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Powered vs. Passive Speakers – Know the Difference, Meet Your Needs

Powered vs. Passive Speakers – Know the Difference, Meet Your Needs

Posted by Laura Strommen, SoundPro on Aug 8th 2022

Estimated Reading Time: 7 Minutes

When researching loudspeakers, the simple desire for quality audio can quickly get bogged down in the vast selection you’ll encounter. One distinction worth discussing: most speaker systems will be described as either “powered” or “passive.” Knowing the difference may be key in helping you narrow down these choices and find the right speakers for your application.


How Speakers Work

Loudspeakers use one or more electromagnetic motors (usually called drivers) attached to a cone to broadcast sound waves. Speakers must be attached to another electronic source, which sends a signal that is programmed to replicate specific sound waves. Based on this signal, the driver pushes the cone back and forth, which causes the air molecules in front of the cone to bump into each other and eventually domino through space. When the molecules eventually reach your ear, they vibrate against your eardrum and send a signal to your brain that is interpreted as sound.

All loudspeakers require some sort of power source (or amplifier) to send power to the driver. That’s where the “powered” and “passive” terminology comes in. Powered loudspeakers (also called active) include built-in amps, so all you have to do is connect it to your sound source, whereas passive loudspeakers require an additional connection to add that power separately.

How to Identify Powered vs. Passive Speakers

Powered and passive speakers tend to look nearly identical on the outside—particularly from the front. To tell what type a speaker is, you can usually check its back panel, where the model number is typically listed: many manufacturers add a “P” or “A” to the end of the model number to indicate its powered/active categorization.

Another way to determine the type of speaker is to look at the connections on the back panel:

  • Passive speakers – Often include SpeakON, Terminal Block (Phoenix), or ¼” connections
  • Powered speakers – Typically include XLR, ¼”, or a combination of these two connections

Powered speakers tend to be heavier due to including more features in one module, including the amplifier and DSP which passive speakers do not have. For this reason, powered speakers tend to come at a higher price point than passive speakers—but remember that even if a passive speaker is less expensive, you’ll also need to purchase an amp, mixer, or other components that are sold separately.

Keeping Subwoofers in Mind

Subwoofers (“subs”) are a common subcategory of speakers that are specifically built to handle extremely low-pitched audio frequencies (bass and sub-bass, generally 20-200 Hz). This gives your audio more accurate stereo imaging, enhances dynamics, and enables more immersive listening. A must for miking low-frequency instruments such as kick drums or bass guitar, subs are also great for background music (particularly bass-heavy genres), stadiums, concert halls, theaters, studios, and more.

Subwoofers never work alone—they’re designed to work in partnership with loudspeakers that handle higher-pitched frequencies. Like their loudspeaker counterparts, subs come in powered (built-in amp) and passive (requires an external amp connection) versions.

One important thing to remember is that you cannot mix and match types of subs and speakers (i.e., connect a powered speaker to a passive subwoofer, or vis-versa); always connect a powered speaker to a powered subwoofer or a passive speaker to a passive subwoofer.

Powered Speaker Considerations

Because powered speakers already have an amplifier system included in their construction, these types of speakers are extremely easy to set up right out of the box. Many models include other built-in features such as effects, compressors, and more to make one powered speaker virtually a standalone PA system! The amp component of powered speakers is designed to coordinate perfectly with the driver, and they also are simple to pair with powered subwoofers. Since you don’t need to connect any additional gear, they’re generally compact and portable—which makes them great for environments where space is limited, such as smaller live performance venues, outdoor presentations, or mobile DJ gigs.

However, powered speakers come in a more limited selection of sizes and styles. “What you see is what you get”—which can be great, but also means less flexibility if your sound system needs to evolve as your audio needs change. Also, the amp component takes up room inside the speaker’s build, sometimes at the cost of driver size. With a smaller driver, the clarity and precision of the sound might be affected.

Passive Speaker Considerations

The benefit of using passive loudspeakers is their customization options. You can mix and match components to fit the specific needs of any given project, which not only makes passive speakers ideal for people who like customizing their sound setup, it also makes it easier to adjust your setup over time, such as scaling to fit a larger space or adding surround sound. Additionally, because there’s more space inside the speaker’s housing, passive speakers can accommodate larger drivers for a more pristine, accurate sound reproduction.

Because they don’t provide built-in amplification, passive speakers need external gear to be connected, including external amplifiers or stereo receivers, speaker cables, and possibly an outboard crossover or other signal processing gear. As opposed to powered speakers (where the amp and driver have been specifically optimized), there is no guarantee that the components you choose will work well together to produce the best possible sound.

For assistance in tackling the complexities of passive speaker setups, contact the SoundPro experts by emailing or calling 800.203.5611.


Powered speakers are excellent for mobile users because they’re affordable, easy to set up, and simple to use as standalone sound systems. With fewer components to pack, they’re a great choice for professionals who need portable gear, such as mobile DJs, independent performers, outdoor events organizers, and so much more.

Powered Speaker Recommendations

Powered Subwoofer Recommendations


Passive speakers are generally the best bet for situations where you need flexibility and customization options. Often this means professional applications, such as venues where the sound system needs to be scalable and versatile, or for audio projects that require the most accurate and reliable sound reproduction. Boasting the capacity to grow to meet the needs of small to large venues, passive speakers are ideal for clubs and entertainment venues, houses of worship, auditoriums and theaters, arenas and stadiums, and business PA systems.

Passive Speaker Recommendations

Passive Subwoofer Recommendations


Understanding the basics of loudspeakers can help you avoid getting caught up in the terminology and make a better-informed purchase. Whether you’re a professional audio engineer, a novice listener, or anywhere in between—nobody wants to spend their valuable time digging through thousands of options before finding the speaker that’s right for them! By knowing whether to filter by “passive” or “powered” options, you’ve already narrowed down your search significantly.

Looking to find the right loudspeaker even faster? Get personalized suggestions to meet your specific application when you reach out to one of our knowledgeable Account Managers at or 800.203.5611!

Laura Strommen – Web Content Specialist

Joining the SoundPro team in July 2021, Laura brings her English degree and over five years’ experience as a content writer and copy editor.