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Active vs Passive differences

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by mbell75, Jun 4, 2019.

  1. mbell75


    May 23, 2016
    Anyone gone from playing passive basses to active or vice versa? What are your thoughts? Don't really mean for this to be a "which is better" type thread because both are great but having played nothing but passive basses for years and just buying an active bass, Had some interesting findings. I didn't really realize how much having EQ on my bass would make such a big difference. Being able to adjust my bass, mids and treble by reaching down rather than having to stop playing and turn knobs on an amp is big indeed.

    Im not the biggest fan of mids, but for some reason, the mid control on the Dimension bass I just picked up sounds great boosted a bit. I was able to boost my mids slightly in the middle of a song to cut thru the mix a bit better just by reaching down which was awesome. Same with the bass and treble boost/cut. Really digging the sound.

    Another thing of a note is I seem to get more even volume across all strings and every note sounds great, especially my F (first fret E) that would always give me trouble on most passive basses, just wouldnt punch thru the same as the other notes. Everything punches thru better and seems to sound cleaner and more defined with this bass. Now I am on the look out for more active basses!
    Last edited: Jun 4, 2019
    Smooth_bass88 likes this.
  2. Active basses are the greatest thing since sliced bread. Owned actives exclusively since '89.

    My most recent bass purchase … passive. Go figure.
    mcnach, red_rhino and mbell75 like this.
  3. mbell75


    May 23, 2016
    What made you decide to get a passive after playing mostly actives?
  4. While not my cup of tea, some like active basses. I own one, and I wish it was passive. I never play it. YMMV.
  5. Jim C

    Jim C I believe in the trilogy; Fender, Stingray, + G&L Supporting Member

    Nov 29, 2008
    Bethesda, MD
    I have both.
    For the most part, I play music that I like.
    Most of what I like is best served with a passive bass.
    But, when I need more modern / hi-fi / very bright tone, there's a Stingray, Lakland, and Spector ready for their assigned specialty sounds.
    TinIndian and mbell75 like this.
  6. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    I suppose it depends just what your needs are. If you need to change up tones a lot, then on-board controls can’t be beat. Also, there’s comfort knowing your full sound is making it to the house, and cables are not an issue.

    Of course you need to keep apprised of your battery level and maintain a fussier set if internal connections. If you’re like me, I had enough concern about failures that I always carried a spare bass. Stuff happens.

    More recently I’m more often in a set and forget mode based on the material I’m playing. I’m back now to using passive basses. Less to think about, more time to just enjoy the music.

    It’s good to have options!
    Koog, Mili and mbell75 like this.
  7. Brad Johnson

    Brad Johnson Inactive

    Mar 8, 2000
    Gaithersburg, Md
    DR Strings
    Most of my gigging basses are active. Most have internal gains with the outputs set pretty hot. I don't use the EQ often on any of them.

    I could do the same with passive basses. It really depends on the bass and rig. I don't typically care for basses with hyped electronics.
    mbell75 likes this.
  8. mbell75


    May 23, 2016
    I guess Im just a bit surprised how beefy a tone I could get and how versatile the sounds are. I guess because my only prior experience with an active bass was a Stingray, which IMO has a thinner, nasally sound with too much mids I could never dial out. I like having the ability to just reach down and be able to tweak my tone a bit if needed.

    I wouldn't be too worried about a battery going dead on a gig, that's seems incredibly unlikely, like a less than 1% chance kinda thing unless you are gigging like 4-5 nights a week. Id figure you would want to swap in a new battery every few months if that were the case though.
  9. TomB

    TomB Supporting Member

    Aug 24, 2007
    Yes, i was gigging 2-4 nights / wk at one point. I lost a battery on stage twice, if I recall. You do get a “warning” in the form of mild distortion at the tail end of battery life so it was not a show-stopper. Early-design preamps in general used more power than currently - these were not recent experiences.

    Also, remember not to leave your bass plugged in between uses if you wish to preserve your battery and avoid surprises.

    I’m not suggesting active basses are a problem, they’re great in many ways, but they do require more attention than passive, IME.
    PrinceByTor and mbell75 like this.
  10. Skybone


    Jun 20, 2016
    I only had active basses from the early 90's up to about 2006, when I switched back to passive.

    I was having trouble dialing in a "good" sound with the actives (a list which included 2 StingRay's), whereas with the passives, the sound I wanted was there.

    Had 1 active bass since then (G&L L2000 Tribute). Lovely bass to play, well built, but even in passive mode, I couldn't find a usable sound in there.
    cmcbass, mbell75 and MynameisMe like this.
  11. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot Supporting Member

    Aug 13, 2014
    Richlands, NC
    I play both but favor active. A passive bass (like my USA P-Bass) has a baked in sound that I use when I want "that" sound...just like my Ric 4003S...you buy a Ric, because you want that mystical Ric tone that no other bass can duplicate...but my main hammers are my Spectors and Dingwall...one thing a pre-amp (active built into the bass) does is allow you to move your signal over longer distances without the dreaded signal loss, it also allows you to work your master volume on your bass and not have any cut in tone, it sounds the same at any volume, most folks just like the endless tone options right on your bass without any amp or pedal tweaking...both options are winners, its just a personal choice like most things.
    Rock on!
    Jason42 and mbell75 like this.
  12. I played an active preamp in my MM Sterling for about twenty years. I always liked the tone. These days, I play a nice Precision. The tone is more conventional. IMHO, the P bass blends in nicely and adds a nice foundation on the lows but pops just right on the high notes. I prefer passive. Also, no battery is a plus.
    mbell75 likes this.
  13. Standalone


    Jan 17, 2005
    New Haven
    Passive is more organic. I feel more connected to controlling the expression and drive of my amp. This in turn makes me feel connected to the band and the dancers in the audience.

    Actives lack nuance for me -- my style is imprecise, and actives emphasize the looseness and imprecision rather than the groove of how I play.

    Also, pickup blending and a simple tone knob, combined with technique shifts, really accomplishes all the tone variety I need, while retaining as much "life" in the sound as possible. I rely a lot on my ear to direct what I play, and I guess keeping closer to the physics of the strings and the magnetic fields helps me with that.
    Skybone, JohnArnson, Mili and 3 others like this.
  14. I use Pedals (specifically a VT bass deluxe) to adjust my tone, so, in my opinion an active bass would be redundant. I guess it all depends on where you want to be able to make changes. On the bass, pedals, or amp? I choose pedals YMMV.
    eriky4003 likes this.

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    I personally don't like to mess with the knobs on my bass, pedals, or amp during a gig, but I know some are just the opposite. And I don't like the idea of putting a battery into a bass. I feel like I got all the tone shaping capabilities using the preamp/pedals already.
    mbell75 likes this.
  16. MynameisMe

    MynameisMe What will you be remembered for?

    Dec 31, 2018
    I recently moved back to passive after many years. I think I get better tone out of my passive basses.
    That being said, I changed the bad preamp in an old Carvin 5 for an Audere preamp and that thing sings!
  17. red_rhino

    red_rhino Currently on Double Secret Probation Gold Supporting Member

    Jan 26, 2001
    Over Macho Grandé
    I tend to favor active basses. However, there's nothing worse than cheap or poorly made active EQ.

    Of the 5 basses in my house, 3 are active, 2 are passive. The passive (65P & Ibanez GSR200) sound great, and playing them regularly has influenced how I use my active ones. Since my passive basses rely more on my amp's EQ, when I switch from passive to active, I find that I'm using the active EQ less; more for "sweetening" than outright sculpting. Kind of a "less is more" approach that I'm really enjoying.
    scuzzy and mbell75 like this.
  18. pappabass

    pappabass Inactive

    May 19, 2006
    Alabama !! Roll Tide
    I try to love passive. My main player is a Fender P with EMG'S. Nice setup, good strings, but its just not clean. Sounds muddy. I can swap to my ESP/LTD D4 active eq and it sounds great. I can clean up the P, but lose the lows. Where the active eq sounds great with the amp/controls being close to center
    cmcbass, MynameisMe and mbell75 like this.
  19. mobeme23

    mobeme23 Supporting Member

    Aug 27, 2018
    NorCal, Coastside
    I play both, for different results.

    For example, my G&L L-1505 can get a bit aggressive when played active, but i find the passive tone much more desirable and manageable with the rest of my current rig.

    I started out on an active bass (Alembic) without any pedals or preamp, so a lot of my foundation of understanding tone and EQ came from understanding how an active bass works on its own. but then my pedal-board started to grow, most notably with the addition of a quality DI/pre-amp....

    My new bass is passive, with two really interesting pickups, so i have all the tone shaping tools i need and more, without the need for active electronics in my bass.

    to me, it really depends on the rig, style of music i am playing, and how much tweaking i need to do in the moment.
    mbell75 likes this.
  20. mbell75


    May 23, 2016
    Good point. I haven’t played with preamp pedals at all really. I’m going to try a Sansamp with my passive P bass and see what I think. Any adjustments on the fly would still be very difficult though, compared to just grabbing a tone knob on the bass,