Your Guide to Buying Passive vs. Active Speakers

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Your Guide to Buying Passive vs. Active Speakers

Speakers are an integral part of both audio systems and home theatres, available in a myriad of shapes, sizes and specifications to suit the specific needs and applications. Indoor speakers are usually less powerful and slightly more aesthetic as they focus on rendering the best sound effects for closed spaces; this again depends on personal preference. However, outdoor speakers tend to be more powerful as their output will have to reach out to a wide audience amidst all the noise in an open setting. It is important to understand the basic structure and function of speakers to make an informed decision while shopping for speakers.

Speaker Structure

A typical speaker structure comprises of an enclosure or an outer casing that holds the drivers or sound generators in place. Drivers are the round, conical structures made from plastic, metal, or even paper which are fixed to the enclosure. They vibrate based on the electrical impulses conveyed through the system to generate a particular frequency of sound. Accordingly, there are three different types of drivers.



Frequency (in Hertz)



Treble (High)




Bass (Low)

< 200




200 - 2000


Speakers usually have multiple drivers to play sound across multiple frequencies as there is no single driver that caters to the entire sound spectrum. Ideally, two-way speakers support a woofer and a tweeter on the same enclosure, and three-way speakers accommodate all the three drivers on one unit. There are speakers that come with more than one tweeter or woofer that serve to enhance the sound effects. The main purpose of speakers is to enhance the acoustic experience by boosting or amplifying the output from an audio system. Depending on their capacity to amplify sound, speakers are classified as active or passive.

What are Active Speakers?

Active speakers are usually characterised by an in-built amplifier and are ideal for home use. These speakers can be connected by a single low-line cable from a pre-amplifier unit. Active speakers may come with one or more amplifiers to power the drivers on the system. Contrary to popular belief, active speakers can also comprise amplifiers and cross over components positioned outside the enclosure to create the acoustic effects needed to address a larger space. Output to each driver in this case is powered by a separate external amplifier, allowing for greater flexibility in managing the output.

What are Passive Speakers?

A majority of speakers available in the market are passive. They do not have an in-built amplifier and need to be connected to a separate amplifier using the speaker cord. Signals received at the speaker are powerful enough to render the sound without any amplification. Passive speakers are for people who know their job well as they require expertise in matching the speaker with the right amplifier so that the voice coils do not burn out. Again, tweaking amplifiers to generate more volume than their capacities also cause these units to fry out.

Active vs. Passive Speakers

There are several factors, ranging from the comfort level of the user to the price and purpose that determine the kind of speakers that best meet the requirement. Here is a quick comparison that may speed up the choice.






Both Novice and Expert




Both Indoors and Outdoors

Both Indoors and Outdoors




Average – High



In-built, can support external amplifier and cross over components.

Supports only external amplifier and cross over components.



Costly to scale as the set of components are designed to work together and cannot be independently replaced. However, the components are designed to function well in unison.

Both speakers and amplifiers can be independently upgraded to achieve the required acoustic effect. However, amplifiers are usually over-built to support a wide range of speakers and, hence, come with an added price. It is, however, cost-effective to experiment with the settings.


Energy Efficiency

Relatively higher

Tendency to dissipate heat and, hence, may lose up to 30% of the amplifier’s power in the process.


Ease of use


Complex set up


Sound Quality

Relatively better

Depends on the expertise of the person who tunes the system.



Simple – Direct connection from the controller to the speaker.

Requires to route the connection from the controller to an amplifier, and from there on to the speaker.


Understanding Powered Speakers

Powered speakers are those with built-in amplifiers. They are usually compact, portable, easy-to-use, and select models support wireless speaker features by virtue of amplifiers being built into the device. Speakers with passive cross-over components can still be powered using an external amplifier. Karaoke enthusiasts and potential DJs, though, will have to necessarily start experimenting with cost-effective yet feature-rich equipment to hone their skills on working with acoustic equipment. With a basic idea on active and passive speakers in place, let us look at the types of speakers commonly available in terms of categories and pole positions.

Categories of Active and Passive Speakers

All fashionable speaker models that trend in the marketplace fall under four basic categories.

Floor Standing

Pedestals or tall speaker enclosures standing on the floor. Often adorn outdoor performances and even home theatre spaces. They can handle almost all frequency ranges, including bass, in the absence of a woofer.



Used to augment low frequency sound. Bulky woofers with large drivers are usually placed on the floor.



Adorning shelves and racks, satellite speakers are designed to enhance midrange and treble frequency, transmitting clear sounds usually closer to or in line with the ear level.



The main difference here is the small speakers, similar to bookshelf speakers in size, frequency, and positioning, are mounted on the wall enclosures or special fixtures. They are not portable.


Pole Positions on Active and Passive Speakers

Pole positions simply represent the direction in which the drivers are located on an enclosure. Drivers may, in fact, be located on one or more sides of the enclosure.

Monopole Speaker

One or more drivers on the speakers - all face the audience. Most common in home theatre systems and stage performances.


Bipole Speaker

Drivers are located on opposite sides of the speaker and work synchronously. Used for surround sound effects.


Dipole Speaker

Similar to the bipole variant, while the drivers work out of phase with each other.


Omnipole Speaker

Designed to transmit sound across all directions, this model is intended for outdoor use.


Select Bipole and Dipole models allow the user to switch from one mode to another.

How to find Active Speakers or Passive Speakers on eBay

Head to the eBay homepage and quickly search for “active speakers” by keying in the search term. Active speakers are usually listed under Sound and Vision, Home Audio & HiFi Separates, Musical Instruments or Vehicle Parts and Accessories categories. Select the following path: Sound and Vision; Performance & DJ Equipment; Speakers and Monitors (or) Home Audio & HiFi Separates; Speakers and SubWoofers option (or) Musical Instrument; Pro Audio Equipment; Speakers and Monitors (or) Vehicle Parts and Accessories; Vehicle Parts & Accessories; GPS & In-Car Technology to find a suitable speaker. Use appropriate options to refine the selection and narrow down on the required product. Shoppers may also select any of these specific categories to find a suitable active speaker. Search for “passive speakers” by typing out the search term and browse across all categories. Passive speakers are listed under Sound and Vision and Musical Instruments category. Get to Sound and Vision; Performance & DJ Equipment; Speakers and Monitors option (or) Musical Instruments; Pro Audio Equipment; Speakers and Monitors to view the available passive speakers. As seen earlier, active speakers are the ideal choice for home entertainment and vehicles. They are easy to install and can be used without much complexity involved in the process although prices may be higher. A few active and passive speakers on eBay are also available with free shipping offers. It is important for shoppers to verify the credibility of the seller before buying the product.


Choosing the right active or passive speaker often makes a great difference in the quality of sound, heavily influencing the effect of a favorable piece of music or even a movie in a home environment. Budding DJs, however, will have to pay more attention to the quality and usability of their acoustic equipment to conduct an event in professional style. Ability to mix and match components in a cost-effective manner to scale up their performances should matter most when selecting active or passive speakers to suit the DJ needs. However, passive speakers, though common and priced relatively lower than the active models, are intended for users who have a fair understanding of the nuances of working with sound circuits. Inefficient handling or experimentation with both active and passive speakers may prove expensive.

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