Is an active setup better or just different

Hi guys, I wanted to begin a discussion on the merits of an active system and whether it’s actually worthwhile. Active seemed to be the holy grail in the olive series however these days is not very common at all. I personally have a pretty good passive setup and I’m wondering if at some point in the near future I should pursue this painstaking task. Lol.

I take my advice from my local dealer in south west London. The question “how many active Naim systems have you supplied? Almost none” was the answer. That’s from a 500 dealer as well.
At the risk of promoting other manufactuers products and a slapped wrist from our moderator, you could partner a 552 with ATC active speakers to your size/room/budget.
That’s all back to an impeccable front end first.
Another aspect of an active system is you get the pleasure? of twiddling all those crossover components. How much fun could that be?

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At a demo a couple of years ago I heard a 500 amp vs a 300 active system

To my ears…the 500 system kicked it
Guess that’s why there is less love for active these days


Yep, I think i was there.

Yes you probably were gazza
Was your conclusion the same as mine?

You’ll need Statements for it to really shine and that won’t come cheap :sunglasses:


I have had several passive and active Linn and Naim systems since mid 90’s. My conclusion is that passive crossovers have improved tremendously over the years and the gap has narrowed but that a properly dialed in active system has the edge. But more costly and complex…

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Naim have frequently claimed that the next power amp up in their range will sound better passive, than the next one down running in an active system. All things otherwise equal.

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Yes…the 300,s sounded great…but trying a bit too hard to please. The 500 was just sounding more in control. But both were good systems. I had a 300 dr at that time, it pretty much persuaded me to buy a 500 dr…some time later though.


I have an active system (triamping).

Active is inherently better sounding than one with a speaker having a passive crossover splitting signal between drivers because
there are no crossover components between the power amp and the speaker driver, just direct wire connection of one power amp directly connected to one drive unit. That ensures ultimate ‘grip’ on the driver, maximum ‘damping factor’, etc. Also, with the electronic crossover before the power amps, each power amp receives and amplifies only the range of frequency associated with its drive unit.

There are of course downsides: ignoring any cost difference between the active and passive crossovers, you need twice as many amps for bi-amping a two-way speaker and three times as many for tri-amping a 3-way. And that also means greater complexity and system bulk.

How the same money as multiple amps spent on a single better power amp driving through a passive crossover compares to active multi-amping is something I cannot answer, and will probably depend on the speakers and the specific amps. (Active multi-amping with the better amp of course will be better still…!)

My personal experience comparing is with PMC EB1i speakers, the passive using a Musical Fidelity P270 power amp, active (with passive crossover removed) was using the P270 on bass, and MF P170s on mid and on treble fed by a stock Behringer active XO. The bass seemed tighter, and overall clearer. To be sure I wired the passive xOs externally and had my son change over a few times so I was assessing blind (no, not double blind but my son enjoys the challenge of fooling me with blind testing, e.g sometimes one a bit louder, sometimes the other).

I recall a statement demo where Jason (?) suggested that my system, active S600 with 4x135s, would be better if I introduced 300s. I went away deflated as I could never afford to swap out my 135s.

But active 500 will beat the passive 500… Maybe 1x 500 + 2x 300s active will beat Passive 500. Or 2x 500 + 300. And whichever, the question then would be which is better, that or passive with Statement…

A long time ago I tried active SBL with olive 250’s vs. my normal passive 135’s and preferred the 135’s. All that work setting it up - we had hoped the active would be so much better. I tried active ATC:s a while back but after the initial enthusiasm I always went back to smaller passive. Maybe bad luck or sloppy setting up was the reason - but I stick to passive now.

My experience…I went from active to passive (using the next amp.‘up’) without the slightest hesitation after listening in my own house (with the dealer doing the conversion (in a non-Naim system).

Way better

Interesting, I think another consideration is going active limits the speaker choices. If all speakers could be run active through an easy mod perhaps the results might be different. Having said that the impression I get is the 500 is a stonkingly good amp.

I wonder if an active SBL setup with my 52/135 on the tweeters and say an olive 250 on the mid/bass driver would better my Harbeth 30xd for drama. This is the one aspect I miss about the 552. The leading edge was so punchy.

I think it really depends on the speakers. Older Linn speakers like Isobariks are transformed by going active. More generally, active is a different presentation, speed being one word that springs to mind. But the proliferation of boxes required is going against the current trends I suspect. I like the idea of a single box at the 500 level, or even the statement (out of my reach) but I would have to replace my speakers (Briks) as I think they would be holding the system back in passive and then it gets costly again.

The thing about active is, while it is better (and I think unquestionably so), it doesn’t change speaker selection in any way.

In other words, you have to like how a speaker sounds passive first. Then, if the speaker offers it (and most do not), going active is the icing on the cake. You shouldn’t be choosing speakers because they be converted to active. If you do that you will find the choice of speakers is incredibly limited and you might not actually like any of them more than available passive-only designs. In fact, most high end speakers offer passive only operation.

Due to the reasons described above, active crossover operation also must only be compared to the same speaker and similar amplification. Otherwise it is just oranges and apples. Let’s say you loved classic Linn speakers. A pair of Tukans in active mode is going to outperform a pair of passive Tukans on the same amp. But active or not, it won’t outperform a pair of well driven passive Kabers at 5 times the price. And therein lies the rub. Once you double or triple up on the required power amps, cabling and active crossover itself, you can often afford a much better speaker for the same money, that would get you further.

You can of course get all the benefit of active without the complexity. If you can find a pair of single driver crossoverless speakers that you like, you can basically get the benefit of active with the same speaker cable and just an integrated amp - no active crossover required. I actually do this with a pair of Omegas driven by a little Luxman integrated.


After going active with Nac 52 , 3 Nap 250-2s, 362, CDS3/555PS, and NBLs, I would have a difficult time returning to passive operation. However I have never heard a 500 level amp and preamp combo. I think all Naim speakers that were designed for active operation will exhibit improvement over passive. My NBLs certainly do.

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