Passive and Active PA Speakers
So, what's the difference between an active and a passive speaker?
PAs use crossovers to separate audio into separate frequencies, which are then sent to the speakers: lows to woofers, mids to midrange speakers, and highs to tweeters. A passive speaker places the crossover after the amp, while active systems split up the sound and send it to multiple amps. This way the signals can be boosted according to the needs of each speaker. This is referred to as bi- or tri-amplification, depending on the number of amps.
Which one is better? That depends on how you use the system. Active setups are easy since everything is in a single box, but this also means the box is much heavier, and if one part of the system breaks, it becomes unusable. Some boxes have plugs for individual speakers so the internal crossover and amps can be bypassed, allowing the user to choose between internal and external control. A passive PA will require the addition of an amp and a crossover as well as their wiring, but the weight will be split up among components, and if something breaks it's easy to replace.
Is a single PA speaker enough?
That depends on how it is used. PAs have difficulty producing low tones because they don't have subwoofers. These speakers have to be very large to reach the low frequencies they produce, making it impractical to build one into an all-in-one PA box. Most manufacturers offer subs designed to go with their own PA sets. Like PAs, they can be passive or active. A less powerful main PA can be used in conjunction with a subwoofer because low tones require the greatest amount of power.
Which PA speaker is right for me?
If you want lighter components, easy repair, or more control, get a passive PA. Remember that you will also need at least one separate amp and crossover.
If you want an uncomplicated setup that works out of the box, get an active PA. A pass-through will give you the option of using outside equipment as you would with a passive system.
If you are producing low tones, such as with a bass guitar or drums, add a subwoofer.
What are some good active PA speakers?
Mackie was the first to push active PA's with the original SRM450. The new v2 series SRM350v2 is a favorite among small venue performers because it crams a splitter with bi-amplification that run through a 165 watt low-frequency amp and 30 watt high-frequency amp in a twenty-six pound cabinet. The 450v2 increases the amp power to 300w and 100w respectively, although it weighs fourteen pounds more.
Yamaha's own MSR100 weighs a couple pounds less than the 350, yet has three inputs and a built-in EQ, making it a great choice for acoustic guitarists. Peavey's PR-15P-NEO is about the same size as the 450, but manages excellent bass response without adding a subwoofer. Unlike the Mackie, neither of these offer a pass-through.