Active vs. Passive Speakers - A Highly Emotional Argument Settled?


If you are a DJ, work in the entertainment industry or have a pretty basic knowledge of Live Sound then you know I'm touching on a subject that has a lot of fierce emotions behind it. But is that 'fierce emotion' starting to be dampened with basic logic? Before you presume that I'm going to lecture you on how passive speaker setups are a thing from the dark ages I want to reassure you that I've taken both sides heavily into account before writing this blog.

Before I continue, I'd like to be briefly explain the difference between a passive and active speaker - just to make sure you understand the points I'm making. An active speaker is powered by an internal amplifier or battery, whereas a passive speaker is powered by an external amplifier. I'm pretty aware that's a somewhat watered down explanation but if you're reading this article I'm pretty sure you already knew the difference and I'm not going to teach you how to 'suck eggs'.


Currently 20 years old you may describe me as a 'newbie' in the entertainment industry, however I've actually had my own 'Mobile Disco' setup since the age of 14, adding to it throughout the years, (and also removing a few things). If you'd seen me back in 2014 you may have noticed a set of 15" PASSIVE ProSound Speakers! Writing this now I don't know which of those words disgust me more 'Passive' or 'ProSound'? Let's stick to the word 'Passive' - I could write a book about the word 'ProSound' and I'm sure you could too.

I don't get how my passive speakers were heavier than my active speakers? As I explained earlier passive speakers do not house their own amplifier, so what made them so heavy? Another thing that makes this argument even more confusing is that I know from experience how much an amplifier weighs. I spent a year lugging about a 1600W Prosound Amplifier for my passive speakers that weighed roughly 1483 tonnes. Some of you may state that speakers or amplifiers that weigh more are far more reliable, better made and tougher. I'd agree with your statement to an extent but my counter comment would be that if you were a Mobile DJ, like me, would you really want to be lugging around speakers and amplifiers that weigh 1000's of tonnes or would you rather own a set of light, active speakers that don't break your back when you lift them? Not to mention how you can easily carry 2 active speakers at a time. As a Mobile DJ, you want to have a sound system that is quick and easy to setup - an active speaker setup absolutely delivers this but could you be compromising sound quality?



So far in this blog you could say I've been slightly biased in not showing any appreciation of passive sound systems but did I mention that my best sound system is actually a PASSIVE SYSTEM? What a dramatic twist!

In 2017 I purchased 2 massive (and I really do mean massive) customised JBL passive speakers. I can't remember the model off the top of my head but the fact is it takes 2 people to carry each speaker and I'm pretty sure they can emit enough sound to supply The Pyramid Stage. I might be exaggerating a bit there but you get my drift. These speakers are loud! To add to this the low end noise they emit is extremely powerful! Anyone in the Live Sound industry knows that all active monitors used by DJ's never sound very good in the low end unless they are paired up with an external subwoofer. But what am I using to power my passive JBL's? Well a high quality set of speakers require a high quality amplifier, that's why I purchased a Crown XTi 6002 Amplifier to power my JBL's. This amazing amplifier along with a set of top quality JBL's creates a powerful and rich sound that I have never heard through an active speaker setup. So why don't I use this setup?


Well as I said before these speakers really do weigh an insane amount, it's a 2 man job to lift them onto a stage. As a Mobile DJ & Entertainer I can't be dealing with lugging them into venues 3 times a weekend on my own. I spoke before about my JBL's top sound quality and I don't doubt for a second that they sound better than my active speaker setup. But is your average partygoer who's 8 Jaeger Bombs into the sesh really going to be telling me that I should have bought a passive speaker setup instead of an active setup?


After taking the argument of both sides into account here is my conclusion to the fierce 'Active vs Passive' argument. An active setup will always be my go-to sound system and I will never be purchasing another Passive System. I need a system that sounds good but is also easily portable and quick to setup and that's exactly what an active speaker system delivers. I've never seen a freelance entertainer using a passive system and there is a simple reason for this - a passive sound system is not designed to be transported. If I owned a nightclub I would fit it with a robust passive system. Not only would it sound richer than an active system but passive speakers can handle partygoers. I've had a pint of beer spilt over my passive JBL's and they were absolutely fine. I'm sure the internal amplifier of an active speaker wouldn't take too kindly to a pint of beer. There should have never been an argument between the 2 speaker types because it's irrelevant. Both setups are designed for totally different purposes with an active speaker designed to be portable and a passive setup designed to be robust, rich and powerful in a fixed location.

Although my conclusion is guaranteed to split opinion, I'm sure there's one point we can all agree on. It does not matter if you don't have a nice set of moving heads for your DJ setup. It does not matter if you don't have the latest Pioneer DJ Controller and it does not matter what your speaker setup is. If you can create an unforgettable atmosphere for your audience where they can forget about their problems and simply have a good time, then you're doing the job right.


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