What Are Active Speakers? Speakers Can Be Active Or Passive.

Active Speaker

There are many different factors you can consider when shopping for speakers to compare your options, such as bookshelf vs. a tower, cabinet vs. in-wall or in-ceiling, and many others. Passive vs. active is another issue that frequently arises. active speakers. Aperion manufactures both types; our Allaire and Bravus subwoofers are active, whereas the Intimus and Verus speaker lines are all passive.

How Do Passive Speakers Work?

The equipment that plays the music is known as the source component, which comes first. A CD player, music streamer, record player, computer, phone, or even a record player can be used for this. The preamplifier section follows, which controls the volume and switches between sources.

If you have a record player, you’ll also require a phono stage (we’ve omitted the phono stage from our diagram to keep things simple) to raise the output from your cartridge to line level and equalize the signal before feeding it to the preamp circuit.

The power amplifier is what you need at this point because it has the strength to take the preamp’s line-level signal and boost it so it can drive a pair of speakers. The drive units in your speakers are not, however, directly connected to this.

Its output must go through a crossover filter network, which divides the signal in a two-way speaker into just the high frequencies (to go to the tweeter) and everything else (to go to the larger mid/bass unit).

If you have a three-way speaker, the crossover divides the sound into the treble, midrange, and bass frequencies. In that sense, this crossover network is passive because it operates without a power source. A typical passive set-up follows a signal path that is similar to that.

What Exactly Are Active Speakers?

Up until the preamp stage, everything in an active system is the same. The preamp’s output signal enters a crossover network that is actively running. Even though it accomplishes the same task as the crossover in the passive setup, this operates at line level (about 2v) as opposed to speaker level (typically 15–35v).

Using components that are optimized for precision rather than power handling allows for operation at lower signal levels. In order to maximize the effectiveness of the drive units in a design like this, active components and, on more advanced products, some type of signal processing (whether digital or not) are typically used.

The end result is a filter network that (potentially) operates much more precisely and produces better-integrated, better-optimized sound.

This line-level signal is split into its individual frequency bands, which are then sent to separate power amplifiers that feed as many drive units as are responsible for delivering each frequency band.

Which Are Superior?

Active speakers appear to have many benefits on paper. In comparison to a passive filter alternative, their crossover design gives the designer a great deal more control over the signal and is much less prone to distortion and losses.

Since the power amplification is incorporated into the design, it can be tailored for a particular drive unit. Since the speaker is typically integrated into the box, there is no need for lengthy speaker cables to connect the two, preventing any distortion or loss brought on by the wires. Simply put, there is better grip and control.

Active speakers appear to have a significant advantage because of these advantages, but there are drawbacks as well. Since not many speaker manufacturers offer amplification, the typical method is to purchase modules from an OEM supplier. In theory, there is nothing wrong with this, but in practice, implementation frequently falls short. The final active speaker’s sound performance is consequently rarely as good as it could be.

On the shop floor, active speakers also have a negative impact on their perceived value. Although their electronics are typically concealed, they will clearly cost more than passive alternatives with a similar appearance. A simple two-way speaker still requires four mono power amplifiers when you break down the costs, whereas a passive set can get by with just a single stereo amplifier to power its four drive units. In most cases, the active option is the more cost-effective option because it uses multiple power amplifiers.

The amount of upgrading possible is also constrained by active designs. For instance, you can’t just swap out the power amps; the entire system has to be removed. As a result, enthusiasts have less room to experiment. Either you accept the power amplifier/speaker system as a whole or you don’t.

Passive Speaker’s Pros And Cons:

Pros

Fewer Wires/ Easier To Place

  • With passive speakers, all that is required is a speaker wire connection. If you want to avoid your living room being covered in extension cords, make sure the active speaker is close enough to a wall outlet to be plugged into AC power. Passive speakers are a little bit simpler to install because speaker wire frequently comes in 100 foot spools. However, another thing to keep in mind is that if you’re using a powered speaker for home theater purposes, you’ll need another cable coming from the preamp/processor. The speaker will therefore be connected to two cables, one from the wall outlet and the other from the pre/pro, as a result. Now, if you are simply wiring directly from a phone or other nearby device, this is not a big deal; however, if the source of the audio will be further away, you should expect to have twice as many wires going to an active speaker as opposed to a passive one.

Easier To Upgrade/replace Amp

  • It’s simple to upgrade your amp and connect it to your new speakers if you have passive speakers and want to increase power, switch from solid state to tube, or go from Class A/B to Class D. With an active speaker, it’s not so simple and, in some cases, might even be impossible. Boom, upgraded. Since the included amp should be the best match for the speaker’s specifications, the question of upgrading an amp doesn’t typically come up. However, there’s a good chance that the manufacturer included that specific amp because the speaker required it to operate at its best. You might be able to improve it. But in order to avoid having a very pricey doorstop, you’ll need to replace the amplifier when an active speaker’s amplifier stops working. Hopefully the manufacturer has spare amps on hand, and replacing them shouldn’t be too challenging without harming the cabinet. Even when dealing with a speaker that is a few years old, sometimes both of these things hold true but frequently only one of them does. There is a good chance that parts are no longer available if the model has been discontinued for a while. The speaker is probably no longer covered by warranty in that case, so you’d have to replace the entire thing. In other instances, the manufacturer might have replacement amplifiers available, but you’ll need to send the speaker back so that a technician can install the new amplifier because they aren’t really that simple to swap out. If you are out of warranty at that point, you might be responsible for shipping costs in addition to parts and labor, and you will also be without a speaker for however long it takes for shipping and the repair. In other words, because a passive speaker lacks an amplifier of its own, there are no intricate electronics that could malfunction and you are free to select the amplifier you use to power the speaker.

They’re Usually Lighter Weight

  • Passive speakers are typically lighter than active speakers because they lack built-in amplifiers. Traditional Class A/B amps exhibit a more pronounced difference than Class D amps, which are used in our active speakers at Aperion and are actually quite light. Therefore, mounting an active speaker on a wall in your home might not be as simple if it uses a Class A/B amp, which typically has a large heat sink.

Cons

Requirement Of Audio Knowledge

You might not get the best performance out of passive speakers if you don’t understand audio equipment. Passive speakers are largely reliant on the amplifier you use and how the system is configured for optimal audio quality.

Not Portable

If not connected to an amplifier, passive speakers are powerless. This makes them

Active Speaker’s Pros And Cons:

The Amp And Speaker Are Designed To Go Together

  • As previously mentioned, you are typically locked into the amp that was included in the enclosure when using an active speaker. But it’s not always a bad thing; in a well-designed speaker, it’s actually a very good thing. You shouldn’t have to worry about over or under powering the speaker since the drivers, crossover, and amp have all been carefully chosen to work together. The Aperion Guide to Crossovers contains additional details about crossovers and how they operate. While it is always possible to blow a speaker, doing so should be much more challenging when using an active speaker with an amp that was specifically designed or selected for that speaker. You can also get better performance from an active speaker, particularly in terms of bass extension and overall output, because they are all a part of one cohesive design. In general, you can drive an active speaker fairly hard without having to worry about the amp or speaker getting damaged.

Active Speakers Allow For Wireless Applications

  • And finally, and this is a benefit that is becoming more and more important, you can wirelessly communicate with an active speaker. We still rely on those annoying cables to send any kind of amplified signal because we are unable to transmit power wirelessly at this time. Now, wireless power is a concept that constantly seems to be in the distance but never quite becomes a reality. Check out this 2014 article claiming that wireless power is now available. I don’t have wireless power in my home, and neither do you. While I’m sure it will eventually happen, up until that point, any wireless signal, whether it be Bluetooth or WiFi, needs to be amplified before it can be heard by our ears. As a result, the speaker must be in use if you want to have a straightforward setup that only includes your Bluetooth-enabled device and the speaker. Nowadays, many A/V Receivers have Bluetooth functionality, but many people just want to stream audio to a speaker instead of buying an expensive AVR. Which is where the plethora of Bluetooth speakers available, including our own Allaire Bookshelves, come into play. They are already turned on, so all you have to do is plug them in, connect to your phone, and start streaming.

The Signal Goes Through The Crossover Before The Amplifier

  • An active speaker’s internal amplifier means that the signal is first filtered by the crossover circuit before being amplified. This is advantageous for a few reasons. First, active bi-amping, also known as active bi-amping, occurs when the crossover is placed in front of the amplifier. There is typically more power going to each driver in an actively bi-amped speaker than there is in a passive speaker. When the signal in a passive speaker is passed through the crossover after being amplified, some of that power dissipates there and is never transferred to the drivers. Contrary to popular belief, an active speaker amplifies the signal after it passes through the crossover. Phase shift between the drivers is decreased by bi-amping because the tweeter and woofer receive the signal at the same time.

Cons

More Expensive

In general, active speakers cost more money. It’s important to remember, though, that even though passive speakers are less expensive, you still need to buy an amplifier separately.

Active Speaker

Cannot Be Upgraded

There are few customization and improvement options for active speakers. If you want something more potent, the amplifier cannot be changed.

Our discussion of passive and active speakers comes to a close now. A passive speaker is probably the best option if you want a speaker that is simple to install and want the freedom to select your own amp or upgrade it. An active speaker is the best option if you want something that can play music loudly and with a lot of bass or if you want to stream wirelessly to it. Nearly all home theaters and a lot of other people have both kinds of speakers integrated into one or more setups.

What About Speakers With Power?

While all powered speakers are considered to be active, not all powered speakers should be called active.

The difference is that a powered speaker has the same signal path as a passive setup, but the amplification (frequently both pre and power amp) is concealed in one of the speaker enclosures. Additionally, a speaker cable will connect the slave (passive) speaker to the master speaker, which is amplified.

Such an arrangement is typical of most cost-effective powered models. Despite having fewer technical advantages, such an approach has some of the neatness of truly active operation.

What About Streaming Over Speakers That Are Active?

Active speakers are attractive to users looking for a more discrete and small way to listen to music even though they have obvious performance advantages.

In order to create an “all-in-one” system with the least amount of extra boxes or cabling, active speakers are increasingly attempting to cram even more functionality into their cabinets. This includes not only amplification but also streaming modules and physical connections. Active speakers offer a tidy, small, low-fuss alternative to a system of separates by integrating features like preamp capabilities, digital and analogue inputs, Bluetooth and wi-fi streaming compatibility directly into them (or a small accompanying box that then communicates with them). The cost can work out more favourably than buying everything separately, too (although you shouldn’t necessarily expect the same performance from them as you would a similarly priced collection of class-leading separates).

Others, like the Dali Rubicon 2 C or the new Beolab 28, come with replaceable connectivity modules (or “hubs”) that handle the source side of things, meaning they can be easily upgraded. Active speakers with streaming include the KEF LSX, KEF LS50 II, and B&W Formation Duo. Because streaming technology is anything but timeless, unlike speaker technology, it is.

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