You may have heard about active speakers, but what exactly are they and how do they stack up against the more traditional, passive speakers?
The simplest explanation is that active speakers have their own amplifier built into one, or both, of the speaker cabinets. Therefore, they do not need to be connected to a separate amplifier to drive them, unlike traditional ‘passive’ speakers which rely upon external amplification.
That Bluetooth speaker in your kitchen, for example, is an active speaker. It has its own built-in amplifier. However, for the purposes of this article, we’ll be focussing on active speakers that come in pairs.
OK, what’s the benefit of Active Speakers vs. Passive Speakers?
It’s not an easy question to answer, as both active and passive speakers have important benefits that may be more relevant and suited to the individual and their particular requirements.
However, music lover, you’re here for answers, so let’s list them out below:
Active Speaker Benefits
- A pair of Active Speakers take up less physical space than a pair of passive speakers that also need separate amplifier. 2 boxes to position and setup as opposed to 3.
- The amplifier contained within the active speakers is specifically designed for that speaker. They were designed to work together in harmony.
With passive speakers, you have to ensure that the amplifier you choose to drive them is capable of driving them sufficiently. There is also the strange phenomenon that some speaker and amplifier combinations work well (and sound fantastic) yet other combinations don’t fare too well. You won’t know what this combination sounds like until you’ve hooked them up and spent some time running them in.
With active speakers, you don’t have this issue of matching up amps with speakers – it’s done for you.
- There are normally a few inputs available on a pair of Active speakers, so you can hook up your digital audio source, along with a turntable (if one of the inputs has a phono stage), then also connect your TV via HDMI or Optical. Suddenly you have a pair of speakers performing multiple roles. If you choose an expensive pair of active speakers, then this flexibility convincingly justifies their cost.
- Wireless connectivity – Bluetooth and WiFi connectivity adds to the flexibility and convenience even further.
Passive speakers will always have a place in good home audio and are the preferred choice for many. They are generally easier to connect up as they as they only need to be connected via speaker cable, whereas Active speakers need to be connected to both mains power and your source via cables.
However, we think that Active Speakers are a good choice for modern living, where space is always at a premium. Add in the aesthetic ideal of trying to create a calm, peaceful and uncluttered living space where less is more, a clear trend of have less stuff in the first place becomes apparent.
In fact, we’ve moved too far off centre in that direction, where the stack of HiFi equipment that used to dominate our lounges has been replaced with a single speaker (be it Bluetooth or WiFi). Space saving? Yes. Uncluttered? Yes. But, sound quality? Well it’s OK, but the experience is somewhat lacking.
The middle ground is the sweet spot and that’s where active speakers come into play.
OK, so what next?
Good quality home audio does not have to be exorbitantly expensive or overly complicated. There’s a happy compromise available, which will elevate your audio experience way above and beyond the humble Bluetooth/wifi connected single speaker setup.
By choosing a pair of speakers wisely and by optimising their setup you will be able to achieve a luxuriously rich sound experience that will likely last you a lifetime, so it’s an investment you can reap the benefits from for many years to come.
Before you take the jump and make a purchase, consider where they will be placed (we’ll talk a little later about set up) and take into consideration the size and layout of the space you have in mind. Smaller space – generally you would be looking at a smaller set of speakers. Larger space – you will want to fill the space with sound, so a larger set of speakers will be better suited. With a larger space you should also hopefully have a bit more flexibility with placement.
Once you have a shortlist, head out to a stockist to hear them in action yourself, there are endless reviews accessible online, but you’ll get much more from hearing the speakers yourself.
Take along some of your favourite tracks with you, a variety of genres that know really well, and make sure you audition each set of speakers with these tracks.
Here are a list of models that we recommend, suitable for a spectrum of budgets so no matter what you’ve got to spend there should be something listed below that will be a good fit for you:
- Ruark MR1 Mk2
- Kanto YU6
- KEF LSX
Shop here: https://uk.kef.com/products/lsx
- Dynaudio XEO 10
- KEF LS50 Wireless II
Shop here: https://uk.kef.com/products/ls50-wireless-2
All of the above speakers in the list (with the exception of the Dynaudio Xeo 10) have a sub-out connection. This means that if you need more bass in your life, you can easily add a subwoofer at a later stage.