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Sonos Active vs Passive

June 20, 2017

So I’m going out on a bit of a limb when I write this post, simply Sonos has not published any Spec’s for the Play series of speakers because the say the specs don’t reflect the performance. Something I’ve been telling HiFi customers for years! However to write this post I have to make some assumptions based on what Sonos have said.

I’m also assuming that the readers of this post (if, in fact it is ever read by anybody), are novices so I’ll briefly start by explaining what we mean by the terms ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’.

When most speakers are designed and built, let’s say a typical two way bookshelf speaker for example the manufacturer will put in a treble speaker and a mid/bass speaker. This is why it’s called a two way speaker. You’ll notice that when you come to plug this speaker into your power amplifier you on have a single pair of cables but both speakers need a positive and negative power to function. For the speaker to work the speaker units are connected to a small piece of circuitry called a crossover. The crossovers job is to figure out what part of the signal i.e. your music is to be channelled to the treble and which is to be channelled to the mid range and or bass. Now how the crossover works is a post on its own but if you’re interested you can make a search for ‘What does a crossover do in a speaker’.


Now the difference between ‘Active’ and ‘Passive’ is this a passive speaker is one that has its crossover inside the speaker and requires external amplification. In other words it needs to be plugged into the power amplifier for it to work. Whereas an ‘Active’ speaker either has internal amplification (so the amp board is inside the speaker unit itself) or the crossovers are actually located inside the power amplifier. Either way a separation is made between the speaker driver units based on frequency. So the treble speaker driver will have its own crossover and power amplification and so on through the different frequency ranges.

Clearly from what I’ve said it can be determined that the ‘Active’ way of powering a speaker is going to be a lot better, however it will also be much more expensive. This is where in Sonos world things start to become interesting!

 When making the decision on purchasing a stereo system from Sonos we need to think about the practical uses etc. So many of our clients want ceiling speakers for example so I would pair this with a Sonos Connect: Amp, this would be a ‘Passive’ setup. The Sonos Connect:Amp is a reasonable amp at 55watts per channel  and it fills a practical solution, however if you were thinking of powering a pair of decent bookshelf speakers off this unit I would look at the options. For the cost you would probably be better off with two Play:5’s in stereo setup.


The Play:1 we know has 2 x class D amplifiers in the single unit therefore two of these would make a great stereo pair. Then we move up to the Play:3 with three class D amplifiers per unit and lastly the Play:5. Now the Play:5’s spec’s aren’t officially published but I can tell you it has been quoted at between 20 – 30 watts per channel and with six class D amplifiers on board. At the cost for the a pair of these in comparison to a Sonos Connect:Amp and a £500 pair of speakers I would suggest that the Sonos Connect:Amp is going to struggle to give you the sort of quality that you would be able to achieve from a pair of Sonos Play:5’s. In fact at each price point you will find it difficult to beat the Sonos Play range on quality per £.




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