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Amplifiers are the power plant of your car stereo system. They may be built to exist in the head unit and they are included on active speakers. Amplifiers are usually found externally as stand alone units between your head-unit and your speaker driver in the signal flow process. They come in various power output levels called watts. The amp essentially takes your media output from your receiver and boosts that signal to power a speaker driver. If your vehicle has an upgraded factory sound system like a Bose, Alpine or JBL then you most likely have a factory amplifier. Real Time Analyzation, or RTA tuning and time correction can make a dramatic difference in the final sound quality of your car stereo system and should be taken into consideration when updating the amplifier in your car.
Some amplifiers like the JL Audio VXi Series have built in time correction and tuning capabilities like a 9 band parametric equalizer per output channel. Amplifiers like the VXi amps have in depth tuning capability and are especially great for today’s newer cars with infotainment systems that are difficult to replace. RTA tuning is a process of time measuring the distance between the listening position and each speaker, and then measuring the frequency response of your speakers and your vehicles acoustic properties. After analyzing this information we can then begin to make real time adjustments with crossovers, parametric EQ’s and level balancing. When finished, the optimum tuned system will have the sound from each individual driver reach the listening position at the same time. Each speaker would be optimally level balanced to be the same volume and to reproduce all frequencies as flat as possible with adjustments to fight the acoustical imbalances of your vehicle.
Adding or replacing your amplifier?
Did your car stereo’s amplifier finally bite the dust? Do you want to level up on your car stereo game? Do you just require an upgrade in sound quality or do you just want some low end funk in your trunk? Whatever your reason may be Jackson Tint and Sound can help you pick out the right amplifier and provide you with simply the best professional installation within your budget.
Location: Finding a home for your car stereo amplifier can be a challenge. A great go to first spot is under a seat but, will the amplifier’s height allow clearance to be mounted there? Will you be able to raise it up off the floor a bit to keep it away from moister? Will all the wires be safe from moving parts? Will the rear passenger’s feet hit the amplifier? Finding a location to mount your car or truck amp is not always easy and is not something you want moving around or near water. A good amplifier location should be dry, secured, vented and protected.
RMS power: The RMS power rating of any car-amp is the continuous power rating that the amplifier is designed to output at a maximum volume rating. The RMS rating is one of two numbers to go by when pairing your speakers with a power-plant. As an example a speaker with a 100-Watt, or 100W for short, RMS rating should be paired with a 100W RMS amplifier. We usually recommend an amplifier to be over powered by 10 – 20% RMS so that the amplifier does not have to work at 100% capacity to get 100% efficiency from your speakers. This will keep your amp from overheating during long periods of continuous operation.
Ohms: The Ohm rating, or resistance rating, of an amplifier is the second most important when pairing drivers with power-plants. An amp that is 750W @ 2-ohms might only generally be 500W or less @ 4-ohms. When purchasing a car stereo amp, the correct pairing of a speaker’s RMS wattage and Ohm ratings with the correct power-plant output rating is absolutely essential.
Signal to Noise Ratio or S/N: The measurement of volume in any sound system is noted by the Decibel, or dB for short. 6dB is perceived by the human ear to be double the volume. 96dB is essentially twice as loud as 90dB. With that said, the S/N ratio of your car stereo amplifier is the measurement of dB’s between the inherent noise produced by the electronics within the amplifier and the level of amplified source volume. The S/N rating is by all means a measurement of how quiet that piece of audio gear is. It is a measurement of separation.
Every piece of audio electronics will have an induction of noise and should have a S/N ratio measurement in the specifications. Noise is usually introduced during the analog to digital, or A/D for short, and digital to analog, or D/A for short, conversions. Every time a piece of your car car stereo gear has to make this conversion noise is introduced into your sound system. Analog amplifiers can be noisy due to the analog electronics amplifying the input signal. Digital amplifiers eliminate this noise but still have some noise in the A/D and D/A converters.
A car stereo amplifier with a S/N ratio of 90db will hiss twice as loud than an amplifier with a 96db S/N ratio when silent. Essentially this rating transmits to unwanted hum and hiss from your speakers and degradation in the quality of your car stereo speaker system's performance. Some amplifiers like the JL Audio VXi Series have Toslink optical inputs for connecting digitally to other Toslink devices. This keeps the incoming audio signal clean and reduces numerous analog to digital conversions. When comparing differences between multiple amplifiers of equal wattage, the S/N ratio should be taken into consideration when budgeting for an amplifier.
So Many Choices, Where Do I Begin?
Budget: With more affordable and moderately priced amplifier options from Kicker and Alpine to the high end audiophile quality of JL Audio’s VXi series amplifiers, the cost of installation is the same. Even if you are one of the do-it-your-self type, the effort required is still the same. Spending an extra $100 to $200 for an amp could very well last longer, will usually sound better, and will generally keep you satisfied with your car stereo purchase for years to come.
How many channels do you need? Are you going to amplify your door speakers or just your subwoofer? Maybe both? If so you need a 5ch amp. Maybe a 5ch amp won’t give you the power rating you desire for your subwoofer. If so you need a 4ch amplifier for your door speakers and a monoblock, single channel power plant for your sub.
RMS and Ohms: Is the power rating and resistance rating going to match the ratings of your door speakers and subwoofer? Will your amplifier produce at least the RMS level of your drivers? Balancing your amplifier power and resistance ratings with your speakers is critical to the design and budgeting of your car stereo for correct operation.
Functions and Capabilities: Why are you replacing or adding an amp and what kind of functionality do you want from it? Will it be exposed to water, dust or salt? Marine grade amplifiers for these applications one might find in a boat, convertible or an ATV are specially designed to be water resistant and host corrosive resistant components and added protection from salt water, dust and debris.
Essentially no matter what speakers, amplifiers or subwoofers you have in your car these devices only sound as good as the quality of the source media and the dedication to building them. Pairing a full set of JL Audio speakers and subwoofers for instance with a Pioneer amplifier is a waste of your JL Audio speaker system's potential. With that said, your amplifier will only sound as good as your media type. Compressed audio from an MP3 streaming over BT will never sound as good as a 16bit 48kHz audio file, like what you would find on a CD, or a 32bit 96kHz high quality audiophile format, like what you would generally find on a Blu-Ray disc or now FLAC files. Now you can even put everything onto a USB thumb drive as a media option.