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The Best Active Speakers (and Which You Should Buy)
Active speakers combine the traditional components of a stereo system into a pair of speakers. They make listening to good music, easy.
Active speakers combine all of the traditional components of a stereo system into a pair of speakers. The amplifier is built inside the speaker and it’s optimized to provide the best possible sound quality for that specific speaker. Most active speakers have a sufficient number of inputs for all of your playback devices and, in most scenarios, a pair of powered or active speakers require only a power source and a minimal number (if any) of cable connections.
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The two biggest advantages of modern active speakers are 1) sound quality and 2) ease of use. An active speaker pair is able to deliver stereo sound in a way that popular Wi-Fi speakers, such as a single Sonos Play:5, simply cannot. The speaker-and-amp combo means that active loudspeakers have fewer moving parts; there’s no need for a separate receiver or an external amplifier like you would need with passive bookshelf speaker system. And since most active speakers support both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth streaming, you can easily stream music using the service (Spotify, Tidal, Qobuz and Apple Music) you already use. Simply open your preferred music app, select the music and the source (your loudspeakers), and then press play.
Essentially, active speakers generally sound superior to traditional Wi-Fi speakers, and they’re just as simple and easy to control (there are a few active speakers, however, that don’t support wireless streaming). And with a multitude of inputs and connectivity options, they’ve way more versatile. In addition to streaming from your smartphone or laptop, it’s easy to connect most modern active speakers to your television or to your turntable, too.
Active loudspeakers won’t be perfect for everybody. They’re powered speakers, meaning they do require a power source and aren’t portable. They’re notoriously powerful, so maybe not great for small rooms, and they’re more expensive thanks to there being more components inside each speaker. Active or powered loudspeakers also lock you into a “sound” that was selected by the designer based on all of the internal components (amplifier, DAC); unlike a passive loudspeaker system whose sonic flavor can be altered by changing the other components.
What to Look for
Size: Active speakers come in all different sizes, ranging from the size of computer-sized speakers to the size of large studio monitors. It's important to get the right-sized speaker for your space, but also, generally, the larger and more powerful the speaker, the higher the price.
Streaming support: Most active speakers have built-in Wi-Fi and support a multitude of wireless streaming options: AirPlay 2,, Spotify Connect, Tidal Connect, Google Chromecast and more. Make sure the active speakers you buy work with your streaming method of choice.
Wired connectivity: Most active speakers support a number of analog connection options, including HDMI eARC, Ethernet, coaxial and optical inputs, a 3.5mm headphone jack and a subwoofer out. These are important as they allow you to also connect your speakers to analog sources, such as a turntable, preamp, your computer or even a TV.
More Hi-Fi Guides
- The Best Bookshelf Speakers for Your Home Hi-Fi System
- The Best New Wireless Speakers That Have Old School Flair
- A Beginner's Guide to Home Audio Equipment
- What Does “Hi-Fi” Even Mean Anymore? This Is What the Experts Say