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Re: Passive or active

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Posted by learner ( on December 16, 2003 at 01:40:01:

In Reply to: Re: Passive or active posted by Vando on December 12, 2003 at 20:26:25:

: Oooh... here we go. It's the "active vs. passive" fistfight. Here go the gloves...

: First, yours is a very good question. The answer is not as easily answered as "Active is better than passive" or vice versa. First, let's look at what the idea of active is. "Active" is a broad term that can mean "Active pickups with on-board pre-amp" or "passive pickups with on-board pre-amp". The pre-amp side of the active issue is simply that you have a powered on-board pre-amp on your bass that offers you the ability to boost or cut frequencies in the ranges of treble, mid and bass. That's essentially where the idea of "active" comes from. Then we digress and look at the concept of a "passive" setup, where you simply have the ability to cut the treble. So, the ability to boost frequencies makes the former more "active".

: Well, it's not really complex... a passive instrument uses unpowered magnetic pickups with a volume, pickup blend and tone (high frequency roll-off). A standard active setup uses unpowered magnetic pickups plus a powered on-board pre-amp that allows you to boost or cut frequencies, much like the tone controls on your rig (more on that later). The third option is active pickups (powered, like EMGs) through an on-board pre-amp (EQ).

: You're obvious question is "Which sounds better?" There's more to tone than active vs. passive. I haven't noticed a trend going to passive from active, merely that there are a good deal of great passive and active basses available. Does a Ken Smith sound better than a vintage Jazz? They feel different. They each have a distinctive sound, but I'd drive myself insane trying to pick one over the other. With a passive instrument, you're going to depend more on your outboard pre-amp for tone adjustment, while an active leaves it at your fingertips.

: The biggest difference you'll notice will be in some of today's entry level instruments. The pickups and electronics in the least expensive aren't going to give you much richness in tone either way -- they are limited. Everyone has their preferences on brands of pickups and electronics, and there's so much that's good quality available today that won't break the bank.

: Sorry... I'm rambling. To answer your question about tone: leaving an active bass and a passive bass flat should, in theory, sound the same. There is still going to be some coloration of the sound based on the pre-amp used in the active system, the kinds of pickups, etc. Duncan Quarter Pounders do not sound anything like Bartolini Soap Bars. A Bartolini 4.5 doesn't sound like an EMG system (with its active pickups), and an active system will always give you a hotter output (it's got power, after all). With a passive instrument, you're still using a pre-amp -- it's just not in your bass.

: In your quest for the perfect sound, look inward at your style first, then at your bass, then at your rig. Are you playing a P with a pick into a SVT? A Steinberger into a GK? A Ken Smith into Eden? One mistake I've seen a lot of players make is to OD on EQ. Cats that will have an active bass with the EQ jacked up, then add more on the amp side (more EQ over there, too). While we know that with a passive instrument, you rely on the pre-amp in your rig, an active instrument will likely go through two pre-amps (one in the bass, one in your amp).

: Egad. Sleep depravation is getting the better of me here, hope I don't read this tomorrow and say, "Man, I am an idiot." Hope this helps...

: FYI: I have active and passive basses. I get just as many compliments on both of my main axes. My Warwick Corvette Standard Fretless 4-string uses the MEC self-cancelling jazz pickups that sound incredible. My DP Custom V-6P 6-string uses Bartolini soapbars into the 18V 4.5 system (with parametric Mid and ABM Piezo bridge). I run these through an A/B switch into an Eden Navigator/QSC 1000W power amp/Bag End Deep Red Q10BX-D. Both basses are extremely rich in tone and I really couldn't say that one is better than the other based on whether or not actives are involved. There is a difference, but it comes down to this:

: Always trust your hands and your ears.

Vando, thanks for your reply, and the time you took to write that, I have a much better understanding now. Taking your points further, there is a lot more written about basses than amps, yet I suspect the sound relies on both by equal amounts. I bought the cheapest bass and cheapest amp I could find, (I wasn't sure if I had any talent, now I know I don't - but I still like to play) and I was never happy with the sound. I took my cheap noname bass to get the jack socket fixed and after that the shop played it through their quality amp. WOW, that's my bass??!! I am now convinced that the amp side is very important.
Thanks again.

: : Like me, it seems all bassists are permanently looking for a better bass (or the perfect sound??).
: : Reading as many reviews as I can, I read that guitars are moving back to passive and away from
: active. Is this happening with basses?
: : And is the sound of passive fundamentally different from active? If I played a passive bass, with all knobs fully on (ie nothing cut down) and then the same bass with active set at neutral (ie nothing added or cut), would they sound the same?
: : thanks,
: : Learner

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