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Topic: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

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  1. #1

    OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Since the "powered monitors" thread has been up alot, it made me think about the pros vs cons of using powered/passive speaker systems - especially in our days of big nearby magnetic field generators; computers, screens and such.

    I've been recommended the Nad C320BEE as the least expensive of the very straightsounding amps out there. And some monitors, PS8 for ex which seems priceworthy, is available both as active and passive where the passive model costs half as much as the active. Paying nearly half the price of active monitors combined with the flexibility of using a replacable amp makes up a pretty good argument. Would you go for it?

    What do you use and/or recommend? and If passive, what amps would you recommend?
    Kid: When I become an adult I wanna be a musician.
    Parent: Son, you cannot become both.

  2. #2
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tomke
    Since the "powered monitors" thread has been up alot, it made me think about the pros vs cons of using powered/passive speaker systems - especially in our days of big nearby magnetic field generators; computers, screens and such.

    I've been recommended the Nad C320BEE as the least expensive of the very straightsounding amps out there. And some monitors, PS8 for ex which seems priceworthy, is available both as active and passive where the passive model costs half as much as the active. Paying nearly half the price of active monitors combined with the flexibility of using a replacable amp makes up a pretty good argument. Would you go for it?

    What do you use and/or recommend? and If passive, what amps would you recommend?
    Well, the argument for powered monitors is that the manufacturer can tailor the internal amplification to correct driver anomalies, so in theory, the powered monitor is the better technology.

    Whether that actually holds true is a completely different tale, and would be a model by model comparison. It's also a matter of what amp you'd couple with a passive design, of course. If you're looking to cut corners, you might do better with an active design...that way, you get the best possible matching at the lowest price. Otherwise, you might need to spend more than the bare-bones amp price to overcome the inherent potential advantage of the active design.

    What I can definitely say is that the amplifier makes a huge difference in the sound of passive monitors. I have run my 4412's on several different "nice" power amps, and the one I'm using now is a rather vintage amp, a Marantz Model Fifteen, which is just a fantastic sounding amp that was probably the last really great Marantz design (in the early Superscope days, while the design team was still intact).

    So, I have found by experience that just because an amp has a good reputation does not mean that it is necessarily the right amp for the speaker, and getting that match done yourself is some extra legwork and expense. I'm happy with the combo I am using now--thrilled actually--but it took me a while to stumble upon it...even though, ironically, I have had the Model Fifteen since I was a teenager, and just had forgotten how great sounding an amp it was. I was reading an article about great amp designs one day, and the audiophiles were waxing rhapsodic about the Model Ten and Fifteen amps, and sure enough...

    The funny thing was, I bought it in a pawn shop for $30. Then, as now, really great gear devalues on the market just because it's not the newest greatest thing. And now, it's hard to get your hands on one because they're so coveted by the audiophile crowd.

  3. #3

    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    I think Bruce nailed all of the main points.

    If you're shopping the low-end, another thing to check closely is the idle noise of the amplifier (in speker or out). This past weekend we rented a pair of Peavey PR-12 powered speakers for a live performance. They are very efficeint and had a solid sound in conjunction with my JBL 15s subs. But the idle noise was huge. It was fine at the outdoor event, but obnoxious during our practice - and I had the volume set at only about 30%.

    I'll probably eventually buy some PR-12 passives and match them with a nice, used amp. The cost will be about the same, the sound should be fine, and we won't have to deal with all that HISS.

    It doesn't take much hiss at all to cause fatigue in the studio. If you're demo'ing monitors in a noisy store, put your ear right up to the tweater to make sure that the monitors are near silent.

    Fortunately, studio monitors are usually inefficient enough that idle noise isn't too bad. Live speakers need to be very efficient, so quiet amps are really important, if you respect your audience.

    -JF

  4. #4

    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    The other argument is that active crossovers are better, or more accurately using passive crossovers is suboptimal.

    But I don't have a strong feeling either way. One thing to keep in mind is that a good amp can easily cost $2000, and then your $1000 speaker pair suddenly becomes a $3000 system.

    If you're in the market for a good high-end amp, the Hafler 9500 sounds really good. They're a couple of thousand new, but you can find them on ebay for maybe $700.

  5. #5
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Quote Originally Posted by JonFairhurst
    I'll probably eventually buy some PR-12 passives and match them with a nice, used amp. The cost will be about the same, the sound should be fine, and we won't have to deal with all that HISS.
    Try the Mackie SRM450's before you do that!!!! I don't think you'll ever consider Peaveys after hearing them.

  6. #6

    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Batzdorf
    The other argument is that active crossovers are better, or more accurately using passive crossovers is suboptimal.
    Of course you can go with an external active crossover as well. I built mine from scratch (sort of - I reused my Shure crossover boxes, power supplys and XLR connectors/transformers and installed Marchand boards with custom active filters for my constant directivity horns). I also own a Behringer crossover http://www.behringer.com/CX3400/index.cfm?lang=ENG which is a great value, is very flexible and is very clean. The only reason I don't use it is that its CD horn compensation (HF boost) doesn't have the right profile for my studio horns.

    I used the Behringer between my subs and the PR-12s (120 Hz), and it rocked.

    Some of Behringer's gear is so-so, but this crossover is excellent, and you can pick it up for around $100.

    I agree with Nick about Haffler amps too. You want something with good power for the bass-side, but tweeters don't need all that much power. Haffler has a number of good studio amps (no fan) at reasonable prices. You can also go for vintage tubes on the high end, and solid state oomph for the lows.

    When it comes to matching amps to speakers (as Bruce mentioned), it's most critical on the low end. If the reactance of the speaker and the damping of the amp don't match, the bass won't be tight. The high-end is much simpler. If it doesn't sound right, EQ to taste.

    Setup is the other challenge with external active crossovers. Behringer sells a reference mic for about $35. It's an omni, needs phantom power, and can't exactly mic kick drums, but it's very flat and is more than adequate for doing frequency scans and matching highs and lows. (I should try it for mic'ing flute or small percussion baubles.)

    All this points to the fact that if you're a gear head, external amps and crossovers are great. If you just want some good monitors that you can compose with, buy the nicest off-the-shelf active monitors that you can afford and start making music. Then, if you have some extra money and energy for tweaks, put it into room treatments.

    -JF

  7. #7
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    There is another, perhaps finer point to be considered.

    One of the negative side effects of the "active monitor" phenomenon, especially at the lower price points, is that substandard drivers can be tweaked into a state of "flatness" by careful design on the amp/crossover choices.

    So then, you get this speaker which has presumably good specs, yet you listen to it and it just doesn't hit you with that kind of, "Yeah, man," emotional impact as more high quality designs will.

    So, one could also argue that integrated design has resulted in quite the flood of speakers which on paper should be impressive, but in a head-to-head listening test, just don't sound as good as older, more esoterically engineered designs...even though the inherent core design might be rightly viewed as old fashioned, or inferior. In fact, one could even go as far as to say that a really good passive design might be the superior design overall, because it is creating a condition where the driver design itself must be of superior quality to overcome the potential negative.

  8. #8
    Senior Member Bruce A. Richardson's Avatar
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    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Haha...as far as I'm concerned that little Behringer test mic is the best product they sell. You wouldn't want to actually use it for anything musical, but we a/b'ed it against a very nice Earthworks, and the plots looked exactly the same. Can't beat a $35 purchase that will tell you exactly what's going on.

  9. #9

    Cool Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bruce A. Richardson
    Haha...as far as I'm concerned that little Behringer test mic is the best product they sell. You wouldn't want to actually use it for anything musical, but we a/b'ed it against a very nice Earthworks, and the plots looked exactly the same. Can't beat a $35 purchase that will tell you exactly what's going on.
    100% agreed.

    On another note - to follow on your comments about active monitors *not* necessarily being the best choice... it's possible to see some specs that show good numbers at nominal levels, but when you get into the nitty gritty of full-throw monitoring with wide dynamic swings such as for film mixing - it gets dicey quickly. However, the 80/20 rule applies, if you don't need that last 20% of detail, then 80% of what's on the market should suffice.

    But as you start to encroach on that last 20% of the listening/monitoring experience, the price/costs goes up in a distinct logarithmic curve.

    Houston Haynes - Titan Line Music

  10. #10

    Re: OT: Monitors, active or passive?

    Quote Originally Posted by Nick Batzdorf
    The other argument is that active crossovers are better, or more accurately using passive crossovers is suboptimal.
    The crossover differences are probably the biggest factor. Passive crossovers usually feature hefty coil/inductors which add coloration and generate a lot of heat. Active crossovers do their splitting before amplification which allows for smaller amps since more of their energy will be turned into sound. But some folks may miss the coloration. And not all active crossovers and built-in amps are well designed.

    Another thing to consider are the implications of integration. Bi- and Tri-amped systems are very expensive to assemble from components. On the other hand passive monitors and active components are hard to evaluate as a system unless you do it with the power amp and any other pieces you're going to use.

    So in the end you got to let your pocketbook and your ears decide. But tightly integrated powered monitors do seem to have the edge these days in ease of evaluation and cost.

    Howard

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