What is an amplifier and how do I tune my system?
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 Amplifier essentially takes your media output from your head unit and boosts that signal to power a 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 JL Audio VXi Series 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 car.
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 from top manufacturers like JL Audio, Alpine, and Kicker.
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 amplifier is not always easy and your amplifier 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 amplifier 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 an amplifier. As an example a speaker with a 100Watt, 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 amplifier 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 amplifiers. An amplifier that is 750W @ 2ohms might only generally be 500W @ 4ohms. When purchasing an amplifier, the correct pairing of a speaker’s RMS wattage and Ohm ratings with an amplifier’s output power 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.
Frequency Response: Frequencies are measured in Hertz or Hz for short. The frequency response of your amplifier will generally fall between 20Hz and 22kHz. At 20Hz the sound spectrum begins. Every time you double your frequency you move up one octave in scale. 20Hz to 40Hz covers the first Octave, 40Hz to 80Hz covers the next octave and so on. Subwoofer drivers are generally tuned to crossover at 80Hz. This can depend on the subwoofer type and the type of music you listen to.
Door speakers can range in frequency response generally starting around 30Hz in the low end. A door speaker that starts around 30Hz is going to be your everyday door speaker that won’t bump the low end like a sub but will reproduce audible clear low end nonetheless. Door speakers that start higher in the sound spectrum at a frequency around 65Hz or higher are built and designed to work with subwoofers. These types of door speakers are missing at least the 1st octave and a half of music. Setting up your amplifier to crossover and pass the right frequencies to the right drivers is absolutely essential. Incorrect setup or pairing of the wrong amplifier with your speakers can do serious damage to your speaker drivers.
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 amplifier 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 amplifier, for your subwoofer.
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 the 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 amplifier and what kind of functionality do you want from it? Will your amplifier 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. Now you can put everything onto a USB thumb drive as a media option.
Whatever functionality you need from your amplifier and whatever your level of interest is in improving the sound quality of your vehicle, Jackson Tint and Sound has amplifier options you need around your budget from brands like JL Audio, Alpine, Kicker and more.