 (Amazon link), which I like a lot in terms of price-performance ratio.

As you can see, the speakers have their own power supply but they also have a whole lot more to offer. For example, the silk tweeter and Kevlar woofer are separated from each other so that you can enjoy both regardless of the volume (e.g., rich bass even at low settings).

In addition, the two M-Audio BX5 D3 are already suitable for professional music processing, so they can support you perfectly in your home studio. At a price, the 70-watt output is hard to top.

In addition to using them for your own music productions in your home studio, they’re also great for use with your desktop computer. The bass doesn’t overdrive, and the speakers provide a clear sound. 

Amplifier with passive speakers

If you want to take charge of tuning your equipment yourself, for example, because you want to tailor them to fit your needs, you’ll be spoiled for choice when it comes to putting them together.

For this, you have to find your answers to questions like:

  • Which amplifier is best suited for the pair of speakers?
  • Should it be an integrated amplifier or a separate power amplifier?
  • Is an additional receiver with a built-in amplifier perhaps the best solution?

With a passive loudspeaker, you are much more flexible in terms of the composition and the possible later exchange of your components. So you can individually determine the best setup for you.

In the consumer sector, you can take a look at the Denon PMA 600 NE stereo integrated amplifier on Amazon, which can shine with a noble aluminum look and two 70 watts.

Denon has tuned the tone control and power amplifier so that you can increase or regulate the required frequencies evenly and continuously up to 100 kHz. In addition, high-quality transistors and capacitors were installed.

Phono (MM), CD, tuner, and AUX-in are available for connections, which you can also use for network players or recorder playback. 

There is also an output for your own recordings. You can connect your equipment via a screw terminal or a banana plug.

The Edifier speakers make a high-quality impression and perfectly suit smaller rooms.

For example, you can combine the Denon with the Edifier R2000DB bookshelf speakers, which have a very low-resonance cabinet in their price segment.

Due to this feature, the passive speakers are also suitable for smaller rooms and – concerning the called price – reproduce both lows and mids very well in my opinion.

Maybe you’ll take a look at a great subwoofer when you get the chance so that the package really goes deep. In any case, you should have your true joy with the Denon PMA 600 NE.

Low energy consumption (I always find good, electricity costs are already high enough!) and great, high-quality artistry speak for themselves. Weighs a few kilos, but there is also a lot, such as a high-quality crossover with phase correction in it.

Now I do not want to withhold a few words to understand the discussed technology. So let me introduce you to the crossover.

What is a crossover?

As promised, my post will stick to very few technical terms. But I think you should know the most important things about crossovers.

A crossover splits the incoming music signal into multiple audio frequencies. The most common is the division into high, mid, and low tones. Then we are talking about a 3-way loudspeaker.

An active speaker has a built-in active crossover, divides the audio frequencies, and then amplifies them individually.

The amplified music signal is fed externally and split into different audio frequencies by a built-in passive crossover in a passive speaker.

The divided signal then goes to the individual speakers responsible for the respective audio frequencies.

Why is a crossover necessary for sound quality? 

As mentioned, in a passive speaker, the music signal is amplified first and then split. However, as is always the case, such a system also has potential drawbacks.

You need to pay attention to quality in passive speaker systems. In my experience, lower-quality systems don’t handle high signal levels very well.

The passive crossover must be equipped with high-quality and resistant components (especially transistors and capacitors). This way, the signal does not lose too much precision.

Fortunately, such a problem does not occur with active loudspeakers. Here, the signal is first split, and then the respective audio frequency is amplified individually. This way, the music signal is processed more efficiently and with almost no loss.

Best passive speaker by StartingtoDJ.com

The Q100 is the smallest representative in the KEF Q model series and sounds very mature and balanced.

But a speaker that has the appropriately high quality to prevent signal problems in the first place is the Fluance Signature HiFi (Amazon link).

The 100-watt speaker not only looks great with its aluminum enhanced appearance and beautiful bass reflex tube design, but it also has a lot going for it. For me, the part has the best bass and treble of the entire segment to offer!

Top speaker! The sound is not distorted. The spectrum is very broad. So you can get to know your favorite pieces all over again. My experience: There are always new sounds to discover.

At the same time, the Fluance still comes with very comfortable dimensions. It is not too big and so easy to transport. If you have ever moved with really heavy parts, you know what I’m talking about.

Nevertheless, my favorite can also come up with reasonable bass, but no frequency range is too favored. My conclusion: exceptional part with best price-performance ratio with really outstanding sound!

P.S. Maybe a little tip about the Fluance. If you already get yourself reasonable boxes, pay attention to high-quality wiring. Otherwise, you won’t get the most out of your speakers. Just have a look at these speaker cables.

Best active speaker by StartingtoDJ.com

My recommendation list is still missing a good active speaker model. I want to make up for that now and introduce you to Pioneer’s active DM-40s (Amazon link) which delivers decent, linear sound for a reasonable budget.

Pioneer is a long-established Japanese HiFi manufacturer and has many years of experience. They know how to build good speakers – both active and passive.

The DM-40 is the best representative of Pioneer’s active speaker product line. It is a 2-way system with a 12 cm woofer and 2 cm tweeter, driven by two digital amplifier modules with 2 x 21 watts music power @ 4ohms.

However, one should not be deceived by the compact dimensions of this speaker. The bass is very voluminous and yet not spongy. Depending on the placement, the bass can even seem dominant and must be lowered manually.

The resolution is very detailed – it’s not for nothing that this speaker is labeled “studio monitor.” The sound is reproduced dry and straight – the manufacturer is known for this profile anyway.

Thus, nothing is artificially overemphasized or suppressed, which certainly makes using this model in the professional field possible. So if you want to get out of the home studio and onto the stages of the world – you’ll find it here.

All in all, the DM-40s are very solid active speakers in the ambitious entry-level segment. So the compact model is well worth a look if you want to treat yourself to something sensible – with technical components that are perfectly matched.

Are active or passive speakers better?

I’ve pondered the question in the speaker comparison and given you some hints and ideas to help you make up your own mind. It’s best to tailor your choice to your individual needs.

Passive speakers certainly have a larger use radius, but you already have everything included with active speakers. Pay attention to good quality, which does not have to be expensive, as with the devices discussed here. For this purpose, I have deliberately selected my favorites.

If you are still unsure, there is also a very simple and obvious answer to the question: active or passive? 

Both. Namely, the compact Edifier Luna Eclipse set combines these two worlds.

For the size, a nice sound, plus nice color combinations and even Bluetooth. So you don’t even need to use a cumbersome cable. You can just play the music via smartphone or tablet. Simply super convenient!

The two design pieces are also great for use on the computer, as they don’t take up much space and actually have everything with them (including design!) that you need on the computer.

Tray Fiddy

Tray has come to terms with the fact he will probably never be a famous DJ.... but that hasn't stopped him from mixing and throwing parties around the town. Tray has over 10 years experience of DJing at home and events.

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