Active or passive?



Why/Why not for each...?
3a65b410 4972 4353 a008 5468d9dd4c69infection

Active on the bass and good quality passive on the mids highs.
  
I've yet to hear an active xover (even discrete) better the sound of a good passive (>200hz) on the mids and highs of my ESL's, active's seem to sterilize the music. But on the bass 2 x 12" SV12(<200hz), definitely an active. Or on a 3 way box speaker.
 
If you have a two box speaker way then it's different as much of the mids are in the bass unit. I would just have a very good passive xover.

Cheers George 
with a passive system you can build incrementally as budget allows.
I ask because hardly anyone uses active...are most of these amps $hit...?!!


Passive: Simpler, no noise, no additional A/D, D/A stages.

Active: Greater control, higher efficiency, and a lot more parts in the way. Multiple amps, cables, and A/D, D/A + DSP in the way. 


You need not have DSP involved in an active speaker.  As examples, ATC and Linn have been making active speakers for years with no DSP, and having worked for a dealer who sold both I can tell you the active versions smoked their passive models and it wasn’t close.  Also, when you consider you’re getting all the amps along with the speakers it can actually be a bit of a bargain for the price.  The fact is there aren’t many good active consumer speakers available so your choices are severely limited and may not be as much to your tastes as one of the many more passive designs.  Personal taste trumps active vs. passive in my book. 

As to why there aren’t more active speakers available, I think it’s due to the flexibility of picking your own amp at your comfortable price point and also being able to upgrade in the future.  So you have both flexibility of sound characteristics as well as being able to spend less upfront with the option to improve your system later as funds allow.  But that’s just my guess. 
Just did a fair A-B comparison between ATC SCM 19 active and passive.

started with passive.
ATC P2 amp connected directly to Linn Akurate DS with Katalyst via balanced cables.

actives connected directly to same source via balanced cables.

my test subject was my wife who loves music but has zero audiophile knowledge. 
Room/power/music and speaker placement all the same.

she noticed a difference right away and when asked she identified exactly what most would expect. Active has better bass definition in addition to the already fabulous mids and highs. 
So passive for price and the ability to build system as funds are available. Also for something most do not mention. “ remote control”
Active have individuals power buttons on the bottom back and a PITA. You can over come it with switchable wall sockets proper power strips etc but still... PITA.

next test will be to add in ATC preamp to passive as I am told it will improve minds and Bass. We shall see. 
If you can afford it and deal with power switching. Active wins hands down. 

Great thead.  I owned the Vandersteen Treo's for a few years after many with Proacs (various ones).  I went through a few amps with the various Proacs from Quicksilver tubes to higher end NAD to a few others along the way.  

I have heard many of the active or semi active speakers over the years as I actively listen to new products constantly and have since I started in audio as a kid in '69.  There was always something special about the active speakers that I found alluring even if I wasn't in love with the voicing.  In Europe, there are many more who go active for so many reasons.  

I spoke with Richard Vandersteen at Audio Connection in Jersey a few years ago about why he does semi active.  He said that the only reason he didn't do fully active was due to the US market and folks wanting to tinker and constantly change amps.  He said the more factors a designer can control, the better the speaker.  Impedances and all the other electronic stuff that make some top amps and speakers NOT play well in the sandbox tougher are perfect examples of guessing and and not science.  

It makes complete sense to most folks as the designer can fully control HOW his speaker will react.  It's also less money for amp cases and interconnects that often cost as much as the speakers themselves (in some cases).  Just total control of the sound the way the designer wants things to sound.

Vandersteen now makes two amps and I'm sure there will be a pre eventually to compliment the amps.  It's his way of doing a sort of a active system for the US market.  There is synergy happening.  

I upgraded (when I was finally able to) to the semi active Quatro's and have never looked back.  The bass is something so special for a 14k speaker.  If I ever wanted to add two more of his EQ'd subs for even smoother bass (pretty darn smooth already) or more likely more impactful bass in my large open loft, I could.  If he offered a fully active system like some of the others are doing, I'd have gone there in a heartbeat.  

It's fewer cabinets and products, fewer wires and cords and probably much less money for better sound.  We all have our own opinions and no one is right or wrong obviously.  Different ways to do the same thing.
There was always something special about the active speakers that I found alluring even if I wasn’t in love with the voicing.
For bass active is the best, tightness and control "the alluring"
But for the mids and highs go quality passive, then you be happy with "the voicing".

Cheers George
I like tube amps so no "active" for me. I also have swapped amps with the same speakers over the years, which active obviates...plus, the AC cables to the speakers is off-putting...otherwise, active all the way!
Post removed 
@ctsooner very interesting... have you heard any active ATC models?

@wolf_garcia  it's the same for me; although I'm running D class at the moment, I'll be switching to tube very soon...


I must saying  that @soix is correct here:

You need not have DSP involved in an active speaker.


My bad. Given recent discussions I misinterpreted the OP, as wanting to convert existing speakers.  And while again, this can be done in the analog domain, replicating a crossover with EQ features is far more than the average audiophile would do in the analog domain. 

Yes, you can build line-level active, analog crossovers of any complexity, but really only the pros and EE geeks would want to.  For everyone else, there is DSP. :) 

Best,

E
Infection, Yes I've heard many of their models over the years.  They are intriguing speakers, but not my cup of tea. 

George, what I meant is that there are some active speakers I"ve listened to that I didn't like the voicing. Even in passive mode it wouldn't have mattered.  (there was a German pro speaker that also make home audio and they had fully active as well as passive).  I just didn't like the speakers, but in active mode, they sounded so much better and it was more than just the bass, but I get what you are saying. :) 

Neither way is right or wrong and that's the fun of audio.
George, what I meant is that there are some active speakers I"ve listened to that I didn’t like the voicing. Even in passive mode it wouldn’t have mattered.
I’ve done a lot of this with very reviling ESL’s >150hz with dynamic bass drivers <150hz, for me in active mode for mids and highs you’ve suddenly added two hand fulls of "active components opamps ect", compared to just half a dozen passive components in passive mode, "active sterilizes" mids and highs compared to "passive". But for bass the active is better.

Cheers George
that should be revealing dumb auto correct.
@georgehifi  so regardless of the synergistic elements of an active highlighted by ctsooner, the inferior mids & highs, for me then, doesn't warrant ownership. 
Ok, I don't think I've heard an active in over 15 years but from what's being mentioned it appears they are still not worth buying...

I would have thought the complete control over the amp by a speaker manufacturer would offer amazing results...to the point of choosing active over passive in many cases.
I would have thought the complete control over the amp by a speaker manufacturer would offer amazing results...to the point of choosing active over passive in many cases.
Simple, I’ve always found the more "active components" that are in the signal path the more sterile and two dimensional the sound becomes.
 I would love for a source to be able to drive the speakers direct

Cheers George
I am driving Emerald Physics KCIIs (passive XOs) direct from Ric Schultz’s EVS 1200 (600wpc class D) which is connected direct from my Oppo 105 with upgraded Linear Power Supply and rhodium Furutech IEC with pure silver wire to the power supply board. Volume is controlled with the 105 V V C


Of course this eliminates the opportunity to add powered subs, but after many months I am expecting a pair of EP 2.8s hopefully this week. Each speaker has dual 15" carbon fiber woofers and a 12" concentric carbon fiber mid-range

I am in high anticipation

FYI EP is moving their factory and has/had a few pair of 2.8s at $4999 delivered.
It's a cultural thing.  American consumers of high end audio simply do not choose active systems.  75% of all Mercedes-Benz autos sold in the world are diesel.  0% are sold in America.  The American consumer for whatever reasons chooses otherwise.  Not right, not wrong, just is.

My ATC 40A floor standers on loan to a high end store in Portland, OR for two months never failed to impress and even shock those who listened.  Nobody ordered a pair and therefore the store does not stock ATC or any other active speaker.  The owner was quite perplexed, but appreciated the no cost loan and use to test the market.

The manufacture of many of the most respected active transducers in the world seems heavily weighted toward the English.  I've no numbers to support, but must conjecture that not only do studios consume these, but also consumers outside America.

I will never go back to passive.  For my tastes, passive now is deficit of immediacy, timbre, slam and overall involvement.  It does not make me right, only very satisfied with what works for me.
I've fallen hard for several good passive designs that sounded castrated at home in my listening room. I have no idea why, but dsp active speakers sound right in my room where all the world beater passives fall flat. 
If I was shopping for a specific model that's offered in active or passive I'm betting the active model is more likely to sound like it was designed to once I get it home. Unless you have unlimited funds to build a system tailored to your taste Active is the way to go.
The obsession some audio geeks have with the "evil vibration" that seemingly plagues everything from components to your cables is absolutely tossed out the window with active speakers...somehow my REL subs manage to work beautifully in spite of the horrors of the internal amps being subjected to a nightmare of driver/amp proximity...oh the humanity!
I've fallen hard for several good passive designs that sounded castrated at home in my listening room. I have no idea why, but dsp active speakers sound right in my room where all the world beater passives fall flat.


It saddens me that people have no idea how bad rooms can be in the bass, or how a little DSP eq can transform their experience.

But surely a good tube amp with a good passive will always sound better than a similarly priced active...??
But surely a good tube amp with a good passive will always sound better than a similarly priced active...??


First I'd have to believe that I categorically like tubes more than ss, and that's not true for many.
Post removed 
First I'd have to believe that I categorically like tubes more than ss, and that's not true for many.

What if the tube amp was a similarly priced good SS...?
Ive done this demo (passive vs active) many times.  

Active properly executed will outperform passive.   The reasons are many: 1) losses through all those copper coils in the passive crossover 2) losses of power, dampening factor, etc though all that speaker cable at speaker level 3) lack of phase control in passives 4) ability to control phase in active 5) passives requiring one big power amp vs active needing the exact right power for each driver element.

The differences will be mainly heard in improvements in imaging, details, bass definition, and dynamics.

Brad
ATC Consumer/Lone Mountain Audio    
Ive done this demo (passive vs active) many times.  

From your experience which actives do you think are exceptional?
01-19-2020 2:30amIve done this demo (passive vs active) many times.  

Active properly executed will outperform passive.   The reasons are many: 1) losses through all those copper coils in the passive crossover 2) losses of power, dampening factor, etc though all that speaker cable at speaker level 3) lack of phase control in passives 4) ability to control phase in active 5) passives requiring one big power amp vs active needing the exact right power for each driver element.

The differences will be mainly heard in improvements in imaging, details, bass definition, and dynamics. 

Brad
ATC Consumer/Lone Mountain Audio    

Thanks so much Brad.  Great post and what I have heard also when doing the same thing.  I just never had the long time to really do this like you have.  I have heard it with a pair of ATC years ago and then with a German brand who's name I forget.  

Have you ever done this with anything other than your ATC's?  Being that I owned the Vandersteen Treo and now the Quatro's, I think I'm qualified (as a consumer, not a professional) to say similar things.  As Richard V told me, that if I were ever able to afford his new amps that were designed with the Quatro and Cento in mind, that I'd have a fully active speaker (although I would still need a speaker cable that gets in the way,lol).  He has always loved the idea of controlling everything from start to finish (he won't be making a server though as he's an analog dude).

Even in the KEF LS50's it makes a HUGE difference.
Honestly I have not tried a direct AB with passive and active of another brand the same model using the same amps right next to each other. The leaders in active from the pro side are ATC and Genelec, both jumped into active back in the early 80s around the same time so they have a lot of experience. While many view "active" benefits are focused on better/cheaper/matched to the driver amplifiers, I really think it’s the linear phase issue and making sure amps don’t clip for proper dynamics are the key advantages.

I can’t imagine it would not help any manufacturer who adopts the technique. There is nothing magical in the idea of active and no patents in the core idea. I believe everything will be active in the future.
Brad
As to why there aren’t more active speakers available, I think it’s due to the flexibility of picking your own amp at your comfortable price point and also being able to upgrade in the future. So you have both flexibility of sound characteristics as well as being able to spend less upfront with the option to improve your system later as funds allow. But that’s just my guess.

A pretty good guess and something Andrew Jones pointed out yesterday in his presentation to the San Francisco Audio Society. He admitted the amplifiers in his active speaker design takes away consumer flexibility, but he also talked about the benefits from a design perspective, especially removing the crossovers you that do nothing but color the sound with their "EQ". The presentation also included a demonstration of two ELAC Navis active designs, a book shelf and floor stander, neither use DSP in the design. Both were quite good and are priced very reasonably at approximately $2500 and $4500 respectively per pair.
Active...over 'n out. ;)
The best crossover is no crossover. Having said that I have not ever heard a speaker do low bass well. Maybe there is one out there but I have not heard it. So, we are stuck with subwoofers. I am going to side with George on this one. If you have not heard a subwoofer managed by a digital crossover with phase and time alignment as well as room control you are missing out on an incredible experience. The only other way to integrate a subwoofer is by shear luck and hours of tinkering. I have to say I was never real lucky in this regard. I can integrate any subwoofer in a few minutes with comprehensive digital bass management. 
Most of our program sources are now digital and in digital there is no distortion just numbers. You do need two more DAC channels and a way to match volumes (The amps I use for subwoofers have gain controls for each channel.) 
Now what about no crossovers elsewhere? My Acoustats have no cross overs now. I use a single Sowter transformer to drive each speaker. Sound Labs speakers have no cross over and I am sure there are others.
I think this is part of the magic with full range ESLs. A subwoofer however is even more mandatory with them although the manufacturers will argue otherwise. It takes a very large subwoofer system to match up with an 8 foot tall ESL and again digital bass management is essential.
I'm on the other side of the no speaker does bass well argument.  I own Vandersteen Quatro's as I've said.  Vandersteen is the only manufacture I know of who integrates the sub amp the way he does.  The amp takes on the same sound characteristics as the main amp.  All his subs integrate an 11 band analog eq, which smooths things out in most any room (I have a difficult room for bass and it worked like a charm).  IF I had the money adn ability to use two more of his subs, it would be what's done with the Swarm system.  The best of all worlds.  

If you want to talk highest of high end, I have heard the Vandersteen sub 9 system in Ft Collins, CO and it was amazing.  I've heard the highest end Wilson's, the top end Tidal as well as many other mega high end speakers, but the Vandy hit the perfect notes.  It's not cheap, but bass in any of our products is the most expensive part of the build for many reasons.

I personally have yet to hear DSP that I have liked.  You do hear the difference if your system is set up properly.  It's easier of course, but I know I'm not the only and even one designer of a major brand who uses it, told me that 'of course you can hear it, but that is a compromise I made, because it will sell better."

All designers make compromises and we just need to figure out which ones we live with when we make our decisions.  

I would assume that Jone's shared that and I'm not surprised in the least that his active speakers sounded very good.  Most of his designs aren't my cup of tea (I have liked a few of the lower priced Elac's when mated with the right amp as they are not forgiving), but he does great job and has since his AE days.  Most speaker designers are concerned with the US market wanting to 'match their own electronics' and also competing with their partners who make components to drive their speakers.  It's a bit political to say the least.

Think about it.  If all speakers were active, then we would just go in and listen to speakers and figure out which ones we liked the best without tuning and playing around.  We would then have to find the best sources to go with our active speakers and cables to hook them up.  Hey, we would still be able to get better power cords, lol....

Fun debate as there is no right or wrong.  
Actually one of the benefits of active is it makes all the gear in front of it much easier to hear.  I have never heard as much difference in cables, preamps, DAC's, turntables as with actives.  With Passives the finer details of different preamps and cables are often obscured as many of these changes are subtle-  image, resolution, reverb tails, [original recording] room sound, etc.  The very things that become easier to hear from passive to [properly executed] active.

I think active will cause one to change the front end much more than before and make discussions and evals of DAC's and cables much deeper.  
Brad
I bought a pair of meridian dsp8000’s for the resale money I got on a pair of revel salon 2’s and I don’t have any of the bass/room integration problems anymore. With the money I would have spent matching components to the revels I upgraded the 8k to se and I doubt anything can touch it for what I have invested.