Studio monitors come in different sizes, designs and even function. Contrary to popular belief, not all speakers are created equal and not all serve the same function or purpose. So, when buying a studio monitor, when does one buy an active or a passive one? And in the battle of active vs passive studio monitors, which will win? If you are looking to purchase studio monitors, then here are the basics.
What Are Studio Monitors?
Before we discuss the main differences between a passive and an active studio monitor, one first has to understand what a studio monitor is.
Studio monitors are loudspeakers that are enclosed. They are designed for professional audio recording and production activities such as filmmaking and studio recording. They can be also used for theater and home studios where one needs an accurate reproduction of sounds.
For audio engineers, the word “monitor” means that the speaker is made to produce linear or also known as flat responses. This means that the sound is close to being unaltered despite the shifting of frequencies.
Studio monitors are also more intricately designed than hi-fi home loudspeakers. This is because studio monitors handle sudden sound bursts and high volumes while home loudspeakers merely reproduce the recorded sounds.
Active vs Passive Studio Monitors: The Differences
The primary difference between a passive and an active speaker lies with the amplifier. Active speakers have built-in amplifiers that only require a battery or power source. On the other hand, passive ones need an external power amplifier to function. Simply put, active speakers do not require amplifiers while passive speakers need one.
Active speakers are basically an all-in-one system that can power the speakers similar to the combo amplifiers of bass players or guitarists. One can find the built-in amplifier inside the speaker cabinet. Users only need to connect the studio monitor to a power source or run on batteries, then feed a line-level signal into the speaker.
The active studio monitors on the market come in different designs and features as some have built-in mixers, microphone pre-amps, and EQ setting. These added features let musicians mix sound easily. That said, active studio monitors are perfect for DJs, bands, professional public orators as well as bar owners who want to play both pre-recorded music and live ones without too much hassle.
Passive speakers, on the other hand, are designed differently since they need separate mixers or amplifiers to work. This kind also needs a cable so that one can transfer sound from the amplifier to the speaker.
Unlike the active studio monitors, passive ones are not all-in-one speaker system, and as such, users have to ensure that the amplifier and speakers are compatible with each other. It is important to check the power ratings and impedance as the failure to get the correct ones will result in blowing up the speakers or a dismal performance of the sound system.
Those opting for passive studio monitors can also connect a subwoofer by getting separate crossover components and installing them in either the amplifier or the speakers.
The Pros and Cons
Just like with any product, both studio monitors have their pros and cons. It is best to know them before purchasing either of the two.
Active Studio Monitors
There are a lot of advantages as well as disadvantages when getting active speakers.
- This studio monitor is great as an all-in-one solution, which means that users will only have to plug the line-level sound in and the speaker system is all set to use.
- In many cases, the amplifier is already tuned to the speakers, which results in getting the best sound straight from the speakers.
- One can make changes with active speakers, eliminating the need for a sound engineer as they can sculpt the sound.
- It is quick to set up and does not require technical know-how.
- Active speakers can be portable as many of them are battery-powered.
- Active studio monitors can be quite heavy since they contain built-in amplifiers.
- An engineer might be needed when the amplifier breaks down. One also needs to take the whole speaker to the shop for repairs and not just some parts as it is an all-in-one system.
- There is no swapping of the broken element either. Those with a broken system and need one will have to get a replacement altogether until the broken component, either the monitor or amplifier is fixed.
The Passive Studio Monitors
- One can upscale the operations easily since the amplifiers and speakers are separate. This means musicians can have an amplifier with four channels but with only two speakers. One can easily add more speakers to the sound system by matching the impedance and power ratings of the monitor and amplifier.
- One can upgrade either the speaker or amplifiers separately without having to replace the entire sound system.
- Passive studio monitors are lightweight and portable since they do not have amplifiers inside them. It is a good choice for those who are constantly on the road with their sound system.
- Matching the correct amplifier for the speaker can be quite tricky as one needs to know the right impedance and power ratings.
It All Depends on One’s Preferences
The difference between an active and passive studio monitor lies in their amplifiers. The former has built-in amplifiers while the latter has an external one.
There is no clear winner in the battle of active vs passive studio monitors. Each kind has its upside and downside. The main advantage of an active speaker is its ease of use as it is an all-in-one system. Using an active one also eliminates the need for complicated technical know-how and work.
This kind of studio monitor, however, is not portable given its built. Plus, repairing and maintaining it can be quite tedious as one cannot simply take out its components. The entire speaker has to be taken down by a qualified technician.
On the other hand, passive speakers are more versatile as one can vary their number of speakers and amplifiers. Maintaining them is also convenient since a broken amplifier or speaker can be replaced while it is under repair. However, matching the correct amplifier to the speaker can be quite difficult.