What is the difference between Passive vs. Active Speakers? What is Crossover? Which speaker type is best for YOU?
All of these answers and more, comin’ up…
Greetings comrade, Stuart Charles here, HomeStudioBasics.com helping YOU make sound decisions leading to a beautiful audio experience that will make you fall in love with music, all over again, so…
Also, stick around for a little bonus at the end!!
You may have been shopping for Studio Monitors and stumbled across the words “Passive” and “Active.”
“Great, now I have to figure out more crap before I can listen to music.” 😂
Was that your reaction?
It was definitely mine.
Passive simply means that the speakers or monitors are going to need some sort of amplifier or receiver to work. You’ll find these types of speakers most common in home theater environments, often referred to as “bookshelf speakers” and the like. Related: How To Set Up A Home Theater System For Beginners: Part I
A simple example would be pairing a set of passive speakers like my Andrew Jones Pioneers with a receiver, which gives them the power they need to playback music. The original NS-10 (pictured above) is another example of a passive speaker that I got a chance to demo.
The setup involves a source (like a PS4 or Turntable), which feeds the sound into an input on the receiver (Optical or RCA for example), and then the Receiver outputs that sound to your speakers via speaker wire. Related: Audio Technica AT LP60 Review!
99% of the time a Home Theater Setup will utilize passive speakers.
In a home studio environment, the opposite is usually true.
Powered speakers by contrast get their power from an outlet, have their own internal amplifier, and thus do not need separate amplification. Powered monitors usually do require something like an audio interface or preamp as the intermediary between them and your PC. What does an Audio Interface Do?
This is mainly because they utilize a balanced connection and are mostly meant for studio work; i.e. mixing/mastering/reference, etc.
A basic set up would look something like this: PC > Audio Interface via USB > Speakers/Monitors via balanced TRS to XLR > wall outlet for power. Related: TRS vs. TS [Cable Differences Explained]
Powered speakers however do not require an audio interface. You simply connect the source (turntable, CD player, PS4, etc.) to the speaker via RCA or optical, and then utilize speaker wire from the right speaker to the left.
Powered speakers are much more convenient because you don’t have to shop for an amplifier; something that can seem daunting for newcomers.
Most casual listeners will be shopping for Powered speakers or passive speakers, while most producers and beatmakers will be looking for Powered or Active monitors (pictured above).
The decision came down to whether I wanted to go the receiver route or just have a simple turntable + speaker setup.
I ultimately decided that because I want to connect lots of different things in my home theater down the road, a receiver was the most logical choice. 🙂
With a receiver, I can listen to music and play games pretty much any way I want. The receiver I bought is the Onkyo TX-NR626, which I’ve now dubbed my “Honky-Oh” 😂
All graphics courtesy of me (HomeStudioBasics)
Active speakers/monitors are also powered but have 2 internal amplifiers inside.
What is Crossover?
Crossover is a term used to describe an audio signal being split up into 2 or more frequency ranges so that the speaker drivers are able to process the sound efficiently.
Without them, you’d experience major distortion at higher volumes, as most drivers aren’t meant to project the entire audible spectrum at once.
There are 2-way crossovers (Low + mid, & high), as well as 3-way (Low, mid, high).
Passive Crossovers vs. Active
Essentially, a passive crossover (built into the speaker) splits an already amplified signal, while an active crossover (external) splits a signal prior to amplification.
Passive crossovers utilize capacitors, inductors, and resistors (which do not need a power source) to achieve this desired effect of splitting the audio and sending it into 2 or 3 drivers, while Active crossovers use Op-Amps and transistors (which do need a power source).
Active crossovers are sent to 2 or more power amplifiers first, and then those amplifiers are each connected to a separate speaker driver.
Passive vs. Active Crossovers Explained
Credit to Paul @ PS Audio! Sub his channel! 🙂
In essence, passive crossovers in speakers are more convenient as there are no external components to worry about. A potential downside is that they don’t quite sound as good as active crossovers.
Active crossovers are more of a pain to set up as you have to buy multiple amplifiers and an entirely external crossover, but they do tend to sound better.
Which speaker type you go with really depends on what you plan to do within your own space.
As mentioned in the open, Passive speaker buyers are generally people who just want to listen to their music through a turnable or some other source. They’re incredibly easy to set up and need minimal components. These are mainly music/vinyl lovers who may also be audiophiles.
A passive speaker buyer like me, with the intent of connecting multiple components within a 5.1 surround sound system, will generally go for passive speakers (with no other inputs) coupled with a receiver.
A receiver offers the flexibility of being able to connect to a myriad of different devices, from a console, turntable, phone (via Bluetooth), CD Player, etc. It’s a great option for those who want to get their feet wet in Home Theater.
An active/powered monitor buyer is generally someone who is looking to start up a home studio. These people need an audio interface to go along with their purchase and are typically rappers, musicians, producers, and/or beatmakers. I also fall into this category.
If you’re a musician, check out the 305’s!
For Passive Paul:
If those are unavailable, go with my second choice, and the ones I almost bought:
Well, that’s about it for today my friend! The difference between Passive vs. Active Speakers? I hope I’ve answered your question!
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Which speaker setup sounds most ideal to YOU? I would love to hear YOUR thoughts. Until next time…
All the best and God bless,
Can’t decide which headphones to purchase? Interested in a complete buyers guide outlining over 40 of the best options on the market? Click on over to the best audiophile headphones to learn more!!
My dad taught me this little trick on how to negate fray in your wiring!