Certainly. Meridian, Adam and ATC (and others) have been doing it for years.
46 responses Add your response
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 Dagogo.com) 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.
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.
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.
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 fixed...as 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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!
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???
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.