Passive/Active Bass

Discussion in 'Basses [BG]' started by Chap, May 27, 2002.

  1. Chap


    May 27, 2002
    Reno, NV
    I've heard about Passive and Active basses, and knowing that Active basses are with a 9-volt battery inside, which is better? Passive or Active bass?
  2. j3b3r


    Aug 19, 2000
    Active pups r humcancelling, tighter, louder, have wider tonal range, and won't lose signal if u use a long cable and many effects.

    While passive pups has more warm sound, but not all of them r humcancelling.

    If u'r a slapper, u might want to go active.

    But u can always shape tones with active preamps whether u use active or passive pickups.

    I can say EMG is the best if u want to go active
    Bartollini is the best if u want to go passive :D

    But...nahh, u better try both active or passive, so u can answer it by ur self.
  3. Oysterman


    Mar 30, 2000
    Not better, just different.

    Most active basses have passive pickups, but an active EQ on the bass. This would be a pretty rudimentary equalizer, with bass and treble controls, sometimes one or more midrange controls, at fixed frequencies (there are exceptions to this, though). This will allow you to boost or attenuate certain frequencies without having to reach for the EQ controls on your amplifier. Active basses also have a lower impedance output, which would make the signal less prone to degradation over long cable runs (as has been said already). Active basses often have an extended frequency spectrum compared to passive instruments, with lower lows and higher highs.

    You can also have active pickups in addition to the active EQ.

    IMO, active EQ can be handy sometimes but they don't make or break a bass... there's so many other things to consider than just active or passive electronics. Just play the bass - if you like it, it shouldn't matter if it's active or not.
  4. heck.. there are even basses with active pickups and passive EQ :)
  5. I'm sure there are other threads on this but here is my 2cents.

    Active is great cos you dont have to walk over to your amp to mess with your settings, and especially with a Frequency sweep dial (which only features on a few active basses) you get an amazing variety in tone. I think they are good especially when playing live cos, as i said, you dont have to mess with the amp or whatever.

    Active are great too, I have one and use it loads. I think Woodchuck said in another post "active for live and passive for studio". I think he is right, but i think passive is good for live too.

    Depending on what kinda music you play you can choose between the two, assuming you are considering buying one. If you are playing flashy style, slapping or something like that then active is a must. If it's punk or just straigh rock then there is nothing wrong with an passive. And remember passives are less likely to malfunction!!

  6. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Everybody pretty much covered it. "Active" usually means active EQ, meaning bass/treble boost/cut, perhaps midrange boost/cut, sometimes parametric mids. "Passive" usually means just a tone control (high freq cut) and volume. Passive basses don't need a battery. If you look inside, the active basses are much more compicated. Some "active" basses can be turned passive with the flick of a switch.

    There's a lot more electronics between your fingers/the strings and the speaker. That's why I like passive better. They're both just as good but I personally prefer passive.
  7. Does a passive bass with an outboard preamp sound like an active bass with passive pickups?

    If it does then surely you have the advantage of less weight to carry?

    I assume that you cannot replicate the sound of a bass with active pickups with an all passive bass and outboard gimmickry? Or can you?
  8. Selta


    Feb 6, 2002
    Pacific Northwet
    Total fanboi of: Fractal Audio, AudiKinesis Cabs, Dingwall basses
    Ok, my Ibanez has passive Pickups and an active EQ, so say I had a chain of 12 effects (all of mine at once) with a fifteen foot cable running from the last pedal to the head and a thirty foot one from my bass to the first effect, will I lose alot of signal? If not, does anyone know of any reason why I shouldn't do this during my gigs? (I've always been afraid of being to quiet ;) ) Thanks
  9. Oysterman


    Mar 30, 2000
    At least DSP (digital signal processing) will ALWAYS degrade ANY signal to a certain extent (this is due to rounding errors when performing calculations on a waveform, and also the analog<->digital conversions will hurt the signal somewhat, especially on cheaper DSP:s (cheap converters). With analog effects, the problem is more that analog components tend to give the sound "colour". If the "colour" is a nice one, depends on the listener's ear, and the quality of the components used. Cheap stuff usually sounds cheap, but maybe that's the sound you want?

    So there will most likely be a fair amount of degradation/colouring of your tone when running through effects. The question, though, is how well you can hear it. Probably not at all in a live situation, if you have decent gear. However, if you can hear it, the question is how well you can live with it. How much of an audiophile are you?

    (If the FX units features so called "true bypass", and everything is bypassed, there should, at least theoretically, be no degradation of the tone. But as soon as an effect is used...)

    ...I think. ;)
  10. j3b3r


    Aug 19, 2000
    IMO, cannot

    the sounds started when the pups "sense" the vibrations of the strings and the pups produce the signal and deliver it to EQ,FX and Amp.

    the ability to "sense" in active pups r differ to pasive pups, like i said before active pups have wider high and low(frequency).
    while pasive have less low but higher high, or less high but lower low. So you wouldn't get an active sounds from pasive pups.

    but with an EQ or outboard preamps you can shape the tone, but you wont get the ability to "sense"
    of active pups while you're using a bass with pasive pups
  11. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    All pickups sound a little different and have their own signature regardless of whether they are "active" or "passive". So no you can't get the same sound out of "active" pickups as you can from "passive" pickups, but keep in mind you won't get the same sound from two different "passive" pickups either.

    As for the sound, technically there is little reason that you can't get the same sound from a totally passive bass with the pickup wired directly to the output jack and an ordinary preamp/amp situation as an active bass. (excluding the possibility that some of the EQ bands are boosted at multiple locations) As a matter of fact, 9 times out of 10 the EQ circuit quality is significantly higher in the regular preamp/amp than the bass' onboard EQ. This is one big reason I prefer passive basses.

    In the hi-fi world of sound reproduction people constantly strive for less in the signal chain. Most preamps and receivers have a "direct" mode where the analog input from the reproduction source (LP, SACD, DVD-A, CD, Tape, etc.) is sent directly to the amplifier with only volume attenuation affecting the signal. This is known as a "clean signal path". EQ (bass/treble controls), DSPs, and other things get in the way. It is thought that they degrade the signal.

    I apply the same philosophy to the bass and guitar. I want as little as possible between the fingers/strings/pickups/wood interface and the speaker. Active EQ (and even active pickups to a much smaller extent) is extremely invasive to the concept of a "clean" signal path. EQ should be applied only once, in a clean uncluttered (electronically) manner to achieve the ideal of as little signal change as possible between my playing and my speaker.

    Of course, the bass guitar amplifier and speakers are intended to make a certain sound, they're not really comparable to hi-fi speakers or components. ANd my amplifier, a 1966 blackface Fender Bassman, is far from a "clean" signal path. However, I've chosen it largely for its audio character and simplicity which I like.

    Now, that's just the passive bass philosophy. As I've said before and will say again, lots of people like active basses, and that's fine. Hopefully someone will post here the "active is better" philosohpy to give the thread some balance. There are lots of legit needs for active basses, and many people don't mind or dont' care about the the (largely theoretical) signal degradation that is accomplished.

    I take it to such an extreme, I don't even use compression except when recording. I've been working years on my technique with the express goal of having a complete mastery of dynamics using my fingers only. I'm far from my ideal, but pursuing it has made me a better bass player.

    You're far from the "clean path" ideal that's for sure, but if you get a good sound that you like then that's all that matters!
  12. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    I completely agree that whatever gets you the sound that works for you is cool, whether that's active PUs, passive, lots of boxes, no boxes, whatever.

    But I do think the comparison to hi-fi practice is flawed. With music reproduction you start with a basic assumption--that the LP, CD, tape or whatever is, in a sense, perfect as it is, that the *only* job of any amplifying equipment would be to reproduce that original perfect sound as accurately as possible.

    With a bass guitar, you can't make that assumption reliably. In the first place, it's by no means clear that what a PU is doing is solely to reproduce sound; rather, you could argue that it's more a participant in the *generation* of sound, as it's typically far from uncolored. In the second place, if you do think of a PU as a reproducer, it generally isn't a very accurate one, so you've already lost something there.

    In the third place, I don't see why a passive circuit is necessarily any less invasive than an active one. If what you're looking for is an accurate representation of what your PU is saying (which, as we know, isn't necessarily an accurate reflection of what the string is saying), then the very existence of a passive circuit impairs that, even if you have everything turned up all the way. The very placement of pots in the signal path takes away some of your tone. That's why some people wire PUs straight to the output jack. And as soon as you bring down a pot, you lose even more. This is not a bad thing, if it gets you your sound, but it is definitely "something" between the fingers/strings/PUs/wood interface and your speakers. You could argue that an unequalized preamped signal is, or can be (if the preamp is good), truer to your original signal than a passive circuit is, because signal is less likely to get lost as it would be in the passive circuit.

    Finally, think about what a preamp does. Sooner or later, your relatively anemic bass PU signal has to be lifted to line level so that a power amplifier can push it out your speakers. This is always an *active* process, because it adds gain that wasn't there before. Even with a passive bass, this active process happens in your amplifier. So you can never avoid active electronics. Not an inherently bad thing, just the way it is.

    All that active electronics in a bass (or an outboard preamp before the amp input) does is perform some of that "gain lifting" at a slightly earlier stage. And I know of no bass amps where all the tone-shaping circuitry can be taken out of the circuit, so there's another "veil" there. Not to mention that, as you point out, bass amps aren't designed to be ruthlessly accurate but just to sound good with basses. So the perception that passive circuits are somehow inherently purer just doesn't add up for me.

    Which doesn't change the fact that there are some tremendous-sounding passive basses and that it's in no way backward or unenlightened to prefer them. It's all down to what works.
  13. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    Good points all!
    This is the crux of the entire situation. There must be a preamp, and most often it has tone controls and other electronics in it. So why have two? And someone with an active bass and something like a Sadowsky outboard preamp going into yet another preamp is the ultimate excess of pramptitude :).

    One other thing, using preamp gain buffering, active basses can handle pickup blending better than passive basses.

    My hi-fi analogy is not perfect, but it still is somewhat appropriate.

    But the bottom line is whatever gives you the sound you like is all that matters.
  14. Richard Lindsey

    Richard Lindsey

    Mar 25, 2000
    Metro NYC
    Yeah, I know what you mean about preampitude out of control--I've seen that combination you describe, and it's too much even for me!

    Actually, the best reason I can think of for having two preamps is simply to avoid, or reduce, the loss of signal inherent in a passive circuit. But then again, that very loss can be sonically effective, if that's the sound you want, so that reason is not tantamount to a conclusive proof of superiority.

    My point was certainly not to suggest that active is somehow "better" in any *absolute* sense--it isn't--but simply to suggest that a passive circuit does not *necessarily* interfere less with the initial signal and may at times actually interfere more.
  15. Philbiker

    Philbiker Pat's the best!

    Dec 28, 2000
    Northern Virginia, USA
    I believe that the loss you describe is why active circuits work better for blending multiple pickups together.
    Totally understood!