You Ask, We Answer: Powered vs. Passive Studio Monitors - EMusician

You Ask, We Answer: Powered vs. Passive Studio Monitors

Understanding the differences between passive and powered studio speakers
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A FRIEND OF MINE WHO HAS A ST UDIO SAYS HE WOULD NEVER USE POWERED ST UDIO MONITORS. ARE PASSIVE SPEAKERS BETTER THAN ACTIVE ONES?

BOB NORTH
MIAMI, FL
VIA EMAIL

Like anything having to do with audio playback, the answer depends on whom you ask. But ultimately, it comes down to how they sound to you.

One of the main reasons active monitors are popular is that they are convenient; no need to wire up separate components. In the best-case scenario, the amplifiers and speakers in an active monitor are designed to complement each other, with optimized crossovers, minimal distance in the wiring between components, as well as other design criteria. With a bi-amped monitor, the high- and low-frequency drivers each have their own amplifier. Although there is no fan noise, some models (particularly budget-priced ones) can be noisy in other ways (e.g., transformer hum or elevated levels of hiss).

Engineers who prefer passive models often like having control over the choice of components. And if the power amp is noisy or has a fan, it can be placed out of the way. Best of all, you can upgrade the amp and speakers separately to suit your needs and tastes. In addition, engineers who prefer passive setups often complain that active monitors have an uneven frequency response or that having the speaker and amplifier in one cabinet negatively affects audio performance.

Of course, sound quality is only part of the equation. Sometimes portability influences a decision, such as when the monitors need to be moved from one room to another in a school or studio, or easily carried between facilities. For example, a pair of Genelec 8010A or KRK VXT4 small-format powered monitors can be placed in a protective tote bag and, together, are small enough to go into the overhead bin of an airplane. That’s perfect if you know the response characteristics of your monitors and need a reliable reference wherever your jobs take you.

However, passive reference monitors can be just as portable. For example, the Reftone LD-1 is small full-range speaker that can be used in a mix room, video editing suite, or educational environment. They work with nearly any power amp, but when mated with a small amplifier/USB DAC such as the Topping TP30, they’re as easy to schlepp and set up as an active pair. THE EDITORS

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