Anyone who has been in a band or seen one plays knows the importance of a good quality sound system. When performing, active speakers are preferred, but what about when someone only has a passive speaker available? Can the passive speaker be transformed?
A passive speaker can be made into an active speaker with an external power source. This is typically an amplifier that creates the phantom power needed to produce the instrument sound. A passive speaker can also be transformed without an amplifier, but it requires an alternative source.
So what is the main difference between these two types of speakers? How do you convert one into another and is it even worth it to convert? Here is everything you need to know about converting a passive speaker into an active one.
What is a Passive Speaker
A passive speaker is the type of speaker that is used in everyday life. Think of Bluetooth systems, car speakers, and other general PA systems. The function of passive speakers is simply to put sound out. These speakers take the sound directly as it is and produce it through the speaker without changing or processing anything.
Passive speakers are cheaper to buy than active speakers because they only function as a speaker. They are just a tool to get sound out and have no other internal systems.
What is an Active Speaker?
On the other hand, active speakers are more complex.
Active speakers contain a sound processing system, which means that instead of directly putting sound out like a passive system would, they take in the sound, process it, and pipe the amplified sound out through the speaker.
Generally, active speakers have their own power, which provides the power to the instruments that are plugged into them. Active speakers also have amplifiers built-in and don’t require any additional systems to produce a louder sound.
The complexity of active speakers and the internal systems cause them to be more expensive than passive speakers.
Active speakers have a wider range of sound and a bigger, higher sound quality. These kinds of speakers are used by instrumentalists and members of bands who need to amplify and power their sound for large crowds.
Turning Passive Speakers into Active with an Amplifier
I interviewed salespeople from two local music stores (Chesbro Music and Mike’s Music Store), and they provided me with high-quality information about passive and active speakers.
The general consensus was that it is possible to turn passive speakers into active speakers, but the process is more complicated. In order to turn a passive speaker into an active one, you have to run the speaker through an external power source and amplifier. This amplifier is often seen in the form of a pedal activated on a pedalboard to provide additional power. This pedal can be activated for the instruments.
The most important thing in adding an additional source to the passive speakers is that they have to be able to produce phantom power. Phantom power is the term is used to describe the electricity that is sent from the speaker into the instrument to activate the signal. Passive speakers themselves don’t have signals, so they need phantom power to produce signals.
When transforming passive speakers into active ones, you need to consider how loud of a sound you need. Generally, there need to be two passive speakers plugged into a soundboard, and that soundboard needs a connection to a larger source.
Transforming the Speaker without an Amplifier
Although it is rarer and harder to do, there is a way to transform a speaker without using an amplifier.
Without an amplifier, there is no way to change the direct nature of the speaker, however active signals can be produced with the help of a soundboard.
When you plug in passive speakers into a soundboard, essentially what is being done is that the soundboard is working as an active signal and produces the phantom power. The soundboard then takes the signal and sends it to the passive speaker, which operates through its primary function of simply putting the sound out there.
Things to Consider When Converting a Speaker
It is important to understand that, although it is possible, the process of converting a passive speaker is complicated. Both salespeople noted that it is better to simply buy an active speaker than to try the conversion process, and here’s why:
Although passive speakers themselves are cheaper, the conversion process requires several different systems in order to function properly. The cost of the speaker as well as the additional costs of external power systems and soundboards adds up to more money than you would have spent if you just bought an active system.
The more systems that the sound has to go through, the worse the quality will be. In the case of a passive speaker converted into an active one, the signal has to go through a transformer, the power system, and then be sent back to the speaker. All of these steps can cause the sound to lag and the quality may not be at the level the musician wants.
Active systems work for general speaker needs, but if you are looking to perform a show with a large venue, it is better to go for an active speaker, which has a better quality of sound, a higher range, and longer durability.
When buying a speaker, whether it is passive or active, it is important to know what the specific use of the speaker is.
According to an employee at Chesbro music, a common mistake that people make is that they don’t know how to find the right speaker for their specific instrument or needs.
When looking for good quality active speakers, it is important to bring the specific instruments to the store to test out the sound quality and to be sure that the speaker provides the things that you are looking for specifically.
What level should I set my Speakers to?
I have written an article on this subject. You can read it here.
Additional Information On Speaker Conversion
There are ways to change the function of the speaker itself through electronic meddling, but those require altering the inner workings of the speaker, and some basic electronic knowledge is needed. If you are interested in that, the video below demonstrates one way to change the speaker itself.