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Active vs. Passive Speakers: What Are the Differences?

No matter what stage you are in your record collecting journey, chances are you are on the lookout for ways to improve your setup. Great gear takes your listening experience to the next level, doing justice to the great albums in your growing collection.

Whether it’s upgrading the cartridge on your turntable, picking up a new preamp, or just grabbing some handy record cleaning supplies, getting new, useful gear is an exciting and rewarding aspect of the record collecting experience.

To Enjoy Your Records, You’ll Need Great Speakers

One of the most important parts of your record listening setup is your speakers. The speakers that you pair with your turntable can have a huge impact on the sound quality that you get out of your records. When you listen to records on subpar speakers, you can lose some of the fidelity that makes vinyl such a special format. To enjoy records to the fullest, you definitely need great speakers. However, choosing the best pair to combine with your turntable and the rest of your audio gear can be a challenge.

This post is all about the two primary types of speakers that you will encounter on your vinyl collecting journey – active and passive. These two types of speakers both have different pros and cons for vinyl lovers, and both are worth knowing about. 

Deciding which type of speaker is best for you is one of the freedoms that you get to enjoy when assembling your listening setup. With some important info, you can make an informed decision between active and passive speakers and make your records sound great.

Upgrading Your Vinyl Gear: It’s About The Journey, Not The Destination 

When you are first getting started with building your vinyl listening setup, the amount of terminology there is to learn, gear there is to pick up, and albums there are to collect can feel staggering and overwhelming. The world of record collecting is wide, rich, and full of devoted listeners who swear by the format. 

There’s a lot to learn, without a doubt, but it’s about the journey, not the destination. You are never “done” with collecting records or building your dream audio setup. Part of the joy of record collecting is learning more and more as you go about not only your favorite artists and albums but about the gear you use to enjoy them as well.

Remember, when you are new to record collecting, don’t let snobby elitists convince you that you can’t enjoy vinyl simply because you don’t have their caliber of equipment or experience. As with any hobby that has a devoted following, there are “gatekeepers” who can make record collecting seem exclusive and members-only. Fortunately, a love for vinyl is anything but exclusive. Great albums can be enjoyed by anyone, and everyone wants to listen to music in the best way possible.

Record collectors and vinyl enthusiasts often take different routes from each other in terms of how they combine gear to listen to their favorite albums. One vinyl collector may opt for a specific turntable and set of speakers to get the sound that they want, and another might go in the opposite direction with a different setup. 

When it comes to speakers, turntables, preamps, and other vinyl-listening gear, there are pros and cons to the many varieties of each. Some audiophiles may tell you that active speakers are inherently better than passive speakers, or vice versa, but ultimately there’s good and bad with each.

Your Turntable Needs Amplification To Make Sound

Your turntable is equipped with a cartridge, which holds the needle, or stylus. The stylus is made of unrefined diamond, and it reads the grooves etched into your vinyl records, producing vibrations. The cartridge contains a magnet, which translates the vibrations picked up by the stylus into an electrical current.

The current generated by the vibrations from the stylus on your turntable reading the grooves in a vinyl record is converted into an electrical signal by a small coil in your turntable’s cartridge. This electrical signal does not create audible sound – your turntable needs amplification for you to hear the sound waves from your records.

When you are deciding between active and passive speakers for your turntable, one of the most important things to consider is what features are included in your turntable in terms of built-in amplification. 

Some turntables include a built-in preamp. A preamp translates the electrical signal produced by your turntable’s cartridge to make it audible but still requires speakers to make sound. If your turntable includes a built-in preamp, your setup may be better suited to include passive speakers – we’ll talk more about why in a few paragraphs.

If your turntable does not include a built-in preamp, you will either need to use an external preamp in your audio setup or use speakers that include a built-in preamp. The preamp can be in your turntable, a standalone device, or a feature in your speakers. As with many other aspects of your vinyl listening setup, there are pros and cons to each mechanism of amplification. 

Some turntables include not only a built-in preamp but built-in speakers as well. When you want to get the best sound quality out of your turntable, though, external speakers are the way to go. The speakers included in a turntable are usually not powerful or high-quality enough to produce satisfactory sound. If you plan on only casually listening to records on occasion and mainly enjoy them for their collectibility and aesthetic beauty, an entry-level turntable with built-in speakers can be a viable option. 

Active Speakers 

As you might have already guessed, active speakers include built-in preamps, meaning all you need to do to get sound from your turntable is connect your speakers and plug them into power. Active speakers need power from internal batteries or a wall plug to run, whereas passive speakers simply receive a signal from your preamp and turntable to generate sound. 

One of the big benefits of using active speakers to listen to your records is that they eliminate the need for an external preamp. If you go with passive speakers, you will either need a turntable that includes a built-in preamp, or you will need to get an external preamp to include in your setup. If you want to keep the number of items required to listen to your records to a minimum, opting for active speakers can be a big help.

Active speakers can be used with turntables that do not include built-in preamps. However, some vinyl fans will still opt to use an external preamp or get a turntable with one built-in for the sake of sound quality.

One potential con of choosing active speakers is that they can often be bulkier and clunkier than active ones. This extra weight is due to the presence of additional electronics in active speakers that active speakers do not have. If you want the most lightweight setup possible and already have a preamp either in your turntable or separate from it, passive speakers can be a great option for you. 

Passive Speakers

Passive speakers do not include built-in preamps. This means that to use them in your vinyl listening setup, you will need either a turntable with a built-in preamp or an external preamp linked to your turntable and your speakers. 

The absence of a built-in preamp makes passive speakers much lighter than their preamp-equipped active counterparts. In addition, passive speakers run independently of power from batteries or a wall plug. Instead of using electricity or battery power, passive speakers pick up a signal from your external preamp and amplify it.

When you choose passive speakers, you can have some additional freedom in terms of how you customize your setup. Since passive speakers need an external preamp to run, you can combine your speakers of choice with a preamp of your choosing as well. Hand-picking each component in your vinyl listening setup can be rewarding and fun. 

In addition, keeping each component (speakers, preamp, and turntable) separate from each other gives you a modular configuration for listening to vinyl that is easy to modify and customize. Starting out with passive speakers, an independent external preamp, and a high-quality turntable may be an investment, but it can give you exceptional sound quality and leaves room for easy upgrades later on.

Ultimately, the biggest drawback of passive speakers is their dependence on other gear to provide amplification for your turntable. Without a preamp in your record player or an independent, external preamp, passive speakers cannot receive power or make sound.

When you are putting together your vinyl record setup, enjoy the process and take your time. Examining and comparing different types of turntables, speakers, preamps, and other gear is one of the best ways to make vinyl collecting and listening your own. Vinyl is a highly personalizable music listening format, and there is plenty of gear and awesome records to geek out about – you won’t run out of new gear and albums to explore and enjoy any time soon!


Sources:

https://mashable.com/2012/12/20/dj-turntable/

https://electronics.howstuffworks.com/record-player.htm

https://www.livescience.com/33793-record-players-work.html

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