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How to Power Passive Speakers Without an Amp

Passive speakers are frequently used with a power amplifier since they require external power to function properly. The job of an amp is, therefore, to drive your audio source to the right level and give you the best sound quality possible.

However, if you don’t have an external amplifier and still want to use your passive speakers, there are a few workarounds that will let you connect them to an AV receiver, for example, and still get decent sound.

In this article, we will explain how to power passive speakers without an amp, as well as go through some important factors you should take into account when doing so (such as power rating and speaker impedance) to make sure you get high-quality sound without damaging your device.

Tip: Learn more about the different types of passive speakers in our 2-Way vs 3-Way Speakers article. 

Table of Content

What’s the Difference Between Passive and Active Speakers?

Active Speakers

Active speakers have a built-in amplifier as a component inside them and must be connected to a power outlet or battery. Most consumer-grade audio products are designed that way, for example, computer speakers and Bluetooth boomboxes. This eliminates the fuss and hassle you would have with a passive pair.

Benefits of Active Speakers

  • Powered speakers are an all-in-one solution so you won’t need any external device to make them work properly.
  • Some powered speakers can be used wirelessly without much hassle.

Related: Roku TV Wireless Speakers Review  

Passive Speakers

Passive speakers require an external amplifier to send audio output to them at the correct level. The biggest benefit of this type of design is that the consumer can better customize his/her setup by choosing high-quality components.

Benefits of Passive Speakers

  • Passive speakers allow you to easily customize your speaker system.
  • With passive speakers, you can always upgrade your external amplifier if you ever need more power.

Important Factors to Consider Before Proceeding

Before you try any of the methods listed below, you should keep in mind a few important factors so that you get the best sound quality possible and don’t damage your devices.

Speaker Impedance Rating

The impedance rating of a passive speaker, simply put, is the resistance the driver provides to the applied voltage. This value is measured in Ohms. Be aware of the sound output impedance of the source and make sure it matches the value of your speakers. For example, most computers’ headphone jacks have an impedance of 8 Ohms to 16 Ohms.

Speaker Size

Keep in mind your passive speakers’ size. Depending on the method you choose, it can have a great impact on your sound. That is because larger speakers tend to have a higher power rating than smaller ones. If you’re planning to connect them straight to your computer, for example, the method may only work if you use a shelf-style small box.

Speaker Power Rating

Power ratings are indicated in Watts. They’re usually written in the back of your passive speakers. Your audio source (the device you’re connecting your speakers to) must have a lower power rating than the speakers.

How To Power Passive Speakers Without An Amp

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Powering Passive Speakers Using an AV Receiver

An AV receiver can, most of the time, replace an external amplifier since these devices have enough power to amp passive speakers. You can connect your passive speaker wire to the equipment via phono cable and then to the sound output of your computer, for example.

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Powering Passive Speakers Using a Powered Mixer

If you have a powered mixer, chances are it has a built-in amplifier, therefore you can connect your passive speakers directly to it. If it is a passive mixer, you will still have to use an external amp.

Connecting your passive speakers to your powered mixer should be easy: you just need a pair of XLR or ¼ TRS cables (depending on the particular model of your device) and an RCA or 3.5mm cable to send sound from your device to your mixer. You can also connect microphones and other instruments.

Powered mixers are the best choice for applications such as live concerts, as they offer total control over the sound and, most of the time, a built-in equalizer and effects bank.

Powering Passive Speakers Using a Powered Mixer

Connecting Passive Speakers Directly to Your Computer’s Headphone Jack

While not recommended, you can sometimes set your passive speakers connected directly to your computer’s headphone jack. It is possible that your computer has a built-in amplification system, but this will largely depend on the model. The results won’t be the same as using them with an amp or power source, however.

This method won’t work if you have large passive speakers, though. Also, be aware of the power handling capacity: most computers can only power speakers that have an impedance between 8 Ohms and 16 Ohms, so it is not advisable to go lower or higher than that. Always play it safe.

Connecting Passive Speakers to an Active Subwoofer

You can have your passive speakers connect to a powered subwoofer since it has a built-in amplifier. In fact, most home theater setups work that way: the subwoofer will supply power transfer to the other components. A big benefit with this method is that you will have a better bass response.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a Power Amplifier?

A power amplifier, as the name implies, is used to amplify the audio output coming out of your device and give them the correct amount of power supply. Some devices, such as AV receivers and active mixers, have built-in amps, so you can connect speakers without needing an external device.

Can I Get a Loud Sound from Passive Speakers Without an External Amplifier?

Power amplifiers will usually have a positive impact on the sound loudness. This factor will highly depend on the method you choose from the list: if you decide to hook your speakers up to a powered mixer, for example, you will be able to get the loudest signal possible since those have a built-in amplifier.

However, if you choose to try connecting your passive speakers directly to your computer’s headphone output, there’s a chance your sound won’t be as loud as if you were using another method or an external amplifier. This will largely depend on the impedance and size of the passive speakers.

Can You Connect Passive Speakers to an Active One?

Yes, but it will depend on the model of the active speakers. Most can power passive speakers by daisy-chaining or using bi-wiring cables.

Does a Power Amplifier Require an External Crossover Too?

Most power amps already come with a built-in crossover so it isn’t necessary. The task of the crossover is to divide your audio signals into different parts of the frequency spectrum and send them to each of their corresponding speaker pieces: subwoofer, woofer, tweeter, etc.

What is the Difference Between 2-Way and 3-Way Passive Speakers? Which One is the Best?

The difference is in the components and their design. 2-way passive speakers usually feature a woofer for the low and mid frequencies and a tweeter for the high-end of the frequency spectrum in the same piece.

3-way passive speakers, on the other hand, have a subwoofer for the bass, a medium-sized woofer for the mid frequencies, and a tweeter for the highs.

Both types perform excellently and the best choice will depend on your particular use case. We recommend you take a look at our article about the subject here.

Conclusion

These are the four best methods to power passive speakers without an amp. The best solution will depend, as we discussed, on the impedance rating of your speaker set, as well as their size and power rating. You should always take these factors into account to prevent any damage to your equipment.

With that being said, the methods we recommend the most are connecting speakers to either an AV receiver or an active mixer. This is because these devices usually feature a built-in amp capable enough of powering most small to medium-sized sound systems.We hope our guide about how to power passive speakers without an amp was useful to you. Always play safe when dealing with delicate audio equipment so as to avoid any damage and research extensively about the subject. Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions we could help with!