Does the idea of matching Ohm ratings to power ratings make you want to pull your hair out? Tired of transporting your giant rack, speakers, and connecting cables to every gig? Are you looking for a simple plug and play solution? Say hello to the powered speaker.
This post has been updated for June 2018. Some speakers got the chopping block while other have been added. Enjoy!
Otherwise known as active speakers, the powered speakers are the answer to the complicated passive speaker setup. We’ve researched and chosen the best powered speakers for your viewing pleasure.
Powered speakers are continuing to grow in popularity as their performance quality begins to close the gap on their passive counterparts.
The simplicity of having the amp built into the casing allows you to simply send the audio signal and let the speaker handle the rest. This is perfect for anyone who travels for each gig, or someone who is looking to avoid all the technical setup of a typical sound system.
Choosing the best powered speaker can be difficult and require hours of research. This article will help you decide which speaker is best for you and give you a few considerations to make when choosing your active speaker.
Finally, we’ll provide you with our opinion on the best powered speakers available on the market today. Let’s get started!
Some Considerations When Buying Powered Speakers
There are a number of considerations when selecting the best powered speaker. We’ve broken it down into three categories you should stick to when making your decision:
- PowerIf you are going to be playing in loud environments you’ll want your speakers to be able to cut through any of the noise. A minimum power rating of 1000 Watts will give you enough punch while keeping costs down. Keep an eye on the SPL (sound pressure level). The sound pressure level is used to measure the loudness at a given distance from the speaker. For heavy music you’ll need a minimum SPL of 110 dB. At these high power levels, heat can sometimes be an issue for hot indoor/outdoor environments. Getting a class D amp with your speaker is essential to keeping the heat down.
- Durability and WeightThese speakers will be a huge investment for your music career. You’ll need something that lasts. There are a number of trusted brands that have been know to put out speakers that last for over 10 years (JBL, Mackie, QSC). While the quality of speakers will be reflected in price, the construction materials will help determine the longevity of your speaker. Look for durable materials, such as ABS, for the casing and a solid metal grate for the front grid. As most of you will be transporting these speakers with you to every gig, having a lightweight speaker will save you headaches down the road.
- Sound The frequency range your speaker is able to cover is determined by the driver diameters. The woofer diameter can be chosen based on genre. If you’re playing bass heavy music (electronic) you’ll either want to get a speaker with a larger woofer diameter (15”) or add a sub to your speaker setup. Look for speakers with a 90 degree dispersion angle (a measure of nominal spread of high frequencies) and DSP (digital signal processing). You’ll also want some kind waveguide technology to mix the LF (low frequencies) and HF (high frequencies) throughout the room to prevent any ‘hot’ or ‘dead’ frequency zones.
These speakers are essential for any portable act. The larger the crowd, the more watts you’ll need. A professional mobile DJ will usually have a system that has around 3000 watts.
If you are buying speakers for a more permanent location you’ll want to consider passive speakers.
This way you can have everything wired up to a single location. Imagine having to climb a ladder every time you want to tweak the speaker gain!
A note to music producers. These speakers should not be used for any audio production. For one, they are much too expensive in the wrong areas for music production.
You should be looking at near field monitors for all your production needs.
My Top Picks For Powered Speaker
As these speakers will be a huge investment for you, we’ve selected our favourite speakers from three names that have been trusted in the community for years. Here they are:
1. QSC K10
- Best in class audio performance
- 2000 Watt Class-D amplifier module
- Two-way speaker with 10” woofer and 1.75” HF
- 1000 Watt class D power, 129dB SPL peak
- 60 Hz – 18 kHz frequency range
- XLR, 1/4” inputs with up to three audio sources
- Extensive DSP with 90 degree dispersion angle
- 32 lbs with ABS plastic
Our choice! The QSC K10 is the middle child in the active power QSC family. QSC’s line of two-way speakers has been a top competitor for a number of years.
Under the direction of Pat Quilter, the engineers at QSC have created one of the most popular lightweight powered load speaker.
The QSC line is known for having insane amounts of power with studio-style sound. Just to give you an idea, you can easily use these speakers in a 2000 sq ft room at 50% power level. 65-75% will cut through even the loudest bars.
The main attraction of the QSC is the punchy sound quality. These speakers are powerful enough to cut through any loud environment and still maintain good frequency separation at high levels.
Another attraction of the QSC K10 is the Intrinsic Correction and DSP technology.
The Intrinsic Correction from QSC maps up to 75 spatially-averaged measurements to IIR and FIR filters that adjust time, frequency, and amplitude response to a flat band pass target. Basically eliminating any unnatural dead or hot frequency zones in the room.
The ABS plastic used for the housing is lightweight (only 32 lbs per speaker) and bomb proof. It also provides additional sonic clarity due to the internal rigidity.
Additionally, the throw of these speakers is exceptional. The 90 degree dispersion angle fills out the space perfectly. The dispersion angle is matched between the tweeter and the woofer so you’re never hearing just one or the other.
Finally, it comes with a number of mixing and matching combos built right into the amp. If you’re looking to daisy chain multiple units, these can do it.
The onboard switches provide preset EQ settings with additional features such as Vocal Boost, and DEEP for extra bass.
Bottom line: These will not disappoint. If you are looking for the best, the QSC has you covered.
2. JBL EON615
- Optimized for ideal acoustic resonance taking advantage of injection molding techniques and mechanical shaping of the enclosures
- JBL engineers examined the radiation characteristics of the EON's high and low frequency drivers at 36 different points employing JBL's exclusive, state of the art measurement techniques, then designed individual waveguides for both components
- Two-way speaker with 15” woofer
- 1000 Watt Class D power with 127dB SPL peak
- 39 Hz -20kHz frequency range
- 90 degree dispersion pattern with DSP
- JBL waveguide technology
- 39 lbs
Another huge name in sound systems. JBL has always been known in the community to produce high quality, reliable products. JBL considers the EON615 to be a significant step forward in portable PA technology. With similar specs to the QSC K10 (but $300 dollars cheaper) the JBL is one of our top picks.
Similar to the K10, the EON615 has individual waveguides for both HF and LF to control the sound radiation through the room.
This will eliminate any dead, or hot frequency zones in the room and result in a consistent response throughout its 90 degree coverage pattern.
JBL has designed and manufactured transducers, and convenient, wireless remote control (through bluetooth) of its onboard DSP EQ parameters.
Just download the app to your smartphone and you will be able to control the master volume, adjust the 5-way, parametric EQ, and recalling presets.
The onboard panel provides XLR-1/4” combination inputs for both channels, with individual gain controls. We dislike the limitations of the EQ. Only selecting the preset EQ parameters does not allow the flexibility required for different music genres.
The JBL has very similar specs as the K10, with a larger frequency range due to the larger woofer. The price point is much more affordable, however a few people have complained of a lack of punch. Still a fantastic option.
3. Mackie THUMP12
- USA AUTHORIZED - Includes Full USA WARRANTY
- High-output woofer / 1.4? tita1300W of ultra-efficient Class-D power (LF-1000W, HF-300W)nium dome compression driver
- Two-way speaker with 12” woofer and 1.4” compression driver
- 1000 Watt output, Class-D amp.
- Optimized sound output
- 3 Band EQ
- 26 lbs
A ‘best of list’ of PA systems would not be complete without a Mackie. The THUMP12 has the lowest price of all three options, but still packs a big punch. The only speaker to offer a 3-band EQ. Perfect for anyone who likes to adjust their own EQ settings. These speakers are perfect for acoustic and vocal-only applications.
Like the other speakers, the THUMP12 has a Class-D amp. This allows it to run cool even when pushed to high levels, minimizing thermal shutdown in hot settings.
Another bonus: they’re very light! While not as rigid as ABS, the polypropylene does a fantastic job of protecting the speaker while keeping the weight down (the THUMP12 is the lightest of the bunch).
A main attraction is the noticeable bass. Even with the lower price point, the dynamic bass response technology creates a substantial amount of bass for a 12” woofer.
Many commenters online have mentioned the crisp sound with loud volumes. If you’re on a budget, the THUMP12 speaker will pack all the punch you’ll need in a lightweight, portable package!