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Active Basses...WHY???

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by dcbassist5, Dec 28, 2015.


  1. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland, Hardwire
    Im sure this has been covered here before, prob many times, but I wanted to reboot this since its 2015 and amp technology has changed drastically in recent years.

    WHY would players use active basses and/or preamps when you can simply adjust your preamp section of a decent amp. The only viable reasons I can think of would be:

    1. Drive the signal harder to the amp which seems to be a little bit obsolete since most modern amps have input preamps.

    2. Tone shaping on the fly could be easier from the bass controls rather than fiddling with amp knobs during songs.

    I guess as a "purist" and we'll as an electronics engineer I have a hard time understanding why players add time shaping on top of tone shaping when you can simply get a decent amp and call it a day.

    Personally I play passive basses and run my amp close to flat (Ashdown ABM 500) and I get compliments on my tone at just about every gig I play!

    Thoughts or insight???
     
  2. Gorn

    Gorn

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    Regardless of where the controls are, active bass sound different. People play them because they like the sound.
     
  3. Acoustic356

    Acoustic356

    Jul 3, 2014
    Earth
    A lot of the Active bass players set their amp flat and their bass flat. If they need to adjust something on the fly, it's easier to make the adjustment on the bass than having to go back to the amp.

    Why would you want to do that?

    As the crowd grows in size, the acoustics of the room change.

    You may need to cut through a little more or a little less.

    Lots of reasons, those are just a few.
     
  4. Antisyzygy

    Antisyzygy

    Dec 8, 2014
    Washington
    I think the main draw of active basses is that active basses are designed differently. They tend to use flatter EQ'd pickups rather than something with a lot of coloration right out the gate. They match that flat EQ with a preamp you can use to change the tonal character as you see fit, and you can do it on the fly right on your bass.

    They're kinda like chameleon basses. Look close enough and you'll see it's a lizard, but from far away you can't tell the difference between them and a rock, or them and some sand, or them and a leaf, etc. They can camouflage themselves to look similar to most other objects.

    Active electronics can also have those buffered blends so you don't get the same pickup interactions you get in a passive setup. Some people hate that comb-filtering/loading effect, some love it. I don't know enough about electronics to know if that can be done passively, all I know is some folks like EMG sell active blend knobs for people that want 'em.

    In general though I also prefer passive basses, but have nothing against active basses. It's just what's right for me. I feel like more drastic differences in tone can be achieved with passive electronics. For example, adding a varitone with a transformer and different caps in there can really change your sound. You can also change your pickup from one style to another and get really noticeable differences, or just blend some pickups together like a P and a J to get a lot of tonal options. That is more options than any preamp provides (that I've tried) anyway, although it is more extreme and less nuanced. Of course... you could always add a preamp on TOP of that stuff.

    I do think preamps overall create a versatile bass with a sort of continuity between one sound and the next. However the different control schemes passive bass players use affect the tone more discretely and drastically IMHO. That's what makes me prefer it, but for others they might consider that a drawback because they want finer control right on their bass.
     
    Last edited: Dec 30, 2015
  5. tfer

    tfer

    Jan 1, 2014
    Every tone you can get from a passive bass, I can get from an active one.

    And, I can punch up the mids. Or the highs. Fatten up the lows. Roll off just the highs while lifting the mids. Roll off the bass, and push everything else. I can scoop the mids and go hi-fi.

    I don't even have to look at my amp to dramatically alter my sound.

    You have a tone control that is cut only.


    We also don't use a horse and buggy anymore, because cars have proven themselves.
     
    rtav, Farrin D, petey293 and 28 others like this.
  6. Gravedigger Dav

    Gravedigger Dav Supporting Member

    Mar 13, 2014
    Fort Worth, Texas
    Never have seen an advantage for an active that would make me want to switch.
    I'm happy with my passive basses. I have one active, a Mike Kelly Dragonfly V fretless. It has Fishman electronics. It's okay and I only use the electronics on the bass to dial in a tone the amp will like.
     
    dcbassist5 likes this.
  7. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    Iowa
    I play both. For some instruments (Stingray) the preamp is a big part of the sound. On the other hand, I have an audere in my j bass that is pretty transparent when flat, but can do some wild stuff. And with the z mode on the audere, I think it produces some sounds that eq tweaks just won't
     
  8. Gorn

    Gorn

    Dec 15, 2011
    Queens, NY
    I very strongly disagree.
     
  9. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    Iowa
    For a lot of preamps, there is a baked in sound to begin with (this is true of amps as well). There was a cool article I saw a while back that analyzed the tone curves of various amps set "flat" and they were anything but. Preamps are often the same deal. There's a reason some people really dig sadowsky for example
     
    n1as, FenderJazz1989 and dcbassist5 like this.
  10. OP, #2 is my reason.
     
  11. Antisyzygy

    Antisyzygy

    Dec 8, 2014
    Washington
    Me too.

    Preamps change the sound in a more subtle way in my opinion. I feel like most passive wiring schemes people use for having tone-options would affect the tone more drastically than a preamp normally is designed to.

    I mean compare a 3-band EQ active bass to a passive bass equipped with a series/parallel/split switch, a varitone, an out-of-phase switch, and a passive pickup blend knob and you'll see what I mean.

    A passive blend has the mid-scoop that comes into play when centered. A varitone actually changes the way the entire circuit behaves by adding capacitors and inductors in there. A out-of-phase switch cuts frequencies in a way preamps normally wouldn't be able to. A series/parallel/split switch changes the way the pickup itself is wired, which is the thing that is actually converting string vibrations to an electrical signal.
     
    Last edited: Dec 28, 2015
    MobileHolmes likes this.
  12. IPA

    IPA

    May 5, 2010
    Keep going then, why even use some antique that has vibrating strings? A synth has even more tone control and shaping and doesn't need the user to flub around on silly metal ropes.
     
    BassFace13, shal1234, ROGI and 13 others like this.
  13. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland, Hardwire
    Not true...It will sound ACTIVE no matter what you do.
     
  14. MobileHolmes

    MobileHolmes I used to be BassoP

    Nov 4, 2006
    Iowa
    It depends on the preamp, but mostly, yes
     
  15. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland, Hardwire
    Ashdown Amps have a switch so you can compare your input tone prior ANY EQ to the tone after the EQ. The EQ is definitely flat at noon. The only difference you will hear is if you are engaging the valve in the preamp.
     
    MobileHolmes likes this.
  16. BigBobbyBass

    BigBobbyBass

    Jan 23, 2015
    Seems like a troll thread. You're an electrical engineer and still don't understand why some would prefer active electronics? For instance, listen to a MusicMan with no pre, it sounds nothing like a MusicMan.. On an amp with a graphic eq, if you cut with the knobs, and boost with the graphic, it can sound different than if you just boosted with the knobs..(layman example, because I'm no engineer)
     
    joeaba, rtav, Roadstar and 22 others like this.
  17. DigitalMan

    DigitalMan Wikipedia often mistakes my opinions for fact Supporting Member

    Nov 30, 2011
    I like my Fender Jazz passive and my Wal active. They sound different and they both sound good. But if you take the electronics out of the Wal you won't be able to make up for it somewhere downstream. It won't sound the same no how much knob fiddling you do at the amp. The premise of the question is false.
     
  18. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland, Hardwire
    I'd like to mention that I'm not busting on people that are using active basses and / or preamps. To each his own. If it helps you get the job done then more power to you!

    I have never personally liked the sound of active basses ( and yes I can tell by ear about 90% of the time) but I was very curious as to what players that prefer them cite as the primary reason. So far there have been some really insightful responses!
     
    shal1234 likes this.
  19. Doctor J

    Doctor J

    Dec 23, 2005
    Grease
    Who needs a huge widescreen LCD TV when you could see just fine on your ancient 50's CRT? Who really needs ABS brakes, didn't cars stop just fine in the 50's too? There is more to active technology than just an onboard EQ. There's a flexibility and detail in the sound which isn't readily available with passive technology, much less coloured. Personally, I like that. You can scale it back as required. You can't, however, put in what isn't there to start off with. Tastes change and retro is very much in right now, just like vinyl and who would have seen that coming twenty years ago. It's not to say one is right or wrong or better than the other, but there does seem to be a wave of conservatism floating around. Give it a few years and things will cycle back the other way. As I said, I see lots to love in both but f I had to choose one, I'd choose active every time. I just love the vision and determination to push the instrument forward as seen in 70's and 80's when we saw the likes of Alembic, Musicman, Wal, Steinberger, Kubicki, G&L and the likes really extending the capabilities and design beyond that of 50's technology.
     
  20. dcbassist5

    dcbassist5 Supporting Member

    May 11, 2011
    Baltimore, MD
    Endorsing Artist: Ashdown, Lakland, Hardwire
    Exactly...I'm an electrical engineer as well as a signals engineer and adding active gain to any signal created many unwanted artifacts. My question was related to why active players prefer active from the standpoint of risk vs. reward.
     
    honestjohnny likes this.

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