Can You Use a Preamp with Powered Speakers?

Powered speakers, also called active speakers, are a type of compact speakers often used to listen to music at home, as PC speakers, and as monitors in music studios. Can you use a preamp with powered speakers, then?

Can You Use a Preamp with Powered Speakers?

Just so you know, powered speakers already have a built-in amplifier in the cabinet and don’t require a separate preamp and amplifier. You can connect powered speakers to different music sources such as computers, turntables, and CD players directly. These are self-powered speakers thanks to their integrated amplifier.

This means that no, you don’t need to use a preamp with your powered speakers.

Continue reading below to know more about preamps and powered speakers.

What are Preamps?

Preamps are electronic devices built into all kinds of different audio gear, such as audio interfaces, DJ mixers, large-format consoles, and even USB microphones and computer sound cards. A preamp can also be a standalone piece of outboard equipment, with some of them very famous that you might already be familiar with them.

What is really cool about preamps is that it is likely that you have used one in the past even if you are not that aware of it at all. There is a big chance that you own a microphone and audio interface, and you have plugged the microphone into the interface for recording. This right here is the single most crucial use and purpose of a preamp.

If you are a guitarist, on the other hand, your amplifier also features a preamp section that is the first one to receive the output signal from the pickups of your guitar. This also features a power amp section.

What Do Preamps Do?

Every time you record with a microphone, energy is converted into several stages. This begins with the acoustic energy coming from the instrument that hits the diaphragm of the mic. The diaphragm starts moving, converting acoustic energy to an electrical signal. The signal that the microphone generates is very quiet and known as mic level.

You need a way to increase the mic level signal to a more robust recordable level with no need for any drastic increase in the noise floor or otherwise compromise the recording’s quality. This is where preamps may come in handy.

The preamp lets you amplify that mic-level signal that is quiet to a much louder or higher voltage signal on the line level. Other equipment in the chain, such as the analog to digital converters and the additional outboard gear, expect a line-level signal for an optimal signal-to-noise ratio and volume.

To put it simply, a preamp amplifies quiet signals into record-ready volumes that are friendly and nice to listen to.

What are Powered Speakers?

All sets of speakers require amplification to function. Many speakers must be connected to a separate receiver or amplifier for the speaker drivers to have the required power to produce and vibrate sound. These speakers are what you call passive speakers.

Powered stereo speakers, on the other hand, also known as active speakers or powered monitors, are developed with built-in amplification, which means that they don’t need a receiver. What you can do instead is to directly connect your powered speakers to a music source like a CD player or a turntable.

Modern speakers today also feature Bluetooth functionality that allows you to play your favorite songs from most types of mobile devices wirelessly. Using powered speakers with Bluetooth is very easy as they let you queue all of your favorite podcasts and playlists in a matter of seconds.

Does it mean that bookshelf speakers and powered speakers are different? While these two types of speakers look very similar, only the latter comes with built-in amplification. A bookshelf speaker requires a separate AV receiver. However, some customers already feature a receiver they prefer to use, which means they might want a passive bookshelf design.

Strengths and Weaknesses of Powered Speakers

The main strength of powered speakers is that they require less room because you also need to place fewer boxes. Also, since the speaker and the amplifier share one cabinet, this makes powered speakers a more cost-effective solution offering high value for money.

With powered speakers being bookshelf-sized speakers most of the time with built-in amplifiers, they require a small physical place. You can often place powered speakers on a bookshelf or a desktop if you have limited space. You also don’t need a separate preamp and amp that would take up additional space.

On the other hand, one of the most obvious weaknesses of powered speakers is the fact that you cannot mix and match amplifiers and speakers. If you like something new, the entire system will have to be replaced. You also cannot upgrade only the speakers or only the amplifier.

Another downside is that powered speakers will have fewer inputs, unlike an integrated stereo receiver or amplifier. It means there are fewer options for connecting different music sources including digital and analog.

The last disadvantage worth mentioning is that powered speakers often focus more on the consumer market, or people who have normal budgets. This means that if your budget is bigger and you prefer a higher-end audiophile stereo, powered speakers might not be the best choice for you.

Can You Use Amplifiers with Your Powered Speakers?

Your powered speakers are not meant to be used with an amplifier. You should never connect the speaker terminal or power output on the amplifier to your powered speakers’ speaker terminals.

The speaker terminal of a powered speaker holding the integrated amplifier is a power output whose purpose is powering the other speaker. This is not a power input that you can connect to an amplifier.

When the amplifier features a line-level analog output, this can be safely connected to the line-level analog input on the powered speakers. If you do it this way, you don’t use the power amplifier section in the amplifier for driving the powered speakers. You are only routing the low voltage line-level analog music signal through your amplifier.

This can be done if you got a pair of passive speakers that are connected to your amplifier’s power output and like to play music using the powered speakers simultaneously.

You will then connect passive speakers to the high voltage and high-power output on your amplifier or speaker terminals. The powered speakers are then connected to the low voltage and low power line-level output.