We’ve all heard that old saying, right? You are only as strong as your weakest link. Sounds straight forward enough, even when you apply it to music; having a top of the line electric guitar won’t do you any good unless you have an amp that can best take advantage of what an expensive guitar will give you over a run of the mill version. Even something as seemingly insignificant as an input cable will give you some problems if it’s of bad quality. Now with that said, for those of you who want to be the just as good behind the music as they are in front of it, maybe a good set of speakers will help you better mix your latest demo? There are plenty of things that go into selecting your perfect set of speakers; budget comes to mind and quality is definitely important, but there are also certain things when dealing with speakers that one must realize before simply picking up anything that’s on sale.
Powered versus Unpowered Speakers
It’s always a good idea to know exactly what you will need because I don’t have to tell you that all speakers are not built the same. One of the first questions you must ask yourself is exactly what kind of speakers you will need – more specifically – should they be powered or unpowered? Those of you familiar with pickups or microphones will undoubtedly know the terms active and passive where active means that they require an extra source of power to get them going. With microphones, this entails that you will need some phantom power or a mix board that can supply it while when speaking of pickups, a battery must be used, usually a 9 volt, in order for them to operate. When dealing with studio monitors, the same principles apply. The terms are also used when referring to speakers; an active speaker is one that does not require its own power supply while passive monitors do. This might seem a bit confusing since when dealing with pickups and microphones, active entails the need for and outside source of power while with active monitors, they don’t. But once you look at it from a different perspective, you’ll see why this is the correct way to term them; pickups, microphones and speakers all need power, regardless of being active or not. Passive pickups and microphones get their needed power straight from the connection (passive guitar pickups are powered by the amp and passive microphones by the mixer/recorder/computer) and so do passive speakers. And while active microphones and pickups get that extra dose of power via a dedicated supply such as phantom power or a 9 volt, so do active speakers in the form of needing to be plugged into an outlet; simply put, anything active needs more power than their passive counterparts. And with that said, they both have their share of pros and cons.
The Pros and Cons of Active versus Passive
First of all, before you decide which of the two is best for you, you should know what you will need for each. First things first, an unpowered speaker will require you to connect it to a power amplifier in order to give it enough juice to get it going. Powered amplifiers on the other hand come with the amplification built in and will just need an outlet to power it on. While buying an unpowered amplifier is in general cheaper than their active brethren, you will have to be sure you have the right kind of power amplifier for the job. You will obviously need the proper cables in order to connect these monitors to your power amp which may be in the form of your typical ¼ inch jack, and XRL cable, or even the rarer spade lugs, banana plugs and even binding posts. Once you have all the required cables and made sure to properly connect them, there are still a few things to keep in mind. One of the most important things to remember with power amplifiers in regards to unpowered monitors is the correct amount of wattage. As a rule of thumb, your power amplifier should have twice the amount of necessary wattage to power your speakers so as to give yourself enough comfort room. If you are buying speakers that require 300 watts to operate, it is recommended that your power amp be at 600 watts. Again, this is a recommendation and not a requirement for them to operate. And just like the combination of amps and pre amps, your combination of speakers and power amplifier will have its own unique sound as well. So, what if you don’t want to deal with buying a perfectly suitable combination of unpowered speakers and a power amplifier? Then active monitors might be more your taste. With powered speakers, you simply don’t have to deal with extra thought that comes with more equipment and can easily just hook it up to your computer or mixer without fear that the combination of cables, power amp and speakers might not be at its best. As far as sound goes, you know what you’re getting as soon as you hear them and you do not need anything else to get them going. So why not just go with powered speakers? Same reason why some players simply prefer buying their equipment in segments like they would with an amp head and cabinet so they are less dependent on one single, un-modifiable piece of equipment which is especially bad (and expensive) if that all-in-one gadget suddenly breaks down. This is also more economical as you can upgrade in pieces instead of springing for the entire typically more expensive all-in-one variety.
Selecting Your Perfect Speaker
The choice between powered or unpowered speakers is similar to the choice between buying a combo amp or an amp head + cabinet; there is less equipment needed for one but you have more variety and a customizable set up when buying the other. Also, while buying all the necessary equipment required to use unpowered speakers can tend to be more expensive than simply buying the powered variety, you have the benefit of not having to replace the entire thing if it breaks down. On the other hand, powered amplifiers do not require any sort of extra thought beyond the way they sound. In the end, both will make great choices as long as you know what you are getting into.
And now that you know the differences between these two types of speakers, head over to PAL’s speaker page to check out our great selection of studio monitors at the best prices guaranteed!