Do Active Speakers Belong In A High End System?

In a pair of active speakers, you have removed the high end amplifier from from the equation. The amps on an active speaker will probably be class D plate amps.

All of the flowery adjectives to describe high end amps and high end speaker cables in a system go right out the window when using active speakers.

Is a serious active full-range tower speaker a high-end audiophile possibility? I rarely read about active speakers on this forum in a two channel system.
Certainly. Meridian, Adam and ATC (and others) have been doing it for years.
Active speakers may be higher end. The amplifiers and speakers are matched and the best speaker cable is no cable at all.


My Spectron Musician III Mk 2 has been my reference amp for years now.

I believe that John Ulrick, the designer, originally developed his Class D amp to drive the subwoofer unit in the reference Genesis speakers that Arnie Nudell and he designed.

Please don't underestimate Class D amps.

Sure, as long as having to junk an expensive speaker that can't be fixed holds no fear for you.
Chuck, it was not my intent to disparage class D amps, far from it.
I am moving in that direction myself. I've read lots of good things about them.
A person can certainly build a fine audio system with an active speaker; many of us have heard examples of such.

I would not discount a speaker simply because it uses a class D design amp. There are distinct advantages, or more accurately, trade-offs, in use of such amplifictation, the primary one being simplification of the signal path. One eliminates some cabling and often a second component (preamp), which inherently yields a less manipulated signal. The improvement in signal integrity is quite striking. So, yes, the possibility of building a high end system is there.

However, there are also legitimate reasons to forego the class D design despite the shortened the signal path. When I discussed the design of the Legacy Whisper DSW (reviewed for I eschewed the class D amplification that Legacy normally uses for the bass. I wanted complete freedom to utilize whatever amp and cabling I wished, as for me it is a huge benefit to be able to "adjust" the soundstage, tonality, etc. focusing just on the bass versus being locked in more with an active bass setup. I have never regretted this decision.

An active speaker can be an elegant solution to a lifestyle demand for a clean/uncluttered system, as well. WAF is an important consideration for many audiophiles who must use the family or living room.

I would not suggest that an active speaker system is inherently incapable of superb sound. But to answer the question of whether they belong in your system, perhaps you have already answered it.
Schubert, ....yikes! I hadn't thought of that aspect. -


I never took it as you questioning Class D amps. I've seen several posts from you recently, so I assumed that you are getting ready to make some changes.

If you want a professional to design and integrate your amp and speakers for you, its a very good way to go. If they do a good job, the results will be "high end". No reason to doubt that the reputable companies out there that offer active speaker products cannot get it right. Whether you like it or not is a matter of personal preference. At that point its as high end as anything I would think. Technically, I guess there will always be other options out there that cost more so those might technically be considered more "high end" FWIW.
An active system should out perform an equivalent passive system. The elimination of the passive crossover is the key. Also since the designer knows the characteristics of the drivers the amps do not have to be over built. Active loudspeaker systems are very popular in the pro audio area. Typically the amps are readily accessible and easily, as in field, replaceable.
Don't forget to include in your list Event Opal regarded by most of studio engineers as one of the most accurate studio monitor
In theory, the answer is a resounding YES. Even better might be to have digital signal processing right on the board and have a pure digital USB/SPDIF/TOSLINK ETC, Come directly to the speaker.
In reality, its tough to get right
With the rise in popularity of Class D amps, it would seem to be a no-brainer for active speakers to begin to flourish in the marketplace. Their small size and light weight certainly make it feasible to attach them to full sized full-range towers.

I think it would take one of the big boys in the passive speaker camp to start offering an active speaker option to get things going on a large scale.

I would hazard to guess that 99.9% of the speaker systems here on the 'Gon are passive. Not counting subwoofers of course.
"In a pair of active speakers, you have removed the high end amplifier from from the equation."

That's a problem. A high end system usually calls for a high end amp.

"Is a serious active full-range tower speaker a high-end audiophile possibility?"

Only if it sounds good.
The technology is there... it could be easily done and done well. The question is which companies will be the first to start the trend?
Active ATCs are among the best sounding stereos I have ever heard

so YES
Can be done well at modest cost as well. My NHT M00s are killer near field monitors w built in amp that I use at my computer. but I wouldn't consider an active speaker for my big rig 'cause I've never heard a SS amp that I prefer over the hollow state amps I use.

Properly set-up ATC actives are quite good.
Different ATC 'amp packs', including class A, are available.
I wanna see actives in a big rig.
Why not?

Some of the best speakers around, and I have heard, are active.

That said the very best speakers I have heard are NOT active and the designers think a SOTA passive simply sounds better.

I am looking to arrange a GTG to put that to the test with a SOTA passive compared to a DEQX active.

My only beef with active speakers is the fact that if something goes down, it's dead until opposed to swapping in another speaker or amp. Otherwise it makes a LOT of sense in design opportunities, etc. If you want to see actives in a "big rig", go to any current large live show...all those "phased arrays" are likely to be super high powered Class D active speakers. For home use I think passive stuff is more fun as you can easily swap things.
A home audio big rig.
An active speaker can sound truly awful.

An active speaker can sound truly state of the art.

Like all components, it depends on the design, execution, and subtleties of the voicing of the product.

ATC self powered speakers can sound fabulous. I'm sure others can also.

The plus side: eliminates trying to find the perfect amp, cables, eliminates the nasty passive crossover that eats power, dynamics, detail, and has phase issues.

The minus side, it eliminates the tuning possibilities of matching up an amp that fits your sonic aesthetic.

You have to ask yourself: are you the type that loves to tune your system with cables and amps? Do you typically only keep a component for a few years and then get itchy ears and feet to replace it or tune it differently? i If you are, then you may get frustrated with self powered speakers.

If you are the type that hates that pain of dealing with amps and speaker cables in order to find a good match? Then you sound like a good candidate.

If your budget allows you to go up to ATCs I would start (and for me, finish) right there. Truth in the sound of music, good enough for many of the best pro installations in the world, chosen by many who make the music and recognize it when they hear a closer rendition played back.

I love my speaker/amp/cable combinations. But if it all burned I would have a hard time choosing between ATC and what I have.
Onhwy61 is correct. Eliminating the passive crossover, installing an electronic crossover, matching amplifiers to drivers and bi-amping or tri-amping all add up to better sound.
Yes, without a doubt. It does take an individual with enough knowledge of the field to appreciate the benefits of an active design, a willingness to quit swapping amps looking for the holy grail and just enjoy the music.

You hear it all the time on this forum to "trust your ears", yet audiophiles, in general, are locked into old traditions that preclude active designs. So they never get a chance to trust their ears.

Even relatively inexpensive active speakers designed for home studios are more than capable in a high end system. It appears that computer based desktop audio systems are prompting the manufacture of powered speakers from more and more well known names like KEF and Psb. Many of them are not active, though.

The amps on an active speaker will probably be class D plate amps.
That's not the case at all. Of the 4 pairs of active speakers I've owned all used class AB amps. Based on touch, I'd say that my K+H O300D have a fairly high class A bias.

I've posted this before, but here it is again. Worth the time to read, I believe.

There's also a huge value benefit besides the technical benefits.

Dynaudio, Genelec, Focal, JBL, Neumann (formerly K+H) all make excellent active speakers.

Scan this list for many options...
Rrog wrote: 'Eliminating the passive crossover, installing an electronic crossover, matching amplifiers to drivers and bi-amping or tri-amping all add up to better sound.'

Sorry mate - comparisons to not always bear that out. I know people who have compared a DEQX to a SOTA passive and the passive blew it out of the water. I am trying to organize a GTG to repeat it but can say for certain it is NOT true active is better - not by a long shot.

Bhobba, I'm sure you know this... DEQX systems are NOT traditional active designs. It's a digital system that attempts to do both speaker and room correction.

My JBL LSR4300 system was a digital active design and as much as I liked them (they offer a tremendous amount of technology and convenience for a very reasonable amount of money), they are obviously lacking in detail compared to my K+H O300D system.

The Dynaudio Air series is similar in concept. Genelec has digital active systems as well.
Active speakers can have a distinctive sound just like passive designs. Just because you have found a sound you prefer it's foolish to generalize that to the design category of the speaker.

I think it would be interesting to poll commercial speaker designers and ask them would they prefer to design active or passive if there were no market consequences.

The reality is that the non-pro market has not embraced active designs. Just ask Paradigm about their active Studio 20.
Just wanted to throw the Linn Klimax speakers into the mix, which include built-in their excellent Klimax Chakra amps. (They use SMPS, but are not truly Class-D amps, I believe).
Hi Bob

Yep - that's true. But it does time alignment and room correction which some say lifts it well above conventional active.

As with all thing audio opinions vary.

Audiophiles tend to be terrified of something other than 2,3 or 4 drivers stuck in a box. Why, is beyond me. I know, I spent many years being stuck in a 6-12 inch sweetspot. The 'h' with that. Too much of that sound is built on unrealistic staging and imaging. Never been to a concert that had soundstaging. But, some people like that.

I wonder though since many A-philes are constantly changing speakers I would think they get tire of listening to that unrealistic sound. Just my two cents.
I think we have all forgotten about the Acoustat X and Beveridge 2SW-2. Not high end enough for you Bhobba?

Too much of that sound is built on unrealistic staging and imaging. Never been to a concert that had soundstaging. But, some people like that.

Not only do they like it, they consider their stereo to be the reference above live music instead of the other way around.
Possibly, in an all Meridian system...
I have active speakers that sound really good to me...not sure what qualifies as a "high end" system though....

I think like anything there are probably very good and not as good implementations of them...
Bob Reynolds has it right when he says "You hear it all the time on this forum to "trust your ears", yet audiophiles, in general, are locked into old traditions that preclude active designs. So they never get a chance to trust their ears."

Most absolutely do not trust their ears, and would rather trust their intuition about what baloney story they get sucked into. They would also rather trust the ears of reviewers. Hence, mediocre sounding and relatively high distortion speakers can sell just as well as great speakers, even in the stratospheric price ranges.

I hear several hours of live music 300+ days a year, and what passes for good sound in the modern high end industry astounds me. Excuses range from "we all have different ears" to "this is so accurate it shows flaws in recordings".

Sorry, serious distortion is serious distortion no matter how you cut it.

I use passive speakers. But I will say that I have found that a higher percentage of self-powered speakers sound better than conventional speakers. Maybe you have to know more to make a self-powered work without blowing up while anyone can throw drivers, capacitors, and coils in a box and call themselves a speaker designer. Well, they don't present themselves as just designers usually. They present themselves as knowing much more than anyone else, true experts who have done what nobody else has.
Reviews are just useless, some dude writes CD player X has harsh highs, you look at associated gear and see an item or two that are noted for same ets etc etc
Every system in it's room is a law unto itself, which is what makes this hobby both interesting and frustrating .
Not to mention, expensive .
"Never been to a concert that had soundstaging." Really?

I'll be the first one to say that most audiophiles don't listen to live music, they talk the talk but don't walk the walk. So most audiophile "contrivances" and "novelties in sound" have nothing to do with what music sounds like.

But the staging thing: I have heard this over and over, "ral music has no stage". That's ridiculous. Have you been to a jazz ensemble in an unamplified setup? Do it and close your eyes, you know where they are. How about a good seat at a chamber concert? I could hit any of the players with a dart while blindfolded.

I was at a 20th century chamber music event that had 4 pieces, one a trumpet, one a French horn. At one point the score called for the instruments to walk along the outside aisles to the midpoint of the venue. I closed my eyes and folled each instrument, knowing where they were within a foot or 2.

I had this discussion with an audiophile recently, I played for him while walking back and forth in the room while he had his eyes closed. I then asked him to point out exactly where I had been. He did so with exact precision.

Huge venues with giant monitors, like rock events, or big stars in a really big auditorium where you are 150 feet away, sure no image. But if you have not heard any of my examples above you should get out and hear some events that are "unplugged". You are in for a treat. Most PA systems are horrible. Get out and hear some real instruments and voices not ruined by the distortions of microphones and cables.
Omsed, exclude me from that list. When I lived in NYC, I didn't even think of having high-fidelity rig that I own now. It was good enough to visit Birdland, Irridium, BBKing, Blue Note, Bottom Line and many other excellent venues for sound and live performances. The larger venues such as Town Hall, Beacon Theatre were also often perfectly set up for good sound.
Omsed, I agree with all you said, but I never heard a Symphony Orch. image and I've been in the best halls in the world.
All live events, even pure electronically amplified ones, have the equivalent of a soundstage and imaging, in home audio jingo. What varies is its nature case by case. In some cases, there may be similarities between what is heard live and what is heard at home, but that is never a given case by case. In all cases, what you hear is determined largely by how things are setup, venue acoustics, and location based perspective of the listener. If what you hear at home can fool you into thinking it were actually live with your eyes closed, in at least some cases, you are in the game. If it never does, then you either do not care (which is everyone's prerogative of course) or something may be amiss.
I owned a pair of Quad 12L Actives, that are AB amped, and they were absolutely audiophile approved! But remember, each person likes something different in music and speakers. I found the amazing level of detail and explosive abilities to be wonderful. I paired them with a tube buffer to warm up the mids, and they were fantastic.

Listen before deciding!
These are truly high end
Czarivey, good for you, not losing sight of live music that so many do. Hey, that is not evil, liking the equipment more than music and more than live music, specifically. What galls me is that those same folks who have not been out in years and never really went out to concerts at all will pontificate about what system is best, and pointing out flaws without knowing what music sounds like.

I had a loyal audio friend listen to Paul Desmond on a piece where he is playing in the upper registers with his oh so pure sound. He said "that cartridge is not very good, is that supposed to be a sax, it sounds half like a clarinet". Well, in those registers he had so little reed sound (Desmond) that indeed he did sometimes sound like he was playing a clarinet. This guy had never heard the variety in sax sounds to note that there is a big variety, some sounding like Desmond, some sounding the opposite with a reedy, buzzy, brightish sound. Turns out he had not been to a live concert in "many years", as he said.

I thought "Of course you have not been out for years, this is high end audio after all, you KNOW your system sounds better"! Why go???
Check out the PTE Phoenix Active speakers. They get amazing reviews and are definitely high end.

The Paradigm Active Studio 20 received accolades in the late 1990's. I had the "regular" Studio 20 and can attest to their fine acoustic qualities. I don't know if speakers designed for home use are being manufactured at present and have no idea as to the sound quality of "professional" powered speakers.