Active Vs passive speakers

November 30, 2021
 by Paul McGowan

23 comments on “Active Vs passive speakers”

  1. Why is it a problem having power cables instead of speaker cables running over the floor, especially if non-shielded high-end speaker cables mandatorily require cable-lifters – if most high-end audio reviewers are right? I really enjoy my active speakers from Devialet (Phantoms) receiving the music signal wirelessly! However the Phantoms also require a most care set-up. And those who dislike high-voltage cables can go for battery driven active loudspeakers. The stands of the Devialets have a lot room for battery packs. But my favorite audio solution for my office or my living room would feature wall-mount speakers with both automatic adaptation to the existing room acoustics cutting all bass peaks and crosstalk cancellation. Paul, indeed you should launch active speakers for the younger generation. This generation – as my kids – do not like bulky audio system featuring the insane spaghetti syndrome and requiring time-consuming set-up procedures. Nor do they like the burdens accompanied with the possession of a car. They rather go for daily or hourly rental contracts. 🙂

  2. Call me a dinosaur but after decades of isolating my home audio electronics
    from vibrations, I just can’t get my head around shoving said electronics into
    a loudspeaker cabinet that is going to vibrate the crap out of it.
    Of course, ultimately, I would have to listen to a pair of ‘actives’ to convince
    myself otherwise.

    Having said all that, I’m hearing very good reports about
    the Dutch & Dutch – ‘8C’ active stand-mounters.

  3. Actives have some major advantages too:
    – perfect match possible with the driver units
    – phase matching between the drivers
    – no energy wasted in a passive crossover.

    Yes, I enjoy my ATC active 50s!

    1. The last speakers that Gordon Holt, the founder of Stereophile, bought for himself were ATC 50A active speakers. He bought them because they were the speakers that reproduced the recordings he made most accurately, made reproduction that most reminded him of the live sound at the recording. And I know he didn’t feel there were very few speakers that could do that.

        1. I remember asking you about the ATC speakers at Octave records and your reply. But while I know a bit about you from your videos I knew Gordon well in Philadelphia and stayed in contact til he died and I know his tastes better than yours. Plus I remember talking to Gordon when he was buying the ATCs. And finally I reviewed and liked two sets of ATC speakers, one powered, for an internet magazine and liked them a lot. Apples and oranges or as my friend Murray Zeligman once wrote, ‘color me perfect’.

  4. You do make your speakers active when you choose what amplifier you want to use to drive the speakers. Most speakers are biamp capable if you choose that. I don’t want to pay for the amplifier inside the speaker if I don’t need it and I won’t buy the speakers because of that.

    Moreover if you have a problem with the amplifier you don’t need to send your entire speaker in for repair. Makes the speakers heavier than they need to be too.

    Many people have subwoofers that are actively powered. They don’t need their main speakers to be powered with a subwoofer amplifier. PS Audio can make optional sub amplifiers that they think work good for their speakers instead of putting them inside the speaker and forcing consumers to buy them.

    Also if I own a nice stereo amplifier like a Krell or BHK etc. I may be happy with my bottom end and not want to mute it in favor of the amplifier that is built into the speaker. I applaud PS Audios decision to take the amplifier out of their speakers.

    1. Hardcore audiophiles preferring rolling amps and cables and loving the spaghetti syndrome always can go for external active crossovers and external amp-modules. I have seen solutions here from Linn and B&W/Classé! No problem here replacing a defective amp!

  5. If you want a good near-field/desktop system, active speakers are a great option. Smaller footprint is a major advantage. Good ones are a better deal than you think when you remember it includes amp + speaker. Like the Tannoy Gold series for a warm-ish sound. Or the super accurate 2-way Neumann KH120A’s. I alternate both paired with my Stellar GC DAC/Preamp and my desktop system sounds close to my $25k main system. For a main system, older KEF LS50W’s are a steal, and LS50W II’s are also a good value. And they have both attributes I want/need — Active + Dual Concentric. Soon we will have one box for all our sources and two active speakers. And, hopefully, one day we will all be streaming DSD 🙂

  6. All things being equal(except probably cost) active speakers are superior to passive speakers. For one thing the amplifiers only have to drive a voice coil, not a voice coil and a passive, reactive crossover and crossovers are usually a real pain for amplifiers. The problem of vibration can be solved by moving the amp and electronic crossover into an external box which is way superior to the vibrations suffered by the passive crossover in the speaker. And if the designer wants to allow the user to choose his own amps he can simply supply the crossover separately and almost all modern solid state amps with their high damping factor will work the way the designer wanted. The only problem in this day of six figure systems is that the best active system will cost more than the best passive system(whatever ‘best’ means).

  7. It may or may not. Or it could but subtly. There is no question that an active speaker has the most potential for dynamic contrast which I believe is absolutely essential to sounding ‘live’ on good recordings. And power alone doesn’t tell you how an amp handles loads since power is tested with a resistor not with a reactive load which can actually reduce the power of an amp compared to the test rating.. A good beginning, albeit insufficient and simplistic, is whether an amp doubles in power as the impedance halves(for solid state only, of course), at least down to 4 ohms.

    Still I am convinced active is ultimately superior to passive. But I’m always open to discussion, especially on a subject that can go on for ever.

  8. Paul has oversimplified. Active speakers are not a block to the shaping of tonality and other sound characteristics. To get to the speakers, one needs at least a dac, if not a preamp as well, plus whatever other gear. I have ATC SCM40A actives and have found that it takes just one rectifier tube change in my preamp to qualitatively reshape the sound to what I like (or don’t). Paul has also commented before that ATC actives sound clinical. Perhaps some of the pro models do, I don’t know, but no way that the 19A’s and 40A’s do. I’m hoping the 50A’s don’t either, if I ever get my hands on a pair. It would be interesting to hear what PS Audio could do with actives.

  9. I am a big fan of ATC active speakers. Many years with ATC SCM50As in a larger room. And now ATC SCM45As in an apartment. For the original question, active speakers have some great space advantages in an apartment.
    Personally, I have found ATC actives to be slightly less affected by room dynamics, I have a suspicion there might be tighter driver control due to the close coupling involved.
    As Paul said, the speaker designer has been able to match each of the 3 amplifiers to the specific driver to get the sound he wants to deliver. That does of course mean that there is no option to soften, smooth, sharpen etc. the sound by changing amps.

    You pays your money and takes your choice.

    ATC actives really work for me and I do suggest that you try to give high quality active speakers a listen sometime if you have never experienced them.

  10. I think PS Audio should provide the option to connect directly to a driver or connect to the crossover which in turn outputs to a pair of terminals that can be linked to the input of the driver (carefully designed to minimise the risk of connecting the outputs of multiple amplifiers together!!!). By providing the option to bypass crossover sections it allows people to experiment with their own crossover and amplification.

    When I bought my PMC speakers (which were bought as passive) I had to get access to the internals of the box so that I could connect the inputs to the crossover sections directly to the drivers (unfortunately I couldn’t get to the input terminals because of the transmission line cabinetry but obviously it was possible to get access to the crossover board). PMC and ATC, on their 3-way passive speakers provide separate inputs for each crossover section, and links if you don’t want to multiwire.

  11. Paul,
    Modern active speakers DO have the capability to adjust to the room as well. You know that D&D and Kii, which are the ones most associated with “audiophiles” have room adjustments. Even Genelec and Neumann through their microphone modeling will adjust to the rooms. There are other brands as well that are fully active and make adjustments to the room where you place them.
    Pro speakers, active mostly, have been used for years without reliability issues, I don’t see this as a problem. But many of them are not “pretty” enough for audiophiles.

    Tweaking is irrelevant in this case. The system is tweaked to get the best performance. Internal DACs for crossovers and the amps that each unit needs or the designer prefers. Some have AB for mid and tweeter and only D for woofers. But others are full D now.

    I think that a Kii Three BXT is a serious competitor to your FR30. As you say, virtually no cable, no boxes, self room correction, SOTA amplification and the ability to receive the signal digitally. No DAC necessary either. And for $35K complete makes a comparison with the FR30 very dangerous. And these types of speakers will disrupt your business model!

    In smaller rooms, Kii Three alone, D&D and some of the Genelec Ones would be a marvelous option as well.

    And many will accept REW finals for the adjustments. Even in the US, JBL M2s are active and you even have the option of going Crown or Mark Levinson for amplification, if you are neurotic enough. But these are really big.

    By the way, I was traveling through Europe so I missed some of the other communications here. I did manage to go to St Sulpice in Paris on the 21st when they were playing some organ pieces. What a sound!

      1. We were so excited until we found out it was the “finals” of a composition competition for organ and organ and voice. We listened o the first three pieces of the organ alone and left horrified.

        The only fascinating thing was that they had a huge screen in the front where you could see the keyboardist. They had 3 or 4 people at the keyboards. One playing, the other three or four were making the adjustments in sonorities. Sometimes one was following the music and instructing the others. A sad waste of an incredible instrument.

        But it was raining outside so it was worth it despite the horrible “music” (was it really music? It sounded like a kid hammering or playing to see what noise would come out while giggling).

    1. I had opportunity to attend Sunday Mass at St Sulpice. World-class organist Daniel Roth played service. Exit music was a 5 minute improvisation and then JS Bach Tocatta, Adagio and Fugue in C. It is very typical for the organist to have assistants pulling stops with classic instruments like the Cavallier-Coll organ there at St Sulpice. Indeed it is an amazing sound in there.

      1. It would have been much nicer to attend Mass, I agree. But we got into the church by chance when this “concert” was scheduled. Happenstance.
        I was very impressed at how many assistants were necessary. I now understand why Cameron Carpenter uses his “programmable” instrument for concerts. He can handle it alone.

        B y the way, the reconstruction of the nearby St Germain des Prés is fascinating!

  12. active / powered speakers are all about convenience and convenience is all about compromise. I have the Kanto YU6 and love them, but I wish to try something different now as I have a lot more space than I used to. before I was in a 330 sqft bachelor pad and now I’ve got the entire basement of a moderate size housed from the 70’s. terrible layout though, so acoustically probably really bad; at least a lot worse then having my YU6 in their nearfield desktop orientation. 😉

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