Active vs Passive Subwoofer [Detailed Comparison]

If we say in a few words:

“Passive subwoofers require an external power source like an amplifier or receiver while active subwoofers, also known as powered subwoofers, have built-in amplifiers and power source. It only needs to receive an audio source.”

While the process of setting up a home theater system is exciting, it may be overwhelming at the same time. You encounter too many options and are often confused about which will be better. 

Among all other components, one important thing most people are confused about is the choice of a subwoofer.

Different types of subwoofers are available in the market, but the two well-known types are passive and active subwoofers.

To boost your home theater experience, you must know the difference between an active and passive subwoofer. Otherwise, you’ll end up purchasing the wrong subwoofer incompatible with your home theater setup.

In this article, you will discover the difference between these types, their pros and cons, and how they will impact your decision.

Active vs Passive Subwoofer Comparison

What is a Subwoofer?

Firstly, you should be clear about what the subwoofer is.

Subwoofer is the audio device/speaker that reproduces low-frequency sounds in your content, and these low-pitched audio frequencies are also called bass.”

You may have a question, are the woofers and subwoofers the same?

The answer is no. Though both speakers reproduce low frequencies, they differ in the frequency range they work in. 

The frequency range covered by a subwoofer is much narrower than a woofer. A subwoofer mainly operates between 20Hz-200Hz while a woofer operates in a frequency range of 20Hz-2KHz.

So, if you love to listen to the mid to low-range frequency, a subwoofer will give you a pulse-pounding music listening experience.

Now, we will discuss the two popular and well-known types of subwoofer, Active and Passive.

What is a Passive Subwoofer

A passive subwoofer is a subwoofer that needs an external power source, such as an amplifier or receiver. Because of this, they are called passive and are similar to traditional speakers.

If Simply stated, a subwoofer requires power from a source to operate and produce sound; otherwise, it’ll not work. So, in the case of a passive sub, a receiver or amplifier is used that provides power to reproduce and properly sustain the low-pitched sound coming from your device.

Using a passive subwoofer is a bit more complex because you’ll need more cabling to connect all parts. Because, in this case, you have original components and the additional receiver or amplifier.

Ideal Usage

Theater designers mostly prefer passive subwoofers; their ideal usage is in large rooms requiring multiple units.

Pros
• Passive subs are best suited for large rooms, especially when combining multiple subwoofers.
• Most commonly used by those who want to customize their home theater installations.
• They are more affordable and cheaper than active subs because they include fewer components in the original unit.
• They have relatively minimal impact on your electricity bill because these subs use less power for working.
• Passive subs can be used with any receiver or amplifier because almost all units have a subwoofer output.
• They are lightweight and can be large.
Cons
• Passive Subs could be more expensive because you need to buy additional components like a receiver/amplifier.
• Their setup requires more effort on your part because you need to connect other components.
• For passive subs, you must use higher-quality cables to connect components because they supply both the signal and the power.

What is an Active Subwoofer

Active subwoofers, sometimes called powered subwoofers, have their power source built in. In other words, they have a receiver or amplifier built into their system.

Each built-in component in the active subwoofer is well optimized. It is a perfect solution for many designers and home-theater owner setups.

Ideal Usage

You can easily set active subwoofers, which are best used where only a single subwoofer is required. Therefore, placement is more crucial for active subs than passive ones. 

Pros
• You can easily set active subwoofers, and they do not require special or extensive cables as opposed to the passive sub.
• There is no requirement for an external receiver or amplifier. In other words, you don’t need to research pieces for optimal power.
• Their design is more convenient and easier to use.
• Most active subwoofers capitalize on LFE channels, meaning only a single speaker will optimize bass frequencies.
• You can easily place these subwoofers anywhere where the best sound is achieved.
• You can set the subwoofer away from the receiver, as the cables only provide audio signals.
Cons
• The active subwoofer is a more expensive option of the two.
• These subs require more watts to operate, which indirectly may affect your utility bill if you use them constantly.
• Placement is important for active subs because you use only one with your surround system.
• They are relatively heavier and large.

Passive vs. Active Subwoofer for Home Theater

Regarding the setup and design of active and passive subwoofers, both have pros and cons. Home theater setups that generally require a single subwoofer most commonly use an active or powered subwoofer. They will provide better bass sound quality by maximizing the low-frequency effects(LFE) channels.

Active subs don’t take up much space and are often smaller than a passive subwoofer. You can move them around to find the best spot in your home theater room. They are usually heavier than passive ones because of more components in the single enclosure.

Another benefit of active subs in terms of location is their cables transmitting only audio signals, which allow you to place it further away in your home theater room from the amplifier, receiver, or TV.

On the other hand, you have more control over the speaker equipment of your home theater through passive subwoofers. These subwoofers are often compatible with every amplifier or receiver because most have a subwoofer speaker output. 

Passive subwoofers in your home theater setup are a great choice if you want to use many subwoofers.

Active vs. Passive Subwoofer for Car

Usually, the subwoofers are installed in the trunk of a car. But some active subwoofers are out there which have a compact design, and they can fit in the cabin due to their dimensions. And most people often mount them under a car seat.

What type of subwoofer is good for your car? There is no ideal answer; it depends on your needs and what you can sacrifice.

  • A simple cabinet active subwoofer will be a good option for you if you want to go for the cheapest option.
  • If you prefer compactness in subwoofer design, installing a compact active subwoofer under the seat will be an excellent choice.
  • A passive subwoofer will be good if you want perfect sound quality and power.

But one thing you need to remember when choosing a subwoofer for your car is that the subwoofer is a low-frequency component of your speaker system. Therefore, your subwoofer should be compatible with other parts of your speaker system. Only then will you be able to achieve good results and excellent sound.

Related Subwoofer Comparisons Guide:

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Is the active subwoofer good?

Though passive subwoofers have multiple advantages, active subwoofers are still more popular and used commonly. As they have a built-in amplifier, you won’t need any extra components. They produce a rich, deeper, and more impactful sound.

What does a passive subwoofer do?

The function of a subwoofer is the reproduction of low-frequency sounds (also called bass) in the content. A passive subwoofer does the same function, but they are called passive because they don’t have a built-in amplifier and need an external receiver or amplifier for the power, similar to traditional speakers.

What is the difference between a passive and active subwoofer?

The difference between active and passive subwoofers is the placement of the amplifier. The active subwoofer has a built-in amplifier in the device enclosure, while the passive subwoofer needs an external receiver or amplifier for power.

What is a passive subwoofer for a car?

Both subwoofers have a similar design and have the same purpose. A passive subwoofer is empowered by an external amplifier or receiver, while an active sub has a built-in sound amplifier along with the speaker.

Do active subwoofers need an amp?

Yes. The amplifier is not required for an active subwoofer because it is already built-in. But if you have passive speakers, you will need an external amplifier.

Conclusion

The choice of a subwoofer is complete up to you; active subwoofers are most commonly used in home theater setups today. With a compact design, they include all elements in a single unit, making them very easy to use. By enhancing bass frequency channels, active subwoofers make your home theater experience more enjoyable.

Although placement is critical, active subwoofers are a great addition to some people’s home theater setup.

Since the price of active subs is initially high compared to passive subs, it is important to keep in mind that you won’t need additional watts from your amplifier or receiver.

A passive subwoofer will be an excellent option if you want more customizability down the line. Designers usually prefer passive subs as they are best for linking multiple units.

If your amplifier supports this configuration and supplies enough power, passive subwoofers are better options for custom designs and larger areas.

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