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Active vs. Passive

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by DigitalGnome, Nov 21, 2003.

  1. DigitalGnome


    Oct 30, 2003
    Hello. I'm an aspiring bassist, and before I purchase my first instrument, I'd like to know the differences between active and passive pickups. What are the pros and cons of each? Is it true that active pickups require batteries? Thanks in advance.
  2. sheepdog


    Feb 20, 2003
    Birmingham, AL
    If it is your first bass, go for passive.

    some questions so we can help you better:

    What style music do you like?
    Budget for a bass?

    If it is your first bass (and you are looking for inexpensive but good), can't go wrong with Essex/Brice basses at www.rondomusic.bigstep.com

    give them a look
  3. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    In electronics, active always means that a circuit needs a power source (e.g. battery) to function. A passive circuit does not.

    An active bass usually has an EQ that can cut AND boost frequencies, whereas a passive bass only has an "EQ" (tone blend) that can cut frequencies (the highs with a tone blend).

    Also, an active bass has a low impedance signal that won't be affected by the instrument cable, the high impedance signal of a passive bass will be affected, which can result in a loss of highs. This is what can make an active bass sound more "open".
  4. sheepdog


    Feb 20, 2003
    Birmingham, AL
    (posted before I read the previous..)
    just realized I didn't answer the other question.

    active basses have a preamp between the pickups and the output jack. The preamp boosts the output level of the pickups.

    Pickups -> Preamp (signal boost) -> output jack

    The preamp also (usually) has additional tone controls. A passive tone control only cuts the high frequencies out of the signal, it isn't able to boost any of the frequencies.
    An active tone circuit can usually boost and cut the frequencies.

    This boost to the signal of the pickups and/or the cut/boost to tones requires the use of usually either 1 or 2 9volt batteries.

    some others might be able to give more information about this, but I have heard that active basses can be noisier.

    Hope I haven't confused you more
  5. JayAmel

    JayAmel Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    Mar 3, 2002
    Carcassonne, France
    I've been playing bass for almost 28 years now.

    I started with a passive one, but now and then I alternated between active and passive.

    Now all the basses I have are passive. The next ones will also be passive. I'm not sure I'll ever go back to active basses.

    Of course, this is MY opinion, for MY music and MY tastes. Nothing else.
  6. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    I have a bass that can do both - best of both worlds.
  7. DigitalGnome


    Oct 30, 2003
    Well, my budget is probably around $250 max. Styles of music I enjoy? Metal (not the death-obsessive type), and some funk, soul and jazz. Also, exactly what type of battery would an active bass use, or does it vary depending on the bass?
  8. JMX

    JMX Vorsprung durch Technik

    Sep 4, 2000
    Cologne, Germany
    regular 9V battery that's all. Get a good alkaline.
  9. sheepdog


    Feb 20, 2003
    Birmingham, AL
    try the Tribute SB2 on www.musiciansfriend.com

    Might be a little bit more than what you want to pay, but it has gotten good reviews from friends who have them.

    If you like those music styles I would say use a P or a P/J bass. Rondomusic has some good basses for under 150
  10. If your price is $250 I would go with a passive bass. Cheap active basses tend to not sound all that good. The preamp usually has way to much high end.

    Advocates of passive basses say that they're more natural sounding, because there's nothing that's interupting the signal from the pickups to the amp.

    People who like active basses say that they're better, because you have much more tonal versatility, (an actual EQ built into the bass).

    I'm sort of undecided myself. My new bass has a preamp which can be turned off, so it's literally both a passive and an active bass. to me, this is the ultimate solution, but for $250, just go with a passive bass.
  11. I would suggest that you read the FAQ

    What are active electronics/ active pickups?
    The traditional pickups for bass require no power source, and are limited in their onboard tone-shaping abilities. Generally, the only controls offered are volume, and a single tone knob, which reduces the high frequencies in the signal. Active electronics add a great deal more in terms of flexibility and signal strength. Usually when a bass says it has "active electronics", it usually means that the bass has passive pickups which are wired to a preamp, which is in the bass itself. Often this preamp gives the play player more tone options, in the form of EQ controls. Similar to the EQ controls on amplifiers, these knobs modify varying frequencies in the bass' signal. For example, a bass might have 2 bands of EQ control, the bass and the treble. That means the low or high frequencies can be boost or cut from the bass itself. These controls can vary, coming in 2, 3, or more EQ bands, with variable mid frequencies. Some offer only signal boost. Active basses can also drive longer cables with less signal loss than passive basses. The price of this flexibility is power. Active preamps have to have some kind of power source in order to function. The power comes in the form of batteries, usually of the 9v variety. Active pickps, such as those produced by EMG, have a preamp built in to the actual pickup housing.

  12. Danham

    Danham Guest

    Feb 11, 2003
    Shreveport LA
    Let me get this straight. An "active" bass can be either active pups/passive elex, passive pups/active elex, or active pups/active elex to qualify as an active bass. What's the difference between the three? Would an active bass with active electronics and passive pups sound just like a passive bass except with more tone control?:confused:
  13. The bass needs to have a preamp, (meaning it requires a battery), to be active. If a bass has active pickups, it's garunteed to also have active elctronics.