Active speakers offer various benefits compared to their passive equivalents. They are less prone to signal loss and distortion and are generally easier to use. Mixers are often used in conjunction with these speakers.
Do you need a mixer for active speakers?
A mixer is not required to use active speakers. Active speakers have everything they need already installed, like a built-in amplifier. A mixer simply gives you more control over the sound they produce.
Furthermore, the necessity of a mixer depends on the specific active speakers in question.
The majority of active speakers can be connected straight to the audio source, with no external equipment required. Passive speakers, in comparison, require an external amp and various cables.
However, some significant benefits using a mixer with your active speaker provides, which I will cover in this guide.
Using A Mixer With Active Speakers
An active speaker is simply a device that contains the amplifier and the speaker within the same unit. There are also other integral devices housed within the unit, such as onboard crossovers and subwoofers.
One of the main reasons that active speakers are a popular choice for people setting up an audio system, is that they eliminate the need for an external amplifier, separate crossovers, and speaker wires.
Mixers are sophisticated devices that fulfill the purpose of combining separate audio signals to be blended.
They feature various inputs and outputs. When used with active speakers, they receive the audio from the sound source or amp and send it back to the speakers after it has been processed.
It’s perfectly possible to use active speakers without a mixer.
- Everything that is required for the speakers to produce audio is already housed within the unit.
In theory, you could simply connect the audio source to the amp using the relevant cable, and the audio would play through the active speakers.
Nevertheless, I would advise considering incorporating a mixer into your audio setup, even though it’s not essential. This is because having a mixer presents you with so many additional options for adjusting the properties of the sound system, using the array of onboard controls, sliders, and settings.
A good-quality mixer provides you with many additional features that can improve the performance of active speakers. It is likely to include multiple individual channels for adjusting bass, mid-range, and treble, which can all be blended to create the final mix.
A mixer essentially optimizes the sound by facilitating the adjustment of multiple audio signals.
Mixers also include several other useful features, such as equalization, onboard effects, monitoring channels, and the potential to record the audio as a stereo mix.
Active System Setup
To understand why a mixer is beneficial when used with active speakers, we must dissect the components and functions of the whole system.
- Active systems are more popular than passive systems these days, simply because there’s less equipment to set up, and they are generally easier to use.
The first component of an active setup is a pair of active speakers.
The speakers are used to amplify the sound and project it. Sound quality varies depending on the inner electronics of the speakers, their wattage, how they are tuned, and their frequency response.
The mixer is used as a central controller for the whole system. I’ll discuss its features in detail later in this guide, but generally, it is used for volume, panning, EQ, and adding effects to the audio.
With an active speaker system, you’ll need significantly fewer cables and wires than are required in a passive speaker system. The amp, crossover, and connecting cables are all housed within the active unit, making them tidier and much easier to set up.
Another advantage of using an active system is that the amp can be precisely matched to the speakers. This results in a more economic and efficient process to achieve the optimal sound.
Some active speakers use a two-way system, which consists of a woofer and a tweeter. The woofer is responsible for amplifying the low-end frequencies, while the tweeter focuses on the mid and treble frequencies.
This results in a process known as “bi-amplification”. The onboard electronic crossover housed within the active speaker unit splits the signal frequency, routing the bass and treble to separate amplifiers to feed the two individual transducers.
High-end active speakers may even facilitate “tri-amplification”, which is the same process, but the signal is split into three sections – bass, mids, and treble, and then sent to three individual amplifiers.
This video is helpful for understanding active speakers and how they work.
The Advantages Of Using A Mixer With Active Speakers
As is the case with all audio equipment, the capabilities of mixers vary significantly depending on the manufacturer, model, age, and cost.
Nevertheless, there are several staple features that you can expect to find on the majority of mixers to enhance the performance of your active speakers.
- Level controls
- Onboard effects (reverb, compression)
- Line-level/balanced inputs
The board section of the mixer is likely to be based on one of two possible layouts – “in-line” and “split”. In-line layouts contain the input and monitoring controls in one compact section. Split layouts have both sections positioned in different halves of the board.
Inputs are a necessity, as they form the entry points for audio sources into the mixer. Again, the type of inputs included will depend on the type of mixer, but generally, you can expect to find RCA, 5mm jack, and XLR inputs.
EQ, or equalization, is also a common feature on mixers.
This is particularly useful when used with active speakers, as it allows you to shape the frequency output of the sound source before it is played through the speakers.
Depending on the quality of the mixer, the EQ section will be more or less detailed. On high-end mixers, there are likely to be several faders for each channel, which control the prominence of low, mid, and high-frequency bands.
Active speakers color the tone of the audio in their way. If you find that the sound is a little bass-heavy or harsh treble frequencies are too apparent, using the EQ controls on a mixer could be the perfect solution.
You can identify the problem frequencies, and reduce them using reductive EQ, or increase the prominence of desirable frequencies using additive EQ.
The table below summarizes the functions of the active speaker system compared to a passive system:
|Active Speakers||Passive Speakers|
|Built-in amplifier||External amplifier|
|Built-in crossover||External crossover|
|Optimal amp & speaker design||Takes up more space|
|Capable of bi-amping||Less compatible with mixers|
How To Connect A Mixer To Active Speakers
If you’re convinced that using a mixer with your active speakers will be beneficial (it probably will) then the next step you need to take is correctly connecting the two devices for optimal performance.
The first thing you need to do is assess the connection options provided by the mixer. This will prevent you from using unsuitable cables, which may lead to unwanted noise or electronic interference diminishing overall audio quality.
You can expect to find two varieties of connections on your mixer – balanced and unbalanced.
Balanced lines are capable of rejecting induced noise. They are commonly used for long cable runs and are considered to be the most reliable type of cable. TRS and XLRs are the most common type of balanced cable.
Unbalanced lines are more likely to encounter noise issues.
They are used for line-level devices, such as instruments, or audio sources like smartphones, laptops, or televisions. Once you’ve established the connectors that are available on your mixer, the next step is to ensure your equipment is positioned correctly.
The mixer and active speakers are connected by sending output from the mixer to the speakers. Many modern mixers offer line outputs, which is the simplest way to connect the two devices. You need to send the line output or balanced output to the speakers – it’s that easy!
How do you tell if a speaker is active or passive?
To put it simply, an active speaker contains its amplifier and crossover within a single unit. Passive speakers, on the other hand, require these devices to be externally connected to function effectively.
Do active speakers sound better?
Generally speaking, active speakers have smaller drivers than their passive equivalents. This is because they contain an amplifier, so there is less space. Passive speakers have larger drivers, which commonly improve sound quality.
Should I use a digital or analog mixer with active speakers?
Analog mixers usually provide one control for each function. Digital mixers, on the other hand, allow you to assign various functions to one single control. Both devices are suitable, but digital mixers generally provide more options and flexibility.
Finally, check out my article on connecting a mixer to another mixer. You can read it here.