how to connect passive speakers to a mixer

I still remember when I was on the hunt for speakers, I remember being overwhelmed by a myriad of choices and the criteria used to evaluate those choices; tower vs. bookshelf, in-ceiling or in-wall vs. cabinet, etc.

Another issue that I encountered was whether to choose active speakers or passive speakers.

Well, after thoughtful consideration and some research, I finally decided to go for the passive speakers. Then came the challenge of connecting my speakers to a mixer.

After some reading and experimenting, I finally figured out how to get it done.

Here is the short version below.

How to connect passive speakers to a mixer, quick tips?

To Connect the main speakers

  1. For passive speakers, join the Main out jacks to the power amplifier inputs
  2. Once done, connect your power amplifier outputs to the speaker inputs.
  3. Turn on the mixer and speakers (or power amplifier).

To Set the mixer levels to unity and fine-tune the speaker output level

  1. Turn up the Main mix fader level to 0 (unity).
  2. Now play audio via channel (microphone, phone/computer playback or guitar). Make sure to set up the channel’s gain knob while its level fader is at 0 (unison).
  3. Turn on each passive speaker’s level knob until the volume reaches the desired level.

Although what I have written above may sound simple, but can be technical. But not to worry. I have taken the liberty of diving deep into the mechanics of this.

So, for those who are in the same shoes me, this article for you, since I intend on helping you understand how to connect the passive speakers to a mixer while giving some useful guidelines at the same time.

To make it easier, I’l start with active speakers vs. passive speakers before diving into technical details.

Active Speakers Vs. Passive Speakers

In the simple language, active speakers have their own cabinet built-in amplifier, while passive speakers take their power from an external amplifier.

Passive speakers are connected to the amplifier via speaker wire.

Passive speakers are mostly for home use while active speakers are usually found in pro-audio for pa monitors and systems, consumer audio and blue-tooth speakers.

When it comes which one is better, it totally depends on the purpose you are buying the speakers for.

For instance, I prefer passive speakers because I want these for my personal use and some of the traits of passive speakers are suitable for my case.

The passive speakers just need a wire connection, which makes them easier to place.

Also, passive speakers are easier to upgrade, or their amplifier can easily be replaced.

For instance, if you want more power, you just need to purchase a new amplifier and connect it up to the speakers.

Lastly, since I sometimes need speakers during travelling, I found passive speakers to be the better option.

Because they don’t have the built-in mixer, they are light in weight and easy to carry.

For details on active vs passive subwoofers, you can follow this link.

Powering Passive Speakers with a Mixer

Users of passive speakers like me, often ask whether we can power passive speakers with a mixer.

The short answer is “yes”. A Powered mixer is designed to power passive speakers.

However, not every mixer can be called “powered” just because you have to plug it in in order to work.

If you have a standard mixer, a power amplifier will be required to power the passive speakers.

Or else, you can connect the powered speakers.

What are Powered Mixers?

Powered mixers are mixers that have built-in power amplifiers.

This kind of mixer includes a built-in power amplifier.

As the mixer and power amplifier, which need a power supply are combined into the PA system, just one power supply connection is needed, and there are less connections to make than with stand-alone amplifiers.

Let’s Connect Passive Speakers to a Mixer

For the passive system set up (involving passive speakers), you must take note of a few of things, the most important of which is that, the amp must match the power rating of your speakers.

It can be a little bit technical to go into, in this article but follow our future post about all things related to power rating! Moving on though!

For connecting passive speakers to a mixer, first make sure you have the following items:

  • 2 Passive Speakers
  • 1 Power Amplifier
  • 1 Mixing Desk
  • 2 Speakon – Speakon Lead
  • 2 Female XLR – 1/4″ Jack Lead
  • 1 Microphone
  • 1 XLR Lead
  • 1 3.5mm Jack – RCA Lead

It should be  noted that the power amplifier is different, and there are some new leads that don’t exist in passive system.

There is a power amplifier that powers the speakers, and the new leads are for linking the mixer to a power amplifier, and the output of the power amplifier to the speakers’ input.

To connect the passive speakers to a mixer, you will first need to set up your mixing desk and the power amplifier.

Take the MAIN OUT L&R of the mixing desk into their corresponding inputs on the power amplifier – you may use XLR – Jack leads, as in my case, but it depends on your inputs and outputs.

After you finished this, take the speakon leads and join them to the output of the power amplifier to the input of each speaker – Once again, the speaker placement is recommended; use your own discretion based on where the desk seems relative to the speakers.

Just be cautious of which way a path will pan once set up! Once this is all linked, you’re almost ready to have some signal passing through it!

As we are using a passive system, you should turn on the mixer first, then the power amp – to pack down it is overturned, so turn the power amp off, then the mixer.

This is to stop any damage to the speakers and amplifier.

If you think that you are running both jacks out of a mixer into your speakers, then plug directly from the mixer to the speakers.

Either of the jacks on the back of the speaker would function equally well. If it is a monitor setup you are using, then plug the wire from the mixer into the one speaker.

Want something additional?

If you are lucky enough to have a mixer with a built-in FX, you will be able to add some effects.

Some mixers with built in FX are used to add delay, reverb, and other unique effects to your mix.

For the channel to get that effect, you’ll need to transmit it to the effects bus, which is essentially a distinct mix formed from all the FX send levels.

The controls will differ from mixer to mixer but remember that some mixers have extra controls for regulating how much total FX bus is transmitted to the Main and/or Monitor mixes.

Let’s Create Your mix

Creating a nice mix implies balancing every channel’s level within the main and monitor mixes.

Every occasion will be unique, so take some time to get a good sound check.

To do that, either go one player at a time or mix the band on the fly.

You select what works best but ensure that each mic is working and then have them play one or two songs from their set.

When adjusting, have each player play or sing as loud as they will during the performance and then place them into the main and monitor mixes by changing their channel’s level.

You can also use this time to talk with each performer and be on alert for excessively high volume (too loud), feedback (loud ringing tone), or difficult acoustics (boominess).

Quick steps to follow:

  • Set your mixer’s Main mix level to 0 (unison).
  • One at a time, sensibly turn up and adjust every channel’s volume fader.
  • Apply EQ, compression, and FX to channels which balance the event/performance.

Some mixing tips to consider are:

  • Use equalization (EQ) to form a channel’s frequency content. Boost (rise) favorable frequencies or cut problematic ones.
  • Too boomy? Cut the low frequencies.
  • Adjust the mids to add or subtract the body/warmth.
  • Insufficient clarity? Boost the highs frequencies.
  • Smooth out active fluctuations with compression.
  • Use effects such as reverb subtly. A little additional space will go a long way.

Things to Take Note

The most commonly seen connection between mixer and powered speaker is the balanced or unbalanced line.

The higher noise rejection of the balanced line enables long runs of cable amid the mix station and the speakers without any noise or interference.

Most powered speakers have balanced XLR or TRS jacks, or both. Nearly all existing mixers have balanced output jacks, again with TRS, XLR, or both connectors.

It’s possible (though occasional) that your mixer just gives the unbalanced outputs.

These are troublesome in long run and are more vulnerable to picking up interference and noise.

Generally, a maximum length of 20-30 feet is suggested for these; longer runs significantly boost the noise risk.

There are a range of ways for converting unbalanced signals to the balanced ones, but these are beyond the scope of this article.

Other Relevant Conidiations

How to power passive speakers without an amp

You can connect passive speakers to the headphone output of a PC or laptop, as the computer will have a built-in amplifier

you can do this if you want better sound than what typical desktop PC speakers can offer

The other benefit of getting passive speakers is that they can be obtained pretty cheaply.

You can use passive speakers with an impendence of 8 or 16, so as to avoid overloading and potentially damaging the headphone output.

Most speakers today should come with some kind of cable with a jack so as to connect to a device such as a computer.

If not purchase such a cable so you can connect your speakers to your PC.

I would avoid the DIY option unless you are a person who is familiar with electronics. If this is not possible and for whatever reason you cannot get an electrician to do the job, then you could try DIY.

Once this has been done you should have connected your powered your passive speakers without an amplifier.

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