Setting up your surround sound system is exciting, but it can also come with a myriad of questions- especially if you are relatively new at establishing connections between your system components. You might be wondering how your subwoofer and speakers can connect together.
A powered subwoofer (active subwoofer) cannot act as the power source for speakers in your sound system. While a powered subwoofer has a built-in amplifier and does not rely on an additional power source for itself, the equipment does not have a speaker input/output capacity to supply power.
Instead, if you are establishing connections between your subwoofer and your speakers, you will be creating a way to ensure that the audio signals are cohesively transmitted among the appropriate devices.
However, your powered subwoofer will, unfortunately, not act as a power source for the other pieces of audio equipment in your sound system. Let’s take a closer look.
Also read: Can You Use a Subwoofer as a Speaker?
What is the Difference Between a Powered and a Passive Subwoofer?
To more comprehensively understand the connections you are attempting to establish as you set up your surround sound system in your home, it is important to understand the difference between types of subwoofers and how they will interact with the rest of your sound equipment.
Specifically, knowing the difference between a powered and a passive subwoofer is essential to understanding how to make them work within your sound system, respectively.
A powered subwoofer (active subwoofer) has a built-in amplifier that supplies the sub with the power it needs to play the low frequency audio emissions. Contrarily, a passive subwoofer does not have this built-in feature and relies on a connection with an external amplifier for a power source.
Importantly, then, you need to recognize that using a powered subwoofer will mean that your amplifier is not going to be used to power your sub like it would if you were using a passive sub instead.
This can be quite beneficial for the remainder of your sound system equipment since the external amplifier can, instead, be connected to your speakers supplying them with power.
Still, there are benefits to using a powered and a passive subwoofer, and one is not inherently better than the other. However, many audiophiles are enjoying the ease of using a powered subwoofer and not having to connect it to an amp within their system.
This increase in popularity also comes with the fewer connection components that you will have to purchase and set up when using a powered amp that has its own built-in amplifier.
In relation to your other speakers, both a powered and a passive subwoofer can be connected with the speaker input/output connection. However, this does not mean that the powered subwoofer is supplying power to your connected speakers.
Instead, this connection helps to, in a sense, strip the low frequency audio signals and send them to the subwoofer for transmission rather than the speakers.
Rather than establishing a connection to send power between the speakers and your subwoofer, you will be connecting these pieces of sound equipment so that the audio signal can be “broken down” and sent to the right speakers depending on the purpose of that specific device.
In this case, the powered subwoofer would “take” the low frequency bass tones and the speakers would play the rest.
Can You Use Passive Speakers with an Active Subwoofer?
Still, even if you are confident in knowing the difference between a powered (active) subwoofer and a passive subwoofer, you might be unsure of how these truly affect which types of speakers you can connect within your sound system.
After all, the built-in amplifier in the active subwoofer alters where the sub receives its power, so what else would it change?
Interestingly, you can use passive speakers with an active subwoofer. However, you will need to connect a designated amplifier with the speakers to provide them with a power source since the built-in amp in the active sub does not supply power to external speakers.
This, again, points at the importance of having a power source available and ready to use with your speakers regardless of the type of subwoofer that you are using.
While you will want to establish a connection between the speakers and the subwoofer, this is not a source of power but a way to make the units in the sound system act more cohesively.
The cohesive connection between your speakers, amplifier(s), and subwoofer(s) is essential to creating a high-quality audio experience within your surround sound system.
Truly, this is where art and science combine to create the lasting sound experience that is sure to impress you, your family, and your friends.
However, this is why nailing these connections is so imperative to the overall audio experience. For example, you need to ensure that you are supplying sufficient power to each device, that the audio signals are being appropriately sent and received by each piece of equipment respectively, and that the placement of each speaker/subwoofer is ideal for the listener.
Once this cohesive setup has been established, then you can enjoy your audio experience as you intend to.
Why Does My Subwoofer Have Speaker Outputs?
So, if you will be required to find a power source for your speaker (an external amplifier) even if you are using a powered (active) subwoofer, you might be curious as to why the subwoofer has speaker outputs then? After all, these connections can not be completely pointless, right?
Read my article: How to Connect a Subwoofer to Speaker Level Outputs
There are a few reasons that a subwoofer may have speaker outputs. Most likely, especially if there are input connection options as well, these ports act as “pass through” connections that use the built-in crossover in the sub to appropriately distribute the transmission of the audio signal.
What this means for you is that the subwoofer’s speaker output connection outlets are not there so that you can supply power from one device to the other.
Unfortunately, the amplifier that is built into the powered (active) subwoofer is not able to transmit this power to the speakers through the speaker input/output connection port.
Rather, these connections will allow the audio signal to pass through the subwoofer, specifically the built-in crossover that can appropriately transmit this audio signal throughout the entirety of the system. This is similarly true if you are using a passive subwoofer.
If your passive subwoofer has speaker input/output connections, this does not eliminate the need to use an external amplifier. However, it will allow the audio signal to transmit between the cabled connections and be “redistributed” to the appropriate pieces of sound equipment.
In this way, you can see that the subwoofer, whether it is passive or powered (active), is never designed to act as the power source for your speakers.
Instead, your speakers will need to be connected to an amplifier/receiver so that they can receive the appropriate audio signals while being provided the power to play them.
Once you are able to see the science behind the connections in your sound system, you can more accurately connect the devices to play well with one another and create a cohesive system that is entirely functional.
Again, the importance of cohesion comes up again as you want all of your pieces of sound equipment to work together to achieve a high-quality sound experience for the listener (which could be you).
Along that note, whether you are an amateur or a professional, you can always contact a professional who sets up audio equipment for his or her opinion on your specific products and system setup.
Since there are always many variations between the specifications on your unique pieces of sound equipment, it is important to note that generalities can give you direction, but it is always permissible to ask questions in regards to your unique situation.
No two sound systems are exactly alike or played in the exact same room (and resulting dynamics), so it is important to gather as much information as possible to achieve a high-quality sound system (speakers, subwoofer, amps, receivers, etc.) for your unique space.
Whether using powered or passive subwoofers, you can connect the speakers in your system to the amplifiers they need to play your favorite tracks.
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.