26th October, 2016

Ultimate Guide: Buying Powered Speakers

Powered Speakers”. It’s a huge topic and can become quite overwhelming when purchasing your first system. Here’s our “Ultimate Guide” to help you gain a better understanding of what to look for when buying powered speakers.

What are Powered Speakers?

Powered Speakers, also referred to as “Active Speakers”, are often confused with “Passive Speakers”. The difference is actually quite simple. Passive Speaker are powered by external power amplifiers. On the other hand, Active Speakers have their power amplifiers built-in, making it much easier to set-up and transport as there is less hassle and less equipment. The same applies to powered subwoofers.

Though a powered speaker is more convenient and generally easier to use, a passive speaker may be appropriate where you want to run larger, more complex systems which require a lot more power. In this scenario, a powered system runs the risk of overheating. A better alternative is to run a passive system, therefore keeping amps separated, preventing risk of damage.

JBL were behind some of the original powered speakers. Founded in 1946, JBL have continued as pioneers in the industry, creating the first 2-Way studio monitor in 1962.

What to Look For:

Sizes

Powered speakers come in a range of sizes, the four main sizes of powered speakers are 8 inch, 10 inch, 12 inch and 15 inch. These sizes reflect the size of the “woofer” in the speaker, which is the common name for the low frequency driver. This driver produces the low frequency sounds or what you might call “bass”. Typically, the greater the size of the woofer, the greater the lower frequency response. When buying powered speakers, be sure not to confuse size with quality.

More Watts = Better?

Definitely not. This is a common misconception when buying powered speakers and is especially important to note for those who like their music loud. Loudness or Volume is measured in decibels. For every +6 decibel increase, the volume will double. So for all you loudness lovers out there, a speaker’s dB SPL measurement or Decibel Sound Pressure Level, gives a better idea of how loud the speaker can actually go.

So What’s a Watt?

A Watt is a measurement of power consumption. In terms of a speaker, after an amplifier processes sound, the output from this is measured in watts. This provides the amount of power that the amplifier consumes during this process. Generally the greater the wattage, the more powerful the amplifier and of course, the more powerful the amplifier, the louder the sound. However, in this day and age, where everything that is technology based strives to become more effective and efficient, we now find amplifier technologies are using their power consumption either very efficiently, or not. This can mean that a speaker with a low wattage rating can be incredibly loud because its amplifier is incredibly efficient, and of course, the opposite way for inefficient speakers.

RMS vs. Peak

This brings us to another argument about watts. RMS vs. Peak. Speaker manufacturers will generally give two measurements of wattage in their specifications.

Peak wattage is the maximum power an amplifier can produce in short bursts.

RMS wattage refers to the average power an amplifier can produce over a long period of time.

You can bet that the majority of speaker brands will use there Peak wattage rating as a point of sale, however, knowing the RMS wattage is just as important. Don’t assume a loud speaker is a good one. This isn’t necessarily true. You can have a loud speaker, but it could sound horrible and distorted, so be sure to keep this in mind when buying powered speakers.

Sound Quality and Efficiency

Loudness and quality are totally different things. It’s worth taking a look at a speaker’s THD or Total Harmonic Distortion. This measures how well the speaker can read your music and produce quality sound without distortion. A low figure means less distortion and a more accurate sound.

The amplifier has a lot to do with efficiency and is another key aspect to look out for.

Amplifiers

The purpose of an amplifier is to produce an output which can handle the signal, but is also sufficiently large enough to supply requirements of the speaker. The power output is the product of the voltage and current, whereas the power input is the result of DC voltage and current.

Class A amps produce high amplification, but at the cost of the efficiency of the conversion from DC to AC.

A Class B Amp will convert more efficiently, but results in distortion of the output signal.

Class AB is a combination of the two. It combines the high efficiency of Class B and the Low Distortion of Class A.

The ultimate amp, however, is a Class D amplifier which is typically digital. Unlike previously mentioned classes, this is a switching amp. The switches are either fully on or fully off, significantly reducing the power losses in the output devices and allowing for a 90-95% efficiency rate to be possible.

So pay close attention to the class of amplifier too when purchasing a speaker.

Raw VS DSP

DSP, a shortened name for Digital Signal Processor, takes audio that has been digitised and then mathematically manipulates it. A speaker with DSP is far more precise than Raw (unprocessed) audio and will usually sound and perform better overall. An LD Dave System, for example, with DSP will prevent distortion on its own. If you turn up the volume, the system will lower the bass, so as not to distort and damage your speakers. DSP is almost like the brain of a system.

Do I Need a Subwoofer?

A live sound situation will sound more rich and vibrant with the extra bass power from a sub. Your speakers can focus on the top end and your sub on the lower frequencies. This creates a better overall performance and sound. If you’re mainly using your system for speeches, you don’t necessarily need one. If you like loud music and bass, it’s almost essential!

Buying Powered Speakers

Planning Ahead

You may not need a sub now, but you might in future. This is especially important for mobile DJs. Consider that you might be better off investing in a subwoofer now, rather than buying bigger speakers to compensate for it.

Accessories

It may also be worth considering any extras you need when buying powered speakers. Speaker stands are perfect for getting your speakers off the ground and they tend to sound best at ear level anyway! Speaker covers are also a good idea for protecting your valuable equipment in transport and storage.

Best Way To Choose a Speaker

Of course, the best way to choose the right speaker for you is to hear it for yourself! If you live near a DJ City store, please come and visit us. We’d love to help you find the right system and show you a few options.