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What Is The Difference Between Active & Passive Subwoofers? Review


In many forums, posts and car subwoofer reviews, the term active and passive subwoofer is used as a matter of course. But especially as a beginner you can’t do anything with the term, yet it is so simple. The small difference is that in an active subwoofer the power amplifier is already integrated in the subwoofer. In a passive subwoofer the power amplifier and the subwoofer are separate from each other. Each system has its advantages and disadvantages in installation and purchase. And we will tell you something about them.

The classic: Passive subwoofer

The passive subwoofer is a classic, because the original design was already built that way. The subwoofer itself has only one membrane and does not generate any power. This power comes from the power amplifier. Therefore the power amplifier needs both power and the input signal from the car radio. In the picture you can see the wiring diagram very well.

The difference to the active subwoofer is:

  • It has more power and plays a stronger bass
  • But consumes more electricity as a result
  • Is mainly installed in the trunk
  • Is larger than an active subwoofer

The Compact: Active Subwoofer

The active sub combines the power amplifier and the subwoofer and is therefore more compact. For this reason there are smaller designs than the passive sub and it fits under the passenger seat or in the spare wheel well. But there are also larger models that want to compete with the passive subwoofer. The picture shows the wiring diagram (again, the JBL GT5-2402BR was used as subwoofer. It is actually a passive subwoofer, but serves here only as an illustration). Here you can clearly see the difference between an active and a passive subwoofer, because there is only one left from two components.

The differences are again clearly visible here:

  • Quick installation
  • Simple cabling
  • Less power consumption,
  • Because the power is lower (the bass is weaker)
  • Gives several possibilities for the placement

The differences in installation

In addition to the characteristics, there are also some differences in installation. With passive subwoofers the power amplifier and the subwoofer must be wired separately. So first the power amplifier gets the power supply, RCA cable and remote cable and only then the subwoofer gets a wiring. This is complex and because they are two components they need more space and each one has to be mounted separately. The power and the impedance must be matched. You can also bridge the connection in this case to get even more power out of your sub, but there are some rules you need to follow. You can adjust the sound on the power amp. The screws are usually finer and better than on an active sub.

In contrast, the active subwoofer is much easier to install. It is connected directly with power cable, RCA cable and remote cable. No further connection is necessary. Unfortunately the settings can only be changed on the sub and are not of such high quality. Also a bridging is not possible, but you save the effort of tuning the two components to each other.

There are also differences when buying active – passive subwoofers

Last but not least, there are also differences in the purchase. Because with a passive subwoofer you have to combine all the accessories yourself, unless you buy a subwoofer set. This, of course, gives you a lot of leeway up and down. You can get much more out of your audio system and you don’t have to fixate on 1 manufacturer. However, the combination is not always easy. In our review reports we have always listed the right accessories for you, so that you get the optimal result with minimal effort. Another advantage of passive systems is that you can change the accessories at any time. For example, if the power amplifier is defective, you can repair it or just replace it. If this happens to you when you are active, you can throw away the entire subwoofer.

Besides the disadvantage it has one advantage: the subwoofer is supplied with the accessories. No powercap (because mostly below 500Wrms) or power amplifier is necessary. However, the cables are not included with all of them and may have to be ordered separately.

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