Active vs Passive Speakers: Which to Use?
What is the difference between active, passive, powered and unpowered speakers? Here the confusion is laid to rest.
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May 29, 2013 by EH Staff

It is important to understand that a consumer integrating a passive speaker system into a home theater or home entertainment solution might be assembling the various components by piecemeal. In this manner, the consumer is left with the task of matching an amplifier for the particular passive speakers selected, or vice versa. This is both an advantage and a disadvantage to a passive speaker scenario. One has the freedom to upgrade the amplifier, or swap it out at any time, where in an active speaker scenario the amps are part of the speaker package. What you hear is what you get, generally speaking. But, the manufacturers of amplifiers don’t know what speaker system will be matched with their product, which is why amplifiers are “over-built” to accommodate a wide range of speakers, a move that results in more expensive and more power consuming amps. 

Powered Speakers
Here is where things can get muddied. A powered speaker is technically one that has its own amplifier built into the speaker, and therefore plugs into a nearby outlet. However, a powered speaker is not necessarily an active one, as the crossover components within a powered speaker can be passive. Powered speaker systems have the advantage of being a bit more streamlined, compact, and portable—most speaker systems designed for desktop home computers (such as Xhifi), laptops, single-room application, wireless multi-room application (like Sonos), and easy all-in-one iPod-docking-and-speaker-solution (the iFi) fall into the “powered” speaker category. But unsuspecting consumers can get fooled into thinking that a powered speaker is better than a passive speaker. In truth, a powered speaker can still have the “amp-passive crossover-driver” chain characteristic of any passive speaker scenario. 

“Powered speakers can cut costs, and reduce clutter,” says Logan Pabor, Distribution Manager at Audioengine, a powered speaker manufacturer. The built-in amplifier feature of a powered speaker solution enables wireless speaker scenarios, and eliminates the needs for additional, expensive components. “Set-up is much easier, and there are no external components,” adds Logan. 

It would be inviting widespread criticism from all sides to claim one technology as superior over another in this debate. Certainly there are pros and cons to each system, and ways of perfecting (as nearly as possible) one system to “match” the performance of another. As with most such debates, the comments from those with experience are often as informative as the facts themselves.

See Also:
Fiber Optic Cables are Problem Solvers in Home Installations
10 Features for Your Next Audio/Video Receiver
What is Room Correction and Do You Need It?
Great Ideas for Home Speakers and Audio Systems


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