A Buying Guide to Powered Speakers vs Passive Speakers
What exactly are the differences between powered and passive speakers? It’s a common enough question for those looking for an addition to their sound system, so let’s take a look at the different options.
Most speakers in a sound system will be passive. Passive simply means that a speaker doesn’t have an internal amplifier, and it will need to be linked up to an external amplifier to strengthen the low-level audio signal coming from the source via the pre-amp. Upon reaching the speaker’s passive crossover components, the signal is split into different frequency ranges to be sent to the individual drivers. Passive speakers are powered by their connection to the amplifier.
What they’re good for: Passive speakers are typically simpler in design, require fewer cords and can offer good processing control. Another major benefit is that you can upgrade your amplifier or speakers separately without changing out the whole system. One possible downside is that when you daisy chain multiple passive speakers together from the one amplifier, the resistance throughout the long system can lead to potential distortion.
Powered or active speakers
The terms active and powered are often used interchangeably, and if someone refers to a powered speaker they will generally be referring to an active speaker. Active speakers include an internal amplifier, and as such they need to be plugged directly into a power source. Their crossover components are configured a little differently to passive speakers, in that each driver has its own dedicated amplifier within the system.
What they’re good for: Active speakers perform effectively even in a daisy chain setup and are great for setting up venues as there’s no need to carry external amplifiers, although extra cables are needed to power them. They can also be used independently of one another. Within a home sound system setup the only active speaker tends to be the subwoofer, such as the brilliant Alto Professional Truesonic range. Because the amplifier is included within the active speaker, the manufacturer’s presets can be comprehensively designed for optimal sound quality.
So which do I choose?
With passive and powered/active speakers it’s really not a case of one being better than the other. Ultimately your choice will depend on what you’re aiming to achieve with your sound system and which equipment you already have. As always, it’s worth checking with an audio specialist before you make your final choice.