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Active speakers. What's all the fuss?!

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Just now, Jules_S said:

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?

A bit like the JBL 306P Mk II speakers; one amp for the tweeter, another for the mid/bass driver - that to me, is a fully active monitor (I might be right or wrong here) but that's how I understand it

Add a source and away you go :) 

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Super Wammer
1 minute ago, d_a_n1979 said:

A bit like the JBL 306P Mk II speakers; one amp for the tweeter, another for the mid/bass driver - that to me, is a fully active monitor (I might be right or wrong here) but that's how I understand it

Add a source and away you go :) 

So how would that differ from "bi-amping"? I'm not being facetious, just genuinely interested

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My main loudspeakers are active and I wouldn't change them for the world. They have the advantages of huge power reserves, full room correction and tuning plus different narrow, wide and omnidirectional operating modes. It's no understatement to say that have utterly transformed my home listening experience.

Downsides? Well, 132kg each is a bit of a pain (literally, at times!) and...er....they're not exactly cheap.

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10 minutes ago, Jules_S said:

Is it a fundamental truth of an "active" configuration that the crossover network comes before amplification?

This is indeed the fundamental difference. Passive speakers use crossover components that come after the power amp output. Active speakers use crossovers that appear before the power amps. It follows that actives have as many power amps as there are distinct "ways" - a 2-way design will have two stereo power amps (i.e., 4 channels of amplification), a 3-way will have 3 amps, etc 

Passive speakers that can be bi-wired can be bi-amped, but they still have crossover components that come after the power amp, so passive bi-amping is not the same as active.

The physical packaging isn't the differentiator - you can have passive speakers that have built-in amplification - in fact many desktop pc speakers are exactly that.

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10 minutes ago, Beobloke said:

My main loudspeakers are active and I wouldn't change them for the world. They have the advantages of huge power reserves, full room correction and tuning plus different narrow, wide and omnidirectional operating modes. It's no understatement to say that have utterly transformed my home listening experience.

Downsides? Well, 132kg each is a bit of a pain (literally, at times!) and...er....they're not exactly cheap.

132kg each!! Crikey, I thought my Klipsch Cornwalls were heavy at 45Kg each. If you ever do a bake off would love to hear the Beolab 90. 👍

Cheers

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Posted (edited)
16 minutes ago, Jules_S said:

So how would that differ from "bi-amping"? I'm not being facetious, just genuinely interested

In bi-amping, the crossover is after the amps in active the crossover is before the amps. 

The only downside I can think of is the potential for vibration issues if the amps are situated inside the ‘speaker enclosure.   In general, subjectively, I prefer the sound of active. If I were starting again with no existing components, active is the route I would go. 

Edited by HectorHughMunro
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21 minutes ago, Jules_S said:

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?

https://www.whathifi.com/advice/active-vs-passive-speakers-whats-the-difference-which-is-better

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I would love to hear a set of the top end ATC actives. I've read complaints on the looks but I like the style (or lack of) and at only 96kg each they are practically portable compared to the Beolab 90...

Anyone got some ATC or heard them? 

50057975731_c0605198f4_b.jpgatc-scm300sl-tower by Paul Grant, on Flickr

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Super Wammer

Thank you @Tony_J, @HectorHughMunro and @t1no, grateful for your explanations :^

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16 minutes ago, Jules_S said:

So how would that differ from "bi-amping"? I'm not being facetious, just genuinely interested

Bi-amping is different, you will still be using the passive crossovers and you won't have a tailored amp for each driver. For example the tweeters may have 50W amp and the woofer may have 200W amp. Also as said before the actives have crossover before the amp. I think passive crossovers are a weak spot certainly in more budget speakers.

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Posted (edited)
8 minutes ago, Turn it up! said:

I would love to hear a set of the top end ATC actives. I've read complaints on the looks but I like the style (or lack of) and at only 96kg each they are practically portable compared to the Beolab 90...

Anyone got some ATC or heard them? 

50057975731_c0605198f4_b.jpgatc-scm300sl-tower by Paul Grant, on Flickr

The Flash, I believe has ATC active and passives or he has in the past. I believe he changed from ATC passives to actives.

Edited by BeeRay
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@lindsaytI can tell form the steam marks on the page that you may not approve of active systems which is fine as is your love and use of SET amps . Thye work for you and possibly if you were to create your own active speakers using what you like it may well sound wonderful .

I would however say that in the current active DIY possibilities and also for some of the designs mentioned the active part of it is not filled with poor quality components but often all of the work on crossover and in some cases DSP is done in the digital domain . As you love SET amps this my be even worse as far as you are concerned but as you champion one way only to amplifiy sound i can only comment on what I used and am currently listening to and the sound that I have ended up with .

In my case this is a simple Raspberry Pi 4 with Digi hat as the source streaming music from my Logitech Media Server (which is on another Raspberry Pi4 acting as a serever only with USB HD attached) this is fed digitally in to a MiniDSP DDRC 24 unit which has the on board capabilities of then being able to generate Digital Active Crossovers for the speakers . Apply a a full DIRAC Live room DSP filter and act as a digital volume control . Four analogue outs as RCA phono go to two Quad 405 amplifers one for each side Left and Right and they control each speakers bass and treble right side for bas and keft side for treble . For me this works and has just got better and better as I have become more adept at running the DIRAC software ancurrently is some of the best music I have heard . I am listening right now to Odessa and the quality of the voice , bass and individual instruments are just so easy to follow . 

Now I know that I could perhaps of used different amplifiers (such as SET) for the treble but in may case I like the idea that the amplifiers are the same for both sides and already gain matched without any adjustment . Makes the digital work and DSP that much easier but I have little doubt that it could work just as well with a much smaller amp for the tweeters and one quad for the bass . I just like things this way and it works . DIY active leaves you with endless choices of what to do and what not to do but in most cases it is easy to reverse things if you do not like a paticular result and you also get the probably false feeling that you are doing this and not just buiyn finished boxes that are someone elses idea of what music should sound like .

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2 hours ago, Jules_S said:

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?

Much of what you are asking have been covered in the answers above, so just a few thoughts.

Bi-amping is simply using more than one amplifier to drive a speaker, in general this means splitting the signal into high and low 'bands' and feeding them to the appropriate drivers. Simple as that, the splitting can be done before or after the power amplifier, either works and the speaker is bi-amped in either case.

If the splitting is done after the amplifier, individual 'filters' are used for high and low frequency drivers, they are called filters because they filter out the frequencies not wanted by that driver, this is passive bi-amping. Combine the function of two or more filters and you have a passive 'crossover', add multiple terminals and removable links and you have a modern day speaker with bi-wire/bi-amp features.

The splitting can also be done at line level, before the power amplifiers, so that only the appropriate frequencies are sent to the amps then directly onto the drive unit, this is active bi-amping and specific to each speaker and system.

There really has never bean a generic way to turn a regular passive speaker into an active one, hence there rarity in hi-fi circles, only Linn and Naim developed viable active systems for hi-fi use but they were both complex and very expensive.

In both these examples a huge part of the cost was that all the components were housed in separate cases, often with separate power supplies, all very unwieldy and frankly a bit over the top. 

The pro monitor world took a different route, for their more affordable offerings anyway,  and developed complete integrated systems that were efectively plug 'n play. Only with the introduction of dsp has this integrated solution found its way into hi-fi. Expect to see more of it, and at more affordable prices too.

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Posted (edited)
3 hours ago, Turn it up! said:

I would love to hear a set of the top end ATC actives. I've read complaints on the looks but I like the style (or lack of) and at only 96kg each they are practically portable compared to the Beolab 90...

Anyone got some ATC or heard them? 

50057975731_c0605198f4_b.jpgatc-scm300sl-tower by Paul Grant, on Flickr

I've been to atc and spent a couple of hours testing all the actives

I'd look at SCM20ASL Pro

Its basically an active 19 but has the s-spec tweeter - can be had for about £4000 and packs some serious punch for its size. Add in 2 bk400 subs and you've got a kiss ass set up for relatively cheap cost 

To match that performance you'd have to spend quite a lot more Imo on passives. 

And don't worry about difference in sound between the pro studio monitor and hifi monitor  with atc as all that's different is the aesthetics and maybe the tweeter in the 19 - 40 actives. 

Another option I'd look at is dynaudio xd focus series. I'd be happy with either. 

Great value for money 

Edited by Bokke
Added in more info
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