MICHAEL VRONSKY ASKS: Active or passive speakers?

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So Neil ... at heart, are you an active speaker man or a passive speaker man?

Well, in my career I have been responsible for the manufacture of active loudspeakers of varying quality. One model I particularly admired and two rather less and lately I have started to be very interested in active loudspeakers again, and I think that in the right hands the active can score hand-over-fist against the passive system. The problem is that most people who are making active speakers, or some of them at least, are not getting enough things right to generally persuade people.

Any thoughts as to why actives speakers are comparatively rare in domestic situations?

Well I think one thing is that they are quite difficult to make work properly. Well they are very difficult to make work really well and secondly, in our industry there is a large contingent of people, I won't say who but clearly the equipment is more important than the music; but I will say that they have a lively interest in equipment and this takes away one degree of freedom from them. So you do have to overcome that, either by demonstrating the superiority of that particular active speaker or as I say it’s sometimes quite difficult if people have a beloved power amplifier for instance or a beloved speaker, to get them to part with that in order to have an active speaker, because it portmanteaus the thing.

And yet active speakers are so popular in the recording studios where so music is recorded. Any thoughts re this?

Engineers are operating under strict instruction, have different criteria and different aspirations to the general public.

Which means what?

I think the public are going to lose out because ultimately the best sounds will come from an active loudspeaker. However, I wouldn't blame them if the people who have offered him active loudspeakers haven't bowled him over with them, then it’s completely fair enough for him to stick to what he prefers.

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  • Ray Purchase

    It’s quite a conundrum. In the audiophile’s mind’s eye, I think active speakers are just glorified PC desktop speakers. Instead of each part of the system being an independent shining jewel of exquisite refinement, we have an enclosure that mixes electronic and acoustic functions in the same box which, in itself, cheapens the whole thing. The amplifiers are simply another anonymous ‘circuit block’ implicitly being regarded as having no sonic signature (I’m sure they don’t have one, particularly in an active setup, but that’s another matter!). I absolutely understand, and share, this point of view. No matter what the pure, objective facts say, and even how stunning the sounds that come from them, the psychological hurdle is too great for most audiophiles to embrace active speakers. Unless… I notice at the ‘highest end’ people are occasionally using external passive crossovers in wooden boxes. If they can handle that complexity they might be persuaded to try external active crossovers. Clearly their budgets would have to be split more ways into cheaper amps and so on, and the sheer number of cables to plug in would limit the amount of equipment swapping they could indulge in, but on the other hand a whole new world of free, instant tweaking would be opened up, including the ability to tailor their speakers exactly to their listening rooms and where they sit in relation to the speakers.