This has been discussed before. They are better because you remove the passive crossover. They are better because each amplifier drives one speaker driver over a narrow bandwidth (much easier than driving the entire 10Hz to 20 Khz range). The topology is very simple and offers better performance than the passive approach.
However, the above technical advantages do not count much as most people here like to be able to modify the sound through selection of a power amplifier.
I had Linn aktiv speakers then went back to passive and added a tube amp and pre. MUCH better. Aktiv marries the amp to the driver.
There are active speakers, which include include at least one amplifier in the speaker, and speakers with active crossovers, which may or may not be active speakers.
The real advantages come from speakers that use active crossovers. That's when, as Shadorne describes, the crossover is inserted in the signal path before the amplifiers, so the amplifier sees only the simple impedance of the drivers in the assigned frequency range.
The best example of a speaker with an active crossover currently available is the Linkwitz Labs Orion, which calls for an amplifier channel for every driver. The Legacy Audio Helix is another example, but those are huge and expensive.
IMO, the advantages of active crossovers are real and audible. I'm less convinced active speakers, just because they have amps matched to the drivers, are such a big win.
All drivers are passive. If you do not use a passive crossover, you have an active speaker system, whether or not the amps are on board and whether or not the amps were furnished by the speaker manufacturer.
As an example, I would say that all single driver systems are active since they have nothing inserted between the driver and the amp, sometimes not even binding posts.
I have never heard a fully active speaker to my liking, that aside i do believe it is the ultimate way to get things done unfortunately the efforts to do so IMO have been weak, hence I prefer passive bi-amping , well for the moment..
One of the many speakers I own is a pair of Meridian active speakers. They are dual mono and biamped with an electronic crossovers.
The amplifiers are perfectly matched to the drivers and you have the ability to tailor the sound with upstream cables and components.
My reference dynamic speaker is one of the more unique designs available, the Legacy Audio Whisper DSW. It is an option available on the Whisper platform. The crossover is configurable from fully passive, to hybrid active/passive, to fully active. In fully active x-over mode the speaker uses six channels of amplification.
I wrote a three part article on Dagogo.com about the speaker system and direct comparison utilizing the best means possible, one speaker with three different crossover modes. Easily, handily the active crossover mode won. Those interested in SOTA sound and differences between actively and passively crossed speakers may find it an interesting read. In short, as I indicate in the review, the speaker system performs best in active x-over mode.
You can see the speaker on my system pics.
Just picked up a pair of Genelec 8020B's for use at the office with my 4G 32GB iPhone as a source (9000+ tracks). I checked it out in a pro audio music store and was astonished how well they performed. I had looked and listened to Audioengine A5's (cheap and a great value) and many other mini studio monitors but the Genelecs blew everything away by miles (to my tastes).
I did not get a chance to check them out directly against the Focal CMS 40 or 50 (another fully active design with a great reputation) but I heard through the grapevine that many people take Focals back for repair with a broken tweeter - the Be tweeter is very good but rather delicate to be sitting on a desktop where it can break if inadvertently bumped. The Genelecs have a nice grill to protect both woofer and tweet and the overall sound works extremely well at a distance of about 1 to 3 feet - the built-in stand works extremely well. Further than 3 feet and the bass seems to roll off rapidly but I don't care as I only need them for desktop listening and not for an office party - in fact this is a feature because it means I will cause less disturbance with the neighboring office!!
Anyway - if anyone wants to check out active speakers then Genelec is a great place to start!
Caveat - this is a precision sound that allows you to break apart the entire mix (you hear what each instrument is doing) - not unlike high end ATC's - so naturally the tight accurate bass and forward mids will seem anemic to many audio enthusiasts who crave impressive kaboom boom sound and expect to have the walls humming and to hear splashy treble (the "smile EQ" that sells domestic speakers). However, musicians will enjoy these speakers greatly.
Thanks for the responses, guys. To clarify, I'm very familiar with active speakers, but for some odd reason, you just don't hear a whole lot of chatter about them.
I was mostly just looking to read the opinions of others who have experienced them. Great feedback!
There is no mistaking the sound and dynamics of a properly executed active speaker.All passive speakers I have ever heard sound compressed in comparison.
Budt - Agree completely and would add that horns provide the greatest dynamics and highest efficiency allowing for the use of tiny amplifiers. Insofar as amplifier watts cost money and more money gets you more watts or more quality, it makes sense that better efficiency allows for the purchase of more quality when less quantity is required. Passive crossovers absorb a lot of power, thereby reducing your efficiency and causing you to allocate your amplifier dollars toward more power rather than better sound.
Active speakers, when properly matched, have many advantages. You don't know what you are missing.
To clarify, I'm very familiar with active speakers
Do you sell active speakers?
I would really only want an active speaker if it had it's own dedicated outboard active crossover( which of course has been equalized). Then I can still chose whatever amps I want etc.
I had the Linkwitz Orions( +) which had just that. They were excellent for music( esp classical) but not so excellent for voice. If they had done voice well I would have kept them...
Shadorne - No, not as of the moment. It's something I've been toying with. Most likely there will be two products launching sometime in 2011, but right now I'm still in the development stage. I personally love what I have been hearing. I know another guy who is a speaker builder who is also developing some active speakers. After conversing with him, I started thinking about how you just don't hear much about them. I started this thread to see if others experiences have been as enjoyable as mine.
I can certainly see the ups and downs. With a fully active design you have to either hope the builder/designer was spot on with the amplification choice OR you can go with a design that allows you to use your own choice of amplification, but requires you to outlay a massive amount of money for that freedom of choice.
The upside is coherency, less compression, less driver fatigue, ease of integration, and potentially a lower overall system cost if great amps are pre integrated by the manufacturer.
Interesting, Budt, your view on the Orion+. Could you elaborate more on your experiences with them?