I realise there are many newbies coming into the audio industry and some will get lost on the different terms for the gear equipment. Among them is knowing the difference between active and passive studio monitor. Through this short guide, I will clarify what do the different types of studio monitors mean and which one is the best value for money. If you need specific model recommendations, please refer to my earlier guide on the best budget studio monitor under 300.
Passive studio monitors vs active
Before getting into powered studio monitor, I will focus on comparing these 2 model types first. The main difference between passive and active lies in the inclusion of amplifiers. For active studio monitors, the amplifier has already been in built into the speakers so it is a complete system. For passive models, amps are not included so you need to get your own. This is why they are also known as unpowered studio monitors.
So what is the benefit of having an built in amplifier?
- Save you the hassle of setting up the amp and studio monitor connection. For a newbie, this can be a huge benefit
- Avoid messy wiring
- High end active studio monitor produce better sound than passive model. However, do note this only implies to high end studio speakers. I will talk more about this topic later on
How about the cons?
- It is very difficult to upgrade your system since everything is built it
- The high end active studio monitors can be really pricey
Active vs passive studio monitors: sound comparison
Although there are more than 1 benefit to owning an active studio monitor, the most important still comes down to sound quality. I mentioned earlier that high end active studio speakers tend to sound better. This is because everything within the speakers have been optimized thus explaining the higher price. The optimization includes everything from amp’s power to driver, to the actual circuits used to even direct connections from amp to driver etc. All these optimizations help to achieve a sound quality that a newbie probably cannot duplicate via his or her DIY efforts.
However, this does not extend to budget studio speakers. In avoid to hit that kind of low price point, the manufacturers will reduce their optimization efforts and bring down the cost. This means the sound quality will not necessary be better than a passive studio monitor.
In fact, if you are thinking of buying a low end studio speaker, my advice is to get a passive model instead of an active one. First, the price is lower and second, it is easier to upgrade the amp as you become more familiarize on how to optimize the set up. The upgrade means your passive studio speakers may eventually produce better sounds than the budget active ones since the latter were not fully optimized and they can’t be upgraded.
If you need a recommendation, I think the following is a great passive studio speaker under 500. It is very affordable but provide solid quality.
Mackie CR 4 review
The Mackie brand has always been well received by the audio engineers. Its CR4 model is no exception. They are extrememly well built considering the cost but produces very solid sound outputs.
The interesting thing about the Mackie CR4 is that one speaker is active while the other is passive. You can connect the two via a cable such that the active one can powered the passive speaker, which means you don’t’ need to buy amps if you don’t want to. There is also a useful control that lets you switch easily between the 2 speakers so you can decide when to use what.
When it comes to sound, the Mackie CR4 can go pretty low when you compared to normal computer speakers. However, don’t expect professional studio level as these speakers can’t produce that kind of speakers, not at this price range. As I have mentioned, it is good for newbies to sharpen your audio engineering skills. It is also great if you want to use them for video editing purposes.
Active studio monitors vs powered
Now, we come to the section on powered vs active studio monitors. Both types are actually active studio speakers as they all come with amps built in. The difference between a truly active and a powered studio monitor is the number of amps. For a true active studio speaker, there is one amplifer for each driver so that usually means 2 amps. For powered studio speakers, there is only one amp but the input signals are split into 2 channels to feed the 2 speakers.
From this understand, we can see that the Mackie CR4 is actually a powered speaker, rather than a passive or a truly active one.
With a fuller understanding of what is the difference between active, passive and powered studio monitors, you are now in a better position to know what to purchase. Ultimately, it comes down to the amps and how optimized they are set up with your speakers.