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If you’re an audiophile, having a good car sound system is a luxury you’d go the extra mile to have. You’ve probably already looked into replacing your car’s factory speakers or have gotten around installing a subwoofer to improve the overall sound.
Now it’s time to complete your dream setup and give your sound its last needed boost with the perfect car amplifier.
But picking the right one out may be hard. The audio equipment market is bigger than ever. There is no shortage of car amplifier models being advertised as ‘the best one’ out there.
Here’s a piece of advice: the best car amplifier for one person may not be the best one for you. It’s all about finding one that will suit your needs and preferences the most.
So, buckle up and get ready to take notes as we guide you to finding the most suitable car amplifier that will complete your dream car audio system.
Our guide starts with a round-up of the car amplifiers we’ve found through hours of research and comparing. Take a look at each one’s specification and see which one appeals to you the most.
We’ve divided the list into three sections according to the model channel number: 2-channel, 4-channel and monoblock. They are the most common types of car amplifiers available in the market.
Channels will be discussed in-depth in the latter part of this guide.
Max: 1600W at 2 ohms
A 2-channel amplifier powerful enough to handle subwoofers?
The Boss Audio PT16oo Phantom is a 2-channel car amplifier of the A/B class. It can power two speakers or four subwoofers at 2 ohms due to its high peak power of 1600 Watts at 2 ohms. One of its features is switchable input sensitivity which provides adjustable control over input signal to achieve a balance between power and sound quality. This Class A/B amplifier also features a specific linear circuitry which reduces distortion while still improving efficiency.
Another feature of the Boss Audio PT1600 Phantom is its wired remote which lets the user control the subwoofer level for a more customized sound output. It also has a variable bass boost option which can give the user more control of the bass range that the amplifier produces.
Although marketed as compatible with subwoofers, we recommend that users be careful when using this Boss amplifier with subwoofers as they can quickly overheat given that they’re Class A/B amplifiers not technically-meant to run subwoofers.
Frequency Response:9 Hz to 50 kHz ±1 dB
Power Handling: Max: 1600 Watts at 2 ohms | RMS: 600 Watts at 2 ohms
Dimensions: L 14” x H 2.25” x W 10.31
Compatibility with clean sound to boot
This amp features Rockford’s C.L.E.A.N. technology (Calibrated Level Eliminates Audible Noise) ensuring the constant production of clean sounds.
Frequency Response:20-20,000 Hz
Power Handling:100 Watts at 4 ohms | 150 watts at 2 ohms | 300 watts at 4 ohms(Bridged)
Dimensions:L 8 13/16" x H 2 7/16" x W 9 15/16"
Power in a small package
The Rockford Fosgate R250X4 Prime is a bridgeable 4-channel car amplifier which main selling point is its power and small size. This makes it perfect for powering an audio system in a vehicle without much space to spare. It can power four speakers at an RMS of 40 Watts a piece making your car an unbelievable chamber of quality sounds.
It’s also a bang for the buck as its cast-aluminum material efficiently manages heat from use ensuring this amplifier’s longevity. What more the Rockford Fosgate R250X4 Prime also has a short circuit protection. But despite these features, we recommend that you also install a cooling fan along with this amplifier if you plan on regularly using it for long periods of time.
Frequency Response:20-20K Hz
Power Handling:40 Watts at 4-Ohms | 60 Watts at 2-Ohms | 125 Watts at 4-Ohms Bridged
Dimensions: W 11 ¼” x L 7 3/8”x H 2”
Versatile and compact
The Alpine MRV-F300 is a 4-channel car amplifier which boasts versatility and compactness. Although a 4-channel amplifier, the Alpine MRV-F300 can be run as a 3-channel amplifier to power a subwoofer along with two other speakers. It can also function as a 2-channel amp to power two speakers at an RMS of 150 Watts each. At its 4-channel setting, it can power four speakers at 50 Watts of RMS a piece.
Like the previous amplifiers, Alpine equipped this amplifier with a thermal protection feature. It also has a safety feature which enables the amplifier to cool itself (when on verge of overheating) without stopping from playing music.
Frequency Response: 20Hz-20kHz
Power Handling:50 Watts at 4 ohms | 70 Watts at 2 ohms | 150 Watts x 2 at 4 ohms (bridged)
Dimensions: W 7 7/8" x L 7 7/8" x H 2 3/16"
A powerful amp to make your bass pop!
Like its 4-channel counterpart, The Rockford Fosgate R500X1D is a sturdy car amplifier that packs on the features. This monoblock amplifier can power a subwoofer with an RMS 500 Watts making your bass really pop. With that power, you’ll definitely expect your amplifier to heat up. Well, Rockford Fosgate got you covered. The R500X1D is equipped with various protection features like its cast aluminum heatsink and power thermal sensing functions.
Frequency Response:20Hz to 250Hz
Power Handling:300 Watts at 4 ohms | 500 Watts at 2 ohms
Dimensions: W 7.7” x L 7.7” H 2.4”
Stable and powerful
Another monoblock car amplifier on our list is the Jl AudioRD1000/1 a compact but powerful equipment that is capable of producing what audio enthusiasts describe as ‘thunderous bass’ with its RMS of 1000 Watts. The Jl Audio RD1000/1 also boasts of a feature which eliminates harmful mid-range frequencies with a twist of a knob.
It manages to stably sustain this great bass sound for extended periods of time with help from its comprehensive heat-management system made of high-mass aluminum. Don’t let the price tag fool you into thinking that this powerful yet stable amp is not worth your time.
Frequency Response: Hz - 500 Hz (+0, -1dB)
Power Handling: 600 Watts at 4 ohms | 800 Watts at 3 ohms | 1000 Watts at 2 ohms
Dimensions: W 14.66" x L 6.96" x H 2.13"
Powerful as they come
With an RMS of 1200 Watts, the Pioneer Gm-D9601 is the most powerful amp we have on our list and it delivers.
That power rating isn’t just a marketing ploy. It translates to ear-popping bass from your subwoofer of choice. Not only that this amp has an adjustable audio frequency of 40 Hz to 240 Hz. You’d also be pleased to find that the Pioneer Gm-D9601 functions without a hitch even at low impedance levels.
Frequency Response:10 Hz to 240 Hz
Power Handling:500 Watts at 4 ohms | 800 Watts at 2 ohms | 1200 Watts at 1 ohm
Dimensions:W12 3/8" x L 2 3/8" x H 7 7/8"
More Control, more power
The Rockford Fosgate Prime R1200-1D may just give the Pioneer Gm-D9601 run for its money when it comes to power rating.
This monoblock car amplifier is said to have ‘packed more power per square inch into their Prime Class D amps than almost any other amplifier made’ as one audio equipment expert put it. Well with a 1200-Watt at 1 ohm RMS at barely 11 inches long, it better be.
But power isn’t the only thing this Rockford amp can offer users. It also boasts of allowing them extensive control over the sound with features like an expansive frequency response range and punch level control knob.
If the price isn’t an issue, this amp will be your best choice to power your subwoofer.
Frequency Response:20Hz to 250Hz
Power Handling:400 Watts at 4 ohms | 800 Watts at 2 ohms | 1200 Watts at 1 ohms
Dimensions: W 6.77" x L 11.06" x H 1.97"
Now that you have an idea of which models of car amplifier are proven and tested to be of great quality, let’s discuss what factors you should consider when making the final choice.
As a general rule, the number of channels determines the number of speakers a car amplifier is capable of handling. The most common channel types are 2-channel car amps, 4-channel car amps and monoblock car amps. Each has their own intended use along with corresponding pros and cons.
2-channel car amps
This type of car amplifier is usually used to power a pair of speakers and sometimes even to power subwoofers. Although this car amplifier has 2-channels, it can be wired to be bridged together and form one channel if you find that you only need to power one speaker.
Two-channel car amplifiers are also stereo (meaning they have a right and left output), unlike monoblock car amplifiers. Another perk of choosing them is that they are capable of producing a full spectrum of sound around 20-20,000 Hz.
4-channel car amps
Four-channel car amplifiers have similar features as the 2-channel amp except that the former can power a total of four speakers. Not only that, 4-channel amps are also bridgeable which allows them to power different car audio system configurations. They are most commonly used to power car door speakers.
Monoblock car amps
As the name implies, monoblock car amplifiers only have one channel through which it powers a speaker. They are also designed to power subwoofers, specifically. And because subwoofers need greater power to operate, monoblock-type amps are made to ensure maximum efficiency and power output first.
So, if you’re looking for power factory speakers or aftermarket speakers, buying individual monoblock amps is not recommended. They may be powerful, but they won’t make clean signals when paired with anything but subwoofers. This is because bass, which subwoofer’s are made to produce, doesn’t need to be processed so much to create high-quality sound.
There are other types of car amplifiers with different channel numbers but they are not as common as the above three. Five-channel car amplifiers are a cross between a 4-channel and a monoblock amplifier. This set up is best for more elaborate wiring systems. Meanwhile, a 3-channel amplifier is a mix of a 2-channel and a monoblock amplifier. And lastly, 6-channel amplifiers are preferred for more elaborate or specialized audio setups that includes more than four speakers.
The car amplifier for your audio setup is one that can sufficiently power your speakers. Thus, it is important to match your speakers with your amplifiers. The convenient technique is picking up your speakers first (unless you’re just looking to amplify your car’s factory speakers) and then buying an amplifier which can match the speaker’s power needs.
The RMS is a great determinant of how much power an amplifier is capable of and a great tool to match speakers with amplifiers. If you have factory speakers, an amplifier capable of at least 75 up to 150% of your speaker’s RMS will be sufficient.
(It’s also important to note the difference between RMS and Peak Power when matching up speakers and amplifiers.)
One common mistake people make in the power department is bridging a multi-channel amplifier to power a subwoofer instead of using a monoblock. Doing this is highly-discouraged. To know more about matching subwoofers and amplifiers properly, check out this helpful video from Sonic Electronix.
After looking at the list of the amplifiers above, you’re probably wondering what the class-type means and how they affect the sound your amplifier will produce. Amplifiers class, designated by letters A, B, A/B and D, are descriptions of an amplifier’s topology or how they function at the core level. The most common letter class of car amplifiers as evident in the list above are Class A/B and D. (Although many more letter classes are available.)
Class A/B Amplifiers
Class A/B amplifiers have come to be one of the most popular types in the market because they are a great compromise of the benefits of Class A and Class B amplifiers. They are efficient at operating at low levels and at the same time can keep the amplifier cool while operating at high power levels. Lastly, Class A/B amplifiers tend to be cheaper than its counterparts.
Class D Amplifiers
Class D amplifiers are popular because of their 90%+ efficiency. This is possible because unlike other amplifier class types, Class D amplifiers can rapidly switch output devices between the off and on stage. Another advantage of Class D amplifiers is their relatively light weight (of only a few pounds) and high power rating.
The last thing you’ll have to consider when choosing the car amplifier is what your current setup is or what your dream setup will look like.
For those who just want to add an amplifier to their current car audio system, you may want to look into buying a factory system upgrade.
Factory system upgrade kits include an amplifier together with other sound gears custom-designed to fit specific vehicle models. Buying these kits will eliminate some tedious decision-making processes and custom-fitting an amplifier to fit your car. However, they can get quite expensive usually retailing upwards of $600.
If you don’t want to spend that kind of money on car audio, we recommend that you get a compact 4-channel car amplifier to get better sound from your front and rear speakers. Just be sure to make the necessary measurement in your car first before you buy an amplifier.
For those who want to buy an amplifier to power an additional subwoofer, you’ll need a high power monoblock car amplifier to efficiently power it. Again, it is not recommended that you bridge together a 2-channel or 4-channel car amplifier to power a subwoofer as they won’t be able to handle a subwoofer’s low impedance operation and might cause overheating.
For those who want to build an audio car system from scratch, speaker-amplifier pairings will depend on the type of vehicle you have and the sound you’re looking for.
People who drive vehicles like a sports car or a small pickup will find that an amplifier with an RMS of 50 Watts per channel enough to drown out road noise and keep audio clear. Pair it with speakers that have at least 35 Watts RMS.
Meanwhile, people who drive bigger vehicles will find that an amplifier with an RMS of 75 Watts per channel paired with a speaker that has an RMS of 50 Watts per channel a great setup.
You’ll need additional tools if you are planning to install your new amplifier or audio setup personally.
Here are some of the things you might need:
Wiring an amplifier isn’t particularly difficult but those with no experience with electronics might find the task daunting at first. Check this helpful article to help you understand how to wire your amplifier.
You only have to keep one thing in mind when choosing the amplifier. It may seem overwhelming to choose among the thousands of models in the market. But always remember: the best one is the right mix of good price, great sound, and high compatibility.
If you’ve been window shopping for the best amplifiers, it’s very likely that you’re already familiar with the popular brands. But how do you compare them? If the budget is one of your main considerations, you start with the price.
Amplifiers can range from a couple of bucks to over $700. The price depends on a lot of factors, such as how many channels the amplifier offers, or its wattage, or its overall compatibility. All of this means that there is definitely at least one model from any brand that is on the lower end, and at least another on the mid-range or higher end of the price spectrum.
BOSS amplifiers, for example, has under $30 of car amplifier that features four channels at 400 watts, and another above $160 of car amplifier that features just one channel that can power 5000 watts. BOSS amplifiers are mostly on the lower to mid-range market prices.
On the other hand, Rockford Fosgate amplifiers are in the mid-range to the higher end. The cheapest Fosgate amplifier, the R150X2 Prime 2-Channel amp, would only set you back around $90. This offers just two channels, with a stability of 75 watts at 2-ohms. One of their most expensive amps, the Rockford Fosgate Prime, would cost you at least $700. This has quite the range of features like advanced over current and over circuit protection tech and is quite a powerful 4-channel amplifier.
On average, most amplifiers would cost you less than $300. While this may not seem like an insane amount of money, you still need to make sure that you get the car amplifier you like most for your budget and for your car’s sound system as well.
The channels in an amplifier refer to the number of speakers and subwoofer it could power. To keep it simple, a 2-channel amp could power a pair of speakers, a 3-channel amp could power a pair of speakers and a subwoofer, a 4-channel amp could power two pairs of speakers, and a 5-channel amp could power two pairs of speakers and a subwoofer.
Most of the car amplifier brands give their consumers the option to choose from 2 to 5-channel amplifiers. Pioneer has the well-reviewed GM-D8601, which is a mono-amplifier, the highly rated GM-D9605 which is a 5-channel amplifier, plus a wide variety of models for all other numbers of channels in between.
Kenwood amplifiers also have this range of amplifiers from the inexpensive KAC-9106D mono-amplifier to the five-starred Excelon X801-5 5-channel amplifier.
The general rule here is always to buy an amplifier that has more power than you need. While it’s true that speakers are blown by either too little or too much power, the number of speakers blown by too little power far outnumbers those that are blown by too much power. Artificially raising the power by turning up the gain would most definitely result in frying your speakers.
A car speaker’s power rating refers to the range of power it can receive. Speakers would sound good with at least 75% of this maximum power rating, but most speakers could take as much as 150% of the power rating indicated. For pairs, you’d want to follow the lower power rating. Your amplifier should be enough to give at least 75% and at most 150% of your speaker’s power rating.
Impedance, or the ohm rating, is also quite important in matching speakers and amps. Specifications would usually indicate a minimum ohm limit, so this makes it easy to find a compatible amplifier. Never plug a speaker with lower impedance than what is indicated on the amplifier.
The measure of how loud a speaker would be from a distance of one meter away and with a power of one watt is called sensitivity, and is measured in decibels (dB). There is a logarithmic relationship between wattage and sensitivity, so increasing the power of the amplifier by 100% would only raise the sensitivity or sound pressure level (SPL) by only 3dB. For most people, however, this isn’t a big deal. If you’re not one to blast high-volume music all the time, sensitivity is just a small consideration.
It’s no good if it doesn’t fit, so make sure you get the right size for your car. The size of the amps is not proportional to their power, and even the smallest amps can trump the larger ones when it comes to quality of sound.
If there’s one thing most experts agree about, it’s that you should definitely pay those extra bucks for the warranty of your amplifier. If you’ve invested on your speaker set-up, it’s important to make sure that your components are bought only from authorized dealers and resellers. If you do not have warranties from authorized sellers, service centers may refuse to replace parts and repair your components. Warranties could cost more initially, but they could protect you from additional charges in installations, replacements and repairs.
Your dream car audio system is not far from reach. Adding the perfect amplifier to your system might be the final push it needs.
The task of finding the best car amplifier might be daunting, but all it takes is taking notes of a few considerations like channel number, power rating and system compatibility.
We hope this guide has been helpful in your quest of quenching your thirst for good audio.
Simon graduated with a Mechanical and Electrical Engineering Degree. He has over 20 years of servicing experience in both Japanese and German car dealerships. He now acts as a freelance mechanic's instructor for local schools.
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