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"What are the differences between powered and unpowered speakers? Is the distinction between active and passive the same? Is one superior than the other?"

Many people debate whether powered PA speakers are superior than passive (or unpowered) speakers when performing live music. It's a never-ending argument among musicians, engineers, and other professionals.

Now that live music and shows are up and running again across the world, let's find out more about powered speakers and unpowered speakers!

What’s are powered (active) and unpowered (passive) PA speakers?

While many people confuse the phrases powered/active and unpowered/passive, they are not interchangeable. They do, however, go hand in hand most of the time. When a speaker is described as powered or unpowered, it refers to whether or not it contains a built-in power amplifier. The terms active and passive relate to the many types of crossover systems available.

While active speakers are usually powered (because to the fact that each frequency band has its own power amplifier), powered speakers don't always include an active crossover mechanism, but they almost always do. Unpowered speakers are always passive due to the lack of a built-in power amplifier.

Now that we've cleared things up, let's look at the fundamental distinctions between powered and unpowered speakers and how they'll effect how you utilise them in the real world.


What’s the difference between powered (active) and unpowered (passive) PA speakers?

Electrical energy is converted into mechanical energy by a speaker. An electromagnet is created when an electrical current is sent through a coil. A permanent magnet connected to the speaker then alternately repels and attracts the coil. The air is moved as the coil shunts back and forth, generating sound waves.

A passive speaker is one that is not powered. It is powered by a cable from a separate amp. This is how it usually goes. :

Sound source –> Pre-Amplifier (abbreviated to ‘preamp’) –> Power Amplifier (abbreviated to ‘amplifier’ or simply ‘amp’) –> Crossover –> Speaker

 Sound Source: This can be many things including a :

 

  • music streamer
  • CD player
  • Blu-Ray player
  • phone/computer
  • instrument

 

Preamp: This allows you to pick the source and volume you want the sound to originate from.

Amplifier: This amplifies the signal from the preamp so that it can drive the speaker.

Crossover: The signal from the amplifier is separated and sent to the several 'drivers' of the speaker. One loudspeaker can have many drivers. In reality, each driver is a separate speaker. A woofer, midrange, and tweeter are frequently found in the same loudspeaker, which means the crossover will split your signal three ways. It would divide in two if you just have a midrange and tweeter.

Speaker: The speaker might be a single driver or, as mentioned above, many drivers in one unit.

 

An active speaker, unlike a passive speaker, has an internal crossover and is driven by an internal amplifier, thus it does not require an external power source. As a result, the typical progression is :

Power Source –> Preamp –> Crossover –> Amplifier –> Speaker

In fact, in a powered speaker, each driver normally has its own amplifier.

 

Are powered speakers and active speakers the same thing? The simple answer is no. The long answer is that both active and powered speakers are powered. However, not all powered speakers are active, and not all active speakers are powered. Some powered speakers use the same signal path as passive speakers, but the preamp and power amplifier are both disguised within the device, providing the impression of an active speaker.


Pros of getting powered speakers for live shows

Main Speakers :

 

  • You can connect a speaker to a power source and feed a line-level signal – your instrument or microphone – into it, and you’re good to go.
  • Some active speakers include built-in mixers and equalizers.
  • Modern active speakers are easy to use, so you don’t need a sound engineer unless you have a complicated or large-scale system.
  • They usually give the best sound for the least hassle as the amp is matched to the speaker.
  • They can be battery-powered, so you can set them up anywhere. This only applies to smaller active speakers. Very powerful units will require mains power.
  • If you upgrade your speakers, you can always use the old ones as monitors.

Subwoofers :

 

  • They are an all-in-one solution, so they are easier to transport and store.
  • Being all-in-one, they are also easier to set up.
  • They don’t need a power source which, if you’re in a venue not designed for live sound, may be scarce.

Check our top 20 best selling powered speakers!

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