Turn it up!

Active speakers. What's all the fuss?!

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I've always used passive speakers and been a bit of a valve guy for years. Although they've been around for years I'm hearing about lots of new developments in active speakers.

Brands I read about are ATC, Dutch & Dutch, Grimm, KEF, Kii, in fact more and more brands are moving into good quality actives. I'm talking about stereo speakers that can be a main hifi not single driver bluetooth options. None of these are cheap but when you factor in they are pretty much just add source it becomes intriguing. My only reservation is the problem of having everything in one box and issues with repairs. Dutch & Dutch looks interesting but just too much tech in one box for me, ATC seem like a very high end yet simpler option. 

So...my question is, anyone out there using actives as their main system, what's your experiences, pros and cons?

Cheers

Edited by Turn it up!

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Super Dealer

There are as many ‘active’ designs as there are passive, from traditional active designs such as ATC to the contemporary designs you mention.

There are technical benefits, a reduction of distortion and because each driver has  its own amplifier, you never have to worry whether you are using a suitable amplifier.

Current designs have further technical advantages in terms of adjustability, propagation of sound and removing room induced abnormalities.

Disadvantages, there is no amplifier ‘upgrade’ .

Keith

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I'm now on my 4th active system, all DIY so rather different from the "one box" solutions that you are assuming.

The 3rd build almost went the one box route - the amps are strapped on the back of the cabs - but the DSP/crossover/DAC (a miniDSP DDRC-24) is separate and I built a separate passive pre to allow remote input selection and volume control. The 4th build is very definitely not a single box solution as it uses 4 (identical) stereo Class D amps that are separate from the speaker cabs. Builds 1-3 were 2-way, build 4 is 3-way but with 2 bass drivers in each cab, hence the need for 4 amps.

Pros and cons?  

Pros are that for a DIY builder, you can create a good quality working crossover in a very short space of time, and making use of the DSP, tailor the FR curve in ways that would simply be unfeasible if you were going the discrete analogue circuit route. The result is a pair of speakers that punch way above their weight compared to conventional passive designs. If you are an inveterate box-swapper, there is just as much opportunity for that in the DIY active arena as there is in the passive arena; having said that, in reality the box swapping gives way to FR tweaking via the DSP in my experience.

Cons: Not many, other than the learning curve, which has taken a while, but there are now several Wam members that have gone that route, so there is plenty of experience to draw on.

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5 minutes ago, PuritéAudio said:

Disadvantages, there is no amplifier ‘upgrade’ .

I'd view that as a plus!

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1 minute ago, Tony_J said:

I'm now on my 4th active system, all DIY so rather different from the "one box" solutions that you are assuming.

The 3rd build almost went the one box route - the amps are strapped on the back of the cabs - but the DSP/crossover/DAC (a miniDSP DDRC-24) is separate and I built a separate passive pre to allow remote input selection and volume control. The 4th build is very definitely not a single box solution as it uses 4 (identical) stereo Class D amps that are separate from the speaker cabs. Builds 1-3 were 2-way, build 4 is 3-way but with 2 bass drivers in each cab, hence the need for 4 amps.

Pros and cons?  

Pros are that for a DIY builder, you can create a good quality working crossover in a very short space of time, and making use of the DSP, tailor the FR curve in ways that would simply be unfeasible if you were going the discrete analogue circuit route. The result is a pair of speakers that punch way above their weight compared to conventional passive designs. If you are an inveterate box-swapper, there is just as much opportunity for that in the DIY active arena as there is in the passive arena; having said that, in reality the box swapping gives way to FR tweaking via the DSP in my experience.

Cons: Not many, other than the learning curve, which has taken a while, but there are now several Wam members that have gone that route, so there is plenty of experience to draw on.

I hadn't considered the DIY option. Be fascinating to see photos, do you have some you can post?

6 minutes ago, PuritéAudio said:

There are as many ‘active’ designs as there are passive, from traditional active designs such as ATC to the contemporary designs you mention.

There are technical benefits, a reduction of distortion and because each driver has  its own amplifier, you never have to worry whether you are using a suitable amplifier.

Current designs have further technical advantages in terms of adjustability, propagation of sound and removing room induced abnormalities.

Disadvantages, there is no amplifier ‘upgrade’ .

Keith

I do like that the idea of speakers that match to amps as the manufacturer has designed from the start. What about the disadvantage with more high tech options like Dutch and Dutch where if anything goes wrong and they are out of business it's gonna be tough. Plus you are in their software upgrade eco system. That would just worry me a little too much but having a speaker / amp combo active seems to walk the right balance. 

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Super Wammer

What he said (Tony) :D. I have taken a very similar route but use a Behringer DCX speaker management system. I have recently acquired a 6 channel modular class D amp so all 6 amps are now in one box. Having no passive components, between amp and driver, is a huge plus in my eyes. And using dsp to correct room anomalies really is an ear opener :) 

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Super Wammer

I use a sort of DIY active system as my second spare room system the one I listen to when online like now. It is not the nice clean one package you have mentioned but it essentially functions in the same way . I would agree that some of the more expensive system like Dutch and Dutch are packed with so much that the only option if it goes wrong is back to the mfg for repair and hope fingers crossed it is covered under Guarantee . That is certainly one of the draw backs of any one box (well two) system . Another possible percieved problem is there is no up grade path , you are not able to swap out the Amp or the DAC or the DSP from these all in ones so the performance has a theoretical glass ceiling of sound quality beyond which the only option to change is to buy something else . 

Now the advantages of active . Firstly the matching of individual drivers to indvidual amplifiers means you get greater amd more accurate control of any given drivers motion . All amplifiers in the system are running even at high volume well within there best performance envelope and so are less stressed and so will sound the best they can be. There is then the argument that because fo this the overall qulaity of the amplifier is less important so cheaper but compotent amps can be used. Will leave this as there is also the argument that the better the amp across all drivers the better the sound.

Lastly the advantage that makes me do this and means that as far as I can see I will never be without an active system is the sound quality . Because I have done two projects which converted existing passive speakers to active i was in the position to have heard the passive and then compare the sound to the active. For me at least no contest active use adds a speed to music , by which I mean notes start and stop much quicker and with no overhang . Bass becomes solid and tight but also because of the control it is more informative and textured. Once you have heard this speed and clarity for a period it is very hard to go back to passive . Sound quality for me is the main and driving advantage of active and one which I know I now could not be without .

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4 minutes ago, Turn it up! said:

I hadn't considered the DIY option. Be fascinating to see photos, do you have some you can post?

I do like that the idea of speakers that match to amps as the manufacturer has designed from the start. What about the disadvantage with more high tech options like Dutch and Dutch where if anything goes wrong and they are out of business it's gonna be tough. Plus you are in their software upgrade eco system. That would just worry me a little too much but having a speaker / amp combo active seems to walk the right balance. 

DSP in some of the more contemporary designs offer huge advantages, perfect step and group delay, phase coherence , the ability to adjust bass output depending upon proximity to rear wall, cardioid response , really accurate tone controls built in EQ to cure bass ‘boom‘ , like almost every modern electrical component they have to be returned to the manufacturer should a fault develop, but that IME is thankfully extremely rare.

Keith

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13 minutes ago, Turn it up! said:

I hadn't considered the DIY option. Be fascinating to see photos, do you have some you can post?

 

This thread started with build #2 and migrated into build #4 as time went on:

https://www.hifiwigwam.com/forum/topic/130593-tannoy-8-dual-concentric-active-build/

This thread describes build #3 and has links to build #1 (Lowther/Tang Band drivers).

https://www.hifiwigwam.com/forum/topic/131713-alpair-103tang-band-active/

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Super Wammer

Tony with your 3 way build, did you ever try the DC unit in the middle?

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1 hour ago, greybeard said:

Tony with your 3 way build, did you ever try the DC unit in the middle?

Colin - that wouldn't work with the cabs as they are, because the DC unit is in its own sealed compartment at the top. I am considering seeing whether running them as a 2 1/2 way configuration makes a difference (drill some large holes in the top compartment so the DC's 8" section fires into the same space as the 2 bass drivers, then run the DC 8" unit from 0 Hz up to the tweeter crossover point) but I've chickened out of that so far - there's no easy way back if it doesn't work! The downside of putting the DC between the two bass drivers is that the tweeter would then be well below ear height which isn't ideal.

I think that config is usually done where the speaker is a 2-way and uses a pair of identical mid-bass drivers... and is an attempt at compensation for the fact that the tweeter & the mids driver aren't concentric, so I'm not sure what advantage it would have in this case, as the driver is already a DC unit?

Edited by Tony_J
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2 hours ago, PuritéAudio said:

There are as many ‘active’ designs as there are passive, from traditional active designs such as ATC to the contemporary designs you mention.

There are technical benefits, a reduction of distortion and because each driver has  its own amplifier, you never have to worry whether you are using a suitable amplifier.

Current designs have further technical advantages in terms of adjustability, propagation of sound and removing room induced abnormalities.

Disadvantages, there is no amplifier ‘upgrade’ .

Keith

This is the usual blinkered unbalanced nonsense that so often comes out when people talk about active vs passive speakers.

As there is no mention whatsoever of the crap / additional components that active crossovers put in the signal path.

Any advantage that can be had from going active can also be had even more so by going large to huge in the woofer department and going high efficiency.

Huge woofers have less distortion than small woofers. Especially small woofers in slimline ported cabinets.

Going active makes most sense if you're looking at small / low efficiency speakers. As active looks at addressing some of the faults of small low efficiency speakers.

Going active makes less sense or no sense at all if you have large to huge high efficency speakers with well engineered drivers and cabinets.

I've done bake-offs comparing very large high efficiency passive speakers to (more expensive to buy) active low efficiency speakers. The clear winners for looks have been the actives. The clear winners for sound quality have been the high efficiency passives.

It's also complete nonsense to say that you never have to worry about whether you are using a suitable amplifier with active speakers. Based on my listening tests I would always take a good SET valve amplifier over a solid state amplifier for the midrange. And yet how many 3 way active speakers use SET amplification for the midrange instead of solid state?

And please don't give me any nonsense about me liking the pleasant distortion of valve amplifiers. I hate the pipe and slippers sound that you get with not so good valve amplifiers. I love the transparent (wire with gain) type sound that good SET's have in the midrange. I don't like the mechanical/ robotic / transistorised hash sound that solid state amplifiers have (some to a greater degree than others).

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Most of those speakers have been out for a number of years now so they are not that recent. I use active speakers, AVI 9RSS which were around £1,400 7 years ago, they have DAC, preamp and amps inside. Just need a source, such as a streamer, CDP or turntable (with phonoamp). I think there is an advantage with matching the amp to each driver and the active crossover, I had numerous demos with passives and there always seemed to be issues. Negatives are maybe not enough inputs, I could have done with a digital coax for example. Actives have been used in studios for a long time, so there are plenty of cheaper ones to consider. Some don't have preamp or DACs included. You really need to hear some, they do sound different, for me there is more clarity. KEF LS50 wireless will probably be the easiest to demo at a dealer, not heard them myself but I did hear the LS50 passives which were not bad. AE also do nice active speakers for around £1,000, if I do have to replace mine I would be looking at the AEs.

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8 minutes ago, BeeRay said:

KEF LS50 wireless will probably be the easiest to demo at a dealer, not heard them myself but I did hear the LS50 passives which were not bad. AE also do nice active speakers for around £1,000, if I do have to replace mine I would be looking at the AEs.

I owned Passive LS50s (driven by Arcam AVR600) and spent a day demoing LS50 Actives - and the Actives were certainly better in every department. To match the performance of the Actives, the cost of the Amp to drive the Passives would be prohibitive.

Edited by CnoEvil
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Just so that I can be certain of my understanding, would someone please clarify what constitutes an "active" system and what does not? I am considering here three elements (please add / subtract accordingly) - amplifier, crossover networks and "speakers", i.e. one or more drivers in some sort of enclosure or baffle / frame, whether that's conventional cone, dome, ESL panel or something more exotic.

Is it a fundamental truth of an "active" configuration that the crossover network comes before amplification? Do you need one amplifier channel per-driver? I'm guessing from the conversation so far that there is no requirement for everything to be built into the "speaker" enclosure. When I think of "active" systems I usually think of things like the Meridian D6000s, or the PMC / Bryston combos, where everything is integrated. So where does "active" stop and "passive" take over?

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