Powered Versus Passive Speakers

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Joe Frances

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Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« on: 15 Nov 2018, 10:50 pm »
Who among us would feel sufficiently expert (perhaps other than Jim and Dennis) to opine on whether: (1) powered speakers are the "future" of audio?; or (2) powered speakers have already passed passive speakers in terms of the market and ease of use? or (3) powered speakers are for "easy listening" and will never, or not in our lifetimes, replace passive speakers with good amplification and cables and whatnot for high quality audiophile listening; or finally (4) we don't know where this is all going.

I admit, as an old dog trying to learn a new trick, I am lost in the tech jungle.  My own bias is that powered speakers are no fun when you think about all the gizmos you can spend/waste money on.  And besides wouldn't the last remaining audio magazines go out of business? This is a bit tongue in cheek.

Thanks.

Joe

Branson4020

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #1 on: 15 Nov 2018, 11:00 pm »
Does "powered" also imply "wireless?"

charmerci

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #2 on: 16 Nov 2018, 12:50 am »
I've been semi-interested is his Powerplay monitors for a long time, but it's a bit pricey in my budget.


Does anyone here have them or have listened to them?

Openly Baffled

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #3 on: 16 Nov 2018, 02:59 am »
Hi Joe, I don’t feel sufficiently expert, but do have an opinion ;)

I think that increased use of active crossovers in high-end speaker design will lead to increasing availability of high end “powered speakers”.

Multi-channel amplification for active crossovers places additional gain and phase matching requirements between channels that makes end-user supplied amplifiers problematic. Most active crossover speaker systems are therefore either powered (integrated amp) or supplied with dedicated external amps.

I’m sure many will dislike the loss of control and ability to select speaker cables etc. but IMO the end result is better as the speaker designer is best placed to select an ideal matching amplifier and speaker cables become so short as to be almost irrelevant. (I heard a gasp!)

If you then digitally couple the powered speakers to the music data source you get rid of a plethora of signal quality issues that otherwise cost a lot of money to avoid in analog systems. (I heard another gasp!)

Clearly, I’m not precious about maintaining an analog signal chain.

To sum up and address your questions: yes, I think powered speakers will have an increasing presence in the high-end audio market, they are certainly easy to use and while they are great for “easy listening”, I can see no reason they could not sit amongst the worlds best loudspeakers given the right component pedigree.

Please be kind ;)

Early B.

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #4 on: 16 Nov 2018, 03:12 am »
I'm surprised powered speakers haven't already taken off due to advances in Class D amplification and wireless technology. I would love to simplify my system to a point where there's just a pair of high quality powered speakers and a phone app.   

zoom25

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #5 on: 16 Nov 2018, 03:18 am »
There are already high-end active speakers out there by companies such as PSI Audio, ATC, PMC, Genelec, Kii Three, Grimm, Barefoot, Quested, certain Genelec/Focal/Neumann/Adam models. All of these have a solid base in high-end studios, but they can also be used in home environment for playback. You can get nearfields to midfields to massive mains, all at a high-end level. Some of these very pricey as well!

Early B.

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #6 on: 16 Nov 2018, 03:44 am »
There are already high-end active speakers out there by companies such as PSI Audio, ATC, PMC, Genelec, Kii Three, Grimm, Barefoot, Quested, certain Genelec/Focal/Neumann/Adam models. All of these have a solid base in high-end studios, but they can also be used in home environment for playback. You can get nearfields to midfields to massive mains, all at a high-end level. Some of these very pricey as well!

Audiophiles typically don't invest in studio monitors for lots of reasons. Danny at GR Research just started discussing the design of powered studio monitors for both the studio engineer and audiophiles:  https://www.audiocircle.com/index.php?topic=160647.0

witchdoctor

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #7 on: 16 Nov 2018, 05:40 pm »
Who among us would feel sufficiently expert (perhaps other than Jim and Dennis) to opine on whether: (1) powered speakers are the "future" of audio?; or (2) powered speakers have already passed passive speakers in terms of the market and ease of use? or (3) powered speakers are for "easy listening" and will never, or not in our lifetimes, replace passive speakers with good amplification and cables and whatnot for high quality audiophile listening; or finally (4) we don't know where this is all going.

I admit, as an old dog trying to learn a new trick, I am lost in the tech jungle.  My own bias is that powered speakers are no fun when you think about all the gizmos you can spend/waste money on.  And besides wouldn't the last remaining audio magazines go out of business? This is a bit tongue in cheek.

Thanks.

Joe

Hey Joe, I have been using powered speakers for about 15 years and would recommend them for so many reasons.
All you need to do is get down to a local Guitar Center and listen for yourself. You will save $$$$ on separate amps and speaker wire. Here sia pic of my 14.1 Auro 3D setup with all paradigm Reference Active speakers. If I were shopping today I would head straight to the local Guitar Center and start auditioning active monitors from JBL and Yamaha.








 

witchdoctor

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #8 on: 16 Nov 2018, 05:46 pm »
BTW, I have 13 active speakers in my system. Each one is biamped, separate internal amps for the woofer and the tweeter. That is 26 channels of amplification. I can't imagine being able to have a system like this if I had to buy four 7 channel amps and run all that speaker wire. I just have a single Mogami XLR cable run from my Marantz pre/pro to each speaker.

jsalk

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #9 on: 16 Nov 2018, 06:59 pm »
This is an interesting topic and one I have spent a good deal of time contemplating.

My first pair of powered monitors were Genelec's purchased in the mid-80's for my recording studio.  I was amazed both at their performance and the simplicity of using a self-powered monitor.  But for us, the product potential, at this point in time, is simply not there.

Every once and a while we get an email or call from someone living in an efficiency apartment in New York (or elsewhere).  They don't have room for a rack of equipment and not much room for speakers either.  So I thought that if we developed a self-powered monitor, there might be a market for it.

The first thing I noticed when working on this design (PowerPlay Monitors) was that the frequency response we were able to obtain was flatter than any speaker we had ever done.



We could create filters for every dip and peak in the response curve and generate a far flatter plot than possible with a more standard passive crossover design.

This monitor allows a customer to plug in a TV, CD Player and computer into the monitors and they would automatically switch to the input providing a signal.  The volume could also be controlled with a remote.  (In my setup, I have a StreamPlayer hooked to the PowerPlay Monitors via USB and that is all I need for a music playback system.)

Soon after finishing the design, we brought a pair to a local audiophile group meeting.  When we brought them in, most attendees were less-than-enthused about the concept.  When we played them, however, attitudes changed dramatically.  But yet, no one seemed to be willing to ditch their DAC/Preamp/Amp setup to move in this direction.

So far, I can count the pairs of PowerPlay Monitors we have sold on zero fingers...we haven't sold any, despite the fact that they are the most accurate monitors we have done to date and perfect for the application I had in mind.

I had a discussion on the topic about a year ago with a customer who happens to be a lawyer in NYC.  He suggested showing them at the Bronx Flea Market.  He thought if you sold a set of self-powered speakers to someone living in an apartment complex, that customer would play them for other tenants and, before long, everyone in that complex would want a pair.  It is all about "lifestyle."  I tend to agree with his assessment. The market for self-powered speakers is the "lifestyle" market, not the audiophile market. 

Self-powered monitors are well accepted in the recording industry.  But recording engineers do not necessarily hang out on audiophile sites either.  So you have the studio market and the lifestyle market - neither of which we currently do business in.

I think that, in the future, speakers will tend to be self-powered.  It just makes sense.  But the audiophile world is not quite ready to fully embrace the concept.  They want their favorite DAC, their preamp and their amp, and it will take a while for this to change. So we will continue to do one-off self-powered designs, but for the next few years, it is probably not anything we will promote.  Our current customer base has relatively little interest in this product segment.

At least that is the way we see from here.

- Jim


witchdoctor

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #10 on: 16 Nov 2018, 11:15 pm »
Jim thanks for that. It kind of confirms that even though I have gone against the grain building my system active it is a very good choice. I would much prefer an engineer like you pick all the components for me, synergize and optimize them into a "system", test it and let me buy it off the shelf for LESS money than I could build it from separates myself.
 

Early B.

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #11 on: 16 Nov 2018, 11:41 pm »
The market for self-powered speakers is the "lifestyle" market, not the audiophile market. 

Well, there you go. This statement says it all.

In the "lifestyle" market, their primary concern isn't squeezing out the last 1% of audio fidelity. They care about small size, ease of use, and moderate cost. Audiophiles want big stuff (floor standing speakers, huge monoblocks, etc.), complicated setups (lots of separate components, ICs and PCs), and relatively higher costs (the lifestylers would never pay $1,500 for a power cord).


 

charmerci

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #12 on: 17 Nov 2018, 12:05 am »

So far, I can count the pairs of PowerPlay Monitors we have sold on zero fingers...we haven't sold any, despite the fact that they are the most accurate monitors we have done to date and perfect for the application I had in mind.
- Jim


 :o


Well, that answers my question!

Joe Frances

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #13 on: 17 Nov 2018, 02:30 am »
Hi Joe, I don’t feel sufficiently expert, but do have an opinion ;)

I think that increased use of active crossovers in high-end speaker design will lead to increasing availability of high end “powered speakers”.

Multi-channel amplification for active crossovers places additional gain and phase matching requirements between channels that makes end-user supplied amplifiers problematic. Most active crossover speaker systems are therefore either powered (integrated amp) or supplied with dedicated external amps.

I’m sure many will dislike the loss of control and ability to select speaker cables etc. but IMO the end result is better as the speaker designer is best placed to select an ideal matching amplifier and speaker cables become so short as to be almost irrelevant. (I heard a gasp!)

If you then digitally couple the powered speakers to the music data source you get rid of a plethora of signal quality issues that otherwise cost a lot of money to avoid in analog systems. (I heard another gasp!)

Clearly, I’m not precious about maintaining an analog signal chain.

To sum up and address your questions: yes, I think powered speakers will have an increasing presence in the high-end audio market, they are certainly easy to use and while they are great for “easy listening”, I can see no reason they could not sit amongst the worlds best loudspeakers given the right component pedigree.

Please be kind ;



I will be kind.  Thank you for your thoughts on the subject.  I, for one, am merely curious as I have been back into audio for about a year now, and I am trying to assess where to put my money, for the best long-term "pleasuarability" benefit, if I can make up that word.  I still love separates, and all the accoutrement of audio, but I started in this hobby back when turntables and tone arms and cartridges were all the rage.  I think for a two-channel "purist" passive is still the way to go.  But I wanted to find out if I was all wrong on that front.  This has been a really good dialogue.

EkW

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #14 on: 17 Nov 2018, 03:21 am »
I am surprised at the lack f Powerplay sales. I went with Kef LS 50Ws because I was familiar with the sound of the passive version and could get a deal to on a used pair. I like not having to mess with the big amp an preamp and lots of cables. I almost got some Kii Threes (used) last year but lacked the funds so bought the Kefs instead. I have a pair of active Quad monitors for my keyboard and a set of Emotive Airmotivs for casual vinyl playback with and old B&O table. Makes for a simple, clean system. Active seems like the future. Options for active crossovers might be a good way to ease the way towards more widespread acceptance among audiophiles.

witchdoctor

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #15 on: 17 Nov 2018, 04:42 am »
Well, there you go. This statement says it all.

In the "lifestyle" market, their primary concern isn't squeezing out the last 1% of audio fidelity. They care about small size, ease of use, and moderate cost. Audiophiles want big stuff (floor standing speakers, huge monoblocks, etc.), complicated setups (lots of separate components, ICs and PCs), and relatively higher costs (the lifestylers would never pay $1,500 for a power cord).

...and audiophiles would rather pay $10K for the pleasure of playing mad scientist with boxes and wires than get a streamer and a set of salk power monitors for less than half the dough. Makes sense to me :scratch:

Early B.

Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #16 on: 17 Nov 2018, 01:07 pm »
...and audiophiles would rather pay $10K for the pleasure of playing mad scientist with boxes and wires than get a streamer and a set of salk power monitors for less than half the dough. Makes sense to me :scratch:

The pursuit of an audiophile is an expensive hobby. It's not supposed to make sense.

JLM

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #17 on: 17 Nov 2018, 04:18 pm »
First allow me to define "active" versus "powered" speakers.  Powered speakers are similar to passive (the type of speakers found in most home audio systems), except that they have the amp mounted inside the speaker.  Active speakers have one channel of amplification connected directly to each driver and the crossover is schematically located between the preamp/source and those amplifiers.  The Sales are active.

Active design allows for the crossover to be low voltage and as such can be much more sophisticated, even incorporating DSP plus the amps "see", and can react to, the driver load much better (and more efficiently).  Both active and powered design allow the manufacturer (who is in a much better position) to pick or even design the amps and both eliminate the need for speaker cables.

I've used single driver speakers (active by default) for 14 years and have drifted into active studio monitors the past couple of years.  Of course 99% your music has been recorded, mixed, and mastered on active speakers.  While the purpose of home listening is enjoyment, the purpose of studio listening is to develop as quickly as possible the best, most accurate recording of the performance as deemed by trained ears.  Before you approach active speakers you should ask yourself if you're ready for the truth because that's what studio gear is all about, versus home gear which is about entertainment and frankly gear lust.

Currently I own JBL 708P 2-way reference studio monitors that list for $2000 each.  Not inexpensive but includes two 250 watt amps, 12 adjustable DSP settings, DAC (for professional digital input/output), and more.  They use an in-house 1 inch compression tweeter mounted in a specially designed waveguide for controlled dispersion and a 8 inch ported in-house woofer.  Being part of the Harmon family and having been around for over 50 years they have incredible resources available and are about as far from DIY or small time shops as you can get - totally professional.  Note that the 708P has cheaper cousins that sound remarkably good starting at $300/pair and a more expensive floor stander of the same family, the M2 that retails for $12,000/pair.

Getting back to the gear lust issue you brought up to start this thread, my system is fairly simple: server, DAC/preamp/streamer, subs, and the JBL's connected with a USB cable and XLR's.  That's a turn off for gearheads and a stumbling block for audiophile acceptance who want to pick all their pieces, have a trophy case full of fancy looking equipment, and pick out lots of fat/expensive cables. 

If it's been awhile since you where involved in the day to day audio discussions, allow me to introduce a couple more modern concepts: importance of the room and speaker/listener setup.  IMO after speakers, the room is the second most important "component" of any system.  Proper shape and decent size are essential, no cubes and bigger the better.  Of course sound insulation and access to the private use of the room go without saying.  Setup should allow for minimizing front/side wall echo for the speakers and back wall echo for the listener. 

ctviggen

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #18 on: 17 Nov 2018, 05:24 pm »
Part of the reason for the failure of those speakers is because people don't use speakers like that.  I have all my "stuff" running through a receiver, and that receiver then controls the sound through the speakers, switches inputs, etc.  To route inputs to the actual speakers is problematic.  In my case, my speakers on the opposite side of the room from my gear (the speaker wire and HDMI cable for the TV go underneath the floor).  It was challenging enough to do that, and routing inputs to speakers would add a level of complexity to that. 

Even if you only have one input to the speakers, that input being driven from the receiver, this is a challenge too. Even if you use line out for the receiver (will my receiver do that?), you then have yet another control for the volume, for the speakers.

I think those speakers are a great idea, but a challenge for normal people to implement.

JonnyFive

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Re: Powered Versus Passive Speakers
« Reply #19 on: 17 Nov 2018, 06:56 pm »
I'm currently debating powered vs passive for a 3 way design Jim and Dennis are working on featuring the Be tweeter, AT mid, and 9.5" Satori driver with two 10" passive radiators.

I'm really planning on being done with swapping out speakers for a while (no, really, like really really).  That has me leaning towards passives.  Incorporating the active amp on the back of the active design increases the likelihood that the speaker won't last me 20 years or so.  If Hypex stops making that plate amp and one fails 5 years from now, I'd be stuck with a really nice piece of furniture until I could lug them to Jim or Dennis.  So I'm leaning passive, just so I can keep swapping amps out over the years. 

Am I crazy??

The other thing I read recommended for any active design is a capacitor in front of the tweeter to protect from any DC spikes from the plate amp.  So I guess in that way, passive designs offer some inherent protection already. 

-Jon