Tag: distortion

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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Facts about Blown Speakers

Blown Speakers

What are blown speakers? Blown speakers are those that have been damaged by an excessive amount of sound being pushed through thecar speakers. How do you know that your speakers are blown? Identifying that your speakers are blown tends to be fairly easy.  If a speaker is blown, or partially blown, it will create a static-like or fuzzy sound. If you have a speaker that is completely blown, it will not have any sound but distortion. If a speaker is partially blown, it will only distort at loud levels.

One way a speaker is blown is due to less than perfect component sets. For example, low-end speakers are made with paper cones and with too much power can blow the speaker. In some instances, if too much power is sent through the speaker, the woofer can change its shape creating inferior sound reproduction. As for high-quality speakers, many of them blow because they have reached their power limits. Strong bass and high-treble are also contributing factors to blown speakers if played loudly.

There are a few different types of blown speakers:

- Completely blown speaker: A completely blown speaker means that the cone has separated from the coil. If this happens, you will notice that there is no sound, or buzz-like sounds coming from the speaker at higher levels.

Partial, or minor speaker blows occur when the midrange or tweeters are damaged. This can be detected if you hear sound, but it is heavily distorted. Since both of these components produce vocal sounds, the blow can be detected immediately if it is not being used for high-bass audio.

To test if your speaker is actually blown, use a multimeter and set it to read the impedance. If a speaker is blown, it will read infinite impedance. The best way to keep your speakers from blowing is to keep the volume at a moderate volume.

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