What’s the difference between active and passive PA speakers?

If your band is ready to start playing out, or you need to provide your own gear for a dj gig, chances are you’ll be looking at picking up a PA system. Even the backline is loud enough, you’ll still be wanting something to run the vocals through. Let’s try and answer one of the first questions you might have by looking at the differences between active and passive PA speakers.

Active vs Passive PA speakers

Active vs Passive PA speakers – the big difference

Fundamentally, passive speakers require a separate amplifier (or amplifiers), active speakers do not.

With an active speaker, the amplifier is built into the speaker cabinet, so you can plug line-level signals straight from your mixer into the speaker. Some active speakers also feature small mixers and/or microphone preamplifiers built into them, so you can plug your microphone, maybe an acoustic guitar, a keyboard, or mp3 players etc straight into them and get everything balanced to taste without needing an external mixer.

If you use a passive speaker, you will need to use a separate amplifier or powered mixer, then connect the amp to the speakers using speaker cables. You will also need to choose speakers and an amplifier that are compatible in terms of their power ratings and impedance. With certain passive speakers, you might also need separate crossovers, devices that split the audio signal into different frequency ranges so that the lower frequencies get send to the woofer and the higher ones to the tweeter.

If this all sounds a bit tedious, no problem, our PA specialists can help get your passive system put together, just give us a shout with any questions!

Active vs Passive PA speakers – the pros and cons

If this all sounds that actives are always the way to go, then hold on just a minute, there might be a bit more to it than that…

Active PA speakers are fantastic, they really are. They are easy to set up, you don’t need to carry as many bits and pieces around from gig to gig, which makes your setup time faster. You also don’t need to worry about matching different components together so they require less technical experience to use.

However, with everything all in one box, they can be a bit heavier to carry about. Also, as everything is all in the one box, if the amp goes, the whole lot has to go away for repair.

Passive speakers with power amps can offer a lot more scalability for a system. You can add in additional amplifiers and speaker management systems as your needs grow. When you decide it’s time to invest in new gear, you can upgrade different components of the system separately.

Also, with a separate amp and speakers, you can get all the speakers installed where they need to be, retire to your mix position, and have the amps near you, making adjustments, troubleshooting and maintenance easier, particularly if you have your speakers flying from the ceiling!

Active vs Passive PA speakers – the big sum up!

In general, for pub and smaller club gigs, an active system is a great way to go, particularly if you just want to set up quickly and play. For larger venues/gigs and installations, passive speakers and separate power amps can provide more flexibility.

While we’re on the subject, active PA speakers can also make a great choice for foldback monitors. The cabinets are often designed with this in mind, featuring an angled design that projects the sound up to the performer when you place them on their sides. Just hook them up to your pre-fader aux send and hey presto, instant monitor mix!

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Fynn Callum

producer, guitarist, engineer & dj
From indie guitarist to deep house producer via Northern Soul dj; mix engineer, producer and gear enthusiast. Jaffa Cake aficionado.

2 Responses to “What’s the difference between active and passive PA speakers?”

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  1. Phillip Parr says:

    no no no, its not where the amplifier is that makes a system active, it is where the frequency crossover lies in the system, END OF

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