Which is better passive or active audio equalization?

Great audio has led many down the slippery slope of high-fidelity audio.
High-fidelity stereo and home theater are addictive. And it’s goosebump fun.

Should you apply active equalization to your stereo or home theater system?

I have long argued to avoid active equalization.
Passive equalization is my lead choice. However, active equalization has evolved.
It’s time to give active equalization a listen. Before we do, let’s confirm we’re on the same page.
Please review these terms: high fidelity, equalization, active, and passive.

High fidelity refers to the accurate reproduction of recorded sound.
Two questions can frame this description.
Does the reproduced sound of a piano sound like a real piano?
Does the audio system faithfully reproduce the artist’s intent?
Test measurement adds confirming support.

Test measurement compares an input source to the reproduced output result. The initial base measurement, the frequency response test, sweeps the audio range from the lowest bass to the highest frequencies. Any difference from the input is distortion. Additional analysis includes but is not limited to signal-to-noise ratio, phase, and many types of distortion. This Rane Commercial Audio link offers a comprehensive list of test specifications.

Equalization selects audio frequencies and then alters amplitude/volume to meet a desired result.
In terms of a layman, it’s the ultimate tone control.
Home audio equalization’s primary aim, minimize undesired room-acoustic effects.
The HiFi goal, ensure the audio throughout the audible band is equal to the source input.

Active Equalization electronically alters/manipulates the output of an audio component. It may also engage digital sound processing (DSP) computer software.

Passive equalization avoids electronic manipulation. Passive solutions employ room construction, room dimensions, speaker/listener positions, and acoustic room treatment to minimize undesired room-acoustic effects.

An audiophile pays a premium price for extremely accurate high-fidelity components.
By definition, altering its output from the input (except overall volume) is distortion.
From the audiophile viewpoint, active equalization masks room acoustic distortion with distortion.
Therefore, as a rule, audiophiles tend to minimize acoustic problems with passive solutions.

However, modest audio systems are not as accurate as audiophile components. They may benefit from electronic manipulation. Active equalization may mask their shortcomings while managing acoustical problems, and create an improved goose-bump result.

Return to Earth
Great audio systems recreate awe-inspiring goose-bump results. But delayed audio transients/impulses
and misaligned phase/timing of sound alone compromise the goal of reproducing a live performance.
In addition, equalization is a fact of audio life. An audio source includes many equalization stages beginning with a studio microphone. And room acoustics add another level of complication. Therefore, I cannot universally denounce engaging any version of audio equalization.

But minimize the compromise.
Passive equalization is still my lead choice. But active can augment and improve passive results.
Passive equalization minimizes the amount of applied active equalization.
And active equalization can be particularly effective management of distorting low-frequency room modes.

Change is difficult for a gray-haired semi-retired AV pro. But improvements in digital sound processing have challenged my opinion. The following website links offer extensive qualified information.

Norm Varney @ AV Room Service articles on acoustic solutions.
Audioholics discusses Audessey acoustical correction.
Audioholics discusses Dirac acoustical correction.
Audioholics discusses Trinov acoustical correction.

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