The Difference Between Active and Passive Sound Bars

By Ryan Goodrich
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As TVs become progressively thinner with plasma, LCD and LED options, many consumers have used different routes to improve the sound quality for their entertainment experiences. Rather than simply getting surround sound, you can go with a new type of home theater loudspeaker – namely, the sound bar. With these devices, all three of the sound channels – left, center and right – are located in one box rather than three separate speakers. The reason many consumers are using sound bars is because they take up less space than a surround sound system, and they easily blend into a room's décor.

When shopping for sound bars, you'll generally have two options, each of which will drastically influence the quality of sound produced. These options are active and passive speaker sound bars.

Passive Sound Bars

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Passive sound bars include one or several speakers for each of the front channels (i.e., left, center and right). In the back of the speaker is a connection for each channel, which you need to attach to an amplifier or receiver. Passive sound bars need an amplifier or a receiver simply because they have no built-in power amps. So, while passive speakers may be cheaper than active sound bars, they require a surround receiver to even produce front-channel results.

Active Sound Bars

Active speaker sound bars have the same configuration as passive sound bars, but they also include built-in amplifiers and surround sound processors to separate the center channel sound. This makes active sound bars more expensive than passive sound bars, but the advantage is that you don't need a bulky external amplifier to produce basic front channel sounds. Picking this type of sound bar is ideal because it gives you an incredibly clean flat-panel installation with a minimal number of wires.

Active sound bars are the most common because they are the most convenient from a hardware standpoint. They contain everything you need. All you have to do is connect the device to your TV via the component outlet and then turn it on when you want to use it. This is a non-intrusive, all-in-one solution for your home theater setup. When it comes to reducing hardware and wires, this is the best solution you could come up with.

Active Sound Bars with DSP

Sound bars are becoming increasingly sophisticated with each passing day, adding new features that make them produce even better sound quality. The latest advancement is Digital Signal Processing (DSP), which enables your sound bar to process the surround sound signal to create the illusion of rear and side surround sound without the need for additional speakers throughout the room.

Pricing

In the end, everything generally comes down to pricing. Passive sound bars are the cheapest route, but only if you already have an amplifier. Active sound bars obviously cost more because of the inclusion of an amplifier, and the inclusion of DSP boosts the price even more. When you consider how this could enhance your TV-watching experience while reducing the amount of hardware you have to handle, however, it could be an expense that's well worth it in the end.

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Electronics » Home Audio » Home Theater Speakers Review » Sound Bar Review » The Difference Between Active and Passive Sound Bars