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Active, Powered; is there a difference or distinction?


Angular Mo
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Active: NO passive crossover

Powered: maybe passive crossover (almost always a passive crossover)

 

"active" does not impy that the amplification is in the speaker, it only implies that there is an active crossover.

 

Technically true but a lot of folks seem to use the terms "active speakers" to refer to "powered speakers".

Sometimes it's like someone took a knife, baby
Edgy and dull and cut a six inch valley
Through the middle of my skull

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Active and Powered speakers are the same principle and can freely be interchanged as words. Both active or powered speakers require a direct connection to a power supply to make music louder, since the amplifier is built into the enclosure as lmitche explained.

To drive them, a variable analog out (XLR or RCA) from say a DAC is needed, for the likes of Genelec, ATC, Neumann types. The cheaper Logitech types have an volume control, but it's usually on a dongle. Or you can use the software control on the players at some risk.

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Active and Powered speakers are the same principle and can freely be interchanged as words.

 

nope

 

For example, this is a loudspeaker with NO active crossover, ergo they call it "powered", not "active":

 

A2+B Powered Desktop Speakers

 

Also, nothing to do with the amps bult into the enclosure. An example of active loudspeakers where the amps & the crossover are not in the speaker enclosure:

 

Home

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nope

 

For example, this is a loudspeaker with NO active crossover, ergo they call it "powered", not "active":

 

A2+B Powered Desktop Speakers

 

Also, nothing to do with the amps bult into the enclosure. An example of active loudspeakers where the amps & the crossover are not in the speaker enclosure:

 

Home

 

Not convinced, sorry. The terms are too loose and freely interchangeable as are the internal topologies. I don't really care what goes on inside the speaker system, all that is important is that you don't connect a regular low impedance amplifier output to a powered or active speaker system, and rely on making the connections provided by the speaker manufacturer. There are exceptions of course, like a Yamaha sub-woofer for example, there are connections for both line level and speaker type connections.

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Not convinced, sorry. The terms are too loose and freely interchangeable as are the internal topologies.

 

The terms are freely interchangeable among some hobbyists. The companies that manufacture loudspeakers are usually very precise in their descriptions. Recontextualizing the terms "active" and "powered" makes no sense, since the existence of an active crossover is important.

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The opposite of active is passive. Maybe here powered speakers are different than active.

I have five sets of active, some 2.1 systems and one powered. The powered is 2.1 and has the amps in the sub. The speakers have passive crossovers in the boxes.

 

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Active speakers have the amps after the filter. But the amp does not need to be anywhere near the speaker. PA systems are often active. There often have a box with the filter, the filter can be adjusted to the room, amount of speakers etc. from there you go to the amps and then long cables to the speaker systems (line array)

 

Powered speakers, mean that the amp is inside the speaker. But that does not mean it is an active speaker.

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Copying and pasting an explanation I posted elsewhere (with a few edits) so covers more than just the Active vs Powered description...

 

Active and powered (in speakers) mean two different things but the terms are often confused even by manufacturers...

 

A powered speaker
is any speaker which has its own inbuilt amplifier. In essence it is combining an integrated amplifier in the same box as the speaker. Some powered speakers have all the electronics in one of the speaker cabinets with a simple cable to the second (so only need 1 power cable) and some powered speakers have the electronics split between the two speaker cabinets and so require two power cables.

 

An active speaker system
is a speaker which uses an
active
crossover. (Stepping back in my explanation) All speakers with more than one driver require a crossover which splits the signal passing the HF (high frequency) sounds to the tweeter and the LF (low frequency) sounds to the sub woofer - if you have more then two drivers this is obviously more complicated. In most speakers (including some powered speakers) the crossover comes after the power amplifier so a high level signal has to be split between the two drivers. This is cost effective as it requires less electronics (amplifiers). In an active speaker system the crossover worked on the lower level "line level" signal such as the output of a pre-amp or direct from a source (such as a CD player or DAC with a built in volume). The output of the crossover then has to be amplified to drive each other drivers in the speaker - this arrangement can give better quality but the need for 2 or more amplifiers per speaker increases costs.

 

Now most active speakers are also powered in that the speaker cabinet takes a single channel line level input from a source or pre-amp and contains all the electronics (crossover and amplifiers) to connect to the drivers in that cabinet. This leads people to confuse the terms active and powered but such speakers should more accurately be described as "powered active speakers". Most studio monitors come in this category. Powered active speakers don't have to be expensive such as the JBL LSR305 I mentioned earlier which are only £100 each (£200 for a stereo pair) but they then go up to many thousands of pounds - the easiest way to spot if a speaker is active is looking at their specification they will list multiple power amplifier ratings.

 

A few manufacturers (Naim and Linn being the prominent examples but there are examples from ATC and PMC amongst others
as well as many PA systems as commented above
) will use an active crossover and then external amplification connecting the multiple amplifiers to the drivers in the cabinet. These are still correctly described as active but are NOT powered speakers.

 

Studio monitor
is really just a marketing term but generally describes a speaker which has been designed to be listened to at a distance of perhaps 1-2m (sometimes the term near field monitor will be used) rather than domestic HiFi speakers which generally are used at perhaps 3-6m. Typically studio monitors are powered active speakers, but there are some which are powered and some require external amplification.

 

In summary ... Active is the opposite of Passive and describes the cross over. Powered is a separate description and a speaker can be powered and either active or passive.

 

Some specific examples...

 

A set of AudioEngine A5 speakers are powered, but not active - they take a line level signal, pass that to a pair of amplifiers and then to a crossover before a pair of drivers per channel.

 

A pair of Focal Solo 6BE are active and powered - they take a line level signal and split that into a HF and a LF signal passing each to a separate amplifier, one for each driver.

 

A pair of Meridian DSP7200 are active and powered - they take a digital signal and through DSP (digital signal processing) split that into HF, MF and LF passing each to a separate DAC and from there to a separate amplifier and on to each driver.

 

A pair of Naim S800 speakers can be either passive (a single power amp) or covered to active operation; in neither situation are they powered - the active crossover is external, takes a line level signal and converts that to LF and HF and MF to be passed to separate power amplifiers before being connected to the speakers.

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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Hi Eloise,

 

Your post is as informative and knowledgeable as ever. I have had a pair of Adam A7 "active" speakers for about 5 years now and when I first bought them you corrected me when I referred to them as being "powered". You've taught me a lot and are still teaching me!

 

Below is an edited article by Adam Audio written in 2006 addressing the "active vs passive" question. It is obviously dated, however, it makes some interesting observations. Unfortunately the diagrams did not reproduce and I can't provide a link as it is a download ... you can read the full article by googling "active vs passive" and clicking on the link and downloading it.

 

For those who don't know Adam they are a leading german speaker manufacturer (of both passive and active speakers) and their S3A active studio monitor was used by Sir George and Giles Martin in the production of "Love", the highly acclaimed remaster of the Beatles' classics.

 

 

"Generally speaking, active and passive loudspeaker systems are different in respect to the amplifying and the crossover network.

 

Passive loudspeakers

 

A passive loudspeaker gets a signal that has already been amplified before the (passive) crossover network that divides it up into the different frequency bands.

The crucial point here is the downspout of amplification, split-up, and distribution of the audio signal, to put it simply: Where, when and what happens to the signal?

The massive components of a passive crossover (spoolings, condensers, etc.) are obvious at first glance, especially when compared to an electronic crossover network.

 

These massive components inevitably cause distortions and phase shifts. Because the original signal is being amplified before it reaches the crossover network, its components (resistors, spoolings, condensers, etc.) have to be quite voluminous to be able to withstand the amperage. So, a strong signal hits strong resistances. Inescapably, this signal will be impaired and distorted. 


 

The most important specific deprivation caused by passive filters is the so-called ‘damping factor’. This factor indicates the precision with which an amplifier is able to control the movements of the membranes (of the drivers). A bad damping factor means that the amplifier is not capable of controlling (the vibrations of) the membrane(s) in an exact way. Distortions concerning the sound are inevitable. Up to date high-class amplifier achieve excellent damping factors – but the passive crossover network impairs this factor drastically.

 

To put it simply: In passive loudspeakers, the frequency-separating filters are located in between the amplification and the driver units and necessarily cause a loss of precision with which the amp can control the drivers. 
The best (and therefore quite expensive) crossover networks available today can reduce this impairment but never avoid it. Even the best ones diminish the damping factor drastically, on average down to five (yes, 5!) percent of the original

 

Active loudspeakers

 

Active systems have built-in amplifiers and an electronic dividing network and are able to avoid the problems explained above. This is because the crossover network of active systems gets the electrical signal directly from the music source (e.g. CD-Player, preamplifier, etc.) and therefore does not need massive components to withstand high currents.

 

Since the signal is very weak and the components of the network do not subtend any considerable resistance to the signal, it can be split-up with almost no loss or any kind of impairment. Within the realm of their frequency bands, the signals now reach their own amplifier. They are amplified and sent to the corresponding driver. That means, that each driver gets an almost loss-free electrical signal that it now has to transform into mechanical vibrations.

 

So, each driver has its own power amplifier. The loss-free processing of the signals and the direct coupling of driver and amplifier result in an optimal damping factor, so the amp has perfect control over the driver. This means that a fundamental problem of all passive speakers can be avoided and the aim of authentic music reproduction approaches.

 

In the past the main objection to active speakers was their susceptibility to damage and durability due to deficient amplifier designs and strong heat development.

This problem has been tackled by the development of new amplifier technologies. ADAMs PWM (Pulse Width Modulation) amplifiers have an extremely high efficiency of more than 90%.

 

Due to substantial progress in components and circuit technology excellent power amplifiers became possible which belong to the absolute top class concerning technical data as well as sound quality. So, the one and only serious problem of active speaker systems could have been solved. What remains is a distinct superiority concerning both technical aspects and the sound quality.

 

Which system is to be preferred – active or a passive?

 

In the professional audio world, this question has been answered a long time ago decidedly in favor of active systems. Accordingly, this question is not posed anymore in the professional area. The superiority of active systems has not only been theoretically but also practically proved. We have developed many both passive and active models and thus have a wealth of experiences in that matter. Over and over again we found that despite similar overall sound the active versions always showed advantages concerning the precision and the resolution of the sound.

 

Truly, we are not alone in advocating active systems. To give you only one example amongst many more, the eminently respectable German magazine image hifi writes:

 

Active or passive? At the end of the day it is one’s own ear, it is one’s own taste that decides – and there’s (no) accounting for taste. If, however, one takes the technical and acoustical facts serious, this decades-long question would need to be rephrased: why still passive at all?

 

“...refrain from the baublery with power amplifiers and loudspeaker cables. Thus with active configurations alone one can expand into the very best reproduction of music. No driver, as perfect as it may be, can give back what the passive crossover network takes away from the signal.”

 

I think that last statement says it all and I cannot see a reason for passive systems to exist except for the flexibility of upgrading separate components.

LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

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Below is an edited article by Adam Audio written in 2006 addressing the "active vs passive" question. It is obviously dated, however, it makes some interesting observations.

I would disagree with a few of Adam's points and they obviously wrote it from their point of view and to support their marketing.

 

Starting off though ... they hit the nail on the head with their first sentence...

Generally speaking, active and passive loudspeaker systems are different in respect to the amplifying and the crossover network.

 

But my disagreements are...

Active systems have built-in amplifiers and an electronic dividing network

An active system doesn't have to have built-in amplifiers and an electronic dividing network; though usually they do.

 

In the professional audio world, this question has been answered a long time ago decidedly in favor of active systems. Accordingly, this question is not posed anymore in the professional area. The superiority of active systems has not only been theoretically but also practically proved.

Mostly ... but not exclusively. This is an example of what I would consider a marketing statements. PMC for example argue that at a lower cost that passive crossover offers less compromises than trying to squeeze in multiple channels of quality amplification. Maybe they are wrong; but there are a large number of PMC's DB1 and TB1 used in studios around the world. And at the other end of the spectrum; one of the most renowned studios in the world (Abbey Road) use B&W 800 series which are passive speakers

 

I would also suggest that a lot of the appeal in the professional world for Active speakers is their "plug and play"; self contained nature as much as the superiority of Active over Passive designs.

 

Anyway some of that is just my opinions rather than facts ...

Eloise

---

...in my opinion / experience...

While I agree "Everything may matter" working out what actually affects the sound is a trickier thing.

And I agree "Trust your ears" but equally don't allow them to fool you - trust them with a bit of skepticism.

keep your mind open... But mind your brain doesn't fall out.

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And at the other end of the spectrum; one of the most renowned studios in the world (Abbey Road) use B&W 800 series which are passive speakers

 

Eloise, you are so much better and more knowledgeable than that!

You know that's no argument.

 

B&W 800 series are like the British upper class:

Fancy but incredibly expensive & inefficient leftovers from last century that should have been dealt with long ago.

 

Honestly, the B&W 800 series are about as crappy monitors you can get.

House sound they call it. Fair enough if you like nice furniture, but they have no place in a studio except to show off.

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I don't think that professional and domestic users have the same objectives and needs.

 

The most significant difference in my view is that professionals require analytical performance whilst audiophiles look for sonic pleasure.

This doesn't mean that some speakers aren't adequate for both camps but they're probably not that many.

Most professionals tend to listen near- or midfield because of space constraints, which is also why there aren't that many large studio monitor models being produced (even though these have obvious performance advantages over small ones).

 

Besides, Audiophilia is a quest for "better" or most "pleasant" sound and having more variables (the elements composing the system split into as many boxes as possible) helps to have more control over price/performance as well as sonic results.

 

I can see the benefits of filtering before amplifying but I am not convinced that this is the most cost effective solution, at least for those with budget constraints.

Then there's also the question of how much performance you can get from 3 amplifiers stuffed into a tiny 3-way box; I tend to keep away from all-in-ones because I think that they impose compromises in their design.

 

R

"Science draws the wave, poetry fills it with water" Teixeira de Pascoaes

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Hi Eloise,

 

At the time of the article Adam sold both passive and active speakers so I'm not so sure you can simply call it "marketing speak". However, they are adamant (sorry that was pretty bad) that active is the way to go for pro and home audio and it's my understanding that they now only supply passives for theatre.

 

Homepage | ADAM Audio GmbH

 

By chance the Love album was remastered at Abbey Road and my understanding is that the Martins chose to work with the Adam active speakers over the B&W 800's.

 

I certainly don't have yours or Digipete's knowledge on the subject but the idea of the amplification happening AFTER the crossover, and thereby avoiding the losses due to the resistance associated with passive crossovers, makes a lot of sense to me. Adam's comment on the reduction of damping factor and thereby the ability of the external amp to properly control the membrane of the driver is of real concern.

 

"The most important specific deprivation caused by passive filters is the so-called ‘damping factor’. This factor indicates the precision with which an amplifier is able to control the movements of the membranes (of the drivers). A bad damping factor means that the amplifier is not capable of controlling (the vibrations of) the membrane(s) in an exact way. Distortions concerning the sound are inevitable. Up to date high-class amplifier achieve excellent damping factors – but the passive crossover network impairs this factor drastically."

 

Also the idea of locating both the DACs and the amp within the speaker enclosure and thereby keeping everything digital right up to the drivers must have appeal as it irradiates all the nasties associated with losses due to cabling and interference from other electronic sources, etc.

 

Anyway my prophecy is that in our brand new digital world, where manufacturers are getting better and better at utilising digital technology and making the sound excellent, and where convenience is king we will see more and more wireless speakers incorporating all parts of the audio chain.

LOUNGE: Mac Mini - Audirvana - Devialet 200 - ATOHM GT1 Speakers

OFFICE : Mac Mini - Audirvana - Benchmark DAC1HDR - ADAM A7 Active Monitors

TRAVEL : MacBook Air - Dragonfly V1.2 DAC - Sennheiser HD 650

BEACH : iPhone 6 - HRT iStreamer DAC - Akimate Micro + powered speakers

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