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Do active basses sound better than passive basses to many because it is louder?

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Baird6869, Jan 25, 2013.

  1. Baird6869

    Baird6869 RIP Gord Downey. A True Canadian Icon. Supporting Member

    Just curious as to why bassists prefer active or passive basses when comparing both properly ABed/EQed.

    Personally, if I play one of my 1970's Fenders thru my current rig, they sound great....

    If I then plug in an active bass with the same EQ and volume levels... Wow! Louder (obviously) but much more full and in your face than the passives. To many, it would sound "better".

    BUT... When I record with a passive bass, it can sound as good or even better than an active bass. Same on a gig with a good soundman or at last a proper FOH mix.

    So, why do you prefer one over the other?
  2. thunderbird66


    Sep 30, 2012
    west Texas
    I found my active's to work much better in the live mix. This is usually a hard rock/metal setting. I've even worked so close with the guitar player we matched pick ups ( passive pups on the guitars & actives on my bass's ). The passives seemed pretty harsh on my bass's even after alot of dialing in. But this was a three piece so my responsibility was to carry alot of the sound. My point being its all very relative to the band set up, genre, etc. I've thought alot about this. I love the sound of a couple of my passives bass's alone but feel very dissatisfied in the live band setting. I use emg's ( hb's in the neck- and i believe these to be p's in a humbucker housing from the info on the emg website and jazz at the bridge ). But again all very relative.
  3. I think you have more versatility with the EQ, which gives you easier/quicker access to different tones.
  4. Gaolee

    Gaolee Outta my way! I'm caffeinated! Supporting Member

    It depends on the bass, the strings, the pickups, and the preamp. It's not just whether it is active or passive.
  5. LiquidMidnight


    Dec 25, 2000
    There are some passive basses that are much louder in output than the average active bass.
  6. j.kernodle


    Nov 23, 2008
    Charleston, SC
    I think that actives give you a full range sound that might have attack and burp and lows and high end that your passive basses don't immediately show. but bury the bass in a wall of sound with drums, guitars, etc. that range of tone where the bass lives in the mix gets much more limited. you don't hear that sparkle above 4kHz anymore, and the deep lows are competing with the kick drum. the band becomes the great equalizer. geez, that jazz bass with dead GHS boomers sure does sound good, all of the sudden.
  7. +1

    Active basses have a lot more range as far as the highs/lows go having a powered boost in the EQ, but I wouldn't say one is better than the other.
    They are different, and subject to personal preference.
  8. If you let the battery go dead, you'll have no sound. lol
  9. Braddock


    Aug 13, 2010
    East Kentucky
    This is what I recently posted in another thread, my experience between the two types of electronics...

    "The Fender Precision bass is my favorite and I play it mainly because of the tone of its high notes. I love how full, how loud, and how much it doesn't blend in the mix (how I set up my eq anyway). The notes are so smooth and really sing out up there and that is exactly what I look for when I go way up on the higher frets of the D and G strings.

    I have tried actives and I cannot get the same results. Just like the Music Man Stingray 5 I recently had this month, I am in love with the thunderous earth shaking low end, but every time I go up really high it is completely out of texture. The notes are thin, no body to them at all, not smooth, they are rather twangy up there and that is even with me completely maxing out the mids on the SVT as much as possible, raising the high end of the pickup to the strings and lowering the low end of the pickup all the way down in the bass in attempts to compensate for the lacking high end and balance the highs and lows of the bass. But all efforts were for nothing, although it did help somewhat, the high notes were still weak and almost non existent in the mix. I sent it back and it has been replaced with a Fender American Precision because the P's are the best I have played that gets me exactly what I want out of the higher range of this instrument. I no longer have that problem now. Everybody is different, but this has been my experience with basses and why I will always favor a Fender P over others."

    Although I am not playing Rock or Metal, I am playing more Progressive/Classical/Electronic really mathmatical music, it gets a bit technical with fast runs taking me all over the fretboard from 1st fret E string to the highest frets on the G string. What I am mixing my sound into though is mostly alot of synthesizers playing very complex and contrasting rythms (5-let 16ths, 6-let 16ths, 7-let 16ths, 3 or 4 contrasting melodies) against each other, usually around 7 or 8 different rythms, melodies, and parts all at once. If I were playing Hard Rock or Metal then my sound needs would most likely be entirely different. But this is my experience and personal opinions on the matter. No wrong or right here.
  10. FretlessMainly


    Nov 17, 2010
    If I were to A/B a passive and an active bass, I would adjust the amp so that the outputs were similar, if not the same. Hence, there would be no output difference to affect my opinion of the two.

    If anything, my experience has been that active basses tend to overdrive my GK head even with minimal preamp gain settings, so I have to pad my input. No matter what you do after that, my ears tell me that an unpadded signal sounds better than a padded signal. I'm not sure if that's true or not, but it sure sounds that way to me.
  11. Mikio


    Feb 21, 2009
    Santiago de Chile
    It is true, to many they sound better just cause they are louder to many, but this is not always true as has been stated, I have a sub-standard input active bass that sounds really weak without boosting settings, ironically, my Fender P is way too loud for a passive bass! lol.

    Anyway, "better" is always subjective when it comes to sound (certain standards aside, of course)
  12. jlepre

    jlepre Supporting Member

    Nov 12, 2007
    Parsippany, NJ
    +1 I am usually the front man/bassist so when I need to make adjustments between songs, I can't leave the mic. I need to make my adjustments from my bass.
  13. rigorous bass

    rigorous bass

    Mar 12, 2012
    I took my J Retro off my Lakland JO and couldn't be happier. I rediscovered the true organic tone of passive electronics after having to sell off a bunch of my basses and forced into playing a Fender Standard p 5 for all my gigs. Playing through in ear monitors and live amp settings, I realized I had been over equalizing. Front of house guy immediately commented on the huge difference, so I took notice. This is after trying a wide variety of active basses with different preamps at my 5 night a week house gig for 6 years. In fact, I'll probably sell my two JRetros and other preamps that I've collected over the years from the frustration of never being satisfied till now. It's a new adventure for me and I look forward to every gig!
  14. Mikio


    Feb 21, 2009
    Santiago de Chile
    IMHO, I rather play with my fingers to get different sounds than play with the knobs, I almost don't use them once I have a set tone, unless I need something really, really different, which is almost never and if necessary a pickup balancer or switch would do the trick, so being active is not necessarily all that marvelous. You can have an EQ pedal or external preamp too.
  15. tabdog


    Feb 9, 2011
    There are preamps and there are preamps.
    I was spoiled early on by an 18 volt preamp
    that is extremely versatile. To me, most
    preamps are of little use,

  16. I've played both but have come to prefer passive. I actually feel that there's more control, or at least what I would call predictability. Passive P tone knob gives quite a range, and the rest I do with my fingers. I do use an external preamp in most situations, though.
  17. khutch

    khutch Praise Harp

    Aug 20, 2011
    suburban Chicago
    Output levels can vary with both kinds of basses so that isn't it. The tone controls on passive basses load the pickups with a capacitor/resistor. The active circuits in active basses load the pickups with a high resistance and then modify the pickup signal with active filters. So the two do not sound exactly the same even though you typically run the passive bass into an amplifier that also has active filters in its tone control section. You could build active basses to give both kinds of sound but most won't. So people tend to like one sound or the other and you cannot typically make them sound alike. Which is better is entirely in the ear of the beholder but the difference is real and not something that can be equalized with a twist of the volume or tone knobs.

  18. unclejane

    unclejane Guest

    Jul 23, 2008
    I'm with hutch... Some basses' pickups are affected more by different loads than others, so their behavior in passive mode will vary more for better or worse.

    Eg. the MFD's in my L2K give a very different sound going straight into an amp than through the onboard preamp. The highs are significantly duller with noticeably less high frequency "bite" to the sound (I actually prefer that so I run it in passive mode all the time).

    My Bunnies, OTOH, sound absolutely identical whether active or passive. I never use the onboard EQ so the Bunnies don't have batts in them either.

    But the sound change by going passive can actually be beneficial, like with my L2K....

  19. grendle


    Mar 4, 2011
    Central FL
    I don't change tones, but the clarity , punch and attack of actives is where its at for me. In Situations though a good passive bass is easier to record with as there's less going on try try and eq.
  20. SirMjac28

    SirMjac28 Patiently Waiting For The Next British Invasion

    Aug 25, 2010
    The Great Midwest