Why Are Audiophiles Afraid of Powered Speakers
By Jerry Del Colliano
From my days in high-end retail, now more than a decade ago, to todays current home theater market, I have always been perplexed as to why Americans are hesitant to invest in powered speakers. Seemingly stashing your amp neatly inside of your speakers provides a host of advantages including more rack space, less heat, potentially lower cost and beyond. Literally all you have to do is run interconnects from your receiver or, better yet, your AV preamp directly to your speakers. Simplicity is yet another advantage, but consumers arent yet breaking down the doors at retailers to invest in powered speakers.
Recording studios, mastering labs and movie mixing houses have been using powered speakers for years to make the CDs, DVDs and soon to be Blu-ray and HD-DVD discs we consume. With the rise in popularity and performance of digital amplifiers, it is also possible to get more and more powerful amps inside speaker cabinets with less heat, less failure and more audiophile-quality sound. If the pros use powered speakers as their most important audio tool, then why would consumers be fearful? Most of the fear of powered speakers comes from the audiophile press, who prey on insecure audiophiles who take to irrational suggestions easily. The idea that a topnotch speaker company with dozens of highly educated engineers on staff and on retainer cant find an amp to match the specific, scientific needs of the conglomeration of their drivers, crossovers and cabinets is insanity. Powered speakers have the oomph to be able to hang as well as the speaker physically can. Historically, the press and many of the audiophile dealers resisted the idea of merging amps and speakers into one cabinet because it limited a consumers upgrade path. It is hard to sell and resell the same client the amp of the month from the audiophile magazine if the client has a highly functional powered speaker system. Powered speakers do limit the upgrade path, and for that, they have been banished by those who make speakers famous. That is, until now.
Todays powered speakers are extremely well designed for applications ranging from whole home automation to dedicated theaters of all sizes to dedicated music systems and beyond. In todays home theater, it is powered speakers that are often the best solution for systems that hide speakers behind screens and/or fabric walls, since professional grade powered speakers have the volume output to beam through barriers as thin as grille cloth or as challenging as a perforated screen.