Difference Between Active Studio Monitors and Passive Studio Monitors

Monitor speakers are one of the most important components of a studio. Their job is to provide a representation of your mixes, and to do it as accurately as possible. Your mixes must sound good anywhere: cars, headphones, PC and laptop speakers, and any other sound system. Well, good monitors are not designed to make your music sound good, but to represent the mix in the most realistic way. This requires an equal distribution of frequencies that should sound balanced, loud and clear no matter where they are played on.

Let’ say you’re looking for a new set of monitor speakers for your home studio. Sooner or later, you will have to make a choice between two options; active or passive monitor speakers. The most obvious question would be: which one is better? However, the answer is not that simple. It’s not a matter of which one is superior, they key to making the right choice is to understand their differences and advantages. Both of them have their pros and cons, and which one of them will work better for you also depends on the desired application, your needs, your budget, and your set up.

Difference between active and passive monitor speakers

The main difference between active and passive studio monitors is their source of amplification.

  • Active monitor speakers have a built in amplifier, this means they are self-powered and do not need a separate amp to power them.
  • Passive monitor speakers need an external source of power to function. They were invented before the active speakers and were the only option in the market.

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Pros and cons of passive monitor speakers

Pros:

  • If you have a high- quality amplifier you trust, you can use it to drive your audio system.
  • There is definitely more flexibility when setting up levels and EQ. If you know how to tune them, you can get amazing results.
  • They tend to cost less than powered speakers. Still, remember you need to buy the amp as well.

Cons:

  • They can be damaged easily if the amp delivers the wrong power level.
  • They take up more space.
  • Their setup tends to be more complicated then the one of active speakers.

Pros and cons of active monitor speakers:

Pros:

They take up less space since the amplifier is built in.
Configuration and installation is easier; everything is already wired and ready to function.
They are more reliable since they have all the components pre-matched for you.
They have a greater dynamic range.
Better fidelity

Cons:

They tend to be more expensive
Due to the built-in amplifier, loudspeaker enclosures are heavier
Need of a source of electrical power, this means it needs two cables instead of one.

More aspects to consider when choosing between active or passive monitor speakers

When buying passive monitor speakers, make sure to read the entire manufacturer’s instructions and specifications, and to avoid pushing the limitations the monitor speakers have, since they can be easily damaged. While active speakers have guaranteed compatibility and take up less space, if you have the right amplifier you can expand your EQ and leveling options with passive speakers. If you are running a complicated setup with many speakers, a separate amp will be very useful, so passive speakers would be your best bet. However, active monitor speakers are designed to work with less distortion levels, to produce a cleaner sound, and since they use bi-amping they do not require a passive crossover.

I personally prefer active monitor speakers, their practicality being the most important reason; my home studio is rather small and space is very valuable. Installation and settings are simple and straightforward. Active monitor speakers are the standard of many professional studios.

Again, this doesn’t mean active monitor speakers are better than passive speakers; they simply suit my needs better. As I said before, there are some instances where passive monitor speakers are the best option too, especially if you own a good amp to power them.

The best thing to do is research for yourself, test them in person and decide which ones suit your studio the best. Hopefully this article will help you with that decision.

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