Active speakers -- the future of Hifi?

Dynaudio have revealed their new Focus series of active speakers. I’m wondering whether this is the future of Hifi. Each driver gets their amp, full connectivity and Roon ready, Dirac-Live integrated. How will it sound? (Early reports are highly promising.) Will such a minimalist setup consign dedicated devices and cables to the dustbin of audiophile history by making full use of the possibilities of digital audio? I must say that I find this a hugely tempting proposition.

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I’ve got LS50Ws that do (most of) that, the new LS60Ws are being applauded

I think for the money, sound quality and convenience they, generally, are a bargain and will become increasingly popular

I don’t think separates will disappear though

Some Hi fi nuts/enthusiasts like to fiddle. There will always be extra power supplies cables, pre/power, stands etc.

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Looks amazing, only found reviews regarding functionality, looking forward to ones that also touches upon the sound.

Just another fashion product – noble boutique fashion maybe, but still fashion. A great way to turn long lasting products like speakers (mine are nearing 2 decades of service, still going strong and no plan to replace them) into a throw-away-product with planned obsolescence (support for product XXX ends on MM.DD.YYYY, no further updates will be released after that date).
A classic active speaker that just contains the power amps may be a worthwhile buy though for some.

Unlikely IMHO, as it has nothing to offer that one can’t also have or obtain in other ways, while those other ways can offer better/additional control options (displays, knobs, …), more and enhanced connectivity (analog/digital fixed and/or variable in- and outputs) and the possibility to upgrade what’s needed instead of throwing away the whole system for a new one.
My guess is, that only music lovers that can stream all their music digitally (single source preferred) may be able to use such a system for a long enough time span that it doesn’t feel like a bad buy completely. Surely, the Roon community is a good place though to actually find exactly that kind of people. I definitely don’t see this category of products as a game-changer for (high-end) audiophiles or people who can’t afford to potentially make a (relatively expensive) bad purchase.

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I think the answer is maybe…

I have 2 main setups in my house, one more traditional, passive speakers, pre-amp, amp, etc. and one with Dutch & Dutch 8Cs. Both have room correction, the former with externally created HFA filters and the latter with REW filters created from the D&D’s integration.

And there are more and more offerings in the active space with more coming out: KII, KEF, Buchardt so this is one of the most innovative areas of speaker design today IMHO.

Having almost 2 years to compare and contrast both setups, some things are very clear to me:

  • The performance of both my setups are very very close – more down to shades of personal grey vs one being better than the other. To say active setups aren’t high end or audiophile just isn’t true.

  • The D&D setup (and almost any active speakers today) is almost always way cheaper than the separates setup that matches or exceeds it.

  • What you can do with internal DSP in an active setup out of the box is amazing and far superior to a separates setup that isn’t put together with great care and tuned.

  • Active speakers can be firmware upgraded to add functionally in ways not possible with passives.

  • If you are a tinkerer often replacing one separate at time over time, you probably won’t be satisfied with actives.

  • If you want a simple, no muss, no fuss, less wires and complexity setup, actives win by a mile.

What isn’t clear to me is how well actives will age over time. Passive setups can age almost forever by continually upgrading separates. Actives can only be upgraded if firmware upgrades continue to add performance and functionality. And if you get to the point the hardware inside actives is just out of date relative to current capabilities, there is no way to upgrade the hardware to take advantage of it unless the mfr offers some upgrades or tradein programs – but I’ve seen no-one do this yet – so if you get to that point, you have to start over with a new active system.

Having said all this If I was building a brand new house and was starting from scratch on an audio setup, based on my experience, the first system I would buy would be D&Ds. I might later add separates to a different zone to have a setup similar to where I am now, but I wouldn’t start with it. And I may never do it. That’s how good actives are and can be IMHO.

So I think we shall see how the answer to this excellent question will play out over time…

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If the electronics are transparent enough for their contributions to be inaudible, there’s nothing much to tweak any further, really – technical understanding and science may come in handy at determining that point.

Limiting factors are, by orders of magnitude, electro-mechanical aspects of the whole installation, like room acoustics, speaker chassis and cabinet construction…

If decades of upgradeitis do indeed render constant eye-opening, game-changing, jaw-dropping improvements in an audiophiles’ career, the kit was not transparent enough to begin with.

IMO very true for the classic active speaker.

The product brought to attention in this thread however is a smart speaker very much like offerings from Sonos, BlueSound, Amazon, Google, … . They all contain some sort of “computer” inside to provide the smart part of smart speaker, responsible for many of the offered connection features (AirPlay, Chromecast, Spotify or Tidal Connect, Roon Ready, Online Radio access, DLNA, …) and communication with the mandatory mobile app to control the whole thing. Most all of these are software defined features that are in need of updates to keep up their functionality because the third-party products/services they connect to are being constantly developed and improved further. Even networks evolve over time (IPv6, HTTPS including it’s ever enhancing encryption, …). So as soon as there are no more updates, functionality gets lost over time as built-in features and protocols become incompatible to their third-party products/services and even the control app might at some point no longer run on a users current phone/tablet (or the current control app may no longer work with old/unsupported speakers). There will come the time where, even if the speaker manufacturer is still willing to support the speaker, the hardware limitations of the SoC (System On Chip – the built-in computer) in use wont allow for further updates. In a best case scenario the smart speaker becomes a dumb classic active speaker then.
If that is all that a user wants/needs, then why buy a smart speaker in the first place. If not, then a new buy is unavoidable.

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Yes. Agree with this completely @BlackJack

An interesting point, and I hadn’t thought of that. The question is the temporal frame of the eventual obsolescence. How many years would be acceptable? (Isn’t it like with cars – a 10-year old car may still work fine, but you can’t expect it to have all the new technological goodies. There will come the point when you may well prefer to buy a new car for its safety features.)
Before I might consider buying such a product, it would need to meet my expectation that it sounds at least as well as separates within the same price range. Or should I expect it to sound better (as so much of its circuitry will have been optimised.)? I’m looking forward to trying out these speakers once they become available at my dealer’s.

Ok but what about any repair. When class D amplifier will fail you can:

  • send one speaker often a big and heavy device just because of small part failure
  • send small box (class D is not heavy) when you have separate devices.
    And passive speaker can serve you for years or decades. Active… I would be surprised. Especially if it’s streaming based only. Even Roon ready. Decade is a very long period for electronic/software market.
    I like the idea but real world shows us that electronic devices fail just after guarantee period :confused:

What optimization? In another thread I already shared my opinion about “me too” smart speakers:

Note: Looking over the product range of Dynaudio, I doubt they have the expertise to design or optimize electronics.

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I went active in 2019 with ATC SCM40A. Before that I used passive version of the same speaker for five years. Currently I run 50ASL’s and couldn’t be happier. Less boxes, less hassle and superior sound quality.

Here’s ATC’s view of active vs passive:

https://atc.audio/active-amplification/

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I don’t know how much expertise they have in electronics. They might have brought in one or the other specialist. Not everything will be cheap Chinese stuff, as you assume. The amps are from Pascal, a well respected Danish company for instance. By optimisation I mean tweaking the whole system, each and every part, in such a way that it will synergistically sound its possible best, something very difficult to achieve with separates. Some believe that active speakers have clear advantages over active ones. I will suspend judgment on this, as I have no experience with active speakers (nor with Dynaudio products). I’m right now in a downgrading process, having recently cleared my mind of much audiophile twaddle; I guess that’s why the Dynaudio Focus series has caught my eye. Now, they might not sound that great; I have no idea, really, but I will definitely want to hear them.

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Yes. I hope at least DSP crossovers and dedicated amps per chassis. No more voodoo.

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Looking trough the commercial you linked, they don’t even claim to have done that. So nothing to expect here.

You seem very certain of your opinions BJ. I understand your concerns such as obsolescence but it isn’t as black and white as your name suggests. Sweeping statements about dynaudio active speakers not having good amps are just opinion. Like ATC dynaudio have a great ethos and pedigree and in general getting rid of the crossover and going active will generally have advantages over passive. Atc make their own amps but I’m sure dynaudio can buy decent class d amps. Stand-alone separate atc amps are good but not as good as some other high end amps, but with active atc using the same amp technology as separates the whole is more than the sum of the parts and they just sound better. Tweakers may prefer the passive atc50 and triamping with some esoteric monsters which might just sound better….maybe…but the cost is lots more. And the wires. And the boxes. And and and and. Or go active and enjoy the best value for money systems around.

A reasonable middle ground would be something like atc actives as the post below mentions. I have the atc scm 50 active and whatever dac flavour of the month I fancy…currently an rme adi 2. This active system includes the following benefits
A) Obsolescence - atc scm50 can be upgraded from 1990 to 2022 spec if required
B) dac can be swapped anytime a new must have comes out
C) Active atc out perform the still excellent passive atc as above
D) Cost and value
E) performance
F) Tried and tested in studios and mastering boothes around the world for many decades with bombproof reliablity.

Listened to dutch and dutch and went round their factory, loved the looks and the sound was impressive but stuck with atc as
A) Dutch and Dutch are a very new company unlike tried and tested studio pedigree and bomb proof reliability of atc
B) I preferred my atc
C) ATC made in uk - Shipping big heavy boxes that can go bang cheaper to uk for me in uk
D) cost to change to d&d from atc would be £7k plus

I fancy listening to some more actives like kii three, buchardt, kef 60, Grimm audio etc. They all suffer from the same issues A) C) and D) on my list above but if they sound significantly better than my atc’s and rme combo then I may be swayed.

Give some a go then come back and let us know what you think.

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Of course they have.
Knock it off.

I don’t get the negative attitude to these. Actives with streaming is the future of music playback at the low end and high end if you ask me. These have inputs so you can still use them like a traditional amp if the technology of the streaming bits date. Dynaudio have strong presence in the speaker market and make excellent products they been making actives for years so I guess they know what amps work best for their speakers. Adding in the smart bit is hardly hard these days with plenty of off the shelf modules that are customisable. Very few streamers out there are built from the ground up by the company that sell them they use established platforms under the hood with their own tweaks on top. If they do break yes its a bigger thing to return but with a product like this your not looking at online purchase, this is what dealers are for.

My simple Atom and Proacs is nearly the same price as the one down from these and I bet they sound way better as a system. My next step would definitely streaming actives and these look very nice.

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Dynaudio have been car hifi suppliers for years so I would imagine they know quite a lot about electronics and DSP.

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