The difference between active and passive PA systems

Two main types of public address systems

In the world of portable and permanent public address systems, you will usually hear the words “active” and “passive” when describing the type of public address system being used.

This blog will explore what the real differences are, the pros and cons, and why you might want to use one over the other.

Much of the audio world is making the switch to active PA systems, as they generally require less equipment to transport, are easier to set up, and require far less audio expertise to operate properly.

This is not to say that passive systems do not have their place or advantages. Many engineers swear by their passive systems and believe it is always the way to go.

The passive system

A passive system will contain one of two configurations. The first is a electric mixer (a mixing console with a built-in amplifier), sending both audio and electricity to a set of passive speakers. Powered mixers are usually “fatter” and more boxy than a standard passive mixer, and will have 1/4″ outputs for the main channel instead of XLR.

The second option is a passive mixer going into a power amplifier in a set of passive speakers. A power amplifier is a type of amplifier meant to send large amounts of power to your speakers.

The main advantage of motorized mixers is that you don’t need to carry both a mixing console and a high-powered amplifier. However, if you need a lot of power for your speakers, powered mixers generally don’t stack up to a really powerful stand-alone amplifier.

However, one downside is that for the less technically inclined, it can be a little confusing to understand the power and ohms of an amp and how it should match the speakers you connect. In order for a set of passive speakers to sound like they’re supposed to, you need to make sure your amp is sending the right amount of power with the right amount of ohms (resistance). Without this, you run the risk of your speakers being too low, turning off, or getting no sound at all.

For permanent installations, AudioLink Services can advise you on the best setup for your room, help you choose equipment, provide you with the necessary equipment and assist you with installation .

The food system

A powered setup only requires a passive mixer and one or more powered speakers. All powered speakers have at least one input on the back (either 1/4″ or XLR) so you can plug a microphone or iPod directly into them, meaning you don’t even technically need the mixer to work. A mixer will it offers the option of more channels, EQ control and volume control, among other things.

Powered speakers must always be connected to a power source, i.e. a power outlet or power strip. Then, using an XLR or 1/4″ cable, they are connected to a mixer and all other sound sources go through the mixer. This is. Setup is simple and as long as you have the right cables and power supplies, you’re good to go.

There are many different brands of motorized speakers and they all have a pretty unique sound. Some are more advanced than others, including built-in EQ presets, limiters, and even WiFi. Always trust your ears and go with what sounds best when deciding which one to buy.

What type of program will you produce?

Depending on the type of event you’re running, there are certain things you may want to consider when deciding between passive and active PAs. DJs, churches, rock bands, and barbecue enthusiasts these days mostly use electric systems. Passive is considered more “old school”, but some engineers and performers still prefer the sound of a passive system.

For simplicity, ease of use and plenty of volume, powered speakers are great. For vocalists, large DJ sets and church pulpits, a pair of electric speakers with some electric subwoofers can give a massive and satisfying sound. Also for portability, motorized systems can be easy to transport and quick to break down and set up if you need to take them to another location.

Passive systems are generally used for larger venues and spaces, allowing all your amplifiers, mixers and outboard gear to be in one place for total control. Also, if you want to operate multiple speakers at various distances, you just need to run a cable to each speaker and daisy-chain them together, no need to worry about plugging the speakers into a power outlet.

Again, these types of equipment are more complicated and may turn off someone who just wants to “set and forget.”

Try before you buy

Many stores have systems in stock that allow you to listen and test different equipment. If you’re not sure what you want, you want to hear how something sounds, find out at your local music store what equipment they have available for demo.

Or comment below with any questions or concerns and our staff here at AudioLinks will be happy to help.

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