Powered or Passive DJ Speakers: Which Is for You?

If you’re having a hard time deciding what style and size of DJ speakers you need, maybe this article will help you out. There’s a lot to consider before you make a decision and go in a certain direction with your DJ equipment purchases. Not only is the gear a factor, but how it will interface with your vehicle, gigs, and budget.

To start, how big of speakers do you need? Answer: How big are the rooms you work?

DJ speaker packages that include subwoofers often use small main speakers (8-10″ woofers) and let the sub do most of the work. If you are playing larger rooms you’ll probably need mains with 12-15″ woofers and a sub or two. Subwoofers use 15-18″ speakers, with the 18″ having a lower frequency response.

Passive, full range speakers need a power amplifier and speaker cords to work and the speakers have a built-in crossover that separates high and low frequencies loa toa 50w . The speaker has one cord running to it from the amplifier located near the DJ mixer, in a normal setup.

Passive speakers are going to be lighter to transport and lift because they don’t have an amp in it, so you will have to take an amp to power them. You can also add two more speakers to the one amp in most cases*, with a short speaker cord daisy-chained from another speaker. Be sure and use good speaker cables, not lamp cord.

Note – Using an under powered amplifier with passive speakers and pushing it to the max will blow them both; the heat from the amp overworking will shut it down, and the distorted signal from the amp will take out the speakers. Always use a power amp rated for the same, or a little more, power than the speakers. You want clean volume and you need some amp headroom available for that.

Powered speakers usually use a ¼” guitar cord or XLR input, plus an AC power cord running to it. If the DJ mixer doesn’t have balanced outputs you will need a -10/+4 box to balance and kick up the signal volume. Or if the inputs are on the sub, it will have to be located near the DJ mixer (<15-20′) to use the unbalanced outputs on the mixer. This could be an issue if you use vinyl turntables because of the vibrations.

Use quality AC extension cords, not the small ones from the drug store because loud volume will draw more current through the AC cord and make it hot (and possibly melt) if the wire gauge is too small.

Another set of powered speakers have to be used (more $$) to double your speaker count with a powered speaker setup, and they usually can be daisy-chained with another XLR mic cord.

The amplifiers in powered speakers are matched for the speaker design and usually include protection limiters so you don’t blow them up. Powered subwoofer speakers usually have switch able or variable LPF (Low Pass Filter) that takes the higher frequencies out of the signal the subwoofer can’t reproduce and that wouldn’t sound good in the mix.

Powered speakers are more convenient and simple to use and packaged DJ systems are designed for plug and play operation.

Passive systems require some knowledge about connections but are cheaper to expand.

If you are replacing a current speaker system, then you’ll have a better idea of what you need because you know the limits of the DJ equipment you have been using. If you are buying for the first time, having a little knowledge can go a long way towards getting DJ gear you can use for a long time.

So what’s for you? Powered or passive DJ speakers?

* Most passive speakers are 8 ohm impedance load on the amplifier. Plug 2 speakers together in parallel and you get a 4 ohm impedance load; most power amps will easily run at 4 ohm per channel.

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