Subwoofer systems are generally of two different types – passive and active. You may be wondering if there is any big difference between the two and if either one is better.
We have prepared this article to break down the differences and similarities as well as advantages and disadvantages.
The difference between passive and active subwoofers is that passive subwoofers use an external power source like a receiver or an amplifier, while an active subwoofer contains a built-in amplifier.
This means passive subwoofer is usually smaller and less bulky than active subwoofers and produces weaker bass.
Let’s get into more detail about active vs passive subwoofers. You can also check out our related article on passive vs active speakers.
What Is A Passive Subwoofer?
It is therefore important to be able to select the right amplifier that can power your subwoofer to sustain the deep bass that is characteristic of powerful subs.
Because the sub depends on other power sources, it may appear a bit more complex when you want to assemble or connect up your system. Apart from the cabling needed, you will need to bring in an amplifier and any other necessary source components.
Generally, passive subwoofers are mostly used by music lovers with custom home theater systems. Commonly, they are wall-mounted as part of the custom home theater installation.
On the other hand, if you want a speaker system that can fill a large room with surround sound and bass without worrying about uneven sound distribution, passive subwoofers will do just that. They also allow easy linking with multiple units.
Besides, they are much cheaper than their active counterparts. However, because there are generally more other components needed to finish the connection, a passive subwoofer may sometimes end up being more expensive.
What Is An Active Subwoofer?
They are easier to install and are preferably used as single units. As a result, it is very important to select the right placement for active subwoofer systems for the best sound experience.
What makes these systems special is the way they have been configured to optimize every bit of their interior components.
Also, their power needs are adequately optimized with those of the amplifier making them a great choice to many home theater designers and owners who don’t wish to get into the complexity.
Compared to passive subwoofers, active subwoofers require fewer cables. As a result, they are much easier to set up. However, they are much more power-hungry and will more likely increase your energy costs.
Besides, because these subwoofer systems typically come with a number of the necessary components interiorly built, so they tend to be more pricey.
Active vs Passive Subwoofers: Which Is Better?
From the brief definitions and descriptions, it is clear that each of the two subwoofer types has pros and cons associated with them.
Before making a decision on which is better, it is therefore important that you weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each one of them as it related to your situation.
It is a fact that many people buy subwoofers because they want a superb bass driver that can revamp their musical experience.
However, the quality of sound you get from a subwoofer system does not depend on whether it is passive or active, but on the particulars of the model you choose.
What Do I Need To Consider When Choosing The Right Subwoofer?
Choosing between passive and active subwoofers may not be easy. Besides, your choice should not be wholly based on the type but should make adequate considerations on the basic components and key features of each.
Let’s look at some of the key features to consider before selecting a subwoofer unit.
- Power: Check the wattage of the subwoofer you are about to buy and the whether your amplifier can support the level of power indicated.
- Expense: The cost of the subwoofer is one key consideration. Additionally, the cost of other components such as additional cables should also be considered.
- Design: It is equally important to consider your home décor and especially the interior design when choosing a subwoofer system. Buy a system that easily integrates with your décor or that is at least more customizable.
- Amplifier: Whether or not the subwoofer requires an amplifier should be a consideration in your selection.
- Connectivity: Consider the type of cables required and the number of cables needed.
- Set-up: Setting up the subwoofer should be easy. Is it a plug-and-play or does it require a more complicated setup?
Let’s now look at some of the pros and cons of both active and passive subwoofers.
Advantages Of A Passive Subwoofer
As earlier stated, these subwoofers permit more custom configuration and control over the choice of home décor and setup.
Besides, they require less power and will therefore have very little impact on your overall power bill.
Secondly, they are much cheaper. Besides, they are easier to set up because every receiver comes with a subwoofer output.
Finally, it’s about connectivity. If you prefer filling your living room with loud music, passive subwoofers are a good option as they offer extended connectivity options with the possibility of combining numerous subwoofers.
Disadvantages Of A Passive Subwoofer
However cheap passive subwoofer systems are, the additional component requirements needed to complete the connection will raise the overall cost.
They are therefore generally regarded as expensive as other components such as the cost of additional cables add up to the expenditure.
Additionally, setting up the system may be complicated with the additional components. Besides, higher quality cables will be required as they will be used to both powers the speaker as well as supply the needed audio signals.
Also, the power needed to run the subwoofer together with the power ratings of the receiver should be considered.
Because every other additional component is an independent power sink, the full loads must be considered to ensure every component will get enough power to work properly.
Advantages Of Active Subwoofers
Because they are used in home theaters that utilize only one subwoofer, they are easier to connect.
Besides, special or additional cables are not needed to complete the setup. Active subwoofer systems are therefore simpler and easier to install.
On the other hand, they are majorly LFE channel-dependent, and frequencies are particularly optimized from one speaker.
Besides, everything is in-built and there is no need for you to research which amplifier will match your sub for optimum sound output.
Because active subwoofers do not require signal cabling, you can comfortably place them at any distance from the receiver.
Audio signals do not depend on the speaker’s distance. And, because the subwoofer systems are often compact, you can place them anywhere in the room to match your design and décor requirements without compromising the quality of sound.
Disadvantages Of Active Subwoofers
- Active subwoofers are much more expensive compared to their passive counterparts
- They are more power-hungry.
- If you need to fill a large room with music or have additional rooms to fill with music, placement becomes an issue as only one sub is used.
Active vs Passive Subwoofers Wireless Connectivity
The requirement for audio electronics with wireless connectivity has been on the rise with advances in technology. Your subwoofer is not left out.
Currently, only active subwoofers come with wireless connectivity. If you are interested in a subwoofer with this kind of addition, active subwoofers will be the clear choice for you.
How Many Subwoofers Do I Need For My Home Theater?
The size of your room, the dimensions of the subwoofer together with its layout are some of the things to consider when deciding the number of subwoofers to buy.
If your house has more rooms that are oddly shaped, you will need more subwoofers.
As we already mentioned, these factors together with the number of subwoofers needed will greatly determine the type of subwoofer that fits your choice.
This is definitely because active subs can only be used as single units as they cannot be combined like their passive counterparts.
So, Which Is Better?
On average and based on our discussion, active subwoofers appear to have numerous advantages.
From crossover design, to in-built amplification that gives you better control of sound distortion among the many other advantages, it is clear that active subs have an edge. However, they have disadvantages too.
Also, very few speaker manufacturers can make amps as well. They must therefore source amplifiers from OEM suppliers. If these are not adequately matched, the sound quality may not be as good as intended.
On the other hand, active subwoofers are much more limited in terms of scalability. If you want a subwoofer with the possibility to upgrade, active subs won’t be the right choice.
For instance, if the in-built amp has an issue and you need to change it, the speaker has to go with it.
Powered or Passive Subwoofers and Amps?
Many people prefer powered subs since they have built-in amps. They don’t depend on the limitations of external amplifiers, so if the subwoofer is in the right working condition, you are highly likely to get the desired experience without any worry.
Powered or Passive Subwoofers and Receivers?
Powered subwoofers are easy to use with home theater receivers. Remember, these receivers come equipped with subwoofer pre-amp lineouts tailored to connect to your powered subwoofer.
Powered or Passive Subwoofers and Cost
If you choose a passive sub, you might require an external amp that’s more costly than your sub. This means it’s often more cost-effective to buy a powered subwoofer. If you want, you can use the wireless connection option, which is getting popular every day.
As long as your powered sub has a built-in wireless receiver and provides an external wireless transmitter that plugs into the amp or receiver’s subwoofer line output, you can use it.
How To Make A Powered Subwoofer Passive
If you still want the passive option, ensure your subwoofer pre-out from your receiver is connected to the line connection of your external subwoofer amp.
If that’s not possible, connect the amp’s left and right speaker connections to the sub. After that, connect your speaker output connections to your main right and left front speakers on the subwoofer. Of course, this option only applies if your passive subwoofer comes with the in and out standards speaker connections.
This setup removes the obligation for you to purchase an external amplifier for your passive subwoofer.
However, due to the high demand for low-frequency sound output, it might put a lot of strain on your home theater receiver or amp. So, you should weigh the demerits and pros and consider whether the subwoofer meets your needs.
Can Active Subwoofer Be Used As Passive?
If you so wish, you can attach any self-powered subwoofer to the connection that you previously used for passive subwoofers.
If you get a powered subwoofer with speaker-level inputs, you need to connect the speaker wire used for the passive sub to one of the two speaker-level inputs without paying much attention to either L or R.
Does An Active Subwoofer Need An Amp?
By default, subwoofers are premeditated to reproduce low-frequency sounds. Active subwoofers can function without an amp. They do not, therefore, need an amp to work.
How Do You Connect Speaker Wires To A Passive Subwoofer?
It is required that the speaker wire have RCA connections at the subwoofer end for linking to be successful. In the speaker setup menu of the receiver, set the front speakers to large while the sub is set to none.
The other available option is to add a power amplifier to the passive subwoofer making it a powered sub.
Is It Dangerous To Connect A Passive Subwoofer To A Receiver?
Yes, it can get dangerous to link passive subs to a receiver because passive subwoofers require much more power to reproduce the bass so experienced. Consequently, there is a likelihood that your receiver may not distribute the requisite power for your subwoofer to function most favorably.
Please do not forget that you might even cause the receiver to blow if you are not careful with your subwoofer, especially for older or poor-quality devices.
How to Power a Passive Subwoofer
You can use an external amplifier to power your passive sub and use it as a powered subwoofer connected to the pre-out.
It is simple to power a passive subwoofer if you follow the listed steps.
- Get an RCA cable.
- Set up your subwoofer so that it is ready to connect to an external Amplifier.
- Connect your passive subwoofer to an external amplifier.
- Connect your AV receiver to the input of the amplifier using your RCA cable.
To produce bass sounds, passive subwoofers would need a lot of power. If you connect your subwoofer directly to the speaker connectors, your receiver may not provide enough power for it to perform properly.
This can be solved by using an external amplifier to power it.
Active Subwoofer Vs Passive Subwoofer For Cars
To make the best decision, you have to first know what you need and what you can sacrifice. If the goal is to find the cheaper option, a simple active cabinet sub will do. If you are looking for compactness, a compact active under-the-seat subwoofer will do the job.
However, if you are looking for the perfect sound quality and power in your car, passive subwoofers are usually the preferred option.
Best Active Subwoofer
These subwoofers can create surround sound quality while watching movies or listening to music, in addition to bringing that extra kick to your audio setup.=
Some of the best subwoofers are listed below.
- Klipsch R-120SW
- MartinLogan Dynamo Subwoofer
- BIC America F12
- Sonos Sub
- Definitive Technology ProSub 1000
The choice of the subwoofer system to use is a personal choice based on the factors we have discussed.
However, in most home theater systems used in many homes today, active subwoofers are much more common. They are all-inclusive, easier to use, compact, and will boost the performance of your home theater.
Norvan Martin is the founder of BoomSpeaker.com. He is a professional Electronics Engineer and is passionate about home theater systems and AV electronics. BoomSpeaker was created as an online hub to share his knowledge and experiences as it relates to home theaters and home audio electronics.