Unless you’re an audiophile (and you know who you are), lighting and sound systems can get pretty technical, leaving you overwhelmed and wondering if you’ve even purchased the right equipment for your school. Let’s untangle this mess, so you know exactly which type of speaker is best suited for your auditorium, or gymnasium. So what’s the best choice when considering your speaker setup? Active speakers have their advantages, yet so do power amps and passive speakers. Grab your favorite beverage of choice, sit back, and relax – we’re going to take you through all of the major differences.
The “Active” Experience
Active or powered speakers come with an amplifier built into the enclosure. This is really handy for easy, fast set-up as the active speakers contain the electronics and amplifier allowing you to just plug and play. It also means less components to carry around as there is no separate amplifier.
It’s a one stop shop. Setup is simple, and it’s great for PA, School Dances, Speaking from the stage, etc.
Most active speakers tend to be made out of ABS (that’s plastic to you and me), which keeps their weight down but they do also feature heavy duty enclosures.
Some active speakers are wooden and perform brilliantly with increased power and volume. These have the convenience of being active but with more of the audio and tonal qualities of larger, passive, wooden speaker systems.
Many active speakers have the facility to plug in guitars, microphones and music devices. They usually come with multiple channels, separate volume controls, digital effects with MP3 players and advanced equalization too.
The “Passive” Experience
Passive refers to a speaker that needs to
be powered by a separate amplifier. These power amps aren’t like domestic hi-fi versions. They usually only have a volume knob for each channel on the front, and some operational electronics in the back. The result is lots of power with some amps rated to thousands of watts per channel.
Passive speakers and power amp combinations are best installed in venues or in professional touring rigs as they are ideal for controlling the amplifier without being anywhere near the speakers. Usually, when using sub bass or multiple speakers, additional components such as equalisers and crossovers are required to ensure the best sound quality for a particular room.
Passive is a GREAT alternative for a more sophisticated setup to include multi-channel concerts, plays, and bands.
What’s The Best Option For Me?
It all depends on what you will be using the equipment for.
Generally passive speakers go much louder than their active counterparts. Some would argue that passive speakers have a more pleasing sound, although active speaker technology is now such that they are strong competitors! In a venue passive speakers would certainly be best suited with a separate amp, but really the main difference is that active speakers are fast to set up being highly portable and more power efficient for their size and weight.
Another key difference between active and passive speakers comes down to their construction material. Active speakers tend to be made from plastic while passive speakers are usually wooden. There are examples of both however and it is key to remember that wood is a more resonant material that lends itself well to music and vocal performance.
In the end, the decision should be based on your needs, hopefully not on your budget. Moving in the direction of a passive speaker setup with amplifiers and wireless mics will lend you the most long term versatility, no matter what the purpose.