In the world of public address systems, you’ll usually hear the terms “powered mixer” and “powered speakers”. Both are active PA audio devices. Read on for the differences between these audio devices, how they work, and more.
For powered speakers, the inbuilt amplifier is specially optimized and the impedance is perfectly matched to the speakers and there is normally some built-in protection. These optimizations and protection circuits are generally not available within powered mixers and passive speakers, as they lack power. This means powered speakers sound better.
Our general recommendation is to either use:
- Powered Speaker + Digital Mixer: A digital mixer racked with a powered speaker is an excellent setup. Here’s a guide on how to connect powered speakers to a mixer.
- Passive Speaker + Powered Mixer: A quick, easy, and fast setup and tear down is using a powered mixer plus passive speakers. Here’s a guide on how to connect passive speakers to a mixer.
Powered Mixer vs Powered Speakers Comparison Table
|Feature||Powered Speakers||Powered Mixer|
|Amplifier||Built in amp||No amp|
|Sound||Sound better due to optimized amp||Doesn't sound as good|
|Digital Features||Some can produce effects, dynamics, EQ, etc (or use a digital mixer)||Generally don't have digital features (some do)|
|Impedance||Perfectly matched||Match impedance yoruself|
Comparison: Powered Mixer and Powered Speakers
Powered speakers and powered mixers are valuable due to their unique features. These are:
- Convenient for portable sound systems
- Easy to set up and use
- For small-scale PA systems
- Compatible with a wide assortment of passive speakers
- Convenient for portable audio systems
- Easy to set up and use
- For small-to-medium-scale PA systems
- Compatible with a wide assortment of digital, analog, old, and new mixers
- Some have in-built mixers
Powered Mixer and Powered Speaker, What’s the Difference?
What Is A Powered Mixer and Why Use One?
A powered mixer is a mixing console that comes with an in-built amplifier designed to send audio signals and currents to a set of passive speakers. It’s a major setup in the passive PA system.
Powered Mixers Design and Connections
A powered mixer is “fatter” and more box-shaped than a passive one. Besides, it’s heavier than a passive mixer. This happens due to the added in-built amp. Moreover, instead of XLR, powered mixers have ¼” outputs for the main channel.
Powered Mixers Portability
From the above details, powered mixers are more portable than unpowered ones. In other words, you don’t have to carry around a heavy power amp and a mixing console when planning to set up a passive audio system.
However, this only applies if your speakers have high impedance and don’t require too much power. These mixers are less efficient than powerful standalone amplifiers. So, you can use powered mixers depending on your audio needs.
Powered Mixers Impedance
It can be confusing for a less tech-savvy individual to understand the impedance and wattage required for a set of passive speakers to operate optimally.
If you choose lower-impedance speakers, you may not get any sound at all. You also risk your power mixer and passive speakers blowing out due to the built-in heat.
What Is A Powered Speaker and Why Use One?
A powered speaker, also known as a self-powered or active speaker, is a unit that holds both the speaker and the amplifier in a single enclosure.
It’s used in powered PA systems. Current powered speakers have other accessories like built-in crossovers and subwoofers.
Powered Speakers Design and Functions
They are designed to produce quality sound without external amplifiers and separate heavy speaker wires, crossovers, and the associated costs.
Powered Speakers Effects
Some new powered speakers come with inbuilt EQ presets, limiters, and WiFi for an enhanced entertainment experience.
Powered Speakers Portability
Powered speakers are compact and simple to use. That’s a big plus.
The devices are portable, like powered mixers. They are used in settings like live music concerts and private homes as part of hi-fi systems.
Powered Speakers and Computer Speakers
They also work well as computer speakers. Besides, setting up the sound system is easy due to its simplicity. You don’t need to collect and connect too many accessories, devices, wires, and the like.
Powered Speakers Inbuilt Amplifiers
Moreover, with a powered mixer, the in-built amplifier is designed to match the speakers. The speaker impedance, frequency response, and other related characteristics are also typically matched with amplifier capabilities. Moreover, speaker designers tailor the EQ presents to each driver’s traits.
Powered Speakers SPL
Modern powered speakers also incorporate limiters carefully matched with driver characteristics.
This helps increase their likelihood of surviving a stretched Sound Pressure Level (SPL), measured in decibels (dB). So, these speakers are highly dependable units that guarantee you a neutral sound.
Additionally, powered speakers benefit from the distance between their components. The short distance increases fidelity, as it decreases external interference. With the short cables within the unit, the speaker losses incredibly small voltage and control. Remember that impedance is higher in longer cables than in shorter ones.
Powered Speakers Physical Features
Like powered mixers, powered speakers are not perfect. They typically weigh more than similar passive speakers. The internal amplifier circuitry is responsible for this. Moreover, an active speaker requires an AC power cable and an audio signal cable. The other speakers need a single cable.
However, many modern-powered speakers come with UHF and WiFi receivers. So, they only require the AC cable.
Some self-powered or active speakers also use an onboard mixer, which you can use to connect various inputs directly to your set of speakers.
Can I Connect a Powered Mixer to Powered Speakers?
As easier said, powered mixers and powered speakers have in-built amplifiers. Passive PA systems consist of powered mixers and passive speakers.
On the other hand, active setups are made up of passive mixers and powered speakers. This is how they are designed to work.
Can you connect a powered mixer to powered speakers? The answer is “YES” It’s perfectly safe if you know what to do.
The secret is to use the powered mixer as if it weren’t powered. This means, instead of the Speakon ports, you should use the unpowered ¼” line-outs.
Which is the Better Option, the Passive or Active PA System?
We mentioned earlier that a passive PA system contains a powered mixer and passive speakers.
On the other hand, the active setup has a passive mixer and powered speakers. Which of these setups is the best?
Pros and Cons of Powered PA System
- Simple and compact
- Produce optimized sound
- Impedance properly matched
- Can survive outstretched SPL use
- Safe to use
- Can offer super compact PA use
- A powered speaker is heavier than normal speakers
- Difficult to replace the components in case of damage
Pros and Cons of Passive PA System
- Anyone can connect a powered mixer to passive speakers
- External amp not a must-have
- Easier to replace the components in case of damage
- Limited compactness and simplicity
- Amp impedance is not designed to match the speakers
- Limiters are not matched, increasing the likelihood of damage in case of stretched SPL use
- High chances of getting low quality due to mismatched impedance
- High risk of damage
A powered PA system can be better than a passive one. However, it can limit you when you need to increase the speakers’ number to reach a wider audience.
Powered speakers are more expensive than the common alternatives. If you can match your audio system’s impedance and choose the best components, a passive PA system can suit you. It’s a matter of personal needs and preferences.
Powered vs Unpowered Mixer
While we have used only powered mixers here as a comparison with powered speakers, many people also ask which is the better option a powered Mixer or an unpowered mixer.
A very important choice you have to make when selecting a mixer is whether to get a powered or unpowered design. Powered mixers use a power amplifier in the mixer. Unpowered mixers are known to use a separate amplifier.
The truth is, there is no major difference between powered and unpowered mixers when it comes to cost. Depending on what the buyer wants, both products range in price.
It is important to note that, for an identical brand of the mixer, an unpowered mixer would be more cost-effective. The powered mixer tends to be more expensive due to the extra charges accrued by the power amp. The disadvantage is that unpowered mixers need an external amp. The cost of an unpowered mixer and a separate amp is generally more than the cost of a powered mixer.
The size of the mixer creates a major distinction between both products. All unpowered mixers are lighter than the powered variants, no matter the brand. Ironically, powered mixers are usually marketed to performing musicians, who need to be able to move freely.
In a number of instances, the dichotomy in size is so obvious that most unpowered mixers weigh more than powered mixers. The actual constituents of the mixer might weigh less, but the added weight of the larger casing and controls can be significant.
Therefore, the obvious better choice of the two is the powered mixer.
Now you know when and how to use a powered mixer and powered speakers, use the information to determine which of them suits you at different times.
For more information on how to complete these setups, please check out our article on how to connect speakers, monitors, amps, and mixers.