Every speaker, no matter size or shape or quality or cost, is either passive or active. It either relies on an external amplifier somewhere else in your stereo system, or packs all the hardware it needs to play inside its own body. For 15 years, Q Acoustics has made some of our favorite passive bookshelf speakers, like the affordable 3020i and the well-loved Concept 20, exclusively. But now it's going active with the new Q Active 200. Why?
The popularity of active speakers has grown considerably in the past few years, bringing all sorts of manufacturers along with. Along with Q Acoustic, competitors like KEF and Bowers & Wilkins have also moved to offer new lines of new, active speakers, with amplifiers built directly into their bodies. According to Alex Munro, the Brand Director of Q Acoustics, one big reason for the shift is, essentially, the internet.
Once upon a time, audio gear was primarily sold by third party distributors who had an interest in stocking individual components to cater to all types of buyers and maintain a variety of merchandise. Now that speaker companies can more easily sell directly to consumers, there's one fewer barrier to making speakers pre-paired with their perfect amp, a design which offers plenty of additional benefits to boot.
Passive speakers, designed as they are to play nicely with various amps, tend to have high and low-end drivers designed to scale their output in unison based on the power coming. Otherwise, different amps might make a given speaker sound top- or bottom-heavy. "The difference in an active speaker is that you have a separate amplifier for each driver and can then set that amplifier gain level to completely suit [a specific] driver, " Munro says. It's a level of calibration that's not possible with passive designs.
What's more, you can synchronize the various internal drivers of an individual speaker much more finely than you ever could otherwise. "If you look at the drivers on a Q Active 200, you've got two drivers in the front of the cabinet and then you've got a subwoofer venting from the rear of the cabinet," Munro explained. "And we delay the sound going to the front of the cabinet so that both arrive at the listener at the same time."
With its first pair of active speakers, Q Acoustics is opting for an approach that's significantly different than competitors like the KEF LS50 Wireless, which have been some of the best and most popular active speakers for several years. "KEF took an existing passive speaker — the LS50 — and turned it into an active speaker," Munro says. "We believe that the benefits of active speakers is that you can do much more if you start at zero, so we started with a blank sheet of paper and we selected the method of reproducing the sound, the driver technology and the driver configuration, in order to suit the fact that we had multiple amplifiers inside."
Additionally the Q Active 200 are different from other active speakers because none of its connections are built into the speaker rears. Instead, the speakers come with a separate hub that houses all the analog connections and beams the audio to each speaker wirelessly to minimize the number of cables running around the room.
There are downsides to active speakers though. Primarily that they're expensive. The bottom end starts at around $1,000, where you'll find the KEF LSX. But you get versatility, simplicity and compactness for your money. Active speakers can be connected directly to a turntable (via phono preamp), TV (via optical or HDMI) or even directly to a smartphone (via Wi-Fi or Bluetooth). There's no need for a separate receiver or amplifier.
The Q Active 200 cost $1,999. And while that's still expensive, it means that they're still significantly cheaper than their biggest competition, the KEF LS50 Wireless II ($2,500), which are the second generation version of the famed LS50 Wireless.
One big caveat, however, is that the fancy speaker stands— the Q FS75 Tensegrity stands — that really show the speakers off does cost an extra $499, driving up the Q Active 200's price to equal that of the KEF's new active speakers. Obviously, the Q Active 200 can function excellently without the stands, on top of a desktop or a shelf, but the stands are undoubtedly one of their most striking features.
In a way, the omission of the speaker stands gives you (the buyer) an option. You can get great value on an excellent pair of active speakers. Or you go the stand-mounted route and get these really unique-looking active speakers that still aren't more expensive than the competition. The choice is yours.