What’s the difference between active and passive studio monitors?



One of the most crucial decisions you’ll come across when creating your home studio is choosing your monitors. They are your window into the soul of your mix and you’ll want them to be an accurate representation of what the final product will sound like. However, a buying decision you should be clued up on is the difference between active and passive studio monitors.

Passive vs active studio monitors

Passive studio monitors are studio monitors that require an amplifier to function. You hook up the passive monitors to an amplifier which is connected to your mixer or interface. Active studio monitors have their own preamp(s) built in, taking power from the mains.

There are several advantages and disadvantages of either setup. Active monitors are a good choice for your first monitors as you can plug them directly into your audio interface with no need for a mixer. However, as actives have mains transformers built into the casing, they can be susceptible to picking up a hum. Take care to select a good audio interface to minimize this problem. Passive monitors are the choice for better sound quality overall, as you can have your choice of amplifier rather than being confined to built in pre-amps.

Mackie CR4

Mackie CR4

The difference between active and true active studio monitors

“True” or bi-amplified active studio monitors have an individual preamp built into each enclosure, whereas the other variety has one preamp in one enclosure to power both monitors simultaneously. You will need two power outlets for true active monitors.

KRK Rokit

KRK Rokit

Which should I choose?

If you are on a tight budget, you are planning your first home studio build, or you just want to keep things simple, you may wish to consider active studio monitors such as the M-Audio AV-40s or the Presonus Eris E4.5s. Simply hook up to your interface and go.However, if you have a little more to splash on your monitors, check out the M-Audio BX8 D2s for a bi-amplified design. These are my monitors of choice right now and they are astounding value and built like tanks. I connect them directly into my Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 USB Audio Interface.

If you are looking for something a little further up the market, I would take a look at the Yamaha HS8s. These are serious active monitors with a very well rounded frequency response that many producers swear by.

In terms of passive speakers, I’d recommend the KRK R6G3 for a budget setup, Behringer TRUTH B2031P for a midrange rig, but if you want to go into the pro-grade, I’d suggest the JBL LSR6332Rs for an awe-inspiring level of clarity.

Consider what gear you already own, your budget and what you are setting out to achieve with your studio and choose your monitors wisely!


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