A boxing ring with "BOOM" in the middle, a pair of active speakers on the left and a pair of passive speakers on the right

Active or Passive Speakers: Find Your Match

When it comes to audio systems, one crucial decision you’ll face is whether to choose passive or active speakers. Understanding the differences between these two types of speakers is crucial to getting the sound experience you want at a cost you can afford. 

In this article, we’ll explain the difference between passive and active speakers, compare their pros and cons, offer some suggestions for decent brands and models and help you troubleshoot any issues you may have with your speakers. So climb aboard the train and let’s elevate your sound together!

Passive speakers

As we embark on our journey, let’s start by exploring the land of passive speakers. These audio devices offer a more hands-on approach to sound, with greater flexibility and potential for customization. We’ll go over the basics of passive speakers, how to identify them, their purpose, and how to connect and set up these audio gems.

What is a passive speaker?

A passive speaker is a type of speaker that relies on an external amplifier for power. The amplifier sends the audio signal to the speaker, which then produces sound. Passive speakers don’t have any built-in amplification, making them simpler in design and often more affordable.

How do you know if your speakers are passive?

To identify whether your speakers are passive, look for speaker terminals on the back of the unit, usually consisting of red and black connectors. These terminals are designed to connect speaker wires from an external amplifier. If your speakers have these connectors and no power cable, they’re most likely passive speakers.

The back side of an Edifier passive speaker on blue background

What’s the point of passive speakers?

Passive speakers offer several benefits, including:

  1. Flexibility: You can mix and match passive speakers with different amplifiers to create a customized audio system.
  2. Upgradeability: You can easily upgrade your amplifier or speakers independently, allowing for better sound quality over time.
  3. Lower cost: Passive speakers are generally less expensive than active speakers, making them a budget-friendly option.

Connection and setup

Do passive speakers need an amp?

Yes, passive speakers require an external amplifier to provide the power needed to produce sound. The amplifier is a separate component that sends an amplified audio signal to the speakers.

What cables do you need for passive speakers?

To connect passive speakers, you’ll need speaker wires. These wires have two conductors, typically marked red and black or with a “+” and “-“, indicating the positive and negative terminals. The type and thickness of the speaker wire can affect sound quality. So be sure to choose appropriate cables for your audio system.

How do you connect passive speakers?

Follow these steps to connect your passive speakers:

  1. Turn off your amplifier to avoid any potential damage.
  2. Strip the ends of the speaker wire, exposing the conductors.
  3. Attach the exposed wire ends to the speaker terminals, matching the positive and negative markings on both the speaker and amplifier.
  4. Ensure a secure connection by tightening the terminals or using banana plugs.

Choosing an amp for passive speakers

There are a few factors you’ll need to keep in mind when choosing an amplifier for your passive speakers:

  • Power rating: Be sure your chosen amplifier has a power output in line with your speakers’ power handling capabilities. Over- or under-powering your speakers can result in poor sound quality or damage.
  • Impedance: Match the amplifier’s output impedance to the speakers’ impedance rating. Mismatched impedance can lead to inefficient power transfer and potential damage.
  • Additional features: Look for features such as multiple inputs, tone controls, and built-in Bluetooth, depending on your audio setup and preferences.

How to power passive speakers without an amp?

While it’s not recommended to power passive speakers without an amplifier, some alternative options include using a powered mixer or an audio interface with built-in amplification. Remember that using these alternatives may not give you the same level of performance and control as an amplifier.

Active speakers

Next let’s step into the realm of active speakers. These self-contained audio powerhouses simplify the listening experience, delivering sound with minimal fuss. Let’s delve into the features of active speakers, their connection process, and how they compare to their passive counterparts.

What are active speakers?

Active speakers, also known as powered speakers, have built-in amplification. So unlike passive speakers, you won’t need to connect active speakers to an external amplifier. Active speakers often include additional components, such as active crossovers and equalizers, to optimize sound quality and performance.

Connection and setup of active speakers

Connecting active speakers is typically more straightforward than connecting passive speakers. Without the need for an amplifier, you just need to connect the audio source directly to the speaker using the right cable, such as an XLR, TRS, or RCA cable, depending on the speaker’s input options. Active speakers also require a power source, so you’ll need to plug them into an electrical outlet using a power cable.

The backside of a pair of Edifier passive speakers on blue background

Differences between active speakers and passive speakers with an amp

Active speakers differ from passive speakers with an external amp in a few ways:

  • Simplicity: Active speakers require fewer components and cables, making them easier to set up and manage.
  • Optimized sound: Built-in amplification and components are specifically designed for the speaker, which can result in better sound quality.
  • Cost: Active speakers tend to be more expensive than passive speakers. But once you factor in the cost of an external amplifier, the price difference may be minimal.

Pros and cons of active and passive speakers

We’ve given you an up close and personal view of both passive and active speakers. But how do they stack up against each other? It’s time to weigh the pros and cons of passive vs. active speakers. Grab some popcorn, and let’s turn into the battle between active and passive speakers to see which one emerges as the true champion for your audio needs.

Sound quality

While both active and passive speakers can deliver excellent sound quality, active speakers often have an advantage due to their optimized built-in components. However, passive speakers with a high-quality amplifier can also produce outstanding audio, and their flexible nature allows for more customization.

Flexibility and customization

Passive speakers offer more flexibility and customization options, as you can pair them with different amplifiers, allowing you to tweak your audio system to your preferences. Active speakers, on the other hand, have fixed, built-in components, which limits your ability to mix and match components.

Ease of setup and use

Active speakers are generally easier to set up and use, as they require fewer components and cables. They also eliminate the need to match amplifier and speaker specifications. Passive speakers, however, require more attention to detail during setup, as you’ll need to ensure compatibility between the speakers and amplifier.

Cost considerations

In terms of the cost, the difference between passive speakers and active speaker is pretty much a wash. Passive speakers on their own are almost always less expensive than active speakers. But then when you factor in the cost of an external amplifier, passive speakers tend to catch up or exceed the cost of active speakers. The ultimate difference really comes down to the quality of your chosen amplifier.

Space requirements

Active speakers can be more compact since they have built-in amplification, making them a suitable choice for smaller spaces. With passive speakers, in contrast, you’ll need added space for an external amplifier.

Troubleshooting common issues

Encountering problems with your speakers can be frustrating. Here are some solutions to common issues:

  • Connection issues: Ensure all cables are securely connected and in the correct ports. Check for damaged cables and replace them if necessary.
  • Buzzing or humming: Make sure the speaker cables aren’t too close to power cables, as this can cause interference. If the issue persists, try using a different power outlet or a power conditioner to minimize electrical noise.
  • Distortion or poor sound quality: Ensure your audio source is of high quality, and your amplifier is properly matched to your passive speakers. Check the speaker settings, including bass and treble levels, and adjust them to correct the problem. If you’re using active speakers, verify that they aren’t overloading the built-in amplifier by reducing the volume or adjusting the input level.

Popular brands and models

To help you on your speaker journey, here are some reputable brands and models for both passive and active speakers:

Passive speaker brand and models

  • Klipsch: Known for their iconic horn-loaded tweeters, Klipsch offers a wide range of passive speakers, such as the RP-600M, which is suitable for both music and home theater setups.
  • ELAC: The ELAC Debut 2.0 B6.2 is an affordable option that delivers impressive sound quality and value for money.
  • Polk Audio: The Polk Audio Signature Series S15 is a compact yet powerful passive speaker, ideal for small to medium-sized rooms.

Active speaker brands and models

  • Audioengine: The Audioengine A5+ is a versatile active speaker that can connect to various devices, offering a well-rounded listening experience.
  • Edifier: The Edifier R1280T is an affordable and stylish option for those looking for plug-and-play convenience (related: Edifier R1280T Powered Bookshelf Speakers Review).
  • Kanto: The Kanto YU6 is a feature-packed active speaker with Bluetooth, a built-in phono preamp, and a subwoofer output for added flexibility.


As our audio odyssey reaches its end, let’s reflect on the differences between passive and active speakers. Only you can decide the best choice for your individual needs and preferences. 

Whether you’re drawn to the customizable world of passive speakers or the plug-and-play simplicity of active ones, understanding the nuances of these two types of speakers will help you make an informed decision. So go forth, embrace your inner audiophile, and create the perfect audio system for a listening experience that’s truly music to your ears.

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