Active speaker, the future? or another fad?

Active speakers have been around for over thirty years so I guess they really aren't a fad, but they've never caught on.

I am wondering with some of the new computer technology and faster electronics if this might not be the time for someone to do this technology right.

When you think about it, it is a good idea. Rather than having any amp that is not designed to work with any particular speaker/crossover, the amp, crossover(such as it is), and speakers are all designed to function as a unit. The three of them are integrated and contained in one cabinet (generally).

Subtractive networks do more than trim the frequency going to a specific driver. There are many other detrimental results to the sound. If subtractive crossovers can be eliminated and replaced with an amp built to meet the specific need of each driver, it sounds like a win win proposition.

The question is; Am I missing something in my understanding or is the whole 'network' thing encroaching on our audiophile rugged individualism?
You know, as someone who's been around the high end business for many years, and who is also an advocate of the "active speaker design" onthewhole, I personally think it comes down to marketing...just ask Bose.
I think if you had a good product (and there are potentially good active designs floating around out there for home use), and could market it well, you'd have a winner. I think like any of this, it would depend on what the individual companies could do, bottom line.
Again, if Bose can sound the way it does as a speaker line, and outsell everyone to death the way they do, that says a lot!
I personally would like to see the "Big boy's" of High end audio (Thiel, Wilson, and yes, B&W, etc)offer some active designs, and get their retail sales reps/stores to properly sell them.
I sold Meridian for years, and have yet to see one company push that line to success so well in my area, personally. While I don't particularly care for Meridian as a speaker line (always sounded Dark and sythentic a bit to me) I have heard other high end active offerings from companies that are simply stellar sonically. Again, these lines are harly recognized by the public at large, and really only catter to a small nitch pressently.
I think someone would have to step up BIG TIME and push active speakers on a larger scale to really make an impact, and larger change towards more active approaches.
As it is now, you got your "Receiver junkies" who want an "all in one box" with whatever speakers you can "add on" as an after thought running the market for "DIY'ers". Other than Custom, the high end is a lot of 2 channel guy's who like to "tinker with gear", tube amps, vintage turntables, and basically "oldschool". Of course, there's a lot to be said for a lot of the "old School" gear. But I think people are used to what they've been around. I see very few audiphiles or main stream consumers considering or even talking about acive speakers...besikdes maybe a pair of Def Tech's with a powered woofer built in or something. Other than that, again, someone like Bose would have to come out with a completely active line before everyone started jumping ship in regards to speaker line reconstruction. For now, passive speakers are probabaly staying put in peoples homes...sad to say. Like you said, there's are a lot of advantages offered by active speakers, namely compatibility and precision, along with much better improved dynamic capabilities and realism. But as long as people are stuck in their ruts, it's going to take a lot to jar em loose...and that includes the manufacturers
It's a good idea in theory -- BUT -- it all depends on how well it's implemented, the quality of the parts used to hit that price point, and which corners they cut to get there...

Hopefully there will be some very successful designs of this type in the future. Let me know when you hear one that knocks your socks off. :)
The B&O Beolab 5 will knock your socks off.
Active speakers suffer a few marketing disadvantages. To name a few: expensive, difficult resell, don't allow playing with amps.
The advantages are obvious: 1) no need for mammoth amplification that's overengineered to reproduce dc to daylight; each amp can drive a specific frequency range 2) the crossover before the amp allows maximum efficiency and the amp has an easier load 3) cross-over behind the amp means that there are practically no shifts in cross-over frequencies b/ween drivers (passive x-overs shift with increasing power)... etc

Bi-amping/ multi-amping has been discussed a lot. That's the same principle as an "active speaker"
Active speakers are widely used in pro audio applications. ATCs will knock your socks off.
I know that Onhwy61 and I are polar opposites when it comes to this, but that's what makes life interesting.

I fully believe that the ATCs will knock your socks off. That is also true of a lot of pro audio gear.

However, looking at the progression that the vast majority of audiophiles go through, combining an amplifier and speaker in one package just does not appeal to most people. Me among them.

In my experience, different speakers work to varying degrees in different rooms, and for different tastes. Partnering amplifiers work to varying degrees with different speakers, and for different tastes. The ability to not alter this equation as I go through my audio journey represents a hindrance, not a benefit to me. Although, I would like to think that if I hear something that knocks my socks off and is the best I have come across, presuming I could manage the cost, I would buy it. But, somehow I just know there is enough evolution in most of us audiophiles that over the long term, I would eventually come to want something else, and the freedom of having these two components decoupled be represent a major appeal to me.

Just one man's opinion...
The major marketing disadvantage is the fact that hifi addicts like to change their equiptment, and with 'Active' you cant change your speakers or amps independent of each other. Its the same reason you see such big discounts on the MF one box CD/Preamp on the used market. The greatest advantages are, amps tailored to the speakers, usually a separate amp for each driver, no cables with the inherent problems and variables, and less electronics to find room for. Meridian has been marketing 'active' speakers for as long as I remember, ATC and other companies that produce professional sound reinforcement have been doing so for quite some time also. Most speakers available as 'active' or 'passive' are said to sound their best 'active'. I think its a very good solution to the matching aspect of amp/speaker interaction. Not a fad, a well tested solution for some. I myself would love to have some active ATCs someday.
mackie makes lots of powered speakers and their technology keeps getting better. I use their SA1521 (one 15" and a horn) for amplification (live music) and it's scarily good for the $ (about $850 apiece). The imaging could be better, not surprising given the width of the thing, but it sounds very natural, not at all tinny and plastic, like a lot of PA stuff does (including their lesser models), and you could fill a concert hall or two with it. Plus they're incredibly reliable. It would be interesting to build a two channel system with pro audio gear - the price/value ratio probably would be way better than 'audiophile' gear - except that the wife acceptance factor would kill it!
Linn has had Active systems for a long time now. I am one who owns one and can say the step up from passive, even passive tri-amped to active was huge! That said, my system is incredibly cumbersome to dismantel and reassemble, which I unfortunately will have to do AGAIN as Linn just recalled all 7 of my amps, and the amp in the subwoofer!!! The cabling is redundant to say the least. Power conditioning becomes a huge issue, and forget about a simple amp upgrade!!!! That said, I couldn't go back to the speakers in passive form...

All that said, I love the sound and ease with which they play music and movies and will likely keep them for quite a while. I haven't heard the Genelec's yet, which are more to what you are asking about (IE an all in one) nor have I heard the Avante Garde Solo's, which are similar, but I thing they represent a positive move in audio, and should they get established, I suspect many would feel as I do and use them.

Just my .02.
I would like to adress what Trelja commented on, in that I understand an "audiophile's" desire to "tinker" and find combo's he feels best match his speakers/needs. Really however, whether an amp is built into a speaker or not makes no difference from one scenario to the next. If that amp is maximized to sound it's best, and perform to highest standards, it's a much better proposition than doing "passive amplification/crossover" approach BY A LOT!
i WOULD TAKE ANY DAY A BETTER ACTIVE DESIGN with built in amp over my best amp sellection on my favorit speakers, yes!..that is if I like the overall sound of the active speaker to begin with. If a speaker has the ultra refined transparancy I've come to appreaciate from companies like Thiels, Wilson's, Magnapan's, Merlin VSM'setc), and has kept that integrity in an active design(only better in dynamics and soundstage/realism), then I'm all for it! If a company can make a successful effort with the above mentioned speaker designs, I wholehartedly feel they can keep "that sound" with careful amp sellection in an active effort, yes!!!...why not?
If that's the case, I wouldn't sweat the "amp selection" any. I'll gladely take the "active advantage", yes sir!..much more control, dynamics, pressence, realism, power, finnesse, speed, wow, you name it! (if you want a tast in a "quasi active design", go hear Avantgardes).
Although, you don't have to have "built in amp's" to have an "active speaker design". Avlar out of Systems Design Group in Redondo Beach, California makes a very high end sounding "active speaker" ($12k-30k/pr I think), that is basically a "speaker enclosure with drives(although well designed ones)" minus crossover. You use an external crossover(they used Krell at one point), with their own amplification(was Krell). In this case, you could use whatever amp's and crossover you chose!...YOU DON'T HAVE TO BE STUCK WITH THIS COMBO! you could use any amp/crossover you chose...this might be a better OPTION for those who want to tinker..and those speakers sound exceptional! I'd take those over any typical passive high end design, if willing to spend the money, indeed...very very dynamic/powerful(stomps passive designs in the dirt!), yet very refined and high end sound. The best I've heard in an active design personally.
Speaker makers can offer a choice of "built in amp/crossover" or "external amp/crossover" and still maintain an "all active design"! The latter let's you chose your weapons, the former just offers a simpler, yet effective approach, like I presume ATC offers.
I've not yet heard ATC's, only heard reviews on the $90K one's.
Anyway, It would be "nothing" for a company to build active speakers, and offer an outboard external active crossover that works extremely well, then let you either chose your amp's (like we already do all the time anyway), or chose theirs! Simple really. Yet, every high end speaker maker has given me all the excuses why they are "not interested" enlarge in active speakers. Mainly, "heat"(although digital amps run cool), space(BS if you ask me), cost(what cost?!!) marketing problems(I guess they think everyone is stuck in a "passsive speaker rut" in the home market..dunno.), etc.
I've said it before and I'll say it again..."high end speakers are stuck in the passive realm with limited dynamic transparancy and realism" If you think not, just pop in any heavy rock, techno, rap, ESPECAILLY FULL RANGE MOVIE TRACKS FROM dd/dts, and listen to your pathetic full range speakers distort, flatten out, and cry for dynamic help!!!! Basically, most all high end passives sound pathetically whimpy and laid back dynamically for the most part. When you feed em the goods, they go "bye bye"! (ok for Dianna Krall and "pawn shop", but not for Metalica sorry).
MORE ACTIVE SPEAKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (I'd promote Avantgarde's if you din't have to sit right between the freakin things....)
The concept of putting the crossover between the pre-amp and power amp,then bi-amping or tri-amping has been around for at least forty years. You don't need a active speaker to remove the passive crossover. You can have a custom active crossover made to your needs. Some people want one size that fits all and some want a perfect fit.
Phlanoue, who's making custom active crossovers you can substitue for stock passive unit's in speakers, that still make the speaker "balance" sonically like it was ment to using the original passive?
My couple of attemps over the years of bypassing the passive crossovers in passive speakers has yielded to so great results. Maybe I'm missing something. Any recommendations and combinations You think would work with passive speakers using active crossovers peronally? Thx Phlanoue. I'm interested in your comments here
Exertfluffer -- all you need is the passive x-over's crossing frequencies and filter order/ type (i.e. 1st order Butterworth, 4th L/R, etc). You can take it from there with an active or passive line-level x-over.
It's useful to have some measuring equip though, or have access to same -- so as to check (at least) the amplitude response curves on & off axis.
Hummmmm. I seen no reason why what you're saying shouldn't work, and maybe work well if pulled off corrrectly. I'll have to do more experimenting.
I once took a pair of Thiel 2.3's and tried "bi-amping" them (*adding another set of pots, one to mid/tweet and one to woofer). The sound was too bright and unbalanced. I didn't try bypassing the passive crossover all together however, and replacing with an active exertnal set up though. I guess I assumed it would give similar results, and that the drivers where balanced with "that stock passive crossover"!
Maybe I should contact some of these speaker makers and pick their brains.
Any input?
If what you're saying is correct, and by substituting an active for passive cross is that simple, and you can retain the sonic integrity throughout, then you should simply have a much much better speaker overall with a well integrated and executed active crossover application, right? I mean surely you'd have much more control over your drivers, higher damping, less power requirments potentially, and more flexibility, yes? What do ya think?
Exertfluffer, you and I are not in disagreement. What you are talking about would allow the flexibility of tailoring the sound to the listener. Again, that is a major goal of mine.

However, as has been pointed out by Phlanoue and Gregm, this is far from a new proposal. I would make sure any company trying to sell you otherwise acknowledges this, or I would start asking questions about them.

In a perfect world, such a speaker should in fact be cheaper, as the company can walk away from the expense of a crossover(this is where I will cede to a manufacturer carping about design costs). You just basically hardwire the drivers to your power amps. Of course, this is high end audio, and when it is all said and done, I would predict we'll end up paying more for this.
I think Vandersteen has been pretty successful selling their 5 series speakers and they're active. FWIW, the 5A's have blown me away and blown the Revel Salon's I've heard.
Ok I have one more thing to add on the idea of "simply swaping an active for a stock passive crossover" in a speaker...I seem to remember having not only talked with manufactures but actually been to speaker manufacturing facilities/plants, where I saw first hand that the crossovers(passive of course) where tweaked to help "tailor the sound" quite a bit! Where there were peaks and dips and "anomolies" between the drivers/enclosure/whatever, the manufactures often "design in" the changes in the crossover to "compensate" for those imperfections or anomolies to make the sound, well, sound right!
Dunlavy audio, for one, used to hand tweak all their custom made in-house crossovers to match each specific speaker! I sat there and watched their engineer(s) adjust cappacitors and resistors(whatever, I'm not a mechanical/electical engineer) to comensate for "less than ideal conditions" or responses in the speaker USING THE CROSSOVER! This is how they got everything to "measure right"! Now, maybe this was a "quality control" or "consistency issue" among the drivers they were using, I don't know.
Still, I went to Infinity's plant, as well as P.B.N's shop, and have talked with makers from Sonus Faber/Summiko, Martin Logan, and others. And I'm under the impression that the "artform of building crossovers" to make the sound "right" is what they all work hard on! You take the crossover out of the equation, then swap something else, I'm wondering how good of a sound you can likely expect, in regards to tonality, balance, phase, peaks, anomilies, get what I'm saying?
Maybe it would be best to sellect a passive speaker who's crossover network is "the simplest"...first order crossovers, with modest slopes, etc. Hummmm
Anyway, any input here?...or am I just making this difficult. I REALLY WANT TO FIND OUT MORE HERE, AND DO SOME "CUSTOM ACTIVE TINKERING" here! The thing is, before I start tearing appart my speakers and changing things again, I just want some more feedback from others who've touched bass on this "change in dirrection" from the original thread.
What do ya think guy's?.....
Exert - the trick in bi(multi) amping is to know what the designer has done in the passive x-over. Not easy, I know. I wonder if Mr Thiel would give suggestions re, going active in the bass (if s/one were serious about this of course).

The point is, a line-level x-over is fed low level signals, and is much more stable in its filtering action (and often, cheaper). Also, an amp connected to the voice-coil (or nearly) is a much more efficient way of using amp power.

One of the problems with passive x-overs is they perform differently given the power fed to them (which is high), influencing the amps, the frequencies, creating magnetic fields, etc, etc, ad nauseam. If you get it right with a 1kHz sine wave at 1W, it won't necessarily sound "right" with music (multiple waves) at say 8W, etc.

Hence acoustic tests to fine-tune a spkr through the x-over

The bass is a very good first target for discrete amplification. There, all that's needed is usually the x-over frequency & slope; you'd also check for baffles step compensation and any other trick in the x-over (there won't be many). These points are easily addressed with an active filter (yr typical Behringer allows a choice of different slopes, frequncies of course, time delay, transform functions, frequency boost or attenuation etc). If the spkr manufacturer helps with info, it should be possible to get good results (probably better than the original passive) with more, but less expensive amps, by keeping the mid-high x-over as is passive, (one amp, low-medium wattage) and pulling out and biamping the bass region (higher wattage).

People like Nuddel (Genesis sp?) have been offering this, at a price!
Gregm, why whould you go through the trouble of dissasembling a speaker, bypassing the crossover for the bass woofers, AND NOT MAKE THE UPPER MID/TWEET DRIVER(S) ACTIVE AS WELL!!!? This doesn't make sense. Yes, I can see the advantage of actively driving the bass w/electronic outboard crossover/amp combo. But, if you're going to do that, why not make the whole freakin speaker active, and use one outboard electronic crossover?! This makes more sense. Unless however, like I mentioned earlier you start running into problems in frequency response and such from the mid/tweeter by "ditching the stock passive". In that case, I understand leaving things "as is".
NHT is giving it a shot. They have a $5,000 full active system includes speakers, amps, crossover, and some exotic software with like 1,000 bands of eq. Speakers are monitors with the SEAS magnesium drivers and a separate sub. There was a thread at A-A a few weeks ago.
This systems is supposed to eliminate the ringing of metal drivers and other problems a passive system can't fix.
Good point. As you imply, it's a compromise of sorts.
The reason is that most of the energy goes in the bass region, so the biggest immediate improvement would be an amp dedicated to that region. As less energy hits the mid-highs, distortion is somewhat less AND more importantly, a good amp can control the system without being a mammoth and devoting +50% of its power to the bass alone (i.e. so much lost for the mid-high region).
I.e., as you go up the spectrum there's less musical info, so your average tweet rarely gets hit with more than 5W, and that's playing the system LOUD.
I forgot to mention the new Meridian speakers or the new Pass Labs speakers. I think the Meridian and Pass Labs is are a shot at a true SOTA active speaker. I don't know how either of them have been excepted, but Pass Labs certainly knows how to build amps, with a little help for the speakers... who knows?

If every connection is a loss of signal, and subtractive crossovers compound this loss, it seems like this could be a very benificial setup. If I could find the right product, I would sell my amp, speakers, and speaker cables! Active speakers seem, on paper to have so many benefits and few drawbacks other than the obvious lack of ability to swap amp, speakers, or speaker cables.

Has anyone tried some of the better active speakers?
what active speaker would you recommend that I audition. You seem to have a good range of expereince, and I have nowhere locally to audition, so if I'm going to hear anything I will have to travel for that specific purpose. Your recommendations would be appreciated.
Here is one that "Cinematic_systems" recommended on another thread. $1895 for 20-20K response. I have not heard it though.
Thanks Neal. I think their stuff is more HT oriented, that's the impression I got from the Site anyway. I'm looking for two channel stereo speakers.
The Dali Megaline is an active system, but doesn't include the amps. It comes with the speakers, and an active crossover. You provide the amps. Albert Porter uses this system currently.

I think that active speaker driving is a very good idea. I think Sean also does it. There are many advantages, because the crossover is not in the high-power realm, but in the line-level realm(where it is more elegantly and easily done).

Also, single-driver speaker systems are "active" speakers, because they don't use any crossover. But they generally don't get into the deepest bass region.

The concept is good, has been around a long time, and can be rewarding if done correctly.