We have all heard about passive soundbars bringing life to home theater systems, and taking entertainment experience to a whole new level. But what is it, really? The options available can already make it daunting for people, and it’ll be even harder to decide when you’re not even sure what it is and how it works.
A passive soundbar is similar to a regular soundbar but needs an amplifier for its channels to work. Despite having a more complicated—and expensive—installation process, many people still use it because they produce better audio quality when compared with most modern hi-res sound system solutions.
The choices that you have for passive soundbars, alone, can be daunting for most people. And that’s not even taking into account the number of other sound system solutions that you can use. So, let’s discuss it in great detail to help you learn more about it before you even spend hundreds of dollars on one.
The Basics of Passive Soundbars
Like most soundbars, passive soundbars come with speakers that depend on the number of channels it supports. You can find passives that can produce stereo sound, but the most common are the ones with left, center, and right channels.
If you opt for the higher-end models, you can create a surround sound effect using more speakers. You can even connect speakers that are outside your soundbar set up, which provides you with better flexibility.
That’s what a passive soundbar is; it’s not that much different from the other speaker solutions that we have. So to help you weigh in on why you should choose a passive soundbar, let’s go through the pros and cons of having it for your sound system.
Pros of Using Passive Soundbars
When setting up a home theater system, it’s easy to get out of your budget and pick the one that has the most features. After all, you’re only going to build it once, so you might as well go all in, right? Well, not quite.
The pros of using passive speakers make it less likely that you’ll need high-end soundbars. Here are some of the advantages that you can get from using passives for your media room.
In almost every case, passive soundbars will give you the best raw sound quality for its price. If sound quality is a major deciding factor for you, then, by all means, pick a high-end soundbar. Your audio will sound smoother and crisper, far better than other options available for you!
It’ll be tough to put a price on sound quality, though, because, sometimes, the difference in output is barely noticeable that you can’t justify the difference in price. If you have a small media room, then an entry-level passive soundbar will be more than enough to provide you with heart-pounding audio.
Flexibility is one of the biggest reasons why you’d want to go for passive soundbars. Since they need amplifiers or receivers to work, you can connect outside speakers to the soundbar, making it possible to create more complex sounds for your media room.
As long as your soundbar has enough channels to support multiple speakers, you can adjust each speaker individually to create more depth.
A dedicated amplifier gives you the flexibility to replace the left, center, and right speakers as you wish, making way for a richer, crisper, and smoother sound effect.
If you’re going to use a passive soundbar, you’re never stuck with the speakers that come with your sound system. You can mix and match the speakers that you use or even upgrade it whenever you feel like your speakers aren’t giving you enough power.
Each channel in passive soundbars can independently connect to a receiver or amplifier, providing you with the ability to blend the audio of your home theater. That’s why it’s easier to push your sound system to its limits and take out more juice from it.
You only need an amplifier that is compatible with your soundbar, which will then power your speakers for better output. You’re never stuck with what your soundbar has, allowing you to take your sound system to a whole new level… on-demand!
Cons of Using Passive Soundbars
If you think that passive soundbars are that good, and they’re the best option that you have… think again! Many people still chose to steer away from passives because, despite its impressive quality, flexibility, and output, it’s still subject to three deal-breakers: complexity, installation, and price.
Since passive soundbars need amplifiers or receivers to work, you need to make more decisions to complete your audio room.
If you want to get more out of your soundbar, you need an amplifier that goes well with it, and won’t be a bottleneck in its performance. Aside from the compatibility and output, you also need to consider the number of channels that an amplifier can support.
Sure, it’s easy to pick one that can transmit signals to several receivers connected to each speaker, but that can quickly burn through your budget.
The cost of installing your sound system will skyrocket even further if you decide to go for a wireless setup. That’s why despite its exceptional audio output, many people still steer away from using passive soundbars.
Installation is another huge issue for many people, and it goes beyond the complexity of picking an amplifier that brings out the best in your soundbar. If you’re going to pick passives for your sound system, don’t expect that you’ll get a plug-and-play system.
The wiring connection of the amplifier or receiver, soundbar, and speakers will take a lot of planning and execution. So, if you’re looking for a set up that you can complete with a few simple connections, you’re better off using other speakers.
After all, it’s easier to get high-end sound systems that are true plug-and-play, rather than go through the trial and error stage of installing your soundbar.
Now, let’s move forward with the most common deal-breaker in any commodity—price. A passive soundbar may not make much sense if you’re only looking for a way to upgrade your TV’s speaker.
Passive soundbars are more expensive than active soundbars, which may seem counterintuitive given that passives have one less component—amplifiers.
Generally, passives sound a lot better than actives, because it focuses on sound output rather than power. If you aim to have the best sound system for your media room, then a passive soundbar will give you the best output. But for casual users who are only looking to upgrade their default speakers, then using it may be a bit of a stretch.
Also, it’s worth noting that, despite the wide range of choices you have, it may still be challenging to find a cheap full-featured passive soundbar.
Choosing the Best Speaker for Your Setup
When looking for the best speaker that you can use for your home theater, you usually end up with three options—an active soundbar, a passive soundbar, and a center channel speaker. All three are capable of producing high-quality sound, but each speaker varies with the sounds it can produce.
The choice will depend on what setup you’re trying to create and the quality of sound that you’re trying to produce. So, to better help you understand the difference between these speakers, it would be best to compare them side-by-side.
Passive Soundbars vs. Active Soundbars
Both soundbars have multiple speaker channels—left, center, and right—and are capable of producing high-resolution audio. The main difference between a passive and an active soundbar is the amplifier or receiver.
An active soundbar includes an amplifier, so it’s easier to install and use. If you’re going to use it for your media room, you can create a digital surround sound effect using only one device.
You don’t have to create complex connections to achieve your desired audio quality for your sound system. Plus, you don’t need to use multiple speakers, which can be daunting, especially for first-time users.
On the other hand, a passive soundbar doesn’t have an amplifier or receiver. It needs a separate device to produce the sound quality that you want for your home theater.
Instead of a built-in amplifier, passives usually focus on delivering better sound quality, allowing you to play true high-definition audio. If you’re comfortable in dealing with various connections and wires, then passives are, almost, always a better choice.
Another difference is the cost. Surprisingly, despite being a plug-and-play sound system, active soundbars are cheaper. And we’re not even considering the cost of buying the amplifiers and various wires that you need for the connection yet.
However, passives are more future-proof than actives, because it gives you the ability to replace individual components of your system, instead of relying solely on its quality.
When using passives, you don’t rely on one component for your sound system. That means you can replace the amplifier, speakers, or other parts without going through the same cost of acquiring one.
With actives, your sound system only relies on one component. So, when it breaks down, you’ll have to buy another soundbar. You’ll also need to go through another round of setting up and configuring your media room.
Passive Soundbars vs. Center Channel Speakers
Many people are confused when looking at passive soundbars and center channel speakers. They often think that passive soundbars are just long center channel speakers. But there’s a huge difference with the sound quality that they can produce.
Both also have very different settings, so you have to consider the system that you’re trying to create before deciding which of these two speakers is better.
The main difference between a center channel speaker and a passive soundbar is the audio output. A passive soundbar is a great standalone setup. It has left, center, and right output, but if that’s not enough for your media room, you can connect more speakers to create more depth for your audio.
On the other hand, a center channel speaker only has one—the center channel. It can produce dialogue and some background, but if you want to have a more sophisticated audio output, you need to connect it to multiple speakers.
It makes the process more complicated, and it’ll be harder to achieve the setup you’re trying to create. However, when done correctly, it is capable of producing better sounds than a passive soundbar.
Guidelines When Choosing a Speaker
All three options will work well for most sound systems, but since they require different settings and configurations, the choice can be daunting for many people. So to help you decide which one works better for your media room, here are some simple guidelines:
An active soundbar is an excellent choice if:
- You don’t want to deal with complicated installation and set up.
- You’re looking for a more affordable way to achieve surround sound effects.
- You don’t want to deal with a media room cluttered with connection wires.
A passive soundbar is a perfect choice if:
- You want to enjoy true high-definition audio with smoother, crisper sounds.
- You want flexibility in upgrading your sound system without spending a lot.
- You’re looking for a standalone speaker that works well with most devices.
A center channel speaker is a great choice if:
- You feel comfortable in setting up complex speaker connections.
- You don’t need a surround sound effect when watching videos, programs, and movies.
- You want the most flexibility when it comes to the speakers that you can use.
Recommended Passive Soundbars
You can never go wrong when using passive soundbars because it has the best audio output without the complexities. You can also have a reliable sound system without compromising your flexibility to upgrade various components.
Even with that, we know that it can still be challenging to find the best passive soundbar for your media room. So to make things easier for you, we’ve compiled a list of what we think are the best that you can buy. Here are the three passive soundbars that we highly recommend for most media rooms:
Mythos XTR-SSA5 Ultra Slim Soundbar
The Mythos XTR-SSA5 (see it on Amazon) is, definitely, not the one that you’d like for your media room if you’re trying to have a minimalist set up. Its ultra-slim design is perfect for most modern flat-panel TVs. However, the five-channel outputs are coming out of 10 XTDD dome speakers and three hyper-definition dome tweeters, which can grab a lot of attention.
It features deep internal dampening, and with the help of its aircraft-grade aluminum, you’re most likely going to get better sound quality than most soundbars.
It only measures 45 x 1.7 x 5.3 inches (114.3 x 4 x 13.2 cm), making it one of the slimmest speakers you can get. The Mythos XTR-SSA5 can give you excellent placement versatility, and it will sound exceptional in almost any media room.
KEF HTF7003 Soundbar
If you’re looking for a soundbar that looks great for a modern 32-inch flat-panel TV,KEF HTF7003 (Amazon) is the best for you.
It’s a compact soundbar with a classic design that goes well with any minimalist set up without compromising the power that it can produce. In fact, if you’re solely looking for an aesthetically pleasing, standalone hi-res soundbar, it’s the best choice for you!
Sometimes, the output can be a bit underwhelming, but it presents the most realistic sound that you’ll get from soundbars. It doesn’t over-amplify the audio, which is great because you only hear the natural sounds coming from the video.
With a weight of only 6 lbs (2.7 kg), it won’t be challenging to find a place where you can set it up, and it will always look great!
Dayton Audio BS36 Soundbar
Dayton Audio BS36 (Amazon) is the best passive soundbar for people who are trying to create various connections and are looking for great flexibility when it comes to the speakers that they can connect. It has one of the highest numbers of inputs possible, allowing you to create a sophisticated sound system without relying on too many devices.
It also has the best compatibility with most TVs, utilizing both analog and optical inputs. Dayton Audio BS36 allows you to connect to more TV models and still be able to produce clean, distinct, and loud sounds without interference.
You don’t have to worry about configuring individual speakers to achieve your desired effect, because this soundbar automatically tunes the audio to adapt to various viewing conditions.
A passive soundbar is an excellent option for people who are looking for a standalone speaker that works well without relying on too many connections. Although it’s a bit more expensive than active soundbars, it offers better flexibility when it comes to upgrading your sound system.
If you’re looking for a way to get the best set up and you wouldn’t mind the additional cost of acquiring and setting up a passive soundbar, then, by all means, use it for your media room. It has the perfect combination that matches most setups, and it’s not as complicated as you might think!
- The 3 Best Passive Soundbars in 2020
- Sound Bars: How to Choose the Right One for Your Home
- Best Soundbars for TV – A Buyers Guide
Jason is a home theater expert with over 10 years of experience in setting up home cinema rooms and systems. What started out as a hobby soon transformed him into an authority in the audio-visual field. He is passionate about providing readers with accurate and up-to-date information on the latest audiovisual technologies and their applications for home theaters. Read more about Jason.