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WTF is a Powered Speaker?

Find out what powered speakers are and how they can simplify your hi-fi stereo setup.

KEF LS60 Wireless II Powered Speakers

In most cases, speakers need to be connected to external amplification housed in a power amplifier, integrated amplifier, or a receiver. The types of speakers that require that set-up configuration are referred to as passive loudspeakers. These speakers connect to an amplifier via traditional speaker wire terminals (aka binding posts). 

Triangle BOREA BR03 BT Wireless Speakers Rear Connected
Some powered loudspeakers require using one set of loudspeaker cables to connect to the secondary speaker.

On the other hand, a growing number of speakers are powered by amplifiers that are built into the speaker enclosure. This means that the speaker and amplifier are combined within one unit. In this configuration, the speaker doesn’t need to be connected to a separate external amplifier in order to reproduce sound. These types of speakers are referred to as “powered” or “active” speakers. 

KEF LS60 Wireless Floorstanding Loudspeaker Mineral White.
The KEF LS60 are an example of wireless powered loudspeakers.

Tip: Although the term “active speaker” is often used as an alternate label for powered speakers, technically, an “active speaker” may also refer to something else in speaker design. Find out more in our article: Active vs Passive Speakers: A British Audiophile

Since powered speakers incorporate their own amplifier, source devices can be connected directly to the speaker without having to connect to an external integrated amplifier or receiver first. Instead of speaker wire terminals, other types of connections are provided on a powered speaker for different sources. 

Rear panel of SVS Prime Wireless Pro Speakers
Rear panel of powered speakers may look like this example from SVS Prime Wireless Pro.

Types of Powered Speakers

Digging a little deeper into powered speakers, here are some different types that are commonly available.

SVS Prime Wireless Pro Powered Speakers White Lifestyle
SVS Prime Wireless Pro Powered Speakers

Wireless or Smart Speakers: This type of powered speaker not only has a speaker and amplifier built-in but depending on brand and model may feature a bookshelf or floorstanding design and connect to wired and/or wireless sources. 

  • Wired sources may connect via analog RCA and/or XLR connections.

Tip: Another wireless platform that may be built into a wireless speaker is WiSA. This option is included in a growing number of stereo and home theater surround sound speakers. WiSA HT supports up to 8-channels of uncompressed audio that can be transmitted wirelessly to WiSA-certified speakers. 

SVS 16-Ultra Series Subwoofers
SVS 16-Ultra Series Subwoofers

Subwoofers: This is the most common type of powered speaker. While some subwoofers are passive (requiring an external amplifier) such as those made for in-wall and outdoor setups, the vast majority incorporate a built-in amplifier within the speaker enclosure. For more on both powered and passive subwoofers, refer to our article: WTF is a Subwoofer?

Soundcore Motion X600 portable Bluetooth Speaker
Soundcore Motion 600 Portable Speaker

Portable Speakers: By their very nature, portable speakers have built-in amplifiers, with power provided usually by battery and/or AC plug-in power as needed.

Tip: If you stretch the definition of a powered speaker a little further, most soundbars can be considered one as well, as they incorporate both the speakers and amplifiers to drive them within their cabinet. However, in terms of marketing, they are classified as a separate product category. To dig deeper, refer to our article: WTF Is A Soundbar?

Philips Fidelio FB1 Soundbar
Philips Fidelio FB1 Soundbar

Passive Speakers vs Powered Speakers

Whether you prefer using a passive or powered speaker as part of your audio setup there are some things to consider with either one.

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Powered Speakers
  • The speaker and amplifier are designed to match.
  • May connect with wired and/or wired sources.
  • Other than a power cord, there is no speaker wire clutter. 
  • Quick and easy setup.
  • Typically heavier weight than an equivalent size passive speaker. 
  • Can be expensive. 
  • Can’t be connected to an external amplifier. 
  • Passive Speakers
  • Can be paired with the user‘s choice of amplifier or receiver. 
  • Users can switch out an external amplifier if needed or desired. 
  • Typically lighter weight than an equivalent size powered speaker. 
  • No internal electronics (except maybe an electronic crossover) that may require maintenance.
  • You have to shop for an external amplifier or receiver. 
  • Sources must be connected to an external amplifier or receiver. 
  • Speaker wire clutter (especially in home theater surround sound setups).
  • KEF LSX II Wireless Speakers in Mineral White with KC62 Subwoofer
    KEF LSX II Wireless Speakers with KC62 Subwoofer in mineral white.

    Check for Power Outlets

    The final thing to remember when deciding to purchase powered speakers is that they need to be plugged into a wall outlet. Sometimes that means both left and right speakers each get plugged into an outlet. Other times, only one speaker gets connected to power and the other is tethered (via supplied cable) to the main powered speaker. There shouldn’t be any need for traditional speaker wire, but some models do require it.

    Powered Speaker Examples

    Powered Subwoofers

    1 Comment

    1 Comment

    1. Jd Sweski Ancion

      July 3, 2023 at 2:33 pm

      Coleman makes waterproof, vermin proof 3hp gasoline fueled powered speaker that connects to anything with a headset jack.

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