Dynamics Active vs Passive

Discussion in 'Pickups & Electronics [BG]' started by Squidfinger, Oct 13, 2004.

  1. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    I was reading through some of my old Bass Players last night and I came across the Jack Cassady interview (Jefferson Airplane). As most of you probably know he was one of the first people to use active basses. BP asked him why he only used passive basses now. He said because alot of active basses don't respond properly to right hand dynamics and are locked into one sound. What do you guys think?
  2. brianrost

    brianrost Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 26, 2000
    Boston, Taxachusetts
    Note the word "some"...this is definitely true. I had a BC Rich which was very compressed sounding when the preamp was used. Passive mode sounded much better.
  3. Squidfinger

    Squidfinger I wish I could sing like Rick Danko.

    Jan 7, 2004
    Shreveport LA
    I wish I had the magazine in front of me right now (I'm at school). Thinking back, maybe he said "alot." I'll correct it above.
  4. A9X


    Dec 27, 2003
    Sinny, Oztraya
    I sort of agree. The problem is that most onboard preamps are low voltage, low current devices, simply because they're battery powered, and in my experience*, these type of circuits suck sonically. I've been building amps for over 20 years (tube and SS) and in all the commercial stuff I've seen the circuits of and/or tested recently the devices and circuits leave a lot to be desired, unless that pinched, compressed, colourless sort of sound is what you're after. It's quite easy to show this too; get a cheap Discman, a decent component CD player and two identical discs. Plug them into the same good or better quality hifi system and switch between them. The Discman will sound flat and 2 dimensional, and it's usually not a subtle difference. Portable CD players have compromised electronics (sonically) because battery life is the main consideration.

    Because most players want to be able to change the battery rarely, (many) have a fear of it going flat onstage and simply won't consider phantom powering such as Alembic use, you're stuck with the 'sound' of most preamps or going passive. Done <i>right,</i> active should be better in almost every regard, especially with practical issues such as hum and noise, and not compromise the tone to any significant degree. But the commercial and practical aspects of the design are what inhibit better active approaches being used.

    * there may be some outstanding preamps that I haven't seen and tested, such as the John East designs, so my comments only relate to what I've tested and what I've learned after building a LOT of circuits in my life.
    I'm also not making any judgements on any one else's choices.

    BTW: I'd love a Casady.
  5. Can you share which preamps you have tested? That would help.
  6. luknfur


    Jan 14, 2004

    I started out with a wall of active basses, then pulled them and wired them as outboards, then sold them all (except a Status I can't get to fire and will probably end up turning over to Dharmabass). Only run direct to the jacks now.

    The dynamics thing didn't strike me as an issue with actives that I recall. At least dynamics in the sense of loudness/softness - which is what it refers to to my knowledge. Also the monotone thing isn't something I remember as an issue with actives. Any pup that had variation in sound passively did so actively.

    What I definetly found was that the common preamps filter tone which is a plus in the sense of cutting or eliminating undesireable noise - like finger transfer and hum. It's a negative in that almost invariably it strips from a pup any rawness and coloration it has. Active pups (or something "hi-fi" like Barts) typically don't have much so it doesn't matter. But an onboard preamp (ie. NTMB, OBP-3, EMG BQC) has pretty much killed any good passive pup I've had. Personally, I'll take the noise. For details you can do a search for Dimento's Preamp Experiment if you're interested. All the named preamps were ran as well as some other stuff.

    I've got an Ada MB-1 and you can program any sound you want into it and play it through the bass and that can compensate for the missing tone but you get a consistency of tone that is along the lines of what a compressor does to volume. You don't get the subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) variations like running passive. So maybe that is what Cassady was talking about.
  7. A9X


    Dec 27, 2003
    Sinny, Oztraya
    I could, but I won't, though I will say it included a number of aftermarket designs, some original manufacturer products and some DIY. My comments were intended to be a general comment on preamp design and I don't want to get into a whole lot of commentary about which brand/model sounds like what etc.
  8. I have that issue. he was referring specifically to "cheap electronics".