Passive speakers are good choices for outdoor events such as concert grounds as they can save audio technicians time when running cables. They are also great for large indoor spaces like stadiums, restaurants, arenas, and more.
Passive speakers are not powered speakers, meaning they don’t have their own power supply and they don’t have an amplifier built-in. You can connect passive speakers to external power amplifiers and AV receivers using speaker wires which connect to a couple of jack sockets (SpeakON connectors) or wire connectors on the back of each passive speaker.
So, how do you connect passive speakers to an amp? How do you power a passive speaker with an amp?
Below, we show a typical, simple PA system design where passive speakers are connected to an amplifier powered by a mixer.
Before you connect your passive speaker to the amplifier, you need to connect the amplifier to the mixer. Read this guide on how to connect your amplifier to your mixer. In fact, we completely explore how to connect passive speakers to a mixer.
Read on for how you can connect your passive speakers to an amp quickly and easily. Before you begin, ensure all the devices are off.
Step 1: Ensure The Amplifier and Loudspeakers Are Matched
The first step is to ensure that your speakers and power amplifier are matched in terms of power and impedance.
If you purchased your equipment as a set from an official audio outfitter, then that should have already been taken care of for you. You can always call and ask them if you are unsure.
If they did not check, here’s what you need to do:
1. Determine the power handling capability of the loudspeakers
On the back of the loudspeaker, you will see the power or wattage figure quoted in W (Watts). This is very important when considering how to power passive speakers.
For example, you may see 200 W RMS or 350 W RMS. [Find out more about RMS power]. Here is an example:
In the case above, this does not mean that you need to use an amplifier that produces exactly 350 W RMS of power. You can consult the loudspeaker’s spec sheet which will normally give you a power range for the power output of recommended amplifiers.
For example, in this case, the spec sheet says the 350 W RMS passive speaker may be driven by a 350 tp 700 W amplifier of a certain brand.
If you do not have the spec sheet for the passive loudspeaker, then as a general rule, you can use an amplifier that provides power between the RMS value of the speaker and double the RMS value of the speaker. In this example, you would use an amp that provides between 350 RMS and (2 x 350 W RMS) or 700 RMS wattage.
However, what you don’t want to do is to use an amplifier that is not designed to produce as much power as the loudspeaker required.
This is a recipe for disaster as you will likely damage the amplifier and other devices in your setup.
2. Determine and verify loudspeaker impedance
In layman’s terms, impedance refers to the resistance of the speakers and determines how much load it will put on the amplifier.
Many loudspeakers are 8 ohms while a few are 4 ohms. This is important because the impedance will affect the amplifier’s power delivery. For example, you need to be careful when connecting your amplifier to 4 ohm or less speakers.
3. Calculate the power delivery
Depending on the speaker’s impedance, the power delivery from the amplifier or the amount of power that the speaker will pull will vary.
To determine this, you need to check the amplifier’s spec sheet. If you don’t have the spec sheet on hand, then search online for it.
In our case, the power delivery based on the spec sheet will be 450 W RMS as seen above. We know this is OK because it is within the 350 to 700 W RMS range that the loudspeaker can handle. This means we have a match!
Power handling when using multiple speakers on each amplifier channel
What if you are connecting multiple speakers to each output channel of the amplifier? For example, let’s say you want to connect four speakers to a two channel amplifier. In this case, you will be connecting two speakers to each amp channel.
In such cases, it is first of all best to have identical loudspeakers. Next, use the formula below to work out the overall impedance of the speaker system:
Impedance of one loudspeaker / total number of loudspeakers
This means four 8-ohm loudspeakers would give a total of 2 ohms. In this case, when determining the power handling of the speakers, you will use 2 ohms instead of 8 ohms to determine how much power the amplifier will pass to the speakers.
As such, you need to check to ensure that the overall impedance of the system does not go below the amplifier’s minimum specified impedance.
This is especially likely to happen if you are connecting a passive subwoofer to your amplifier because subs normally have two drivers.
If the system is below the amp’s m minimum impedance, the amplifier will develop thermal issues and cause all sorts of problems for you. Overheating is a common result of mismatched impedance. This is especially common in car amps. The resulting overheating causes these amps to go into protect mode to prevent damage.
It is very important that you match impedances with passive speakers because all the power is pulled from the amp. If your amp has any issues such as one amplifier channel louder than the other, it will be obvious through passive speakers. Moreover, underpowering your subwoofer is one of the most common issues that cause subwoofers to rattle.
Step 2: Determine The Type of Connections Needed
The first step is to determine the type of connectors and cables you will need to connect your amplifier to your loudspeakers.
In general, you can go for two connection types depending on what the amp and speakers offer:
1. SpeakON connector cables: SpeakON cables are popular cables used in professional audio systems for connecting loudspeakers to amplifiers. SpeakOn cables actually have speaker wires inside and so are a type of speaker wire connectors.
2. Binding Post/Spring Clip Connections using Speaker wires: Binding posts and spring clips are types of speaker connectors. Speaker wires are general-use cables for connecting audio systems.
Most power amplifiers will offer both types of connections. Which one should you choose? Well, we generally recommend SpeakON cables because they are quick and easy to use. You can use them as long as your amp and loudspeakers have SpeakOn connectors.
However, you can also use speaker cables as long as your amp has binding post connections and your loudspeaker has a spring clip or binding post connections.
SpeakOn and binding post connectors on an amp:
SpeakOn connectors on a loudspeaker:
If for some reason, you don’t want to use SpeakOn connectors, then you can use speaker wires. Below, you can see what spring clip and binding post connections look like on loudspeaker:
Spring clip connections:
Binding post connections:
The great thing about binding posts and spring clip cables is that you can mix and match them. For example, you can connect from the binding post on the amp to spring clips on the loudspeaker.
Now that you have decided whether you are using SpeakOn cables or speaker wires, we explain how to connect using each method below.
How To Connect Your Amplifier and Speakers Using SpeakON Cables
When using SpeakON cables, ensure that you get the highest gauge cables that you can afford and do not get cables that are unnecessarily long. Lengthly cables create unnecessary heat.
Here is the process:
Step 1: Get Good SpeakOn Cables: You need a pair of good SpeakOn cables of high gauge rating (at least 12). You can find a good pair on Amazon like the Dekomusic 2Pack 25 ft Male Speakon to Speakon Cables.
Step 1: Take Note: The next step is to notice that there is a latch on the SpeakOn cable that can be used to release it and connect it.
Step 3: Connect The SpeakOn Cable To The Amp: Connect the SpeakON cable to the SpeakOn output on the amplifier. Push it in with the latch at an 11 o’clock angle (slant to the left) like this:
Step 3: Lock The Cable: Once the Speakon cable is in, turn it clockwise to lock it.
Step 4: Do The Same on The Loudspeaker: Complete the same steps to connect the SpeakOn cable on the loudspeaker.
Step 5: Loudspeaker Channel Connections: Ensure that you connect both channels (both outputs of the power amplifier) to both speaker channels (both inputs of the speaker).
If you are connecting one loudspeaker to each amp channel, then you need another SpeakON cable to connect the other loudspeaker to the other amp channel.
If you have multiple loudspeakers and want to connect multiple to each channel of your amplifier then you can daisy-chain the speakers as shown above.
How To Connect Your Amplifier and Speakers Using Speaker Wires
Step 1: Choose Quality Speaker Cables: You need good, thick speaker wires to manage the connection between your amp and passive speaker because it will be carrying power.
The smaller the gauge rating, the thicker the speaker wire, you should select a speaker wire with a small gauge rating.
12-gauge copper wires like the Monoprice Access Series 12 Gauge AWG or the InstallGear 12 Gauge Speaker Wire are often the best because they hardly produce excess heat and resistance or adversely affects the speakers’ sound quality.
Other than the gauge, you should have an adequate length of speaker wire for the connection. Ensure it’s not unnecessarily long though.
So, put your passive speakers in the right positions and then set the wire spool’s end beneath it. After that, run the wire to the amp and the speaker to check the required length.
Be sure you place the speaker wire in the location where you desire to position it once the connection is complete.
If possible, make the speaker wire longer than required to give room for minor changes to the speaker position.
Step 2: Strip Off Part of the Insulation: To allow the correct connection of a passive speaker to an amp, you need to strip off some insulation carefully.
It’s a good idea to strip off ½-inch of the covering on the ends of the wire since this amount is enough to ensure the bare wire beneath the wire insulation or sheath is exposed.
For some reason, people often complain that they face lots of difficulties to remove the right amount of plastic covering. That may be because they use knives and so on.
To strip the wires quickly and easily, you can use wire strippers like the IRWIN VISE-GRIP Wire Stripping Tool instead. However, choose a stripper designed for your speaker wire’s gauge or a universal stripper. Find the gauge or thickness by looking at the printed writings on the spool. We also have a detailed guide on stripping and splicing speaker wires if you want to learn more.
Once you have selected the ideal wire stripper, you should do the following to strip off the insulation quickly and easily:
- Place the speaker wire in the right-sized slots in the stripper
- Pull the stripper towards the speaker wire’s end but stop where you want the stripped end to start and clamp it
- Pull the stripper to remove the wire covering
What can I do if I do not have wire strippers? You can still remove the right amount of the covering by using a pair of scissors.
To do this, gently cut through the covering on the speaker wire exterior all around the covering. But there is a risk when using a pair of scissors. You can easily cut through the wire beneath the plastic coating.
As such, exercise caution when cutting through the material to minimize the chances of damaging the wire.
Step 3: Connect To The Binding Post or Spring Clips: When you have stripped off the speaker wire to the right portion, you are ready to move on to this step and insert the speaker wire into binding post terminals or spring clip terminals on the amplifier and on the speaker.
Here are the two different types of terminals and how they work:
Spring clips: Spring clips have a spring-loaded clip that holds wires in place. All you need to do is to push down the clip and insert the wire into the hold. when the clip is released, it will hold the wire in place.
Binding posts: Binding posts use a post with a threaded cap. Just loosen the cap and you will notice a hole running from one side of the post to the other. Insert the wire through this hole and tighten the cap.
If the binding post doesn’t have a hole running through, just wrap the wire around the binding post and tighten the cap.
The process is simple, and you can follow the above steps to connect your speaker’s wires to your passive speaker.
You can consult your speaker’s owner’s manual if you feel you need more information. After successfully connecting your speaker wires into connections, that’s it, you are done!
When Should I Use Passive Speakers?
You may be saying, why not simply use active speakers that are powered so that you don’t need an external power amplifier?
Well, there are many advantages to using passive speakers such as the fact that with passive speakers, you can run several yards or meters of speaker wire or SpeakOn wires without worrying about a power source. This makes them great for outdoor events or large indoor spaces.
Here are some other instances in which passive loudspeakers are good choices:
Choose passive speakers if you need variety and flexibility
There are plenty of passive speakers in a wide variety of sizes and shapes out there in the marketplace. With active speakers, you are almost sure of getting the stereo part of bookshelf speakers. You can also find 2.1 surround systems with a sub.
Whenever you feel like you want to create a single system that integrates speakers from different manufacturers, passive speakers are a perfect fit.
Remember, you can also pick a stereo receiver of your choice or upgrade the system without replacing your speakers.
With these benefits, you can see why passive speakers can make home theatre systems more flexible. But remember that having more choices adds a greater degree of complexity in choosing the right speakers.
When you want speakers with adequate space for bigger drivers
Since active speakers have built-in amplifiers, they are easier to power. However, they have a smaller space inside the enclosure for big drivers.
In many cases, this is the reason some of these speakers produce a faint and poorly balanced sound. This is not to say all active speakers don’t perform well, many of the larger ones do.
But if you are looking for a speaker with space for bigger drivers that produces clearer, better balanced, and louder sound, passive speakers can be the best choice.
Amplifier For Passive Speakers
We’ve paired some of the top bookshelf speakers with an amp that can adequately drive them. Let’s get you started with some of the ideas below.
If you need to build a vinyl hi-fi system, you will need to add a turntable and phono preamplifier to the system, but the speaker and power amp are the must-have first.
Speakers: Q Acoustics 3020i
This pair of bookshelf speakers is a 2018 release by the U.K.-based audio company. Slightly taller with a 25-percent deeper chamber, the 3020i are essentially a better version than the previous 3020.
For less than $300, you will get significantly more powerful bass.
Amplifier: Cambridge Audio AXA35
This is a two-channel integrated amp with a phono preamplifier. Although it lacks Wi-Fi and Bluetooth connectivity, the amp is affordable and can power up to 35-watts per channel, making it the best fit for the Q Acoustics 3020i.
- Klipsch Reference R-51M speaker and Onkyo A-9110 amplifier
- KEF Q150 speakers and Yamaha WXA-50 MusicCast amp
- Bowers & Wilkins 606 speakers and Rega Brio amplifier
Passive speakers offer unique benefits especially if you want more space for bigger drivers or better-balanced sound or to set up a PA system for an outdoor event.
Remember, these speakers are not powered or active speakers. They must pull power from other components such as subwoofers, amplifiers, and mixers. We have a separate guide on how to connect powered speakers to an amplifier. However, just so you know, this is not recommended.
To wrap up, we have shown you how to power passive speakers. Remember, connecting passive loudspeakers to an amplifier is as simple as using a SpeakOn cable connected to SpeakOn terminals or speaker cables connected to binding post/spring clip terminals.