Active DJ Speakers
For a mobile Dj, the option to carry less gear, have less to set up, less cabling, and a higher quality sound has pretty much resulted in the active speaker market completely taking over from the older separate rigs in the last decade.
As more of the larger manufacturers made the shift, the design and quality of whats available in the active PA sector has really come into its stride.
Ignoring the other uses for these systems for now, let's talk about the needs of the Dj, be it professional or hobbyist, and how the active systems have stepped up to cover these requirements.
The days of tired looking carpet covered wood are pretty much over. Cabinets are now predominantly injection moulded from polyester or acrylic based resins, which makes them extremely strong, and allows custom designs such as incorporated feet and carry handles. It also means they are easy to clean, won't rip or tear in transit, and most importantly for the mobile user, the weight is half that of a traditional wood enclosure.
The moulded form also means they are airtight, and only require the minimal amount of screws and fixings, keeping rattles and loose fronts at bay.
Use of a custom designed and sealed enclosure helps sound quality and efficiency immensely. This is then paired up with modern technology resin cones with synthetic surrounds and dampers, large natural or synthetic magnets, and steel framed chassis on the main driver units which allow large movement swings with no damage to the materials. It is very difficult to blow or tear a modern speaker woofer, and doing so is usually ‘user error’ as they are extremely over engineered.
Active speakers use energy efficient digital amplifier modules to provide large surge currents for when the bass gets serious. Inbuilt active crossover networks ensure that the incoming signal is sent only to the appropriate part of the speaker, be it a 2 way woofer and tweeter system, or a 3 way woofer, tweeter and midrange driver type unit.
These fully active systems manage and distribute the audio and required power level in a way that just wasn't possible in the older passive systems, and the difference it has on sound quality, and the available SPL (sound pressure level) is truly staggering.
A good quality pair of active 3 way 15” speakers will easily take the place of an old passive setup that would have required twice the amount of drivers and at least 2 separate amplifiers to even get near the same output level and quality of sound.
Factor in an additional active subwoofer unit to the newer systems, reducing the main speakers need to produce the low end stuff, and you take things up yet another notch, to a system that will always exceed whatever you can throw at it. The days of wooly sounding bass and distortion at higher levels are long gone.
Ease of use
Two boxes, possibly three or four if you have a single or pair of subs. A pair of stands or poles (speakers can pole mount on top of subwoofers, removing the need for separate stands). Power leads to each, a cable from one to the other, and cable to your mixer. Done.
No need for amp cases or racks, crossover units or equalisers. You have the power and sound definition of two, or four, separate amplifiers in your setup without actually having to own and carry big and heavy power-amps , or wire them up as individual units.
Active speakers have gain and equalization controls on the input panels, so setup is simple and quick, with any additional level control being done from your mixer.
Use of an active subwoofer will automatically filter the signal, and feed the main speaker with everything above those lower frequencies, which are then filtered again and amplified. Though some high end systems do allow adjustments of these crossover points, for the majority of units it is simply ‘plug and play’, making setup quick and trouble free, and ensuring you are always getting the best from the system.
Speakers and poles can be quickly taken down, and placed into custom padded storage / transport bags which protect from physical knocks and the elements, the poles and leads into there own custom bags, and subs depending on size will either also have bags or can be wheelboard or castor mounted for ease of movement. The whole system can be put up or broken down in a very short time, is easy to carry, and will take up the minimum of vehicle space.
Value for money
Apart from the obvious benefits mentioned above, it's the overall value for money you get with an all active system that is for many its biggest pull factor. Production costs that are saved over the traditional systems are huge, from the moulded resin cabinetry and digital amplifier modules, to even more basic things such as weight saving in shipping, all means that whats now availble to you as a buyer is pretty amazing.
You can now have a serious semi-pro, fully active sound system from just a few hundred pounds all in, and they will have the quality and longevity of equipment that would not so long ago have cost double the amount.
As with all things, you do get an increase in quality and features if you spend a little more, but for many it's just not necessary when the lower cost equipment is now so good.