Analogue Passive Speakers or Digital Active Speakers?

This article aims to explain different loudspeaker technologies available in the domestic audio market and how Goldmund adoption of these technologies evolved over time.

TERMINOLOGY

The terms powered and active speakers have often been used interchangeably. However, they are not exactly synonyms. Certain active speakers are not amplified, and certain powered speakers aren’t active. To prevent any terminology misuse, we’ve outlined a few definitions.
  • Passive speaker: speaker filtered with passive elements (resistor, capacitor, inductor).
  • Active speaker: speaker filtered with active elements (transistor, operational amplifier and other integrated circuits).
  • Analogue system: system filtered with physical passive or active elements.
  • Digital system: system filtered with digital coefficients and controlled by DSP (gain, delay, …).
  • Powered speaker: speaker with built-in amplifier inside the enclosure.

PROFESSIONAL vs DOMESTIC MARKET

In the history of audio, the professional market has always had a technological advance over the domestic market. The fact that the professional audio world has adopted new technologies over time (powered speakers, digital processing, …) is a good indicator that those technologies are better in terms of sound quality and transparency.

STANDARD SOLUTIONS FOR DOMESTIC MARKET

At Goldmund, we’ve historically produced three different types of speakers. In the market, there are plenty of hybrid systems not covered by this section.

PASSIVE SYSTEM

Passive Speaker System
Figure 1: Passive System – The amplifier is outside the speaker box and the crossover (Xover) filters are done with passive elements located between the amplifier and the driver terminals. DAC – Digital to Analogue converter; A – Amplifier.

POWERED SYSTEM

(Active Filtering)
Active analog speaker system
Figure 2: Powered System with active filtering – In contrast with the previous system, all the elements are placed inside the speaker enclosure. In active systems one amp per driver is mandatory because the active Xover filters must be placed immediately before the amplifiers. As a consequence, the amplifiers are directly connected to the driver terminals.

POWERED SYSTEM

(Digital Filtering)
Active Digital Speaker system
Figure 3: Powered system with digital filtering – As with the active system, the amps are directly connected to the speaker membranes. In this system, one DAC per membrane is necessary. The filter is no longer physical, but software based, in form of coefficients and inserted in a DSP.
NOTE: Goldmund completely abandoned the Powered Analogue Systems over Powered Digital Systems. However, to cater to a more traditional audience, we continue to produce passive systems.

UNPOWERED PASSIVE SYSTEM TO POWERED ACTIVE SYSTEM

ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
The amp is directly connected to the membranes which offers better driver holding. Production is more complex since more elements need to be fitted into the same enclosure.
There are fewer analogue cables hence less signal loss. Heat dissipation caused by the built-in amplifier is a challenge.
One amp per channel per driver improves driver holding. Electronics and transformer noise from the amplifier are added to the speaker. In a passive speaker system this noise also exists but only in the amplifier and not in the speaker system.
Speaker weight is increased meaning less components’ vibrations and therefore less distortions.
The field inside the speaker enclosure is more diffuse resulting in less enclosure modes.

ANALOGUE vs DIGITAL

Why converting an analog signal to digital since in nature sound production is perfectly analogue? The answer is that sound reproduction in the analogue world is no longer perfect. It is distorted by numerous elements inside the speaker. Going digital can fix many of these problems.
ANALOGUE DIGITAL
ADVANTAGES DISADVANTAGES
Continuous-time signal – like it occurs in nature. Discrete-time signal – the signal needs to be sampled, which is a source of error. However, over time, all errors that damaged the digital signal have been solved: higher sampling frequency, better antialiasing filter, better conversion and clock control.
DISADVANTAGES
(note: none of which can be solved)
ADVANTAGES​
Physical elements disturbance. Physical elements barely impacting.
Limited design possibilities. Infinite design possibilities because it is software and not physical elements.
Limited correction possibilities. Infinite speaker behavior correction possibilities.
Analog to digital conversion
Figure 4: Converting analogue to digital and digital to analogue signals in a powered system with digital filtering. ADC – analogue to digital converter; DAC – digital to analogue converter.

DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE THREE TYPES OF FILTERING TECHNOLOGIES

ANALOGUE PASSIVE ANALOGUE ACTIVE DIGITAL
Physical passive elements (resistor/capacitor/inductor) lead to: Physical active elements (transistor/operational amplifier) lead to: No physical elements. Software is inserted in a chip (DSP coefficients) and results in:
High tolerance margin. Low tolerance margin. No tolerance margin.
Variable load (driver). Constant load (amplifier). No load.
Limitation in low frequency (filters elements for very low frequencies - ex: 20 Hz - become bigger and bigger resulting physical limitations due to size). No limitation in low frequency (elements keep their small size). No limitation in low frequency.
Long calculation process (external circuit design). Mid calculation process (integrated circuit design). Short calculation process (no circuit design).
Long implementation. Mid implementation. Short implementation.
Long correction process. Long correction process (although shorter than the passive, it requires board redesign). Short correction process (to send a configuration to the processor/DSP inside the speaker).
No easy and quick solution to add an extra function such as time distortion correction (like performed by Goldmund Leonardo technology, and others). No easy solution to add an extra function. Many solutions to add extra functions (gain, delay, distortion correction, …)

CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES OF SWITCHING FROM UNPOWERED TO POWERED SPEAKERS

CORPORATE INVESTMENT

To acquire the necessary skills for producing powered speakers, loudspeaker companies that never produced amplifiers before have the choice of buying or co-branding with an amp company or instead to recruit and setup their own electronic department. To start producing amplifiers involves structuring a new production chain and new quality control protocols. For Goldmund, this transition was smoother because the company came from the amplifier world.
Audio Production chain
Audio Quality control

CURRENT MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

High Fidelity Audio
The technological transition from non-amplified to amplified speakers helps improving the acoustical fidelity. Speakers have one amp per driver instead of one amp catering to all drivers, and amps are placed closer to the driver terminals than in unpowered systems offering an enhanced driver hold.
The price the customer pays for an active system is lower than in an unpowered system of equivalent quality since several audio equipment components (amplifier, speaker, cables, accessories) are no longer needed, only one loudspeaker system with all elements built inside the enclosure.
Active systems significantly improve the WAF (wife acceptance factor). Jokes aside, an uncluttered finish offers a better design integration and it is more pleasant to the eye.

NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

Goldmund leveraged the transition from unpowered to powered loudspeaker systems to develop home theatre solutions. In the past, when amplifiers were outside speaker enclosures developing these solutions for the domestic market was a complex task.
bespoke home cinema
Figure 5: Goldmund Media Room – ultimate home theatre solution.
wireless sound system technologies
Powered systems also open the door to wireless possibilities improving convenience and interior design integration further.

CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES OF SWITCHING FROM ANALOGUE TO DIGITAL TECHNOLOGIES

CORPORATE INVESTMENT

In this scenario, companies must acquire competences in signal processing and modelling, DSP software development, and amplifier board integration. This transition is lighter in terms of corporate investment than the switch from unpowered to powered speaker systems. It requires fewer changes in the production chain and relies primarily in the acquisition of new skills.

CURRENT MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

Digital opened the door to unlimited correction possibilities in terms of room acoustics and speaker distortions (time, and more).
It makes it also easier and faster to upgrade the equipment to new audio formats that arrive in the market. Since we’re dealing with software, it is only necessary to decode the new formats and implement them in the device with little need for board redesign.

NEW MARKET OPPORTUNITIES

Consumers have ever growing expectations of more user friendly, smaller and embedded solutions. The increasing wealth of knowledge associated with digital makes that possible. It also allows for sound modifications and effects.
Consumers have ever growing expectations of more user friendly, smaller and embedded solutions. The increasing wealth of knowledge associated with digital makes that possible. It also allows for sound modifications and effects.
home theater system

SOUND CONSEQUENCES FOR THE LISTENING EXPERIENCE

UNPOWERED > POWERED ACTIVE

  • Better dynamic and low frequency impact
  • Better stage sound accuracy (stereo image)

ANALOGUE FILTERING > DIGITAL FILTERING

  • Better stage sound accuracy (stereo image)
  • Better coherence

DIGITAL CORRECTION POSSIBILITIES

  • Better dynamic and low frequency impact
  • Greater sound clarity
  • More spacious and detailed sound environment
  • Better stage localization (width/depth)

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