I Was Considering Active, Then I Watched This ...


@erik_squires --

Kudos on your active center channel speaker achievement.

Without getting too much into the alleged technical merits of each design, the thing that passive speakers give me is the ability to chose a very colorful amplifier.

You can do that actively as well, any amp you want. I mean, if you’re going to go active and do the filter settings yourself anyway, I’d say the more compelling route - unless your main objective is to minimize the component count, and insofar you intend to go more all-out with an active approach - is to go outboard active and that way get to choose any of the components as you see fit; power amps, DSP, DAC - that is, any separate outboard component here. No different compared to a passive setup except more amps to the separate driver sections, and a DSP (instead of a passive ditto) to handle filter settings. It’s still, per definition, active configuration, certainly if the filtration is done prior to amplification on signal level.

I just built a fully active, DSP driven center channel. What did I get? Excellent off-axis frequency response and massive dynamic range (comparable to ATC’s claimed figures) in a compact package along with objectively neutral frequency response which doesn’t mind being on a shelf while avoiding the need for yet another amplifier in my rack. Much as I love my Luxman integrated, I keep asking myself if I wouldn’t rather make 2 more active speakers and reduce my combined HT/stereo setup to 1 processor instead.

If you really want to pick your amp, go with passive. If you want to pick a speaker and not have to worry about your amp, go with active, but in no case should you pick speaker A over speaker B based on which of these types they are.

Your premise rests on the notion of limiting active configuration to a bundled solution with plate amps vs. the free choice of any amp passively. As such your "strong opinions" only cover so much of the actual potential of active to make it a worthwhile, more nuanced take comparing it to passive iterations. And that’s just with a center speaker. Imagine taking the next step to the main speakers.

From a certain perspective there’s some merit to your boldfaced part, in that actively the choice amp is less of a deal since the exclusion of a passive filter between amp and speaker frees up the workload of the amp considerably, and thereby maximizes its potential. This shaves off power requirement and harnesses better overall sound quality.
The choice of amp still makes a difference though, and although less so to my ears (compared to passive) it’s still a vital tweaking parameter with outboard active, that actually offers you this opportunity, instead of being stuck with a limited range of plate amps in a bundled solution.

In relation to pre-assembled active speakers the compelling reasons for a manufacturer to go bundled shouldn’t, and couldn’t necessarily apply similarly to the DIY segment. Coming down to it I’ll maintain DIY’ers and manufacturers are limiting themselves with a bundled approach only.

In the consumer world there are a lot of benefits to active speakers we may not care about. Dynamic range and power loss for instance. In the pro world we need every watt, and active crossovers deliver that. In the home world we are fine losing many DB’s of output due to massively overbought amps. 😀 That is, I can point to some technical benefits of active crossovers/speakers which are true, but perhaps irrelevant?

Depends on your benchmark. You want more headroom freeing up the amps (with less distortion to boot) and controlling the drivers more effectively, active makes a significant difference - not only in a pro environment, and not only providing more decibels; sonically, at all levels, the takeaway is there to savor as well.

As a consumer, do you really care that building a DSP crossover is much easier (not easy!) than passive, since we aren’t swapping parts in and out during the prototype phase? Not really. Does the digital time delay and off-axis frequency response matter to you? Most passive speakers do an excellent job with horizontal dispersion. The center I built though needed excellent vertical as well as horizontal dispersion, and that’s a feature I could only really consider in active/DSP configuration. Point is, a lot of the technical differences vanish for most of us.

Apart from the advantages I’ve mentioned earlier, DSP filter parameters with active config. matter a lot to me, also integrating subs. Actually integrating subs without the intricacy of parameters offered by a separate, quality DSP is severely hampered, from my point of view.

Having an active speaker with DSP doesn’t necessarily mean they let you adjust it for your room. You can use the DSP just for the crossover, like you would an active speaker.

This is an important point that I’ve raised quite a few times myself.

@phusis  Thanks, but in the interest of staying with the OP's topic, I'm NOT discussing the use of external crossovers and amps. 

Not only was that not mentioned in his post, but the use of active crossovers and external amps in the home is probably the very rarest of beasts.  I'll happily engage in that topic elsewhere.

Staying in the topic of practical differences between active and passive speakers for the home, I want to talk a little more about my most recent experience.

I have conventional 2-way L and R speakers. I’ve added a 3-way active speaker in the center. The mid-woofers are practically the same but the center uses a different and very highly regarded mid and tweeter. More suitable for the location.

The use of a 3-way amplifier with 50 + 125 + 125 watt sections means I have a theoretical dynamic range of around 1,000 watts. That’s a lot more than my modest Luxman integrated (100W/ch) especially given the losses in the passive crossover due to tweeter/woofer level matching.  Honestly, 20W peaks are VERY LOUD in my home.

So you’d think the center channel blows away the L and R? It does not. It does not sound more dynamic, or louder. It integrates perfectly. What I do get is a fuller bass thanks to having larger woofers than my previous center, and excellent off-axis coverage thanks to the 3-way design, high order crossover and digital time alignment.

What’s my point? That in homes the dynamic range and power calculus often won’t matter to you. Buy what you like and is more convenient.

There are many sceanrios where a listener could not tell there were changes to a system.  Of course that does not mean there isnt a difference or it isnt a desireable difference.  Much like swapping out phono cartridges, if you walked out of the room while it was switched, you may not realize what's different when you returned.  Would any of us say phono cartridges all sound the same based on that?  Many products in consumer are like that, requiring a very careful comparison and a educated listener.  @erik_squires , you are a very educated listener!.   

Working in this industry full time, where differences are a constant challenge in diagnosing problems in service (client heard something you cannot replicate) or assessing value of something new, you can be fooled but usually scinece wins.  Which is why we have a $10,000 Audio Precision sytem with calibrated mic to measure things.  The science behind active vs passive is conclusive and not debatable, unless you elevate your own perception as the superior test.  Demos are contextual audible comparisons with a tremendous number of variables.  For some, once their own perception is satisfied, even if inaccurate to science, they are happy and the search is over.  Sort of a parrallel to the way we prefer one color over another in a car-they really do look different in more ways than color alone.  And once we decide which color we like, we rarely look back. 

Ive said it before, I think active expands the ability to hear changes in the system of various cmponents, not reduces them.  All the elements before the active speakers are easier to hear, cables, preamps, turntables, sources, etc.  thqtq's certainly my expereince.   Sometimes it seems like the shared thought is "I'll buy active when you can pry my amp from my cold dead fingers".  It like the amp makers marketing has convinced everyone that its worth buying an expensive amp.  From a science point of view, passive being "better" than active is like telling someone from Arizona that snow tires are "better" on an all wheel drive sports car when you've only test driven them in the snow.  Snow tires may indeed work better in that one condition, but certainly not all.   Because you've never driven that car with snow tires in the summer on a dry road doesnt make it true.


I'm not saying that all speakers and all amps are similar sounding, at all.

I'm just saying that coming to some universal truth about the desirability of an active vs. passive speaker in the home is never going to happen.