edifier R1280T

Active vs Passive Speakers

If you’ve been looking around the speaker market, you may have noticed some speakers are referred to as ‘active’ while others are called ‘passive.’ Active and passive speakers are two different types of speakers that are used for different purposes. The main difference between the two is that active speakers have built-in amplifiers, while passive speakers do not.

This guide will compare the key differences between the two speaker types to help you find the best option for your needs.

Power and Amplification

Active speakers (also referred to as ‘powered’ speakers) have a built-in power source, usually an AC adapter or batteries, making them convenient for use in portable applications, such as portable sound systems, laptops, and portable PA systems. They also have a built-in crossover, which separates the audio signal into different frequency bands before sending it to the appropriate driver.

This allows for more precise sound reproduction and eliminates needing an external crossover. Additionally, active speakers often include digital signal processing (DSP), which allows them to adjust the sound to the specific characteristics of the room, providing even more precise sound reproduction.

Active speakers are generally more capable of high power levels, making them far more suitable for larger events/applications where additional headroom may be required. Passive speakers are, therefore, better suited to smaller spaces.

Active Speakers: note the inputs, control panel, and customizable settings on the unit itself.

Passive speakers do not have built-in amplifiers and rely on an external amplifier. They also do not have a built-in crossover, so an external crossover is needed to separate the audio signal into the appropriate frequency bands. Passive speakers are typically used in fixed installations, such as home theaters, professional sound systems, and nightclubs. While they may not have the convenience of built-in amplifiers and crossovers, they are often less expensive than active speakers.

While the additional cost of amplifiers, crossover systems, and cabling can scare some users away from passive speakers, additional equipment means your sound system is far more customizable, allowing you to tailor the sound to specific needs.


Active speakers are generally easier to maintain than passive speakers in terms of repair and maintenance. Because active speakers have built-in amplifiers, diagnosing and repairing problems with the speaker system is easier.

On the other hand, passive speakers have multiple components that need to be checked and repaired, such as the external amplifier and crossover. Additionally, active speakers often come with built-in diagnostics and troubleshooting tools, making it easier for users to identify and fix problems.

Passive speakers: note the exclusion of an A/C input and other features.

Sound Quality

The sound quality is another important aspect to consider when comparing active and passive speakers. With their built-in DSP and amplifiers, active speakers often provide a more precise and accurate sound reproduction. They can also handle a wider range of frequencies, providing a more balanced sound. On the other hand, passive speakers may not have the same level of precision and accuracy and may not be able to handle as wide of a range of frequencies. However, with a quality amplifier and crossover system, the sound quality can dramatically improve and be customized to your preferences.

Active Speaker Pros & Cons

Before making a decision, let’s compare the key differences between active and passive systems, where they excel, and where they fall short.

Benefits to active speakers

1. Active speakers are an excellent all-in-one solution since everything is within the ‘box.’

2. Active speakers are incredibly easy to use since no setup is required.

3. Most of the time, the internal amplifier is correctly tuned to work with the speaker in question, and sometimes, digital signal processing is used to enhance tonal qualities for the space you’re working with.

4. Battery-powered options are available, making them excellent portable audio solutions.

Drawbacks to active speakers

1. If one component within an active speaker system fails, the entire unit will need to be sent in to be replaced rather than just the damaged element.

2. If you’re a musician or engineer on the move, you’ll quickly find that active speakers are far heavier than passive speakers.

Benefits to passive speakers

1. Since all your audio components operate separately, you can easily upscale your system by adding additional speakers, amplifiers, or other signal-processing units.

2. Components within the system can be upgraded as you are able.

3. Passive speakers are easier to transport, and changes can be made to their tonal properties from your control center rather than on the speaker itself.

4. Servicing and maintenance are far easier with passive speakers since the damaged part can be fixed/replaced while the rest of the system stays with you.

Drawbacks of passive speakers

1. Because you need an amplifier to power these speakers, they will often cost more than an active speaker of similar specs. This is particularly true when looking at the barrier to entry for home speakers.

2. Large audio configurations with multiple speakers and dedicated subwoofers can create a lot of power requirements, resulting in a need to scale up your amplification as you scale up your speaker configuration.

3. Research and careful planning are required before purchasing passive speakers since you need to ensure all the components within your signal chain are compatible, and you’re running the right amplifier for your needs.

So, which is better for me?

In conclusion, active and passive speakers are two different types of speakers used for different purposes. Active speakers are more convenient and portable but also more expensive than passive speakers. Passive speakers are less expensive, but they require more equipment to operate.

Active speakers are also more precise regarding their sound reproduction, have more power-handling capabilities, and are easier to maintain. Passive speakers must rely on room correction using third-party software or an external device, have fewer power handling capabilities, and are more difficult to maintain.

Ultimately, the choice between active and passive depends on your needs, your working space, and what you want to achieve.

Matthew Cox - Author
Written by
Matthew Cox

Matthew is an audio engineering graduate with a strong passion for post-production, recording engineering, and audio technology. Matthew is also an experienced musician with over a decade of experience in recording, touring, and performing. Matthew enjoys studying the inner workings of audio equipment and acoustics theory.

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