Tag: clipping

Car Amplifier Buying Guide



Buying an amplifier for a car audio system can be a daunting task. It can be a challenge for someone new to the industry to select the perfect amplifier for their application, so we’ve put together this guide to help you find out what type of amplifier you need for your new system. Remember – you should either choose an amplifier first and build your system around it, or you choose the other components first and choose an amplifier (or amplifiers) to power the components. This guide assumes you have an idea of what type of system you want without any idea about the amplifier.
Let’s get started!

Selecting a Channel Configuration

All amplifiers are designed to output power into different “channels”. This helps pair the amplifier to the application it’s being used in. The most common amplifiers are 2-channel, 4-channel, and monoblock. Now, just because an amplifier is branded as “2-channel” doesn’t mean it’s only capable of powering 2 speakers. In theory, it’s possible to have as many speakers as you want paired with a 2-channel amp, it will just change the impedance (ohms) and change how the power is distributed between the speakers. Even though it’s possible to wire many additional speakers, it’s most common to use a 4-channel amplifier for 4 speakers, a 2-channel for 2 speakers, and so on.

Here’s a list that helps identify each different amplifier channel configuration and more information about each one.



  • Stereo
  • Full-range
  • Bridgeable
  • Can be used to power one set of speakers (2 total speakers)
  • Most commonly used to power a subwoofer, or multiple subwoofers
  • Usually has Class A/B Circuitry, but can also have full-range Class D as well

Perhaps one of the most popular selections, 2-channel amplifiers are great for multiple purposes. Two channel amplifiers output dedicated power to two separate channels, great for powering one set of car speakers (2 total speakers). The two channels can also be combined, or bridged together to provide more output to one dedicated channel, and is commonly done to power a subwoofer or subwoofers. 2-Channel amplifiers are stereo, meaning they have a Left and Right output. This is important for staging, and tuning. These amplifiers are capable of playing what is considered the full spectrum of sound that humans can hear, usually around 20-20,000 Hz.



  • Stereo
  • Full-Range
  • Bridgeable (most of the time)
  • Usually used to power two sets of speakers (4 total speakers)
  • Also able to be used in other configurations, however this is not as common
  • Usually has Class A/B Circuitry, but can also have full-range Class D as well

Another popular option, 4-channels, are commonly used to power an entire set of door speakers (4 total speakers). 4-Channel amplifiers are also bridgeable, allowing for a ton of configurations, but the most popular application we find these amplifiers in is powering door speakers.



  • Mono (one channel, no Left/Right differentiation)
  • High-powered car amplifier
  • Not full-range since subwoofers do not play higher frequencies
  • Usually used to power one or more subwoofer
  • Commonly has Class D circuitry, however can also have Class A/B as well

Monoblock amplifiers are designed primarily for subwoofers. Subwoofers require a lot more power than standard speakers, and the signal does not need to be as clean as the signal going to a full-range amplifier. Bass doesn’t need to be processed as much for high quality sound, like a really nice full-range amplifier does. Monoblocks are also not usually full-range capable, because higher frequencies are not played by subwoofers. Having these amplifiers capable of playing high frequencies would be a huge waste in efficiency. Because subwoofers require much more power than smaller tweeters or door speakers, monoblock amps are designed for maximum efficiency and power output first.



  • Stereo
  • Hybrid amplifier
  • Front 4-channels are stereo/1 channel is mono
  • Basically a 4-channel amp and a monoblock amp combined
  • Allows an entire system to be powered from one amplifier (4 speakers, 1 or more subwoofer)
  • Good for those who don’t want multiple amplifiers powering their entire system

5-Channel amplifiers are basically a mixture of a 4-channel amplifier and a monoblock amplifier, built into the same chassis. This helps eliminate the need for multiple amplifiers and elaborate wiring scenarios. These amplifiers are a great, simple solution for those looking to power 4 speakers and a subwoofer. They’re a bit more difficult to use for high powered audio applications, since 5-channels are usually only capable of running around 600-1000W RMS. This amount of power is perfect for mid-tier audio systems though.



  • Hybrid Amplifier
  • Front 2-channels are stereo/1 channel is mono
  • Basically a 2-channel amp and a monoblock amp combined
  • Most commonly allows an entire truck system to be powered from one amplifier (2 speakers, 1 or more subwofer)

3-Channel amplifiers are a smaller version of a 5-channel. They’re basically a 2-channel amplifier and a monoblock combined. They’re most commonly used to power an entire audio system in 2-door truck, or other small vehicles similar to this. You’ll also find 3-channel amps used to power just the front speakers and a subwoofer in a budget system.



  • Stereo
  • Full-range
  • Similar to a 4-channel amplifier, but with 2-extra channels
  • Allows powering of a center channel, or two additional sets of speakers
  • Usually for specific audiophile applications

6-Channel amplifiers are usually reserved for audio enthusiasts or those with specific audio applications in mind. These amplifiers are most commonly used in vans, SUVs, and boats where you may require more than the traditional 4-speaker setup. They can be used in a lot of installations, but usually they’re bought with a certain application in mind.

Determining Power Requirements

Trying to match up your system’s power requirements with an amplifier can look confusing, but really it’s easier than it seems. The first thing to always remember is to only look at RMS power. Looking at peak or max power without a deeper understanding of it, will only confuse you. Secondly, impedance (or ohms) is a way to measure resistance. All speakers have an ohm rating, or impedance that tells the amplifier how much power to output. Lower impedance means more wattage from the amplifier. At 4 ohms an amplifier will output less power than at 2 ohms; however, an amplifier is more comfortable running at higher impedance and will tend to run cooler. For example, an amplifier at 4 ohms may put out 75 watts RMS, and at 2 ohms this same amplifier will output 100 watts RMS. Finally, you’re going to want to match up the impedance and RMS wattage of the speaker and amplifier. For example, if the manufacturer specifies that each speaker will require 100 watts RMS at 4 ohms, you will want to find an amp which pushes between 70-130 watts RMS at 4 ohms.


For more information regarding impedance, check out this video on matching subwoofers and amplifiers:

You may also want to check out our subwoofer wiring diagram:
Subwoofer Wiring Guide

Although you will get sound from a speaker even if you’re powering it with less than 70% of the rated RMS power, it’s usually not advised. When underpowering a speaker or subwoofer there’s a problem you’ll run into called “clipping”. This occurs when the amplifier tries to push more power to the subwoofer or speaker than the amplifier is safely capable of reproducing. For more on clipping, check out this video.



Determine if Auxiliary Battery is Required

Batteries are underused in car audio, when in reality they should be overestimated and overused. It’s understandable, considering that adding an additional battery is a bit of an investment to an already expensive complete system build, however the investment can be put to exceptional use in moderate and higher powered systems. Personally, I agree with the rule of thumb that systems running over 1000 watts of total RMS power should ALWAYS have at least an upgraded starting battery. An auxiliary battery should also be highly considered in these types of systems. The reason for this is, car audio systems are very demanding when it comes to using power. Your vehicle has a battery used to start your car, but also power things like your head unit, air conditioner, power windows, illumination on the dash, and, perhaps most importantly, headlights.

A common symptom you’ll see when adding a higher powered car audio system (600W RMS and up) is that when the bass hits, you’ll see your headlights dimming. This is because bass is very demanding, and every time it’s hitting it’s pulling a ton of voltage from your battery. In order to combat this, I’d personally recommend any system over 600 watts of RMS power (or fuses that add up to 60 amps or more) should highly consider either upgrading their starting battery to one more capable of keeping up with their system, or adding an auxiliary battery.

Determining Wire Gauge

Now, you’ve picked out your amplifier, you’ve picked out the speakers and subwoofer(s). You’re reading to get this system ordered and installed. Hold up. One last final thing to mention is wiring. Now, we’ve stressed before the differences between Copper Clad Aluminum(CCA) and Oxygen-Free Copper (OFC) wiring before in some of our videos and blogs. This is important to consider, but mainly we’re going to assume you went with OFC and are curious about the gauge of wire to choose.

The fuses on your amplifier (if your amplifier has them, lately more manufacturers have been opting out of external MIDI fuses and relying on your main fuse near the battery to protect your amplifier) are a good place to start to determine what wire gauge to choose. The reason for looking at fuses instead of rated power, is because power ratings with amplifiers can be very misleading. Reliable manufacturers in the industry who follow CEA compliant power ratings are much easier to determine wire gauge for than manufacturers who just list peak power or over-inflate their RMS power ratings.

Looking at total RMS power for your amplifier(s) is the way to determine the main run from your battery to your amplifier area. Another factor to consider is the length of the wire run. If you have your amplifiers under your front seat, you may be able to get away with a small gauge then if you’re running it to a trunk. Consider the RMS power, the length of the run, and the quality of wire that you’re choosing to find out if you’re using large enough wire to allow for proper system requirements.


Now that we’ve talked about some of the main points to consider when purchasing your next car audio system, get to building out that system! If this seems like a bit too much info for you, and you just want that sound in your car, give us a call! We have experts on the line who are complete car audio enthusiasts who will be happy to help you get exactly what you’re looking for!


Car Amplifier Troubleshooting Guide


Follow this basic car amplifier troubleshooting guide to help you determine possible problems with your amplifier.  Basic errors are most often the cause of sound system problems.  A majority of these installation errors can be easily fixed by yourself.  If you are experiencing any of the problems listed below, try some of the solutions that we offer.

Amplifier is not powering on

  1. Check the remote turn on wire and power wires voltage.
  2. Check continuity on ground wire.
  3. Remote wire needs at least 5 volts to trigger the amp.
  4. Power wire should be at around 12 volts with the car off, 14.4 volts with the car on.
  5. If these are all correct, check the fuses on the amp and the in-line fuse. Check to see if they are blown. You can also check them with a volt meter, each side should read 12 volts.
  6. If all of these have been followed and there is still no power, the amp is defective.

Protect light is turning on

  1. Follow the steps above regarding a loss of power. If the protection light is on, unplug your speaker wires. If the light turns off, check your speakers and subwoofers for defects. Check to make sure the speakers or subwoofers are not blown, and check to make sure they are not grounding out. Sometimes when mounting a speaker, one of your wires will become loose and may touch metal causing the speaker to short out.
  2. If these have been followed and the light is still on, the problem could be with the RCA cables or source unit. The RCA’s are most likely pinched, grounded or burnt.  To trouble shoot your RCA cables grab an extra pair and connect them from your source to the amp. If the light goes away, the problem is with your cables.

Amplifier is clipping

  1. First, be sure that your amp has enough power to push the woofer. If it is under powering the woofer, it will wear the amp out and cause it to clip (distort). If there is enough power for the woofer, unplug your speaker wires and let it play. Keep your RCA cables, power and ground connected. If the amp is not clipping after unplugging speaker wires, either the speaker wire is burnt or your speakers are shorting out.
  2. Check your speaker/subwoofer to see if they are blown, or grounding out.
  3. If your amp is still clipping after unplugging your speaker wire, check your ground. If could have been knocked loose from going over a speed bump or from your sub woofer rattling it loose. Make sure you check the ground on the amp and grounding source.

There is no output from the amplifier

  1. Check to make sure the amp is turning on, if not, then follow ‘Amp Will Not Power’ steps.
  2. If the amplifier is turned on but still has no output, check your source unit.
  3. To trouble shoot your source, grab an extra pair of RCAs, connect them from your source to the amp.
  4. If your amp has output, you may have a bad RCA or a bad channel on your source. You can also take a 3.5mm cable with RCA ends and plug it into your amp to see if you get output or not.
  5. If you still have no output, try using an external speaker, one that is not installed in your car.
  6. If you have output from the external speaker, then the problem is with your speakers, (see above).
  7. Make sure that the amplifier’s setting and crossovers are tuned properly. For example: make sure that the low-pass filter and the subsonic filter do not conflict with each other, otherwise they will cancel out all audio signals coming from the source.
  8. Also as a side note, some amps have a slave and master setting, check to make sure it is on the master setting if not connected to another amp.

I hear distortion, background noise, crackling, and hissing in the speakers

  1. First check to see how your wires are ran. If your RCA cables and speaker wire are ran alongside your power and ground cables they will pick up feedback and distortion.
  2. If this isn’t the case, unplug the speaker wire and see if the noise goes away. There should be absolutely zero noise through your speakers now.
  3. If you are still hearing a noise, check your ground and make sure you have good continuity.
  4. If after following these steps your problem is fixed until you plug everything back in, you’re going to want to check your source. If your source is picking up distortion and sending it to the amp, the amp will make the distortion worse.
  5. If all these have been followed, you may have a bad amp.

The subwoofer is popping or slapping

  1. Make sure the box is the right specs for your woofer.
  2. Check to make sure woofer(s) is wired to the correct impedance. Use the Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams to help with this.
  3. Also be sure that the mount surround is air tight or else air will leak from the box causing a “farting” sound.
  4. Check the power ratings of your amp and sub, if the amp is over powering the woofer you will need to reconfigure your amp, turn your gain down on your head unit and make sure all EQ’s are zeroed. Next, turn down your bass boost and adjust all of your settings accordingly.
  5. If your amp is under powering your woofer and you are getting distortion, you can try using a bigger box or by adding polyfil to help compensate (polyfil will make the subwoofer think the box has more volume by slowing down the movement of air).
  6. You can also compensate under powering your woofer by using a line driver to give your amp more voltage.

I hear engine whine

  1. The biggest cause of engine whine through amplified speakers is the ground. Check the ground on your source first, if the source is sending engine whine into your amp, it will be worse through the speakers. Most of the time the source is grounded to the factory ground which is not an acceptable ground for aftermarket units because they are far more sensitive to energy than a stock unit.
  2. Check the ground on the amplifier. The best place to have it grounded is on the negative terminal of your battery, but if your amp is in the trunk and your battery is under the hood that will be too long of a ground cable. The maximum length your ground should be is 3 feet, any longer than that will put the amp at risk for engine noise. If you cant get to the battery with a short enough ground, use a clean chassis ground with no paint on the ground. Keep in mind that just because it is metal does not mean it is a ground.
  3. Check to make sure your RCAs are not run alongside your ground and power wire, this will pick up engine noise.

Amplifier is overheating

  1. Check your install site. Is your amp in a place where it has good air flow? This is a major cause of overheating.
  2. Check your wiring. Are your speakers or subwoofers wired together at an impedance the amp is stable at? Using the Subwoofer Wiring Diagram can assist with this.
  3. If that is not the cause, then while the system is playing check your voltage at the amplifier. If the voltage is dipping below 12 volts your amplifier is being starved for power causing it to work much harder.
  4. Check your ground with a volt meter. Do you have a clean connection and great contact with the grounding site?
  5. If none of these are the cause, it is likely that your amplifier is defective.

Car Radio is overheating

  1. Check the installation. Are wires blocking the fan on your head unit?
  2. Check your wiring. Are any wires shorting out on a ground? Or maybe two wires making contact with each other?
  3. Make sure your speakers are not an impedance that the head unit is not stable at.
  4. Check your ground with a volt meter. Do you have a clean connection and making good contact with the ground?
  5. If none of these are the cause, it is likely your head unit is defective.

Please keep in mind that this is a basic trouble shooting guid and the first things you want to check for when testing for a defect. Hundreds of tiny things can cause major problems for a car audio system. Remember to always read the manual! This can save you embarrassing mistakes; like not pushing the power button on your head unit when you first install it. Your manual will help you out a lot. Always double check your install, then check it again. Taking a little time to troubleshoot can save you days or even weeks of time instead of waiting for an exchange or repair, only to have the item installed again and experience the same “defect”. Just take the time to read this guide before returning an item for warranty purposes. It could save you time so you can enjoy your system sooner and it can save you money not having to pay for shipping, un-installation or reinstallation.

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How to Tune and Adjust Amplifier Gains and Bass Boost


You might want to force this into your head because tuning your equipment is one of the most important things you can do. Car amplifiers have lots of knobs and buttons that, when adjusted the right way, will make your subwoofers or speakers perform at their best. Improper tuning can create distortion, which can sound like buzzing, crackling, hissing, whomping, and various other noises that intrude on the instruments of your music. This is a ballpark method for setting up an amplifier, always refer to the owner’s manual first for more detailed and specific instructions. Most of us do not have an oscilloscope to properly tune a system, but the method outlined below will work well enough. Now let’s get down to tuning!

Kicker IX500.4

4-Channel Class D Amplifier- Kicker IX500.4
Step 1: Setting Volume and Gain Control

With your sound system off, disconnect the RCA cables that run to your amplifiers. Next, turn your system back on and turn the volume on your radio up to max, make sure no music is playing in the system. Disconnecting the RCAs makes sure nothing is playing through the amplifiers which would risk blowing your amplifier, speakers, subwoofers and eardrums. If your speakers run off of your radio and you have a subwoofer amplifier that your trying to set, disconnect all your speakers for safety, then reconnect them after you find the 75% volume level highlighted below. You can leave the speakers connected only if you are 100% sure no music is playing through your system. Most radios have a numerical association, for example the max volume could be denoted as “60” on the dial. The numbers for each radio differ; some might be at 10 max while others could be at 30 or even 100 max. Now that you have the max volume number, multiply it by .75, this will get you 75% of your max volume. For example, if our max volume is 60, then 0.75 x 60 = 45. Now that we have that figured out, turn your volume to zero and plug in your RCA cables or speakers if your running off the headunit. Now, turn the volume down to the 75% point (45 in this case) and turn the gain on your amplifier to zero. Set all bass boost and crossover filters to off, and make sure your headunits built-in EQ is set to “Flat”.

We recommend you use a 1-kHz sine wave tone from a test disc for this next step. If you cannot get a test disk purchase a store bought CD with your favorite music and use it instead. With your sound system off, plug in your speakers if you disconnected them and RCA cables and then turn your system back on. Now start playing the tone, slowly turn the gain up on the amplifier until you hear distortion, also known as clipping. Back off the gain about 1/8th a turn or until it becomes clear again. Remember to mark the gain level and the volume level should you need to reset them at a later date. This is the maximum volume your system will play before it might start clipping the signal. If you have multiple amplifiers, use this method for each amplifier separately. So, hook up only one amplifier at a time, unhook it and move on to the next one.

AutoSound 2000 CD-104

Amplifier Level Setting CD- AutoSound 2000 CD-104
Step 2: Tuning Frequencies

Time to adjust the built-in crossovers on the amplifiers in your system. Most subwoofer amplifiers have a Low-Pass Filter which prevents higher frequencies from reaching your subs. Subwoofers are designed to reproduce low frequency bass tones, so a low-pass filter is very important. A great starting point is around 80 to 100Hz on the low-pass crossover. Disconnect all other amplifiers and play your favorite music type from a CD at 75% volume. While listening to what the subwoofer is playing, slowly adjust the low pass filter from high to low until the mid-frequencies and high-frequencies disappear. You need to filter out cymbals, vocals, guitars, strings, and any other instruments that are not bass or low drum type. If you experience any popping or muddy sounding music from the subwoofer, turn the filter down lower.

For your speaker amplifier, you will have a Low-Pass and a High-Pass filter set on a switch so you can choose which to use. The High-Pass filter lets all frequencies above the setting to go through to your speakers while preventing the lower bass notes from getting through. Disconnect all other amplifiers and start playing your favorite music from a store bought CD. Your subwoofer will handle the lower notes, so a great place to start on the high-pass filter is where you set your low-pass filter on your subwoofer amplifier if you are using one. If not, a good starting place is between 60 and 80Hz. Listen to your speakers as you adjust the high-pass filter slowly. Get rid of any bass or low drum kicks that might cause distortion in your speakers.

Step 3: Bass Boost

If your subwoofer has a death wish, this is often the way to grant that wish. Bass boost can be very effective but it is rarely ever set correctly. The objective of the bass boost, should you want to use it, is to get more kick out of your subwoofer. For most, the bass boost is best left untouched, but you’re not most are you? Ok, so set your gain to zero, and toggle your bass boost button, switch, or turn dial. Play your favorite music and slowly turn the gain up until you get distortion. Back off the gain setting until the woofer is clear again, then start adjusting the low-pass filter. You will need to mess with the low pass and gain until you feel your woofer sounds just right. Bottom line; if you’re going to turn the bass boost up, make sure to turn the gain down. Bass Boost is not a toy and must be used responsibly.

Step 4: Mix it All Together

Kicker IX500.4

Speaker Polarity Checker- PAC TLPTG2
Phew, final step! Let’s connect all amplifiers in the system, turn the radio down to zero and start playing that CD. Slowly turn the radio up until you hear distortion or you reach that 75% limit, do not ever go past that limit. If everything was done correctly, all speakers and subwoofers should be distortion free until that point. If the bass is overpowering the speakers at the 75% volume point, lower the gain on your subwoofer amplifier until it blends well with your speakers. Do not adjust the full-range speaker amplifier to match the subwoofer(s). If your bass is not sufficient enough for your needs, you will need to upgrade to a bigger subwoofer and a more powerful amplifier.

If you can’t seem to get your system to sound just right, we highly recommend you take it to a professional. It is possible your components could be damaged, connected improperly, or simply not efficient or of enough quality to produce the sound you need. Simple things such as replacing power, ground, and speaker wire with higher quality cable could help improve the sound of your system. It is also possible that the polarity on your speakers could be switched, resulting in awkward sound reproduction. A polarity checker can fix that issue quickly. If you listen to a wide range of music, try readjusting your gain controls using different CDs with different music types to get the most even sound. Tuning is all about hearing the difference.


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