Active vs Passive Speakers - Which Are Best?

Active vs Passive Speakers - Which Are Best?

Whilst looking for a new set of HiFi speakers you’ve probably seen a mix of “active” and “passive” speakers in various styles from bookshelf to floorstanding and even in-ceiling.

But what’s better? Active speakers or passive speakers?

The answer is that it depends!

Both options can be great and it really depends on what your music listening goals are.

If you want a plug & play, high quality HiFi system that you can simply place in your room and start enjoying your music then we would recommend you look at active speakers.

Active speakers come in various formats;

  • Active bookshelf speakers
  • Active floor standing speakers
  • Active ceiling speakers

The most common is bookshelf speakers as they can easily be placed in most rooms and will provide an amazing sound quality for music, movies and gaming.

However if you want more flexibility and the ability to improve your system in the future then look for passive speakers with a separate amplifier as you can get higher quality components depending on your budget.

Passive speakers are more “traditional” and there is a vast array of brands on the market with different sound dynamics. Prices can range from £80 to £100,000+ and it’s very important to match your speakers with a suitable amplifier.

 2.1 Active Bookshelf speakers

WHAT IS AN ACTIVE SPEAKER

An active speaker has a built-in amplifier, and most commonly it’ll also have a built-in Bluetooth receiver, digital to analog converter and various analog audio inputs.

You can simply place the speakers, power them up and start enjoying your music!

There are now a large number of decent active speakers on the market so it’s becoming easier and easier to get HiFi quality sound without needing a rack full of equipment.

You’ll find an active bookshelf speaker to suit most budgets too, whether you’re looking for the entry level Edifier R1280DB the mid range Q Acoustics M20 right up to the higher end Airpulse A300 PRO.

PROS:

  • All-In-One Speakers means no separate amplifier required
  • Easier to choose a speaker system as you don’t need to choose and match speakers with amplifiers etc. 
  • More compact means no HiFi stands required
  • Almost all active speakers will have built in Bluetooth receivers, digital and analogue audio inputs etc.
  • Simply plug & play. Some active speakers also have wireless subwoofers and some such as the Edifier S3000 feature wireless technology so you don’t even need to wire the two speakers together.
  • Great for using on your desk for music, movies, gaming, content creation etc.

CONS:

  • You are limited to the sound quality and power of the speakers you choose as you can’t upgrade components.
  • If the amplifier or speaker fails then you need to replace the whole unit.
  • Less choice compared to passive speakers and amplifier separates.

Q Acoustic Passive Speakers

WHAT IS A PASSIVE SPEAKER

A passive speaker is a speaker without a built-in amplifier. These are the most common types of speakers and will need connecting to a separate amplifier.

Most high end HiFi speakers will be passive allowing you to pair it with a suitable amplifier to suit your budgets whether it’s the £79.99 Edifier P12’s or the mid range Q Acoustics 3030i’s.

PROS:

  • Flexible - You can use whatever speakers and amplifiers best fit your needs and budget including mixing brands.
  • Your audio experience can be as big as your budget, the sky's the limit in speaker and amplifier choice.
  • You can chop and change components
  • If your amplifier breaks then you can simply replace the amplifier and keep the speakers and vice versa.

CONS:

  • Requires a separate amplifier
  • Can be expensive depending on what speakers and amplifiers you go for.
  • Often requires a HiFi rack / cabinet to house the components.
  • Can be a minefield of what speakers, what amplifier do I choose?

Streaming music to active bookshelf speakers

PLAYING YOUR MUSIC

Once you know the difference between active and passive speakers the next step is to consider how you want to play your music.

BLUETOOTH: Simply connect and stream music from a smartphone, laptop or tablet. Anything your device can play will come through the speakers in HiFi quality. Most active speakers will feature Bluetooth, as will a large range of HiFi amplifiers such as the Tangent Ampster BTII

RADIO: The easiest way to enjoy radio now is to stream internet radio via Bluetooth from your smartphone or tablet. You’ll get access to almost every radio station in the world and it’ll play in high quality. Alternatively you can plug a separate FM/DAB radio tuner into active bookshelf speakers or a HiFi amplifier. You’ll also find a lot of HiFi amplifiers with a built-in radio tuner.

WIFI: A WiFi multiroom streamer can be used with both systems to provide internet streaming services, Apple Airplay streaming and multiroom grouping. You can either plug a streamer box in or in HiFi + Passive speaker combinations you can opt for a multiroom amplifier such as the Sonos AMP which has built-in WiFi streaming and can connect to any passive speakers.

CD PLAYER: You can plug any audio player into both active bookshelf speakers and into a HiFi amplifier. If you have a rack full of different players then a HiFi amplifier + passive speaker combination may be the way to go.

RECORD PLAYER: Vinyl players have made a comeback in the past few years, and a lot of record players feature a phono output that can connect directly into active bookshelf speakers or a HiFi amplifier. You’ll also find quite a few vinyl players with a Bluetooth transmitter that allows you to wirelessly stream the record to the speakers!

The majority of active speakers will have a Bluetooth receiver built in allowing you to stream your music directly from your smartphone, tablet or computer. It’s common for an active speaker to also have a built in digital to analog converter allowing you to connect TV’s, CD Players, Vinyl players and more directly to the speaker.

However if you’re going for a separate passive speaker & amplifier combination then some amplifiers may not have any audio sources built into them so make sure you check the specs on your chosen amplifier. Does it have a radio tuner? Does it have Bluetooth?

In both cases you can also plug in a HiFi separate such as a vinyl record player, a CD player or media streamer.

You’ll also find systems that feature WiFi multiroom allowing you to group multiple speakers together to play in perfect sync.

This can be achieved with a WiFi streamer plugged into an amplifier or active speaker, or by choosing a WiFi active speaker such as the Sonos Play series, Denon Home etc.

 Active Bluetooth Bookshelf speakers

CONCLUSION

To conclude, there is no right or wrong way.

If you’re simply wanting to stream music from your phone, TV or computer then you can’t go too far wrong with an active bookshelf speaker system.

If however you have a range of HiFi components such as CD players etc that you want to bring to life then a separate amplifier + passive speaker combination may be a better choice.

At TECH4 we are big fans of “lifestyle audio” so we tend to sway towards high quality plug & play speaker systems that can be set up and used in minutes and will sound as the manufacturers intend them to straight from the box.

If you would like any further help or advice choosing an active speaker then please feel free to contact our expert team by email, live chat or by calling us on 02392 006118

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