Active vs passive nearfield vs mid - classical music

nodin2000

Novice Member
Hi. I'm finally in a postiion to upgrade myself from Klipsch THX Promedia 2.1 computer speakers, to something that can do proper justice to my love for music, espeically classical music.
I'll be using my Macbook Pro as the 'source' with Apple Music. Macbook only has USB-C outputs so either a iFi Zen type DAC or just a USB-Toslink adapter will be needed.
The constraints are:
  • Where I live....Portugal. I sure wish I'd bought this stuff before I moved to Portugal a few months ago! Hard to source things, nearest hifi store is over 3 hour drive, 23% sales tax. So trying a few things out and seeing what works is not really possible. So I need to try and get this right first time - no pressure!
  • The Room....my office and it needs to share the space with my sim racing setup (that's a bunch of electronics, 8020 aluminum and 3 x 32" screens. I also have 2 x 27" screens on my desk. I've attached the room layout. Open to ideas on how to move things around, but I don't want my back to the door and I don't want to be staring at the 3 x 32" screens all day long.
  • Budget...about €1000 which is around $1200 (as sales tax is included here)

I mainly listen to classical music, opera, piano and violin concertos, symphonies...pretty much anything classical. Getting some sense of 'scale' and 'weight' of the music is important, as is the separation of the instruments so it doesn't sound muddy
office speaker setup.png

I'm really looking for help on two of the basics.

1) Active vs passive speakers. I've been lurking on forums and doing my research. Lots of people recommend actives for more modest budgets and smaller rooms. But there are very little actual comparisons I can find to an active vs passive setup and in particular how they would cope with complex classical music.
To give some examples in Portugal, I could get a NAD amp (3020v2 or C328) for around €450, then add some Elac b6.2's for €300, giving me around €200 for some stands/DAC etc. If I feel bass is lacking I can always add a sub later. If I'm pushing the budget I could stretch to the Elac Uni-Fi UB52's or Dali Oberon 3's which are €450.
Or for Active's, I could get something like a pair of Focal Alpha 65/HS8/Kali Audio IN5/Eve SC205 for €700 and have some change for....a sub, stands, etc? My instincts want separates, because other than familiarilty of brand names and a spreading of the 'risk', I don't have a real basis for that.
[IMG]

2) Speaker location. [I can't seem to get my image of the room to load, but it's a 12'x9' room, 810 cu/ft. I'm sat behind 2 monitors so any speakers at ear height behind the screens and going to hit the screens before my ears. Doesn't sound ideal. Options I can think of are:
a) To give the most distance between my ears and the speakers (to create a soundstage?) I would need to wall mount them on the front wall, so they are angled down to my ears over the tops of the screens. They'd be about 9 ft from my ears
b) If I didn't want the speakers with the rears so close to a wall or far from me, then I could wall mount them on the side walls around 5-6 ft to me, but they'd have to be angled more aggressively downward.
c) If I got slim enough speakers/stands I might be able to squeeze them on stands by the side walls either side of the desk, but I'd have to have them quite far forward so definately not an equilateral triangle
d) I try and squeeze monitors onto my desk. I could do this with my old Klipsch computer speakers but they were very small. Also not sure about how much sound stage I can get with them this close

Sorry my first post is a long one. If I had Amazon Prime, or Crutchfield, things would be a lot easier!
 

Paul7777x

Distinguished Member
Active all the way for that room, positioning and especially your choice of music.

You’ll be delighted with the SQ upgrade.

I’d go for the Zen USB DAC (I’m pretty sure there’s nothing to touch it as a dac/preamp for your needs and budget) and a pair of these.


I’d also go for the wall positioning I’d think. Either A or B.

You cannot get the same quality of sound from separates at this budget as you can with serious actives.

The Dynaudios have very useful positioning DSP too which will give you a good spread of options for tuning the sound to the room and position.

If you can stretch the budget then the slightly bigger versions may be your thing.


Both will deliver first class bass. Fast, unbloated and and accurate. The control that four dedicated power amps per pair give you is rather impressive.

The clarity provided by the active configuration is also first class for any music, and imo, even more so for classical and (my particular taste) Baroque music.

And the dynamic scale that directly coupled power amps give active speakers is perfect for classical music.
 
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gava

Well-known Member
I agree actives are the way to go. I think the Zen DAC doesn't have a remote control - so if you want one then perhaps consider the Topping DX3 Pro+ or similar. Might not be an issue if you are always going to be sitting at your desk.

Also consider perhaps the Yamaha Actives


Be cautious with wall mounting - angle and seating position suddenly becomes very very important if they are angled downwards. If you are definitely going to just be in the one listening position then you should be able to do it perfectly, but the rest of the room will suffer a lot.
 

nodin2000

Novice Member
Thanks to you both for the replies and also the explanation behind the advice.
I guess as someone new to this I was just puzzled as to why they are so many articles, reviews and awards on Hi-Fi separates in this price point, and so few on active speakers for home Hi-Fi.
I found a few very positive reviews on the Acoustic Energy AE1's (also €1000/pair), but that was about it.
Yes, I will be in the one position as my desk for 99% of the time, so hopefully I can get the setup right.
The thomann.de website has a big list of options so I will spend some time looking through them and in particular at the Yamaha's and Dynaudios.
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Active all the way for that room, positioning and especially your choice of music.

Hmmm - I would be very careful about which actives just because many can be a bit in-yr-face in the upper mid range to facilitate mixing and for general music listening, that is most likely not desirable and could even be quite horrible for some of the music listed by the OP. Often some of the most highly rated monitors for mixing are not pleasant every day listening monitors.

Certainly I do find actives very good, but really it isnt so much that 'active' part of them that is good, but rather the near field use of them that is good and that they are generally designed for near field use.

I often find these near field monitors to perform rather less well when used for a listening distance of more than a couple of meters especially when an untreated room starts to become a significant part of what you hear.

For listening the models I have been familiar with in the past, Event (favourites for just listening), Mackie, Genelec (to a lesser extent). Alot of the very popular models like those from KRK, Adam etc I would rate highly for mix work, but are often not something I would choose for just listening.

Recent Yamaha monitor I cannot comment on as the last monitor from Yamaha I was ever familiar with was the original NS-10 back in its day and TBH they were not good :)

That said, my main hifi and AV speakers are Yamaha and actually they are pretty good for the price.

As a personal preference for classical, I would prefer something with a warmer tilt to the sound and as full a range as possible. Small rooms and classical never really work for me but near field will help with this and likewise small speakers and classical don't really do it for me either, but then my taste in classical tends to be full orchestral, piano, string quartets etc and most definitely NOT opera which I can imagine sounding really horrible on a system that is overly forward in the vocal range.

In the end as ever the ideal is to demo some. Thankfully demoing in near field context (1m or so) tends to translate much better to home desk use.
 
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gava

Well-known Member
Some good points.

At the risk of simply recommending what I am using, this setup works very nicely. If I were starting now, I'd switch in a Topping stack - replace my Fiio K5Pro for one of the Topping dac/amps and replace the Behringer A800 with the Topping PA5. These are the original KEF LS50s, not the Metas, but you can certainly get a used pair of originals (or possibly even metas) within your budget.

They sound great for classical music, and work very well both nearfield (where you don't need a sub) or into the room where you will then need one. Coax drivers mean that if you really want to mount them on the wall it's much more forgiving.

1641734770084.png
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
While I have never heard that model (LS-50), I could imagine them being very good in a near field context for this kind of use.
 

FRFT

Active Member
I'd go active unless you want to specifically buy different amps and speakers to have a bit of fun with.

Actives studio speakers offer good value because they don't have any fancy finish and probably save on marketing too.

Active vs passive, there isn't really one that does classical better. They're both just speakers but they use different methods of doing the crossover. No magic behind them.

Don't listen to people who make out you that active monitors are some kind of weird tool that doesn't sound good for HiFi. Every monitor is different, just how every hifi speaker is different. They also all use different waveguides with different goals, just like normal passive speakers.

You can definitely find a nice pair of monitors with money to spare with your budget
 

nodin2000

Novice Member
Hmmm - I would be very careful about which actives just because many can be a bit in-yr-face in the upper mid range to facilitate mixing and for general music listening, that is most likely not desirable and could even be quite horrible for some of the music listed by the OP. Often some of the most highly rated monitors for mixing are not pleasant every day listening monitors.

Certainly I do find actives very good, but really it isnt so much that 'active' part of them that is good, but rather the near field use of them that is good and that they are generally designed for near field use.

I often find these near field monitors to perform rather less well when used for a listening distance of more than a couple of meters especially when an untreated room starts to become a significant part of what you hear.

For listening the models I have been familiar with in the past, Event (favourites for just listening), Mackie, Genelec (to a lesser extent). Alot of the very popular models like those from KRK, Adam etc I would rate highly for mix work, but are often not something I would choose for just listening.

Recent Yamaha monitor I cannot comment on as the last monitor from Yamaha I was ever familiar with was the original NS-10 back in its day and TBH they were not good :)

That said, my main hifi and AV speakers are Yamaha and actually they are pretty good for the price.

As a personal preference for classical, I would prefer something with a warmer tilt to the sound and as full a range as possible. Small rooms and classical never really work for me but near field will help with this and likewise small speakers and classical don't really do it for me either, but then my taste in classical tends to be full orchestral, piano, string quartets etc and most definitely NOT opera which I can imagine sounding really horrible on a system that is overly forward in the vocal range.

In the end as ever the ideal is to demo some. Thankfully demoing in near field context (1m or so) tends to translate much better to home desk use.
Thanks for your input. Unfortunately the only Event speakers I can find ar €1800 each. Mackie's are around €200. I certainly need to do some more research where I can into Active's if this is the route to go down.
 

nodin2000

Novice Member
I'd go active unless you want to specifically buy different amps and speakers to have a bit of fun with.

Actives studio speakers offer good value because they don't have any fancy finish and probably save on marketing too.

Active vs passive, there isn't really one that does classical better. They're both just speakers but they use different methods of doing the crossover. No magic behind them.

Don't listen to people who make out you that active monitors are some kind of weird tool that doesn't sound good for HiFi. Every monitor is different, just how every hifi speaker is different. They also all use different waveguides with different goals, just like normal passive speakers.

You can definitely find a nice pair of monitors with money to spare with your budget
I'm happy with actives - I'm more interested in getting the best experience for the money than in how good they look, the brand, etc. The only legitimate drawback of actives I've seen is that if something goes wrong with them, your amp + speaker need replacing/fixing, instead of just one.
 

nodin2000

Novice Member
Some good points.

At the risk of simply recommending what I am using, this setup works very nicely. If I were starting now, I'd switch in a Topping stack - replace my Fiio K5Pro for one of the Topping dac/amps and replace the Behringer A800 with the Topping PA5. These are the original KEF LS50s, not the Metas, but you can certainly get a used pair of originals (or possibly even metas) within your budget.

They sound great for classical music, and work very well both nearfield (where you don't need a sub) or into the room where you will then need one. Coax drivers mean that if you really want to mount them on the wall it's much more forgiving.

View attachment 1632908
Thanks for sharing you picture. There isn't a second hand market for this type of kit in Portugal unfortunately. I had looked at the Elac UB52 for this type of driver configuration within my price range. With the 2 x 27" monitors on my desk that's 48" (120cm) of real estate gone (and slightly off center). I'd need a wider desk to get 2 x 10"(25cm) monitors either side of them. I'd have to put them in position 'C' in my diagram which would make them about 8ft (2.5m) apart but only about 2.5 ft (70cm) in front of me. I have no idea how that would fair compared to putting them back in positions A and B.
As someone else commented, classical/opera in a smaller room is a challenge!
 

Khazul

Well-known Member
Unfortunately the only Event speakers I can find ar €1800 each

Ah yes - I just had a look for some and it seems they dont produce the cheaper monitors they used to. A shame as they used to make some really good cheaper monitors.
 

dogfonos

Well-known Member
...there are very little actual comparisons I can find to an active vs passive setup...
Very true. I only know of two comparisons:
Kudos and Exposure Active System Review (not a direct active vs. passive comparison but more a review of the sonic benefits of the active setup compared with passives generally)

Note the word 'cohesion/cohesive' used in both reviews of the active design. Coherent is the first word that springs to my mind when I listen to good active speakers - including my own budget actives.

I would be very careful about which actives just because many can be a bit in-yr-face in the upper mid range
...a finding that What hifi also mention when reviewing the active version. Just as with some passives (possibly a bit more so?) some active speakers can display a forward upper midrange. There are undoubtedly studio monitor speakers that are not designed for sonic accuracy - some are designed to expose particular sections of the frequency response to aid, for instance, mixing work (such as the old Yamaha NS10, as mentioned by Khazul). Some studio monitors are designed to have a limited bandwidth to simulate a poor quality music playback device, like a portable radio or similar. Easy enough to avoid those 'effect' speakers.

A massive generalization perhaps, but, IME, active speakers usually have a more "immediate" sound that grabs attention. Some folks don't like that, they want warm and fuzzy. That's not to say actives sound immediate/upfront with all music genres. They can do warm and smooth, if the media dictates. I suspect the immediacy I hear from actives comes from how convincing they are handling dynamic swings and rapid transients.

Other than the usual suspects already mentioned, I'd also consider the APS Klasik 2020, the HEDD Type 05 and the Neumann KH120.

The APS Klasik 2020 seems to sound a bit special for such a dull looking speaker:
APS are a Polish company. Don't know if these are just above your budget when delivered to Portugal?

Sound on Sound online magazine has many reviews of active (nearfield) studio monitors.

HEDD type 05 could be a good call but not common in the UK. HEDD are a highly regarded company based in Berlin. Interesting user comparison of AE1 and HEDD type 05 actives:

The HEDD type 05 has versatile controls which should help in getting the best audio in most situations. Again, maybe above budget?

The Neumann KH120 may be an old design, but it's a class act, evidently.

About your office layout... how about turning the desk 90 deg anti-clockwise so you face the window (I think?) and have the speakers positioned either side of the window. Large screens in front of you on the desk are a problem so maybe wall mount speakers if you have to.

Final thought. You may be surprised just how good cheaper active speakers can be. I'm thinking of the well-reviewed JBL 305P Mk2 and JBL 306P Mk2. For your size of room, a speaker with a 5" driver should be a good match though for a slightly warmer/bassier sound one with a 6" driver would work well.
 

FRFT

Active Member
The only legitimate drawback of actives I've seen is that if something goes wrong with them, your amp + speaker need replacing/fixing, instead of just one.
This is a genuine concern, but if you think about it, studio monitors are designed to be used continuously and take a beating. They need to be reliable, so I wouldn't worry too much about it.

Plus the value you get can be excellent. I purchased a cheap pair of m-audio bx8 recently and they sound better than any passive speaker at the price that I've heard. I'd go as far to say that the 8" woofer makes the bass performance better than a lot of regular passive speakers that are small.

I'd suggest trying larger monitors as you do get a great benefit from the extra woofer size. That's the great thing about monitors, there's a lot of size options available which you won't get with regular hifi speakers
 

Mark.Yudkin

Distinguished Member
Given the budget and the room size, I'd suggest scouring the used market for a good deal. My office speakers (Kef 104aB) were bought in 1980, the receiver (Technics SA-GX180) in 1996, only the source device is new (Yamaha CD-NT670D), because I wanted streaming and internet radio.

Your 10m2 area doesn't leave much room for equipment, let alone large boxes, so a single box covering all bases would be ideal - for example the KEF LSX (if you want to buy something new). One you start adding external boxes, such as a separate DAC, you have no real benefit for active speakers. Active vs Passive is more about personal preferences than any specific advantages of one design over the other, and in any case there is no specific objective audio advantage to either design. (My main speakers are hybrid - a passive ESL panel with an active 10" woofer).

Small spaces and large works also tend to be a contradiction, not that that, or the poor speaker positioning, stops me from listening to operas in my home office. (At the moment though, it's Couperin).

I'd like to suggest that the easiest solution to you positioning problem is ceiling speakers, as you can basically place them where convenient. Your diagram doesn't make it clear which end is the 1.8m end. Your wall suggestion would also be a good idea, as it keeps down the clutter in the small room.

Now for remark on something you didn't ask. For listening in the office - when I'm not using it for home office and therefore don't need to hear when somebody Skypes me - I have found a good over the ear noise cancelling headset to be best. I tested out my Sony WH-1000X M3 by playing Parsifal over bluetooth.
 

jamieu

Well-known Member
The only legitimate drawback of actives I've seen is that if something goes wrong with them, your amp + speaker need replacing/fixing, instead of just one.

This is more to do with the manufactures, than to do with active vs passive. But as alluded to above above, manufactures focusing on the professional AV and studio markets a) tend to have tighter tolerances and better QA processes to start and b) tend to keep parts and provide service long after their models are discontinued.

The costs for doing that are of course passed on to the user in terms of more expensive products, but it's what you're (hopefully) paying for.

I have an old set of Genelecs which I wanted to change from 110v (US) to 220v (UK). A quick call to Genelec last year and they sent me a new set of 220v toroidal transformers for my model which I was able to swap over myself. They'd also have put me in touch with a service centre to do that of for me if I'd wanted to pay for it.

Point being, that regardless of active vs passive, manufactures aiming their (often costly) products at professional markets need to ensure greater levels of QA to start (a monitor failing in the middle of a recording session has financial implications) and provide long term support & replacement parts to stay in business. If they don't studios and broadcasters, who are their main markets, will turn to other manufactures — once bitten, twice shy and all that.

The above isn't suggesting consumer manufactures can't provide this level of service as well. I also have a set of old B&W patio speakers which I lost a bolt for, again a quick call to B&W and they sent me the missing part for free, they didn't even ask for proof of of purchase.

In short, buy wisely and the question of whether your amps live inside the speaker or outside of it shouldn't be a deciding factor.
 

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