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There are many important questions to answer before committing to a set of speakers: Should they be bookshelf sized or floor standing, do you want stereo or surround sound, is a high-end sound bar the right way to go? One decision that’s equally important, but not thought about as often, is: should the speakers be passive (non-powered) or active (powered).
Powered speakers have an amplifier built inside one of them, so you don’t need to get a separate receiver. Instead, you can plug your components (a TV, game console, computer, or turntable) directly into the speakers themselves. The biggest benefit to using powered speakers is that they take up a lot less room than a traditional speaker system.
They’re almost always bookshelf-sized, stereo, and don’t require any additional components to work. Powered speakers also often support Bluetooth, so you can stream audio wirelessly from mobile devices.
There is one downside to choosing powered speakers over passive ones, though. The amp inside the speaker takes up room, which limits the size of the driver (the part of a speaker responsible for creating sound). Using smaller drivers can make powered speakers sound worse than bigger, passive ones, but the difference isn’t that significant. I’ve used both powered and passive speakers, and had great results with both.
If you want a compact audio system for your computer or home theater setup, the powered speakers in our guide are well worth considering.
What Are The Best Powered Speakers?
There are many factors to consider when choosing the right powered speakers for you; below are the most important ones, which we considered while we were researching this list.
Size: A lot of powered speakers come in bookshelf-sized pairs, but that’s not always the case. Our guide features both stereo and 2.1(two speakers and a subwoofer) powered speaker systems. As always, consider the size of your room before making your decision.
Drivers: Our powered speaker picks all have multiple drivers, which handle different frequencies, so music will sound clear and smooth.
Ports: The ports (commonly known as inputs) on powered speakers are what allow you to connect them to your tech. Every speaker we recommend has multiple inputs, so you can keep multiple components plugged into them at all times.
1. Monoprice DT-3
Monoprice’s DT-3s are our entry-level powered speaker pick, and they’re best suited for use with computers.
Each speaker is outfitted with a 3.5-inch woofer and .75 inch tweeter, which are powered by a 50W (watt) amplifier. The DT-3’s cabinets have a custom, rounded shape, which Monoprice says improves their audio quality while making them aesthetically pleasing.
The DT-3s only limitation is their basic assortment of ports. They have: one set of RCA (Red and white) inputs and a pair of balanced (1/4-inch) ports on the back, and an AUX (3.5mm) audio in and headphone jack on the front. This is the only set of powered speakers in our guide that doesn’t have Bluetooth built in.
Don’t let the lack of ports put you off, though. You can still connect the speakers to your TV, computer, or turntable to its RCA inputs, but the lack of wireless connectivity hurts them a little bit.
2. Edifier S350DB
Edifier’s S350DB powered speaker set is a great pick for anyone who wants a great sounding home theater, but doesn’t have a lot of space.
Each speaker has a pair of drivers: a woofer (Edifier declines to mention its size), and a .75-inch tweeter. The S350DB also comes with subwoofer that has an 8-inch driver. By spreading the high frequencies to the tweeter, midrange frequencies to the woofer, and low frequencies to the subwoofer, the S350DB should deliver very balanced sound. I’ve tested other Edifier speakers before, and always found that to be the case.
This set of speakers has an abundance of inputs: One set of RCA ports, an optical audio jack, a coaxial port, an AUX input, and support for Bluetooth 4.1. You could keep your TV (via optical), a turntable (via RCA), and your phone (via Bluetooth) connected to these speakers at the same time, which makes them a great pick for home theater use. If you want to connect them to your computer, you can use an RCA or 3.5mm audio cable.
Edifier includes a wireless remote with the speakers that lets you change its volume, play or pause your music, and switch between inputs (including Bluetooth).
While the S350DBs will sound great out of the box, you can adjust their EQ (equalization) settings by turning the bass and treble knobs on the right side of the right speaker. The ability to customize these settings so the speakers sound right to your ears is a great feature.
Because it’s a 2.1 audio system, this set of powered speakers will take up a little more space than some of our other recommendations. Still, the subwoofer will help round out the sound of the stereo speakers, so this is a great choice if you have the room.
3. Audioengine HD6
Audioengine’s HD6s are the ultimate pair of stereo powered speakers for your computer or home theater.
The speakers have a 5.5-inch woofer made out of Kevlar, and 1-inch silk tweeter, plus a subwoofer connection in case you’d like to add some bass to the system. The HD6s cabinets are hand-built, and each speaker has a magnetically attached grill that you can easily peel off.
In terms of inputs, the HD6s are fully loaded: They have one pair of RCA inputs, a pair of RCA outputs, an AUX port, optical audio input, and a Bluetooth antenna. Because it uses a Bluetooth antenna rather than a microchip, the HD6s have a wireless range of up to 150 feet. You can keep all of your home theater gear hooked up to these speakers at the same time without having to use any special cables or adapters.
The speakers will automatically detect which component (your turntable, for example), is playing audio, and broadcast that. You never have to switch inputs by pushing a physical button, the HD6s do the work for you. Audioengine includes an aluminum remote with the HD6s, which lets you adjust their volume, turn the speakers on or off, and put them to sleep.
Audioengine’s HD6s don’t come with a subwoofer, and there’s no easy way to adjust their EQ, but if those things don’t concern you, they’re an excellent pair of powered speakers.