Nothing immerses you in a great movie quite like sound can. Both the booming bass of an explosion onscreen and barely whispered dialogue demand a stellar speaker system. The debate of the best set-up often comes down to passive vs active speakers, also called powered speakers. Each has their own merits and drawbacks.
To make the right decision, it’s important to understand the differences between the two. If that sounds like a lot of work, don’t worry. We’ve broken down the nuances of powered and passive speakers to help you explore the best options for your home theatre.
Before we get into the differences between the two, let’s establish the basics of powered and passive speaker systems:
What Are Powered Speakers?
Also known as active speakers, powered speakers are self-amplified. Unlike a passive speaker, they have a built-in amp. This all-in-one design streamlines the setup process, making it fast and painless. For those seeking simplicity or minimalism, powered speakers are a great choice. They’re also the go-to option for multimedia applications like computer or Bluetooth powered speakers.
What Are Passive Speakers?
These are the traditional stalwarts of the audio world. They consist of two parts: the speakers themselves and a passive speaker amplifier. The speaker relies on external amplifiers to power them. This offers more flexibility on choosing an amplifier for passive speakers. There are many different amps used to achieve specific sound profiles, depending on your preferences. However, while you get a lot of choice with passive speakers, it comes at the cost of added complexity and bulkiness. This makes passive speakers a bit intimidating for some beginners.
Active vs Passive Speakers
Now that we know the difference between these two speaker types, let’s compare them head-on.
Best for Small Spaces: Active Speakers
Powered speakers are champions in the space department. Their compact, self-contained design is ideal for smaller rooms or minimalist setups. Because they already have the amplifier built in, they require no additional setup. They also come with many ports, so you can plug any other home theatre components in directly.
Best for Customization: Passive Speakers
Active speakers don’t offer much in the way of flexibility, since they have an amplifier built in. If you like having more options, passive speakers are the best choice. While most active speakers will be roughly bookshelf size, you can find passive speakers in all shapes and sizes. Most importantly, passive speakers allow you to customize and tinker with your sound. Different amplifier combinations allow you to find the perfect sound signature to fit your needs.
Best for Convenience: Active Speakers
By now, we’ve already mentioned active speakers are pretty much plug and play. Compared to the more complicated process of setting up a passive speaker and powering it to an amplifier, active speakers are a breath of fresh air. Their ease of use and convenience makes them an ideal pick for apartment living, beginners, or anyone short on time.
Which Has Better Sound?
Which has better sound output, powered or passive? Well, there’s not exactly a straightforward answer to this question. Both are quality speakers fully capable of great sound quality. However, other factors might determine the sound quality. Active speakers come with a built-in amplifier, so you’re stuck with whatever you get. They sound as good on first listen as they ever will. But while you don’t have the option of improving the sound, you shouldn’t have to. The amplifier is designed to be the best possible option for the powered speaker it comes in.
On the other hand, you may get better results with a passive speaker and a customized amplifier, assuming you have a robust knowledge of fine-tuning speakers. If you know all about optimizing speaker sound, you’re likely to get the best result with passive speakers.
Our Top Picks
Whether you decide to go with powered or passive speakers, there’s endless options on both sides. Here’s our compilation of the some of the best speakers on the market:
Best Powered Speakers
The Vanatoo Transparent Zero packs a punch in a small, bookshelf size. These speakers are compact, solid, and well-made, ensuring they’ll last years. As far as sound quality goes, they come with 4-inch aluminium woofers for all ranges of sound. One of Vanatoo’s best features is also their deep, rattling bass, perfect for a classic movie theatre experience.
Best Passive Speakers
Looking for the best passive setup? You can’t go wrong with the Audioengine P4 Passive Bookshelf Speakers. These speakers have a vintage-inspired design with a modern twist, and their small size sets them apart from other speakers. With extra features and solid sound quality, Audio engine offers some great speakers at a decent price.