Understanding the Thin Line Between Passive and Active Speakers

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Understanding the Thin Line Between Passive and Active Speakers

All speakers, regardless of the number of drivers, pole type, enclosure type, or other characteristics, fall into one of two categories: active or passive. How they’re classified depends on their relationship to the amplifier driving them.

The vast majority of speakers are passive. A passive speaker doesn’t have a built-in amplifier; it needs to be connected to your amplifier through normal speaker wire. This speaker level signal has been amplified enough to drive the speakers sufficiently.

Active (powered) speakers, on the other hand, have a built-in amplifier and are fed by a low-level (line-level) signal passed along an interconnect cable originating at your pre-amplifier or controller. Because the amplifier is an active electronic device, it needs power, and so you have to put any active speakers near a power outlet.

For most audio systems, the subwoofer is probably going to be your only active speaker (though you can also find passive subwoofers, and some high-end audio systems use these). There’s no practical reason for any of your other speakers to be active.

passive speaker

Typical example of a passive speakers connected to an Amplifier



Typical example of a back of a powered speaker, note the controls knobs of the inbuilt amplifier



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