Powered vs Passive Speakers – Which is Better?

Last updated on: 9-21-18
Answer: neither, really. Passive speakers will generally give more power and value per dollar, but the overall cost and effort of set up is higher. Active speakers are simpler and convenient, often able to plug in and play right out of the box. The better choice will depend on your situation and priorities.

One of the most common things people ask when buying speakers is what’s the difference between active (otherwise called powered) and passive speakers, and which is better?

The answer is neither – they’re just different. Each design has its situational strengths and weaknesses. The best choice for you will depend on what your situation and priorities are.

First, what is an active or passive speaker? What’s the difference between the two?

Well, all speakers require power to move a magnet, which moves a driver/woofer, which moves air to reproduce… you guessed it… sound!

All speakers need to be “told” what to play by what’s called a source, and the problem is most sources, such as a computer or smart phone for example, can’t send a powerful enough signal to move the speaker magnets enough to generate sufficient volume. That’s where an amplifier comes in, an essential sound system component that increases the power coming out of the source enough to make the speakers sufficiently loud.

Active speakers have amplifiers built into them, whereas passive speakers do not. Active speakers power themselves, so to speak, whereas passive speakers require an external amplifier to power them.

The major advantage of powered speakers is simplicity and convenience – they can plug right in and be ready to go. This makes setting up a pair of computer speakers, for example, as easy as possible. Or consider outdoor speakers as another example – you don’t have to worry about running speaker wire to a receiver indoors.

The major advantage of passive speakers is value – most speakers on the market are passive, and you’ll usually get maximum quality and volume for your dollar with them. Residential grade passive speakers also tend to go much bigger, louder, and more powerful than powered speakers will.

If you’re looking for something that’s inexpensive, simple, and convenient, then we’d say powered speakers will probably be your best bet.

Otherwise, if you’re looking to really invest in a high quality home theater system that can sound as amazing as possible, then we’d say your best bet is to invest in a nice receiver that can power high potential passive speakers and a subwoofer.