Why would anybody want to add an amplifier? This question holds more importance today than probably a decade ago. The cars that were made back then didn’t have much to offer music apart from speakers. The latest ones come with built-in dash stereos. Here’s why.
Adding an amplifier lets you drive your speakers without straining them. Unlike their counterparts that are built-in into your car, the best car amplifiers aren’t constricted by space, so they don’t have to make compromises in design. That means they can deliver richer and more defined music.
These products also don’t care whether you run your music too loud or too slow. All they care about is to inject life into your music by emphasizing all its details and excitement. You can, therefore, count on them to improve your vehicle’s sound system’s audio quality and make your road trips more fun.
Best Car Amplifiers Comparison Chart
Rockford Fosgate R1200-1D Prime 1,200 Watt Class-D Mono Amplifier
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BOSS Audio Systems R1100MK Car Amplifier
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Rockville dB15 6000 Watt/3000w RMS Mono Class D 2 Ohm Amplifier Car Audio Amp
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Rockford Fosgate R250X1 Prime 1-Channel Mono Block Amplifier
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Skar Audio RP-2000.1D Monoblock Class D MOSFET Amplifier
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Pioneer GM-D8701 1600W Max 1-Channel GM Digital Champion Series Class-D
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Alpine MRV-F300 4-Channel Car Amplifier
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Best Car Amplifier Reviews – Editors’ Choice
Scroll down to know more in our car amplifier reviews.
1. Rockford Fosgate R1200-1D Prime 1,200 Watt Class-D Mono Amplifier
The Rockford Fosgate Mono Amplifier is easily one of the best models on the market. It offers top-mounted controls for excellent user experience. You can use these controls to regulate bass, distortion and speaker output. They let you optimize the equipment to run at full capacity.
Also located on the board is punch EQ whose 18dB boost gives a deep bass experience while also letting you mix your music any way you want. You might also find it useful to know that this unit provides a Remote Bass Level Control to allow you to adjust its bass to your liking.
Next comes in the RCA pass-thru outputs. You can count on them to attenuate low-frequency signals and deliver distortion-free music. The Class D design of this model empowers it to deliver loud music without straining itself or the speakers you’re going to connect it with. It is warrantied for 1-year as well.
2. BOSS Audio Systems R1100MK Car Amplifier
Its manufacturer’s decision to equip this car amplifier with Class A/B topology has done wonders for its performance. BOSS has combined the strengths of both classes (high power of Class A and low distortion of Class B) while dumbing down their weaknesses. The result is an amplifier that’s efficient.
Equally worthy of our praise is this amplifier’s Mosfet electrical switch. It optimizes the output current and voltage by removing any excessive current after sensing loss. This means that there won’t be any secondary feedback circuitry distorting the clarity of the music.
As you can guess for yourself by looking at its variable low-pass crossover, this model’s budget price tag wasn’t achieved by cutting any corners. The crossover specifically sends each speaker the group of frequencies most suited to them. This enhances the whole system’s dynamic capability.
3. Rockville dB15 6000 Watt/3000w RMS Mono Class D 2 Ohm Amplifier Car Audio Amp
The Rockville 2ohm amplifier is easily one of the most popular models on the market. Its features are the main reason why. This amplifier is equipped with CEA compliant power ratings that are rated to keep its distortion at less than 1 percent, which means that its output is loud and clear.
Its low-pass filter attenuates low-frequency signals, whereas the adjustable 12dB bass equalizer lets you adjust its bass output to your taste. The RCA input accepts both balanced and unbalanced signals to balance them out and make the balanced signals less susceptible to noise.
Another essential feature of this model is its built-in delay soft start technology. It makes sure that the system isn’t turned on at full volume even if it was switched off at it, thereby reducing the chances of driver damage. The amp’s circuitry, meanwhile, is protected by a professional-grade peak limiter.
4. Rockford Fosgate R250X1 Prime 1-Channel Mono Block Amplifier
One-channel amplifiers are the best option for users who aren’t planning on getting a subwoofer or external speaker anytime soon. The Rockford Fosgate R250X1 is no different. It provides enough juice to power any two speakers (front or rear) at one time.
You can gauge by merely looking at its top-mounted control panel that it has all the options that you’d ever need to adjust this model’s output. Included there are Punch EQ switch, phase button and switches that let you adjust this model’s frequency and gain.
Among these options the Punch EQ deserves your attention the most. It will allow you to correct any anomaly in the speaker’s output that might be caused by anomalies in the car’s environment. This way you can be sure that your bass notes will stay vibrant and deep.
5. Skar Audio RP-2000.1D Monoblock Class D MOSFET Amplifier
The Skar Audio RP-2000 is one of those car amplifiers which don’t charge a king’s ransom for their high-end features. It is equipped with a Mosfet switch that takes care of any current loss by removing any excessive current from the system. Its huge power of 2000W shouldn’t be taken lightly as well.
To ensure that maximum current flows through the system at all times, Skar has provided this amp with ground input terminals and 4-way protection circuitry. The latter part does the extra work of protecting the system in the event of current overload.
Its heatsink design promotes easy ingress and exit of air through the system. This arrangement, therefore, neutralizes issues like heat build-up in the sink. Yet another sweetener is the remote subwoofer level control that this model provides in its package at no extra cost to you.
6. Pioneer GM-D8701 1600W Max 1-Channel GM Digital Champion Series Class-D
This car amplifier is an excellent option for those of you who are looking to power a subwoofer on a budget. Pioneer has empowered this amp with 1,600 watts of power, of which 800 watts will go straight to the sub, with the remaining 800 watts going to two speakers of your choice.
Its variable bass controls enable you to create the sound quality matching your music taste. The small design, as well as compact dimensions, meaning you can install this unit anywhere you want. There isn’t any compulsion that you only have to put it away in the trunk or under the seat.
The improved amplifier circuit protection that this model possesses prevents circuit breakdown as well as damage to the system in the event of an anomaly. It also senses the temperature within the unit at all times and automatically adjusts the input level when the temperature begins to rise.
7. Alpine MRV-F300 4-Channel Car Amplifier
Those of you who want an amp that provides not only good sound but also looks good might not appreciate the simple design of this model. However, if you prefer crisp sound over anything else and can make do with simple access dials, Alpine then deserves your attention.
One of the most significant advantages of this model is its (almost) universal compatibility. You’d rarely come across any speaker that cannot work alongside an Alpine amp. This means that it gives you the ability to enjoy a crossover of speaker systems, as well as a sub.
This Class D amp is also easy to install and provides a lot of power for its size. You can install it anywhere you want (under the seat, in the passenger side firewall, in the trunk etc.)
Car Amplifier Buying Guide
Picking the right amplifier for your car requires you to go through a two-step process. The first step will need you to answer several questions. These are inquiries that relate to the speakers you already have, the amp you’re going to have and your preferences when it comes to music.
The second step is related to the features of the amplifier. Some of the features are those that are essential to the unit’s performance. You can’t afford to miss them. Others are mere sweeteners. They are good to have, but your amp’s performance won’t nosedive without them.
Let us take you through the two-step process:
3 Vital Considerations When Buying a Car Amplifier?
Here are some of the questions you need to ask before you start searching for a car amplifier:
How many channels should my amplifier have?
The channels of an amplifier determine the number of power sources it has. How many channels you need depends on a) your plans for your car’s audio system in the present and b) your plans for your car’s audio system in the future. Let us explain.
Provided you have a subwoofer in your car, go for a 1-channel amp. Also referred to as single-channel or mono channel, they are compatible with subwoofer installations. These amps are designed such that they can quickly process low frequencies.
If you’re one of those persons who rarely use rear speakers, a 2-channel amplifier will be more than enough for you. Though you can also install them in such a way that they skip the front two speakers to power the rear ones.
There might come a time when, after impressed with the reviews of an external speaker, you might want to get it installed in your car. If you think there’s a chance that it may happen, get a 3-channel amp. It will take care of the front speakers and the sub.
If you want to let backseat passengers enjoy music as much as those sitting on the front, get a 4-channel amplifier. It will have one power source each for all four speakers. All car passengers will receive an equal supply of music.
If you’re once again worried about passengers in the backseat, get a 5-channel amp. It will supply power to all speakers (2 front and two rear) while reserving the fifth, high-powered channel for the subwoofer. You can get even more flexibility by investing in 6- and 8-channel amps.
How much power does my system need?
You need to find the ‘RMS power rating’ of your speakers to determine how much power your audio system needs. You can either go through your car’s owner manual (if you haven’t thrown it out), in which case you might need to consult its manufacturer’s website.
Once you have got that rating, you’d notice that it isn’t a definite number but a range. Both the ends of the range (low and high) are essential, but the higher one is more important. You need to make sure that the RMS power rating of your amp doesn’t exceed the speaker’s top RMS rating.
Compact coupes, sports cars and hatchbacks generally require amplifiers that are rated at least 50-watts RMS per channel/speaker. Larger vehicles need you to invest in amps that are capable of providing at least 75 watts RMS/channel.
Those of you who want their music loud regardless of the vehicle that they own – and have aftermarket speakers or subwoofers to fulfill their wish – might want to invest in amps with as much as 100 watts RMS or more per speaker.
Is the amplifier you’re looking at compatible with your head unit?
As some of you might already be aware of, your car’s head unit plugs into the amp, which then connects to your car speakers. That’s why the amplifier you’re looking at must be compatible with your head unit.
One common issue with factory-installed head units is that they don’t have preamp outputs. They, therefore, require an amplifier that would connect to their speaker level outputs. Only then the whole system (head unit – amp – speakers) will work as intended.
Provided your head unit has preamp outputs, make sure that you get an amp that incorporates line-level inputs. In comparison with their counterparts that incorporate speaker level inputs, they offer much better sound quality.
5 Most Important Car Amplifier Features and Specs
Following are the features and specs which almost all top-rated car amplifiers possess:
- Power-to-RMS ratio:
Experts tell us that you should only invest in those amps whose power output is at least 75 to 150 percent of your audio system’s RMS value. That would make sure that the amps have enough juice to power your audio system.
- Compact dimensions:
Having a model with compact dimensions won’t make it difficult for you to decide its installation location. Its small size will allow you to install it anywhere you want with minimal fuss.
- Speaker-level inputs:
Provided you’re going to add your amplifier to your factory audio system, look for one that comes with ‘speaker level inputs.’ These models let you install them without purchasing any extra electronic components and work with high-level speaker wiring.
- Sound quality:
You can go through the reviews left behind by its users to determine what to expect from the amp in terms of sound quality. High-quality amps produce crisp sound, and one that is clear and intelligible.
- Onboard equalizer:
Only the engineers who manufactured the amp would be satisfied with its built-in equalization. You’d have to fine-tune the sound settings based on your taste. That’s where an on-board equalizer will come handy.
Car Amplifier Types
Amplifiers can be classified into multiple types based on a) the number of channels and b) classes. Since we have already shed light on the first classification, let’s look at the multiple classes of car amplifiers.
- Pros: Clean output; low distortion; high fidelity
- Cons: Large and emit a lot of heat
Also known as ‘always on’ amplifiers, they are designed in such a way that their internal circuitry never stops the passage of current. This arrangement allows them to provide clean output and high fidelity while keeping distortion low. But they tend to be large and create a lot of heat.
- Pros: Emit less heat; compact
- Cons: Lower audio fidelity
These amps tend to be more compact than their Class A counterparts. Their size-to-sound-output ratio is also extremely efficient, and they produce less heat too. However, these amps do pose issues in the shape of signal distortion and lower audio fidelity.
- Pros: Dwarves Class A in terms of efficiency
- Cons: Produce more distortion than Class A
When compared with Class A and B amps, the Class A/B amps are more efficient than the former and produce less distortion than the latter. Turn this argument around, and that means that they produce more distortion than Class A and are less efficient than Class B amps.
- Pros: Extremely efficient
- Cons: More susceptible to distortion
Unlike the Class A, B and AB amps – all of whom are analog, the Class D amps are ‘switched.’ That means they turn on/off the signal that they pass to their transistors. This arrangement makes them extremely efficient but also makes them more prone to distortion.
What is the Difference Between RMS and Peak Watts?
RMS or root mean square refers to the power that your speaker can handle on a continuous basis. Peak watts, on the contrary, pinpoint the maximum power that the speaker is capable of handling in short bursts. Let us explain.
Assume for a moment your factory speaker has a 50W RMS rating and 100W peak rating. That means that while it would be able to run comfortably with an amp that can provide 50W power continuously, the speaker can also withstand sporadic bursts of up to 100W.
Since you’re going to connect an external amplifier to your speaker, you need to pay attention to both these metrics. Otherwise, if the peak power of the amp is higher than that of your speaker’s and you run music that’s too high on wattage, you might end up with damaged equipment.
Marine Amp Vs Car Amp Differences
Following are the differences between marine amp and car amp:
Marine amps offer features such as PA loudspeaker function, Bluetooth compatibility and remote and volume control that you usually don’t find in car amps. They also let you build a sound system with only an amp and no stereo.
Since their hardware has to withstand the extremes of weather conditions, marine-amps are coated with an additional sealing that prevents ingress of moisture. This coating keeps rust, corrosion and oxidation at bay. Some of them might be waterproof as well.
As the audio-signal source and remote-on wire source on cars is different from those on boats – and as boats/yachts use two or more batteries, there is a difference in wiring between the two as well.
The same coating that prevents the ingress of moisture in marine amps also stops heat from escaping. That isn’t the case with car amps, which is why they do a much more admirable job of heat dissipation.
Car Amp Vs Home Amp Sound Quality
Most of you would already know from hearing the sound coming out of both that home amps provide a better sound quality than their cousins residing in your cars. The reason as to why that’s the case might be lost on you. That’s where we chip in.
Most car amps you see in this review and on the market are designed to churn out music at 4 ohms. That isn’t the case with your home amps as they don’t have to factor in any environment volatility. This freedom from wear and tear lets them deliver music at 8 ohms.
Hence the reason why home amps (generally, not always) have a better sound quality than car amps.
Why do I Need an Amplifier?
Here are 4 reasons you could benefit from having an amplifier:
- Better sound quality:
Provided you’re an audiophile who loves deciphering any tiny detail in your music, an amplifier, by boasting the sound and drowning road noise, will improve your music’s intelligibility and clarity.
- Do justice to upgraded speakers:
An in-dash receiver or factory system may not provide enough juice to your upgraded speakers. These systems generally require more peak power than what stock systems can provide.
- Power a subwoofer:
Just like the upgraded speakers, the power requirements of subwoofers are head and shoulders above to what the in-dash stereo or factory system are capable of providing. You need a separate amp to power them.
- Increase the system’s headroom:
Looking for a system that could play sudden blasts of powerful music without causing any distortion? Then you have one more reason to invest in an amp.
Where Should I Mount My Amp?
Here are some excellent locations to mount your amp:
Under the Seat
Mounting the amp under the seat will ensure that it’s located close to the speakers as well as the receiver. That would mean that you’d have to use shorter signal and patch cables to connect the amp to the receiver. The proximity to the speakers will make running the wire to them easier as well.
On the flip side, the installation might be complicated as you may have to remove the seat. The space under the seat won’t be the biggest in the world, so there will be that limitation to the maximum size that you can go for in an amplifier.
In the Trunk
All the negative points that you’d face if you decided to install the amp under the seat will evaporate in thin air if you install it in the trunk. You can mount as large amps as your trunk space can spare. The amp will be closer to the rear speakers, and you can access its controls easily.
Unfortunately, not everything is going to be hunky-dory with this arrangement. You’ll be sacrificing some cargo space – which could be a huge problem for those who drive a hatchback as these cars’ trunks already have limited luggage space.
On the Passenger Side Firewall
There are multiple benefits to have if you decide to mount your amp on the passenger side firewall. You won’t have to run long patch cords and wires. There won’t be any need to hop into the trunk or spend hours trying to remove a seat.
Having said that, there is an excellent reason why most people don’t choose this location to mount their amp. Apart from the space issue – firewall tends to run small, you’ll be putting your amp right next to road noise sources. This might degrade its sound quality.
FAQs and Answers
- Q: What wiring accessories do I need to install an amp?
A: Since car amps don’t come with any wiring in their package, you’d have to purchase their power and ground wiring, speaker wires, RCA cables, a remote turn-on wire, and an inline fuse. Other accessories may also be needed depending on your amp’s manufacturer’s recommendations.
- Q: Why is my amp buzzing?
A: Some of the common amp buzzing sources include:
– Bad ground connection
– Amp’s gain is too high
– Loose wiring in your car
– Amp coming into contact with metal
- Q: Why is my amp overheating?
A: Your amp may overheat if its power is mismatched to the speaker’s – as too much power flowing from the speaker to the amp might cause the latter to overheat. The amp may also overheat if you had installed it under a carpet or upside down – thereby not giving its heat enough space to dissipate.
Most of you might have guessed by now that without a helping handing picking the best car amplifier can be quite a tricky task. Many things could go wrong if you choose to disregard expert advice and don’t take the factors mentioned above in your consideration.
However, since you have reached this far, we can expect that you won’t be putting a foot wrong in your pursuit of a car amplifier. The models mentioned above – as well as the subsequent buying guide and FAQs – should be enough for you to land your favorite model.
The abovementioned car amplifier reviews comprise so many diverse models that regardless of the vehicle you own, its manufacturer year and the sound system it may possess, you’d be able to find a model capable of meeting all your expectations.