Passive vs Active for Dummies
Ok...so i am brand new at the whole setup of bass guitars thing. Would somebody kindly explain to me, in the simplest and non-technical-est terms preferably, the difference between passive and active basses? I hear a lot about it and gather it has something to do with the wiring, a bassist friend once tried to explain it but it went way over my head (i think he assumed i knew a lot of electronics terminology...i don't). Maybe also list a few advantages/disadvantages of each type?
That would be schweet. Thanks.
Active pickups are either powered by a battery or have a preamp in the volume and tone controls of the guitar powered by a battery. The result is a boost in certain frequencies and sometimes in volume. Some amps counteract this gain boost with a gain cut switch in their preamp.
Purpose: To some it "sounds better". To others it allows greater tonal control when using provided backline amps or running direct to FOH without an amp. For others still it allows easy access to a lot of different tones- useful when performing in cover bands that cover a wide variety of styles.
Active basses usually have inbuilt EQ controls, this makes them more versatile. Another thing people seem to forget is the output signal of active basses is a lower impedence which means that cable length wont have an effect on your tone and generally less hissing/humming. On the downside actives need a battery.
More basically said
Active pickups have an on board power supply such as a 9v battery
Passive pickups don't
Active pickups will generally feed a more powerful signal from your guitar to your amp
Some people who choose to play passive instead of active ( eg me) do so because of tone preference
Other people who choose active also do this because of tone preference
It comes down to personal choice
It also comes to how simple or complex you want your set up and rig to be
For me I have a passive bass no effects and straight to the amp. On live gigs I will also line out from the amp
It's a simple chain which is easy to set up and quick to trouble shoot and usually easy for a sound guy to work with. But the trade off is less tone variation when compared to more complex set ups including active basses.
Thanks Jbassrockboy - i was able to fully understand your answer!!! Sorry for my ignorance, everyone else but i kinda got lost at words like "impedence" & "backline" but u all helped me get the gist of it. So active basses, generally speaking, allow u more control over tone & amplification but require a 9v onboard. Totally didn't know cable length ever had an effect on humming noise in any case - why is this? I have a passive bass (Squier VM Jaguar SS) & i'm planning a few mods. Don't really see the point in converting to active as i don't play a range of styles really, just post grunge/alternative stuff really. I guess it would be a big expensive & time consuming project to convert?
I'll have a go...as one dummy to another :cool: .
An active circuit installed in your bass gives you access to a much greater range of tones that is possible with a passive one. All a passive tone control does is gradually take off treble frequencies as you turn it to '0', making your tone 'duller'. This might give the illusion of a 'bassier' tone, but you haven't really boosted the bass, you've just taken off treble. With a passive bass, if you want to cut and/or boost certain frequencies, you have to go to the tone/EQ controls on your amplifier.
Now with an active instrument you have a miniature amplifier (powered by a battery, usually 9 volt) installed inside your guitar, and you can boost and/or cut chosen frequencies with your guitar's tone controls, not just cut the treble. This gives you access to a much greater range of tones without having to go near your amp.
So why wouldn't everyone want an active bass? Well, batteries can be a nuisance. And they don't last forever. Discovering that your battery's dying in the middle of a cooking jam is not a fun experience. And some players prefer the simplicity, the 'undoctored' sound of passive basses. If you're not going to be using most of the sounds an active bass can give you - many of which, at the extreme ends of boost and cut are kinda unusable in most situations (some may feel) - why bother?
Also, some recording engineers feel that active basses don't 'sit' right in the mix. You might endlessly twiddle with your active EQ (tempting with active instruments) and finally find a tone that is lovely to your ears only to find that it gets lost when the whole band's playing. So some folks prefer to keep things simple, relying on basic, traditional tried and tested, classic passive sounds. ...Others don't ;)
I will point out that there are basses that have a switch that allows the instrument to be operated in either active, or passive mode.
I prefer this feature.
People who endlessly chase tone may claim that a bass with active/passive switching does not sound as good in passive mode as a bass that is passive only. I am fortunate in that my hearing is not acute enough to hear the differences that those tone chasers hear.
And also, "active" bass can mean active EQ, active pickups, or both. I love active pickups, don't like active EQ.
For playing live, active pickups are much less prone to buzzing and noise associated with amplifiers, neon and fluorescent lighting. The downside is that you are using a battery in your bass, which will eventually die. With active pickups, my batteries generally last about a year, but I generally change them every six months or so. I've never had one die on me during actual playing time.
Passive pickups are simple, trouble free, and sometimes I like the sound of a passive pickup better. Sometimes they are noisy from room lighting, long cable runs, amplifier, or many other fun things. I've never had too much trouble either way.
An active bass is one that has on board amplifiers that need power to function. These amplifiers can either be inside the pickups (active pickups) or in a preamp that usually but not always has tone controls the bassist can adjust or in both the pickups and a preamp. There are two main advantages to an active bass with tone controls on board. One is that it is very convenient to adjust your tone when you want to. The controls are right there on you bass, not way over there where your amp is. Obviously if your amp is right behind you this is not such a big advantage.
The other is that the signal from a passive bass is weak. I don't mean that the volume is low or that the tone is weak, I mean that the signal is weak electrically, it is easily disrupted by external factors. In layman's terms this is what "high impedance" means. It isn't normally a problem but in unusual circumstances passive bass signals are more susceptible to noise pickup although a DI box and a balanced cable to the amp usually fix this. More commonly the capacitance of the cable between the bass and the amp or DI box acts like another tone cap and dulls your tone. A longer cable has more capacitance and produces a duller tone. Active basses have a stronger (but not necessarily louder) signal that is not bothered by cable capacitance and is less susceptible to noise pickup. Of course the active circuits themselves can pick up and amplify noise to the noise difference between active and passive does not always favor active. Life is like that.
The advantages to passive are that there is no battery to fail and the tone is just like you hear on classic recordings since most of them were made with passive basses. That is less likely to be the case in recent recordings. A passive tone control does behave differently from the tone controls in an active preamp. The tone control in a passive bass rolls off the high frequencies starting at a frequency which varies according to the tone knob setting. Active tone controls generally boost or cut specific fixed frequencies according to the knob settings. It is possible to build an active bass so that it also has a passive tone control but this is rarely done. At the end of the day people who prefer passive basses are generally after the tone that a traditional tone control gives them. Passive basses are really more flexible because they have both the passive tone control and the active tone controls found on your main amp or an external preamp. People who prefer active basses are generally those who use those preamp controls frequently enough to want to have them right on thier bass. But keep in mind that many of us buy both kinds of basses indiscriminately!
The basic problem with passive instruments is that the signal is very weak, and the self-impedance (Resistance) of the pickups is fairly high, which means it is very easy to interfere with - such as picking up outside him and noise. The higher the impedance, the more sensitive the device is to picking up outside signals.
This also means that the type and length of cable becomes a factor, as all cables have some loading effect on the signal, just like the longer the garden hose, the weaker the output at the nozzle.
And - Because the device is passive, you can have only tone control that cut or remove frequencies.
These issues can be resolved by adding active circuits in the form of a small amplifier in or near the pickup, so the strength of the signal can be boosted before the noise can creep in, and it can "pump" the signal down the cable more strongly, so the cable now does not affect the sound. Like the way that fire trucks have a booster pump at the hydrant to pump the water down any length of hose.
Since you now have a circuit that takes some gain, you can design in tone controls that boost as well as cut.
Of course you need some power to do this, so active circuits require power in the form of a battery or 2. The active circuit may also "sound" different than a passive circuit, even with everything set flat because the design of the preamp affects the sound and also the pickup is now more sensitive to little nuances in the sound. Some people (myself included) do not like the sound of active instruments, and of course, there are a lot more components to potentially fail in use.
Microphones have these same problems, and have dealt with it for many years by being active (in condenser mics) or by using a transformer to lower the impedance of the signal and using a balanced cable (XLR) to eliminate noise pickup. I have always found it very odd that the instrument makers never advanced to match the mic technology. Gibson tried this with the Les Paul Recording guitars, but they were not successful.
It's unusual to find a good selection of basses (especially toward pricing that fits most beginners) that have active pickups. Let's drop the active pickup discussion-others have provided a good definition.
Now for a beginners take on active (preamp on board) versus passive.
Most basses will have one or the other as an option. Fortunately, I found a higher end bass for sale as a used instrument that offers both. Yes, if the battery goes kaputt, it's still operating once a toggle switch is moved from active to passive. Or, I've got the option of operating passive anytime, or all the time! :D
Passive in the case of many basses-provides an old school sound that fits the bill on most of the 1950's-1970's music. For many on this site, a passive is their no. 1 choice for making music in their world as a bass player.
Active basses provide a ton of tonal options, too! There's are a ton of folks on this site that have chosen this type of bass as their no. 1 (primary) or as the only type of bass in their collection.
You might be more satisfied owning at least one passive, and one active bass!
However, besides the advantage of cutting out noise from the pick-ups, i don't see how having an active bass really would make much difference unless you were plugging straight into a basic amp. If you went through a pedal board or an amp with built-in EQ surely it just would mean more fiddling with knobs in more places?
Whereas with a passive, you could really make the most of these additional tonal customisations elsewhere without needing to worry about an on-board pre-amp interfering...yes?
Mine uses a push/pull volume knob to switch from active to passive.
It's not strictly true that passive is always easier.
For example, active pickups (or active electronics after passive pickups) make you independent of load capacitance (aka your cable and it's length) and of the input impedance of your rig. It also means you get screwed by wireless systems less often because if they lack a load capacitor you don't care and you also don't care whether it has the same input impedance as your previous first stage had.
Fair enough but to clarify that I use a lead and from that perspective it's a simple set up with a passive
I am not using the word 'Better' as I think active vs passive is a personal choice. My point for the OP is that an active throws more variables into the equation.
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