Active or passive speakers?

Audio equipment

Active or passive speakers?

Active or passive?

By John Stewart, Dynaudio Contributor

So what is better? For neither the one nor the other. And yes, we knew we were going to say that, but it’s the truth. It all depends on your budget and your needs.

Consider purchasing some active speakers…

-if you want to have a simple system with a minimum amount of cables.

-if you don’t like messing with external amplifiers.

-if you listen to a lot of digital music, especially in high resolution formats.

-if you have limited space.

Consider purchasing some passive speakers…

-if it is possible that you want to be able to improve the amplifier in the future.

-if you have already invested enough in the rest of the team.

-if you have a limited budget.

-if weight could be a problem- passive models are usually lighter than their active equivalents.

You may have heard of both types, but what are they and how do they work? And, above all, what is the best option for you?

Some choices are simple: do you want the speakers in natural wood or white? Do you want them big or small? Do you want some Dynaudios? (well, there is no possible doubt there…)

When it comes to what type of speakers you want, things can get complicated. Dynaudio makes two types of speakers: passive and active. But what’s the difference and what’s best for you?

What are passive speakers?

Chances are you already have a pair; They are conventional high-fidelity speakers. They are used with speaker cables and an amplifier.

Passive speakers work using an amplified signal. If the speaker has more than one driver (for example, a mid-bass unit and a tweeter), the signal is split into those high and low frequencies in a circuit called a crossover (filter).

Passive speakers: pros and cons

Flexibility is its great point. You can change cables and amplification and improve them as much as your pocket allows (and, why not, your life partners, always resigned). They are generally cheaper than equivalent active versions.

However, the external components required mean that the system will take up more space and will be limited by the length of the cable between the cabinet that contains it and its speakers.

On the other hand, there is the possibility of interference in the signal path. Our designers spend more than one sleepless night thinking about how to minimize noise and interference, but the laws of physics dictate that there will always be – even a minimum – as long as there is a cable transmitting the signal. Filters, long cable runs around the room, and signal paths to external components all contribute to this. The effect may be minimal – and our designers take care of it – but it exists.

What are active speakers?

Unlike passive speakers, active speakers do not require an external amplifier – the amplification is located within the box itself. In fact, true active speakers – such as the Xeo and Focus XD ranges – have a dedicated amplifier for each speaker cone.

All you need is a source, a way to get the output signal to the speakers (it can be analogue, digital or even wireless) and a mains socket to plug each speaker into.

Active speakers – such as those from the Lyd range – are often used in professional recording studios.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of active speakers?

For starters, the system is neater, especially if you decide to use the speakers wirelessly. The only thing you need is two power cables.

Next is the question of synergy: you can spend years correcting – nuanced – the combination of amplifier, source, DAC, speaker cables, interconnection, even more so in a passive system. In the case of active speakers, we have already done all that work for you.

Since each cone has its own amplifier, we were able to pair them for the best possible sound and then continue optimizing them – no compromises. (We’ve even considered having our engineers set up blind dates… but it seems like they already have too much on their plate with the Xeo 2 design.)

Because amplifiers and cones are so close together, less internal wiring is needed. Less internal wiring means less chance of interference – and, thanks to advanced internal digital signal processing, more possibilities to compensate for interference that does get in. This also means that the signal can remain in digital format longer and is only converted to analogue at the last moment, just before being converted into physical sound. The consequence is a clearer and cleaner sound.

However, what it is is what it is: you cannot make any upgrades or improvements by changing the amplification as you would with passive speakers. Active speakers are also heavier due to the components inside them and are generally more expensive for the same reason.

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Simon Müller

Simon Müller is the driving force behind UMusic, embodying a lifelong passion for all things melodious. Born and raised in New York, his love for music took form at an early age and fueled his journey from an avid music enthusiast to the founder of a leading music-centered website. Simon's diverse musical tastes and intrinsic understanding of acoustic elements offer a unique perspective to the UMusic community. Sporting a dedicated commitment to aural enrichment and hearing health, his vision extends beyond just delivering news - he aspires to create a network of informed, appreciative music lovers. Spend a moment in Mueller's company, and you'd find his passion infectious – music isn’t simply his job, it’s his heartbeat.