active vs passive speakers

Active vs passive speakers

The difference between active and passive loudspeakers can often lead to confusion. Many people new to hi-fi and home cinema are under the impression that loudspeakers simply need to be attached to source devices in order to work. That is, attach your speaker to a CD player or television and presto: They play back the signal.

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With active loudspeakers, this is, indeed possible. That’s because active loudspeakers contain more than just loudspeaker components. Within the speaker cabinet sits an amplification unit capable of processing an incoming audio signal and sending it on to the drivers. Passive loudspeakers, on the other hand, only contain the speaker components — drivers, crossovers, etc. — for playing a signal already amplified by an external device. For this reason, those who purchase passive speakers will also require either an amplifier or AV receiver. Read on to learn more!

ultima 40 active speakers
The front and back of the Ultima 40 Active stereo towers.

Passive speakers

In the hi-fi and home cinema scene, the question of active vs passive speakers is usually decided in favor of passive speakers. One reason for this is that for years, people who were serious about sound liked to select their own amplifier or AV receiver separately. Finding the right combination of amplifier and loudspeakers was part of the fun and many hi-fi enthusiasts have very particular ideas about what makes a good amplifier. For this reason, speaker manufacturers have offered their high end stereo and home cinema speakers as passive components.

One advantage to the combination passive speakers with separate amplification units is flexibility. Should a new and better AV receiver or amplifier come onto the market, it’s possible to simply change the amplification unit without tossing out the whole system. It’s also easy with this system to expand from a 5.1 to 7.1 system. Bi-wiring and “double stereo” setups also require the use of a separate amplifier, someone one can easily add if the amplification is separate. This ability to co-create a system’s size and soundstage make passive loudspeakers so popular with audiophiles.

Active speakers

Unlike passive speakers, active speakers do not require additional amplifiers or AV receivers to work. Everything needed for playing back a signal fed to the speakers from a source device is contained within the enclosure. This does mean, however, that in addition to a cable attached to the source device, the speakers will require either battery power or mains power connection.

Battery-operated active speakers are very popular for portable use. Teufel’s next generation boombox, the BOOMSTER, ROCKSTER and ROCKSTER XS are good examples. All devices can receive audio signals via Bluetooth so that all one needs to enjoy great sound is a smartphone.

But active speakers aren’t only for portable use. They can also be found in higher-end hi-fi segments, especially when it comes to streaming speakers. Streaming speakers already require internal electronics in the form of internal digital-to-analog converters that transform incoming audio data into a signal for the speakers to play. As they already require a power source, amplification is usually included as well. In this way, it’s possible to find even hi-fi stereo pairs that are active speakers. These generally consist of an active and passive speaker connected via speaker cable. The active speaker amplifies the signal and shares it with its passive stereo counterpart.

 

What began as a solution for WiFi speakers is becoming an increasingly popular concept. The new Ultima 40 Active is Teufel’s bestselling stereo tower pair redesigned as an independent active sound system. Directly connected to your television, CD or record player or fed with Bluetooth music streams, the Ultima 40 Active uses an internal amplifier to process the signal in the active speaker. In addition to simplicity, the system offers a good deal of flexibility. A subwoofer out makes it possible to connect an active subwoofer for the creation of a 2.1 system. For those with smaller homes or apartments, the Ultima 40 Active delivers great sound from a small footprint. Attached to a television, there is no need to worry about where to place a large AV receiver or amplifier. For those who primarily use Bluetooth, the only source device needed is a smartphone or tablet.

Conclusion: Active vs passive speakers

  • Passive speakers are easier to find in the hi-fi and high-end range
  • Active speakers are popular for portable use as well as with WiFi and Bluetooth speakers
  • Passive speakers offer more flexibility in terms of creating bespoke speaker/amplification solutions
  • Active speakers are good options for smaller homes, because of this more hi-fi varieties are being offered
Active vs passive speakers

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