Readers often email me asking if they should choose passive or powered (active) speakers for their vinyl turntable or record player.
It also seems to be a bit of confusion on the actual differences between passive and powered speakers.
So, in this article, I will explain the differences between passive and powered speakers. I will also give my best advice on which type that is best to pair with a turntable in different circumstances.
Personally, I use both powered and passive speakers with my turntables so I have a bit of experience with both options.
The main difference between passive and powered speakers is that powered speakers have the amplifier included in the speaker cabinets while passive speakers need to be powered by a separate (standalone) amplifier.
With passive speakers, you need an amplifier between the turntable and the speakers.
While powered speakers shall be connected directly to the turntable. (Given that the turntable has a built-in preamp.)
In the coming sections, we’ll dig deeper into the differences between passive and powered speakers. The pros and cons of each type. And which type to choose for vinyl and turntables.
Powered speakers explained
Powered speakers have the amplifier built into the speaker cabinet.
Since the amplifier is built into the speakers, powered speakers connect directly to music sources like turntables, CD players and computers.
The main benefit with powered speakers is that you don’t need a separate amplifier. That way you can save both space and money. They are compact, offers high value for money and are easy to use.
Passive speakers explained
Passive speakers need to be driven by a separate amplifier or receiver. They will not produce any sound if connected directly to a turntable because the music signal from a turntable is way too weak to drive passive speakers.
Some passive speakers are easy to drive and require very little power to play loud. We call this high sensitivity speakers. Sensitivity is measured in decibel per Watt (dB/W) and is a measure of how much sound the speakers make when one watt of power is applied.
One example of a high sensitivity speakers is the popular Klipsch RP-600M. They play loud with about any type of amplifier. They have a sensitivity of 96dB/W.
The speakers I currently use, the B&W 705 S2, are hard to drive and requires a pretty solid amplifier to play loud. They have a sensitivity of 87dB/W.
It takes double the amplification power to increase the sound with only 3db. That means that my B&W 705 S2 needs three times more amplification power than the Klipsch RP-600M to play equally loud.
Are powered speakers better than passive?
Powered speakers are usually a more affordable option than a passive speakers and amplifier combo. They also require less physical space and are easier to fit into a small room. They are easy to connect and easy to use.
So powered speakers can be considered better than passive speakers if the criteria above are important to you.
The downside with powered speakers is that, because they are usually quite affordable, don’t offer the sound quality of a good standalone amplifier and passive speaker combo.
Powered speakers can sound very good for their price and intended usage, but they aren’t designed to provide audiophile rated sound quality.
If you want a budget friendly way to hook up your turntable, powered speakers can be great.
If you want a high-end stereo setup to use with your turntable, then there are few powered speaker options to choose from. Passive speakers are usually the route to take in this case.
Why choose powered speakers for turntable?
If you want to enjoy vinyl records on a low budget and aren’t overly picky about sound quality, then powered speakers can be great. You will find many good options from $100 to $600. And you don’t need to spend money (or space) on an amplifier.
Powered speakers are great if you are looking for a simple and minimalistic vinyl setup.
Powered speakers often come with Bluetooth connectivity which means that you can stream music wirelessly from a mobile phone or computer when you are not spinning records.
Why choose passive speakers for turntable?
One reason to choose passive speakers is if you already have a decent amplifier or receiver.
Another reason to choose passive speakers is that there are a lot more options to choose from in the audiophile and high-end segment. There are very few audiophile-rated powered speakers or the market.
If you have a big room and want to fill it with loud music, then most consumer-rated powered speakers might provide insufficient music volume. In this case, high sensitivity passive speakers and a decent standalone amplifier is probably the way to go.
In short, if you are passionate about sound quality, and are not on a tight budget, then passive speakers are usually the best choice.
Do you need a preamp to use powered speakers with a turntable?
If your turntable doesn’t include a built-in preamp, then you will usually need to put a separate phono preamp between the turntable and the powered speakers. The only exception is if you have powered speakers with a built-in preamp (PHONO input).
If you connect a turntable without a built-in preamp to powered speakers without a built-in preamp, then the music volume will be very low. Almost zero.
Pros and cons of passive speakers
Here are the main pros of passive speakers:
- Many options to choose from
- Available from very affordable to very high-end
- Many options for both bookshelf and floor-standing speakers
Here are the main cons of passive speakers:
- Need a separate amplifier or receiver
- Not as budget friendly as powered speakers
- Requires more space and connections than powered speakers (usually a stereo rack for the amplifier etc.)
Pros and cons of powered speakers
Here are the main pros of powered speakers:
- Affordable / Cheaper than buying amplifier and speakers separately
- Easy to use
Here are the main cons of powered speakers:
- Fewer options to choose from. Especially in the audiophile segment.
- Won’t play as loud and clear as a high-quality amplifier and passive speaker combo
- As the speakers and amplifier are bundled together, you can’t upgrade individual components
Can you connect powered speakers to an amplifier?
Powered speakers cannot and must not be connected to the speaker terminals on an amplifier. We must not apply a power-amplified signal to the low-level inputs on powered speakers.
If you want to connect powered speakers to an amplifier, then the powered speakers must be connected to a signal level LINE OUTPUT on the amplifier. If your amplifier has one. This way, the amplification circuitry in the amplifier is bypassed.
Can you connect passive speakers to a turntable?
Passive speakers cannot connect directly to a turntable. The low-level signal output on a turntable is not strong enough to drive passive speakers. Passive speakers must be driven by an amplifier.
Can powered speakers be used as passive speakers?
Powered speakers can usually not be used as passive speakers.