What Are Powered Speakers?

Instead of connecting your source device to a stereo, connect powered speakers

To get audio from a media streamer, CD player, TV, PC, or another audio source, the device must be connected to either a stereo amplifier, stereo or home theater receiver, or powered speakers.

Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 Channel THX Certified Powered Speaker System


How Speakers Work

Speakers make sound by vibrating, which is another way of saying sound is the product of tiny airwaves. To produce airwaves of a certain loudness or frequency, the speakers that produce those airwaves require a certain amount of power.

Speakers that connect to an AV receiver are passive speakers, meaning they do not have a built-in power source, also known as an amplifier. Without connecting to an amplifier, the speakers have no source of energy to vibrate or "drive" the speakers and reproduce the sounds being fed into them.

Powered vs. Passive Speakers

Traditional speakers are referred to as passive speakers. Powered speakers, on the other hand, have built-in amplifiers. That means all you need is an audio source signal—such as a Blu-ray player, mobile device, or other media player—to produce sound. When you connect a source to these speakers, the music or audio will be loud enough to hear without the need for an external amplifier.

Powered speakers usually have their own volume/output controls, and sometimes bass/treble controls.

However, instead of the traditional speaker wire used in passive speakers (which supply both power and the audio signal), powered speakers connect to its music source using a "line input." This includes the red and white stereo RCA cables used to connect the sound from a CD player, TV, or component to an amplifier or home theater receiver.

You may find that powered speakers that are designed to connect to a computer only have headphone mini-connections (3.5mm), and not the stereo (left and right) line-in interconnect ports. For these speakers, you need adapter cables that interconnect the red and white cables on one end and a headphone (mini) jack on the other end.

Amazon Basics RCA to Mini (3.5mm) Stereo Audio Adapter Cable

In addition, some high-end powered speakers feature digital optical inputs, which provide better sound from source devices that also include this type of stereo connection.

Digital Optical Cable Tip and Connection Example

Robert Silva

Select powered speakers are sold in matched pairs. One speaker houses the input connections and amplifier for both speakers, connecting to the second speaker via a proprietary or traditional passive connection.

Edifier R1700BT Powered Speaker Set

Powered Speakers and Wireless Connectivity

Another use for powered speakers is in wireless speaker systems. In this type of setup, instead of connecting audio cables from the source device to the powered speaker, a transmitter connects to the source device (provided with the wireless speaker package). The transmitter then sends any outgoing audio signals from the source directly to the targeted wireless speakers, which have built-in amplifiers as required, which in turn produces the sound.

Wireless technologies like Bluetooth allow compatible devices, such as smartphones and tablets, to transmit music to a powered speaker without wires or cables. Wireless receiving platforms include AirPlay, DTS Play-Fi, Yamaha MusicCast, and Denon HEOS.

MartinLogan Crescendo X Wireless Speaker

Powered Speakers In Place of a Stereo or Home Theater Receiver

There are advantages to using powered speakers instead of stereo or AV receivers. When you connect an audio source to powered speakers, you don't need to walk over and turn on the stereo or receiver. Instead, you can play music immediately from the controller, or, in some cases, a controller app for iPhone and Android devices. Also, in the case of wireless speakers, you don't have connection cable clutter.

Using Powered Speakers With a Stereo or Home Theater Receiver

Despite the advantages of using powered speakers in place of a stereo or home theater receiver, it may be practical in some cases to connect them to a receiver, especially if you have a lot of audio sources connected. Depending on the brand and model of the receiver, you may be able to send audio from one or all of the sources connected to your stereo or home theater receiver to a powered speaker.

You can't connect a powered speaker to traditional speaker connections on a stereo or home theater receiver, but there is a workaround.

If the stereo or home theater receiver has preamp outputs for either the main/surround channels or Zone 2 functionality, and the powered speaker has either an RCA or 3.5mm input (requiring an adapter), you can connect them to a receiver's preamp or Zone 2 outputs.

Onkyo TX-NR696 Home Theater Receiver Zone 2 Line Out
Onkyo USA

Although you cannot connect a wireless powered speaker directly to a stereo or home theater receiver, using the same preamp or 2nd Zone outputs, you can connect a Bluetooth transmitter to the receiver and stream music to a compatible Bluetooth speaker.

If you have a different type of wireless powered speaker, such as Sonos, Amazon Echo, or Google Home, select stereo and home theater receivers have the ability to stream music to those as well; you can then control the speakers by voice or a compatible smartphone app.

It's common to use a wireless powered subwoofer with a home theater receiver. The subwoofer provides a transmitter that can connect to the receiver's subwoofer preamp output.

Klipsch R-10SWI Wireless Subwoofer with Transmitter

Price, Configuration, and Quality

As with all speakers, the price of powered speakers varies with speaker quality. Powered speakers that connect to a computer or mobile device can run anywhere from $10 to $99. High-end systems suited for home theater environments, on the other hand, can cost hundreds or even thousands of dollars.

Powered speakers (whether wired or wireless) can come as a single unit designed for portable use, a two-channel configuration for use with a computer, or a 5.1 channel configuration for surround sound listening in home theater setups.

As with traditional speakers, along with price and configuration, the sound quality of powered speakers varies. Those made for portable or desktop listening applications typically provide basic sound quality, as do many Bluetooth or powered smart speakers. However, there are powered speakers designed for serious music listening (often referred to as powered monitors) that are used in recording studios.

Was this page helpful?