Powered vs Passive Speakers: Which One Is Better For Home Theater?

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Speakers are one of the most important components to consider when building your home theater system, and there are many options available. You can choose bookshelf speakers or floorstanding speakers, a compact soundbar, or a full 5.1 surround sound setup. One of the less discussed decisions is whether to get active (powered) or passive speakers.

We’ve broken down the pros and cons of both speaker types below, and recommended a pair in each category once you’ve decided on the right style.

When space is limited, active loudspeakers have the edge

The biggest difference between passive and active speakers is the way they are amplified. Passive speakers must be connected to a stereo receiver that sends an audio signal from your home theater device (such as a turntable) to them. You cannot connect your turntable directly to passive speakers; they must be connected to the receiver with a speaker cable at all times.

Active speakers have built-in amplifiers, so plug them in and they’re all ready to go. They are equipped with a large selection of inputs (ports) so that you can connect all of your home theater components directly to them. Because the amplifier is built-in, powered speakers are essentially a complete home theater system in one box.

When you don’t have a lot of space it is tempting to get yourself a pair of powered speakers and deal with them, but there are some tradeoffs to be aware of.

If you like the choice, passive speakers are better suited

The biggest advantage of passive speakers over active speakers is that there are many more of them. When it comes to powered speakers, you’ve pretty much resigned yourself to buying a stereo pair of bookshelf speakers – or a 2.1 system with a subwoofer.

Passive speakers come in all shapes and sizes, and you can incorporate speakers from different manufacturers into a single system. You can also choose the exact stereo receiver you want and upgrade over time without having to replace your speakers.

Home theater systems that use passive speakers are more flexible, although more choice adds complexity to choosing the right speakers. With powered speakers, you get what you see.

Passive speakers offer more space for larger drivers

The active and passive speakers we recommend are roughly the same size (both are bookshelf speakers), but that doesn’t mean they sound the same. Since powered speakers have an amplifier inside, it means they usually have smaller drivers (the part of a speaker that produces the sound).

Larger drivers generally produce clearer, more balanced sound and make the speaker louder. That’s not to say powered speakers sound much worse (I’ve had great results with both types of speakers), but you should be aware of this.

On the other hand, the amplifier in the powered speakers has been specially designed to get the best sound out of that particular speaker set. You can pair any passive speaker to any amplifier, so there is no guarantee that you will get perfect results and possibly a worse sounding setup.

The bottom line

If you’re limited on space, don’t want to hand-select your audio components, and want a simple, clean setup, powered speakers will meet your needs. If you prefer a choice, don’t want bookshelf speakers, or eventually want to move from stereo to surround sound, passive speakers are for you.

1. Polk Audio LSiM 703


When you’ve decided that passive speakers are the right choice for your home theater system, Polk’s LSiM 703s epitomize what makes this style so great.

The bookshelf-sized speakers are 16.8-inch and have three drivers: a 6.5-inch mid-range bass, a 3.5-inch woofer for low frequencies, and a 1-inch tweeter for high frequencies. By assigning a custom driver for bass, mids, and treble, you can hear the various elements of your music much more clearly.

Polk designed the LSiM 703s enclosures to minimize sound reflections from the back of the speaker, which improves their performance. Each driver is in its own chamber so they won’t interfere with each other and you will get a more accurate sound.

The final reason to buy the LSiM 703s is that they were designed as part of a range of home theater speakers. Polk designed floorstanding speakers, a center channel speaker, and a subwoofer to get you started with the LSiM 703s and built a balanced surround sound system over time.

To buy:
Polk Audio LSiM 703
at the
$ 399.99

2. Audioengine A5 +

Audioengine A5

Audio engine

The A5 + from Audioengine are the right pair of active speakers for anyone looking for a compact stereo home theater system.

The bookshelf speakers are 22 inches tall and have two drivers: a 5 inch woofer for mid and low frequencies and a 0.75 inch tweeter for highs. I’ve tried other Audioengine speakers and always liked their sound, but there’s no way to add a subwoofer to round out the bass if you like music with lots of low frequencies.

Audioengine has built a lot of ports into its A5 + speakers, which allows them to handle whatever stereo components you might have. They have a set of RCA inputs (red and white), a set of RCA outputs, an AUX input (3.5mm) and a bluetooth antenna. The RCA inputs can be used to connect the speakers to a TV or turntable, while the AUX input would be ideal for computers. The A5 + ‘s bluetooth antenna allows you to wirelessly stream music from your phone, tablet or computer from a distance of up to 50 meters.

Audioengine includes a remote control with the speakers that you can use to adjust their volume, turn them on and off, or put them to sleep. The speakers will automatically detect which of your stereo components is on and producing sound, so you don’t have to switch inputs, which is a nice touch.

If you want a set of great sounding home theater systems (or computer speakers), Audioengine’s A5 + s are the right choice.

To buy:
Audioengine A5 +
at the
$ 569.00

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