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Tell me what to buy; active monitors are better than normal speakers with passive crossovers

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 

The title is kinda tongue in cheek even though I really do feel active crossovers can be implemented to a higher performance standard than passive... Does anyone have a similar setup to below i.e. external DAC to active monitors? Love to hear your thoughts especially if you came from the traditional hifi world.

Ok, ^^that's all this post is really about. Here come lots of words and thoughts.

 

This all started when I bought a dragonfly DAC & decided to return it because I couldn't get it to work with my Nexus 5, and then buying a JDS labs C5d instead (with a sweet modification to output the DAC section @ the 3.5mm jack instead of analogue in). 

 

So, having a USB only portable DAC/C5 is making me reevaluate my desktop audio:

iMac digital TOSLINK > Denon 988 receiver converts to analogue > NHT Power 5 (channels 1 & 5) > NHT SuperOnes

Versus something hopefully improved like:

Imac asynchronous USB > C5D (DAC portion) > Schiit SYS (or other passive pre) > Active Studio monitors

 

Here are some of my thoughts. More specifically they highlight some of the areas I think I can improve (totally ignoring the other half of the issue: room treatment)

1) Digital Transmission: Ok, granted I assume it would be difficult to hear the difference between a TOSLINK vs asynchronous USB (I think jitter being the dominant concern)... moving on

    my verdict: diminished returns either way

 

2) DA conversion: so many online reviews and raves about JDS Labs and their DACs, whereas not so much analysis of the Denon 988 DAC section... hmm maybe a clear phycological advantage to the C5d. But again.. might be a wash.

    my verdict: diminished returns either way

 

3) Things in the audio chain & analogue signal: What else happens in my Denon 988? I can put it in pure direct mode which switches off the surround amps, turns off the panel lights, all DSP, & probably turns some other stuff off, versus using C5d > passive pre (like the Schiit SYS) seems much simpler and cleaner. I think in this case the C5D > Schiit SYS wins purely on signal path; it takes waaay less cabling to attenuate the line level via SYS than Denon 988.

    my verdict: C5D > passive pre wins over TOSLINK > Denon 988 & over C5D > Denon 988

 

4) Active bookshelfs VS NHT SuperOnes: I should really break this into a few subsections

 

    a) Crossover: Well the SuperOnes have been awesome. Can't really say how much of that is attributed to or hindered by their crossovers, but I am of firm belief that passive crossovers are inherently flawed specifically due to driver back emf; in other words, following the signal path from amplifier, through a passive crossover, to the drivers is straightforward; thumbs up. But, as we (might) all agree, an amp must have a sufficiently low output impedance in order to dampen the back emf of 1 or more drivers it's driving. Again, not a problem if we have a simple wire between drivers & amp, but less than ideal when a passive crossover is between the drivers & amp.

    So going back to the beginning of my thoughts: following the signal path from driver (producing back EMF) to crossover (being driven simultaneously by amp, and in reverse by the driver), to amp & other driver(s) connected in parallel (which are also driving some back emf to the crossover) may pose a complex coloration issues due to back emf impacting the performance of the crossover. Ok, so I am not preaching at this point - I just want to share my thought process in the context of my decision making...

    my verdict: ok I obviously fantasize about quitting my job and singlehandedly revolutionizing the hifi world with pro audio trickle down technology; active wins

 

    b) Amplification: My NHT Power 5 (200W RMS/ channel all driven simultaneously) is awesome... not much else to say. Typically Active 2-way bookshelfs, which seem to only come in the Active Studio Monitor flavor, have less than 200W rms per speaker. I know I haven't named a specific active monitor (with x amount of power) to compare against my NHTs.. I'll do that later - for now I'll just blanket statement that all "decent" professional active monitors don't seem to skimp on clean power & SPL capability, which satisfies any worry I have about amplification power.

    my verdict: moot

 

    c) Coloration: I'm getting tired of writing now so I'll try to speed along - Active monitors color less; my NHTs are also supposed to be pretty transparent but likely more colored than monitors. I think because of the crossovers :D I prefer less coloration. 

    my verdict: active monitors win

 

I'll just lump the rest into this paragraph: other reasons for retiring the NHTs, Denon 988, and Power 5 are because they won't actually be retired - I'll put them back into my home theater setup with the other surround Superones & NHT floorstanding mains. Awesome! New desktop setup would be

 

Imac > C5D (DAC portion) > Schiit SYS (or other passive pre) > Active Studio monitors

Potential monitors are (all 8" drivers... gonna hit lower flat than NHTs)
Tannoy Reveal 802

M Audio BX8 D2

KRK Rokit 8

Presonus E8

...still looking - any ideas??

 

Ok what are your thoughts on improving my stereo setup, what I have now vs what I propose... and thanks for reading!

 

Edit: adding links to the gear chain.


Edited by pixelcity - 5/20/14 at 12:11pm
post #2 of 15
The price/performance ratio is sort of erased on active vs. passive when one already has good amplification up until a certain price point. Why? Because cheap active speakers come with cheap drivers and cheap electronics. You already have some very good amplification. Those speakers you are looking at will not provide much improvement (if any).

The weak point is your speakers. Nothing wrong with the SuperZeros for what they cost, but they are only $200 a pair mini monitors that don't have much midbass output. Putting some money into better passive speakers with bigger drivers would be the most cost effective way of improving your setup.

Also, you could hook a DAC directly up to your NHT amp and then use your computer volume control. That would give you a simplified audio chain with passive speakers. Or put the SYS in the mix.
Edited by cel4145 - 5/20/14 at 2:03pm
post #3 of 15
Thread Starter 

I agree for the most part and I was initially thinking about sending the C5d directly to the Power 5. I just have a nagging urge to try active crossovers... if only my SuperOnes had posts for bi-amping I could throw a DIY active crossover together and use 4 of the Power 5's channels. Although superones have 6.5" main drivers & all the active monitors I'm looking at are 8" so I will probably get another octave of low (presumably flat & uncolored) sound.

 

Another pain is that hifi equipment generally have reviews and opinions ad-nauseam; meanwhile Pro equipment discussions seem to be happening in some word of mouth in-the-trade circle that I'm not in. Frankly it's nearly impossible to compare the two on a level field unless I can AB them for myself.

Edit: hoping I can find people here who have stepped on both sides of that fence personally.


Edited by pixelcity - 5/20/14 at 2:22pm
post #4 of 15

I share your sentiment.

Potentially actives are technically better than passives.

They do offer lower distortion.

 

But good sounding actives are not cheap.

Indeed you need a good cabinet, good drivers and good amplifiers.

You might have a look at typical pro-brands like Adam, Genelec, K&H

A couple more can be found on my website: http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/HW/ActiveSpeakers.htm

post #5 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelcity View Post

I agree for the most part and I was initially thinking about sending the C5d directly to the Power 5. I just have a nagging urge to try active crossovers... if only my SuperOnes had posts for bi-amping I could throw a DIY active crossover together and use 4 of the Power 5's channels.

Doesn't work that way. Passive speakers with dual posts are not for bi-amping with an active crossover. The passive crossover would still be in play.
post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by Roseval View Post
 

I share your sentiment.

Potentially actives are technically better than passives.

They do offer lower distortion.

 

But good sounding actives are not cheap.

Indeed you need a good cabinet, good drivers and good amplifiers.

You might have a look at typical pro-brands like Adam, Genelec, K&H

A couple more can be found on my website: http://thewelltemperedcomputer.com/HW/ActiveSpeakers.htm

Oh, nice site! We certainly do share the same sentiments about active crossovers / active speakers. Do you know any good sources of reviews, tech, etc. of active monitors? Edit: more specifically, active monitors falling under pro audio.

 

Edit again... really enjoying your site Roseval!


Edited by pixelcity - 5/20/14 at 4:05pm
post #7 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


Doesn't work that way. Passive speakers with dual posts are not for bi-amping with an active crossover. The passive crossover would still be in play.

Aren't you referring to bi-wiring? Regardless, what I want is not on the table unless I tear my SuperOnes apart :)

post #8 of 15
Right. Most passive speakers are for bi-wiring, or bi-amping using the built in passives crossover.

You could go DIY and build your own active crossovers. Madison Sound has some good value speaker kits. You could leave the passive crossover out and add a second set of binding posts when you build them. Or you might go used with some speakers that you don't mind rewiring and installing an extra set of binding posts.

But otherwise, given that you have amplification already, I think you'd have to spend $1000 or more to potentially do better than just buying some good passive speakers. When you are buying active speakers, the amplification is part of the cost of the unit. There are certainly $500 passive speakers that will compete in SQ with $500 actives because more money can be spent on the drivers and tweeters in total cost of the speaker. Whether you like one better than the other would be more dependent on your preference about their individual sonic signature and how well (or not) the speaker's dispersal pattern was a good fit for your listening and placement setup.
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post

Right. Most passive speakers are for bi-wiring, or bi-amping using the built in passives crossover.

You could go DIY and build your own active crossovers. Madison Sound has some good value speaker kits. You could leave the passive crossover out and add a second set of binding posts when you build them. Or you might go used with some speakers that you don't mind rewiring and installing an extra set of binding posts.

But otherwise, given that you have amplification already, I think you'd have to spend $1000 or more to potentially do better than just buying some good passive speakers. When you are buying active speakers, the amplification is part of the cost of the unit. There are certainly $500 passive speakers that will compete in SQ with $500 actives because more money can be spent on the drivers and tweeters in total cost of the speaker. Whether you like one better than the other would be more dependent on your preference about their individual sonic signature and how well (or not) the speaker's dispersal pattern was a good fit for your listening and placement setup.

Man, tempting me with DIY that's dangerous (for me)... almost went DIY but I know I'd drag it out forever because I don't have time or the room for such a project :(

 

 

Anyways, anyone have some hands on experience with some of the monitors I listed in my op? They all come in around the $500 ballpark give or take. Understood the cost goes up partially because of the amp, etc. but I'm hopeful pro audio (generally speaking) has a better price/performance ratio due to the critical nature of its application versus the moody world of hifi.

post #10 of 15
Quote:
Originally Posted by pixelcity View Post

I'm hopeful pro audio (generally speaking) has a better price/performance ratio due to the critical nature of its application versus the moody world of hifi.

To repeat, in my experience, I don't think any active speakers in the $500 range "best" the better passive speakers in the same price range. Your individual listening tastes are the deciding factor.
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by cel4145 View Post


To repeat, in my experience, I don't think any active speakers in the $500 range "best" the better passive speakers in the same price range. Your individual listening tastes are the deciding factor.

Noted; I'm probably hoping to hear otherwise.

 

I'll just change over to a general plea for anyone's experience with speakers similar to these:

Tannoy Reveal 802

M Audio BX8 D2

KRK Rokit 8

Presonus E8

...still looking - anyone??

post #12 of 15

I noticed your looking at all 8" woofers but check out these:

 

http://www.head-fi.org/t/719464/studio-monitors-for-an-absolute-steal

 

That are very impressive for the price (and I'm picky). Besides if you don't like them you could probably sell them for a small profit on eBay.

 

I've had mine for a week now and they will not be leaving. Take a good look at the specs. 90 watts bi-amplified. Frequency Response (1 W @ 1 m) +/-3 dB 45 Hz ~ 22 kHz

 

You could always add a sub if you think you need it......I don't think I will.


Edited by Astropin - 5/20/14 at 6:06pm
post #13 of 15
post #14 of 15
Thread Starter 

Nice, thanks guys for all the recommendations. There actually are a lot of choices in my price range, and therein is the double edged sword / problem. I can't audition most of these speakers unless I go on a buying/returning spree.

 

I probably need to post this in a forum more dedicated to this type of gear, because I am really hoping for comparisons amongst these Pro monitors AND comparisons with SuperOnes or similar.

In the meantime, perhaps I will simply get the Schiit SYS or a cheap stepped attenuator to go between my C5D & Power 5 > SuperOnes

post #15 of 15
Thread Starter 

Well, for anyone following, looks like I will be lurking here for a while: http://www.gearslutz.com/board/faq.php

Caters more towards pro audio gear.

gearslutz... great forum name, btw :blink: 

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