Active vs Passive Bass For Recording: Differences and Which To Choose?

Active vs Passive Bass For Recording: Differences and Which To Choose

Many people wonder whether an active bass or a passive bass will be better for recording.

So, what are the differences between an active bass and a passive bass? And which bass guitar should you choose for recording?

Let’s find out together.

What is an active bass?

An active bass is a bass guitar equipped with an internal battery-powered preamp. The preamp circuitry will boost the output signal from the pickup. Then it equalizes this signal before it arrives at the output jack.

The active bass usually uses one or two 9-volt batteries. You need to use the batteries and plug the active bass into an amp to operate it.

The active bass can’t make sounds if the batteries are dead. So, remember to carry extra batteries along with you to change when necessary.

Depending on the using frequency, these batteries can last around 1 week to 1 month. You should unplug your guitar from this amp after using it to save energy.

The equalizer of this bass will control the shape of tones by equalizing the pickup’s signals. It has separate EQ controls which have different frequencies.

Their function is controlling the level of treble, bass, or mid sounds. Thus, you can adjust the sound of an active bass as you want. This guitar can use both split pickups or a single pickup.

What is a passive bass?

A passive bass also uses circuitry to equalize the pickup signal before it reaches the output jack. But it can’t boost or cut the tones.

The circuitry of a passive bass is simpler than that of an active bass. So, the sound produced is purer and more touch-sensitive.

This guitar doesn’t have batteries or separate EQ controls. Its volume and tone controls can handle the sounds from various frequencies.

Differences between an active bass and a passive bass

1. Signal output

Signal output is the main difference between an active bass and a passive bass. A passive bass will keep the exact sound of the signal output.

It simply picks up the signal, makes it more resistant, and transfers to the amp. Conversely, with powered preamp and pickups, an active bass can enhance the output from the bass.

2. Dynamics

Dynamics refers to the volume change when the artist changes his playing style. In bass guitars, the dynamics vary by the changes in the plucking force on the string.

For example, the volume when you pluck the string softly will differ from plucking hard.

The passive bass is more sensitive with the different articulations of the fingers. Thus, the sound produced by a passive bass is more dynamic than an active bass.

On the other hand, due to the signal boost, active bass will normalize the produced sound. That means no matter how you play the guitar, it will produce the same sound.

You can watch this video to see the sound difference of each bass.  The sound comparison is from 3:43.

3. Power supply

Active basses need batteries to drive the preamp or active pickups. Without batteries, an active bass can’t operate.

But the passive bass doesn’t need any external power supply. Its bass amplifier will increase the signal output of the pickups.

4. Signal strength

With the powered preamp and pickup, the active bass will produce a stronger output signal. The sound will be consistent and high-quality.

The passive bass will have a weaker signal. So, if the cable is longer than 30 feet, a passive bass may have a signal drop-off.

5. Tone shaping

With a passive bass, you can only shape your tone by changing your playing style. The volume and tone knobs and the amp also help shape the tone but not much.

Meanwhile, an active bass has EQ controls. They allow you to modify the tone as you want. There are two-way, three-way, and even four-way E.Q. systems in an active bass. Thus, you can do more tone shaping with this guitar.

6. Maintenance

An active bass will need more electrical maintenance than a passive bass. You will only need to clean or change the string of the passive bass.

But the active bass needs batteries to operate. Therefore, you have to check and change the batteries often.

A battery fail will be a serious problem in your live performance. So, you should change the batteries before a gig, or prepare a backup bass.

The active bass will use and drain the batteries whenever you plug it. Thus, if you don’t use the bass, remember to unplug it to save energy.

Which one is better for recording: an active or a passive bass?

You can choose an active bass or a passive bass depending on your liking. Besides, you can consider how your desired final product will be.

Before the invention of active basses, people recorded with passive basses. They have made a lot of the world’s famous music.

If you like a full, round, and dynamic tone, choose a passive bass. It can provide a variation between softer and harder notes on your tracks. Moreover, with a passive bass, your recordings will have a more vintage vibe.

However, a passive bass produces weaker signals. So, there will be more unwanted noise captured in recordings.

An active bass makes a louder output that can drown out any unwanted noises. Besides, the stronger signal of this bass allows you to use a longer cable. So, if you don’t want to have unwanted noise in your recordings, go for active bass.

Final Words

So, through this article, you have known more about the differences between active and passive basses. Depending on your preference, you can choose a suitable one for recording.

We hope that the information we provided will be useful for you. If you have any questions, please leave a comment. Thanks for reading!

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