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Difference Between an Active and Passive Subwoofer – Which Style is Better?

There are many aspects to consider when creating your home theater system. When it comes to the audio, one of the most exciting pieces is the subwoofer. That’s because not only can you hear it, but you can also feel it.

If you’re new to the exciting world of home theater audio, you may not realize there are different types of subwoofers. By far, the two most popular types of subwoofers available are active and passive.

I will cover the major differences between the two. That way, you can decide which will have the biggest impact on your home theater. So, let’s find out the Difference Between an Active and Passive Subwoofer.


Passive Subwoofers

Passive Subwoofers

A passive subwoofer will require an external power source, usually supplied by either an amplifier or receiver. They are more suitable for large rooms because it’s easy to add multiple units. This is why they are preferred by home theater designers.

The way speakers and subwoofers produce sound is by drawing power from a source. The amount of power required depends on their frequency range. Because subwoofers are larger and use a lower frequency, they require more power than other speakers.

More planning required…

Passive subwoofers require an amplifier or receiver capable of providing adequate power. Not only does it need to supply enough power for the subwoofer to operate, but also the remaining speakers in your system.

When adding multiple subwoofers, you might need an additional amplifier. That’s because they can become power-hungry. This also means additional cables and wires that require planning before creating a passive subwoofer system.

Preferred for custom installations…

Passive subwoofers are great for custom installations as they offer more flexibility. You’ll often find them inside walls or even mounted to the wall itself. The speaker is often cheaper than an active subwoofer. But there are other considerations to take into account.

A more powerful amplifier or receiver will most likely be required, along with the cost of custom installation. The result is being able to spread the bass throughout the room for clear and even distribution.

There is a wide variety of passive subwoofers available. To give you an idea of what’s currently on the market, I have included these recommendations…

Theater Solutions TS1000 – Best In-Wall Passive Subwoofer

Perfect for custom installations with limited space. This 10-inch subwoofer can easily be mounted in the wall or ceiling. It comes with a mounting template along with an integrated wall-lock mounting system.

Wiring can be completed using the spring-loaded terminals. Recommended power is between 20 – 150 watts. The frequency response ranges from 22Hz – 200Hz, with an efficiency of 92db at 8 ohms.

Dayton Audio MKSX4 – Best Affordable Low Profile Passive Subwoofer

This compact and affordable subwoofer uses a clever four-driver design to create big bass in a small space. High excursion drivers mean the speakers have a full range of movement resulting in lower frequency audio.

Removable rubber feet allow the subwoofer to be installed either upright or laid flat. Recommended power is between 5 – 160 watts, providing a frequency response of 40Hz to 500Hz at 4 ohms.

Active Subwoofers

Active Subwoofers

Sometimes referred to as powered subwoofers. This is an active subwoofer with an integrated power source. Usually, the amplifier is built into the speaker’s enclosure. Making it larger and heavier than a passive subwoofer.

The setup process is usually much more straightforward. And it’s often the preferred option for single subwoofer configurations. Only a single speaker delivers the bass; therefore, the positioning of the speaker is much more important.

All-in-one solution…

The main advantage of active subwoofers is that every component is matched and configured to perform together. The power needs of the speaker have been paired to the built-in amplifier resulting in optimal performance.

Because the subwoofer uses independent power, energy consumption is increased slightly. The difference will be hardly noticeable, though. Connections are usually also simplified, making the setup process easier overall.

Dedicated bass channel…

Purchasing an active subwoofer is usually more expensive than a passive subwoofer. Active subwoofers became popular with the introduction of Dolby Digital 5.1 channel audio.

This created what’s known as the LFE (Low-Frequency Effects) channel, which is what the “point one” stands for in 5.1. This dedicated bass channel increases the quality of the audio signal received. The result is high-quality sound from a single subwoofer.

Because of their ease of use and impressive results, there is a huge range of active subwoofers available. Below are some examples that I highly recommend…

Polk Audio PSW10 – Best Affordable Active Subwoofer

This 10-inch active subwoofer easily integrates with existing home theater systems. It is loud and remains clear even at a high volume. Likewise, it is compatible with multiple subwoofers using a phase toggle switch.

The built-in amplifier provides 50 watts of RMS power with a peak output of up to 100 watts. Frequency response is between 40Hz and 160Hz, providing accurate bass. This adds depth to both your music and movies.

Klipsch R-100SW – Best Premium Active Subwoofer

Another 10-inch active subwoofer with premium components and the latest technology. The built-in all-digital amplifier offers 150 watts RMS and 300 watts of peak power. The front-firing spun-copper IMG cone provides incredibly deep bass.

The frequency response is an astoundingly low 32HZ to 120Hz. Offering earth-shattering low notes. Adding this subwoofer to your system brings movies to life with realistic and heart-pumping audio.

Which Style is Better?

Which Style is Better

Now you know the difference between an active and passive subwoofer. And you can see there are positives and negatives to both. When choosing any component for home theater audio, the most important priority is audio quality. Therefore, we need to consider a few contributing factors.

What type of amplifier or receiver is best matched to the speaker? How many watts can your speaker handle, and your amplifier deliver? What are the connection types? What is your budget? Finally, how are the acoustics in the room?

Passive subwoofer Pros…

There is more flexibility with the placement of passive subwoofers, offering in-wall or ceiling installation. They also are more compatible with multiple speaker configurations. The units usually cost less than an active subwoofer to purchase. And also have less power consumption.

Passive subwoofer Cons…

While the subwoofer itself is cheaper, costs can add up when selecting an amplifier and also for installation. You will need higher quality cables to provide both signal and power. Your amplifier or receiver needs to provide enough power for the subwoofer and remaining speakers in your system.

Active subwoofer Pros…

Setting up an active subwoofer is usually a very simple process. Each of the components is matched perfectly, providing optimal results. Furthermore, you can easily place them in any position. This is because it sends the audio signal from the receiver via the LFE channel.

Active subwoofer Cons…

Active subwoofers are more expensive because of the additional components. They also have a greater power consumption than passive subwoofers. Placing them in the correct position in the room is much more important too. This is due to usually being a single speaker configuration.

Wireless Connectivity

As wireless connectivity improves, it is now possible to add a subwoofer to your system without all the messy wires. This is currently only available for active subwoofers. Passive subwoofers cannot use wireless technology.

Some active subwoofers have a wireless feature integrated into the design. There are also wireless transmitter and receiver kits available for older models. I have included an example of what’s available to add wireless connectivity to your active subwoofer…

OSD Audio – Wireless Subwoofer Transmitter and Receiver Kit

The OSB Audio Kit

The OSB Audio Kit uses the 5.8Ghz radio frequency to send an audio signal between your speaker and receiver. An upgraded chip ensures reliable and instant transmission with no detectable delay.

The signal can transmit through walls and furniture. This means both the transmitter and receiver are compact, allowing you to hide them away. All you require is a power outlet, and you can place them anywhere.

Need a Great Subwoofer or Other Speakers?

We have a nice selection to get you started, so check out our in-depth reviews of the Best PA Subwoofers, the Best Car Subwoofers, the Best Under Seat Subwoofers, the Best Competition Subwoofers, the Best Ceiling Speakers For Dolby Atmos, the Best Apple AirPlay Speakers, and the Best Smart Speakers you can buy in 2023.

Also, take a look at our comprehensive KEF KUBE 10b Subwoofer Review, our Klipsch R-10B Review, our Samsung HW-R650 Review, and our Fluance Signature Series HiFi Review for more awesome audio currently on the market.

And don’t miss our helpful guides on Why Do Some Subwoofers Have Left and Right InputsHow to Setup at-Home Surround Sound Audio, and How to Connect Speakers to your TV for more useful information.

Difference Between an Active and Passive Subwoofer – Final Thoughts

No matter what type of subwoofer you choose, it will enhance both your music and movie audio experience. Due to their optimization, ease of installation, and simple use, active subwoofers are the more popular choice.

However, if you’re looking to upgrade to a multiple subwoofer configuration? Or planning a customized installation? Then a passive subwoofer is your best option. Just make sure that your amplifier or receiver is up to the task.

Now all you have to do is check your budget and create the home theater system of your dreams.

Happy listening!

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About Corey Hoffman

Corey is a multi-instrumentalist who has played in numerous bands over the years, some good, some not so good. He has also written countless songs and recorded five albums in professional studios across America. Today he is a hobby musician but still loves the guitar after over 15 years of playing.

He considers his writing as a way to share what he has learned over the decades with younger generations ad always can't wait to get his hands on the latest gear.

He lives just outside New York with his wife Barbara and their two German Shepherds, Ziggy and Iggy.

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