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How to Install a Car Amplifier

How to install a car amplifier

Learning how to install a amplifier in your car is easy. All you need is the the proper supplies, a couple of hours, and the willingness to pull off some panels from your car. Once you have all of that, follow the steps below to begin installing your new amplifier!


Confirm all your gear is compatible

Before you even think about installing your new amplifier, it is important to make sure that your gear is compatible.
Car Amplifier – Will it phonically fit in your car? How are you going to run signal to the amp from the car stereo?
Power / Ground cable – Is it the recommended gauge for the amplifier?

Do you have the right wire?

You will want to make sure that your amplifier installation kit includes the right sized power and ground cable. A general rule of thumb is the following:

Wattage of all amps Recommended Wire Gauge
up to 400 watts 8 AWG
400 to 1000 watts 4 AWG
1000+ watts 0/1 AWG


Mount the Amplifier

This is important because the location of your amplifier will determine how long your runs of wire are. Typical locations for an amplifier are under seats, in the trunk, or even mounted to the subwoofer box. However you mount the amplifier, make sure that it is secured to the car. Most amplifiers will come with mounting directions. For most installations where you are putting the amp on carpet, you can slide a piece of MDF under the carpet to screw the amp into.


Run Power and Ground wire

The first set of wires you will run is the power and ground. This will provide the power to turn on your amplifier and ensure proper grounding. The power cable (positive) is run from the positive terminal of your car battery to the positive input terminal on the car amplifier. Your ground cable (negative) is run from the negative terminal on the amplifier to a grounding point on the vehicle. A proper grounding point will ideally be joined to the chassis of the vehicle.


Give the Amplifier signal

Once the amplifier has power, you will need to give it signal and tell the amp when to turn on. From the back of aftermarket car stereo, connect the RCA interconnect cables and then run them to amp. It is highly recommended that you run the RCA cables along the opposite side from which you ran the power cable. This will prevent any noise or interference that can transit from the power cable into the RCA signal. Once the RCAs have been run to the amplifier, plug them into the appropriate RCA input.

Next, run the remote turn-on wire from the car stereo to the amplifier. This is the small 16 gauge wire that cam in your amp kit. It will need to be connected to the remote turn-on wire from the wire harness on the back of the stereo. Run this wire with the RCA cables and insert it in the remote turn on input terminal on the amplifier. This will tell the amplifier to turn on when the car stereo turns on.


Connect amplifier to speaker or subwoofer

Now that the amplifier is powered and is receiving signal from the car stereo, it is time to send that signal to the loudspeakers. Run the speaker wire from the amp terminals to the terminals on the speakers or subwoofer. As a general rule of thumb, I recommend using 12 AWG wire for subwoofers and 16 AWG wire for speakers.

If you are connecting subwoofers, double check the wiring configuration to make sure that the impedance between the sub and amp match.


Test Everything

At this point you should everything connected and wired properly. Turn the car on and play a track on the stereo. You should be able to hear sound coming from the loudspeaker connected to the amplifier. If you don’t hear anything, you will have to trouble shoot the installation and find out whats wrong. If it is playing music, then you can turn the car off and put everything back together.

That’s it! If you can install an amplifier in your car, then you can install pretty much any other type of aftermarket car audio gear.

Pro tips!

    For first time installers, disconnect the negative batter terminal to prevent any electrical issues before or after the installation.

  • Dry fit everything before mounting the amplifier. This is ensure that the amplifier will fit and the wires are long enough.
  • Tune your amplifier! Once you confirm that the amplifier is functioning properly, spend some time tuning the amp to make it sound better.


Best Car Stereos

Best Car Stereos

There is a lot of debate and opinions for what is the best car stereo. Realistically, this is a tricky question to answer because each person (and vehicle) has different needs. Instead of giving just one option that I think is the best car stereo, I’ll list out my favorite receivers in different groups. Hopefully this will help you find the best stereo for your car and application.

Best Budget Car Stereo

As far as I’m concerned, any car stereo under $100 should be considered a budget stereo. Of course there are really cheap car stereos that you can buy at Wal-Mart for $45, but there is a big difference between cheap stereos and budget stereos. My favorite budget car stereo is the Pioneer DEH-X4900BT.

Pioneer DEH-X4700BT

This is a name brand, Bluetooth car stereo with tons of features for under $100. It's got a CD drive, front USB, front aux input, Spotify support, and is both Android & iPhone compatible. It is also compatible with Pioneer's ARC (Advanced Remote Control) App for simplified stereo control from a connected smartphone.

Best Audiophile Car Stereos

I don’t think that this will be any surprise here. My pick for the best audiophile car stereo is the Pioneer Stage 4 DEX-P99RS. It features tons of sound quality features such as L/R Independent 31-Band Digital Equalizer, Auto Time Alignment and Auto EQ, 32-Bit Binary Floating-Point DSP, and much more.

Pioneer DEX-P99RS

This is a high-end, audiophile car stereo with tons of advanced features designed to let the user fine tune the sound quality. From a 31-band EQ to a 32-bit DSP, this stereo does it all.

Best Car Stereo for Navigation

When it comes to a navigation receiver, the clear winner is Kenwood. Typically I’m not a big fan of Kenwood for a variety of reasons, but their navigation with Garmin is really the best. My choice for best navigation receiver is the Kenwood eXcelon DNX693X. The Garmin interface is easy to use and the navigation is near flawless. It also features a 6.2″ touchscreen display (there are still buttons and knobs), smartphone connectivity and MHL connections, as well as complete Bluetooth functionality.

Kenwood eXcelon DNX693s

This is a full featured 6.1 inch navigation receiver that features the famous Garmin navigation, as well as iPhone/Android support, MHL/HDMI connectivity, parking guide lines, and many more features.

Best Car Stereos for Smartphones

With the release of newer technology like Android Auto and Apple CarPlay, it is pretty easy to see the Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX is the clear winner. Most notable is the Android Auto and Apple CarPlay functionality that enables advanced connection of a smartphone to the car stereo with a very intuitive user interface. For those iPhone users out there with Siri, the AVIC-8200NEX has complete Siri control for true hands free control of the stereo and phone.

Pioneer AVIC-8200NEX

This is a flagship stereo from Pioneer that features complete control with Apple and Android devices by using Apple CarPlay and Android Auto respectively. Both of these applications provide superior control of the smartphone directly from the receiver.


Types of Amplifiers

There are several types of amplifiers used in car audio systems that are unique to different purposes and types of installations. It is important to install the proper amplifier to ensure the speakers sound the best, warranties are not voided, and equipment doesn’t get damaged. The following sections outline the various types of amplifiers primarily used for car audio installations.

Amplifiers by Class

Each car audio amplifier has a class that defines the topology, or how the amplifier’s circuits are designed to amplify a passing current. The amp class can define the size of the amp, the efficiency, and the overall sound quality of the amplifier’s output.

  • Class A/B Amps – This is the most traditional class for amplifier. These amps are moderately efficient, usually have a larger chassis, and traditionally have the best sound quality.
  • Class D Amps – This is a newer amplifier design that is becoming very popular due to the smaller chassis, high efficiency, and relatively good sound quality.

Amplifiers by Channel

The most common way to separate types of car amplifiers is by channel, or how many different sets of speakers the amplifier can power. For example, a 1 channel amplifier is great for powering 1 speaker and a 4 channel amplifier is best for powering 4 speakers. It is most common for the single channel amplifiers to power a subwoofer and the multi-channel amplifiers power the speakers.

  • 1-Channel Amps – These are most common for subwoofer installations and often are designed for processing low frequencies. These amps are also referred to as monoblock or single channel.
  • 2-Channel Amps – Most commonly used to power 2 full range speakers in the front stage or the rear fill. Occasionally it is more cost effective to bridge the two channels together and turn the two channel amp into a single channel for subwoofers.
  • 3-Channel Amps – These amps are not as common, but are highly sought after for installations that are comprised of a subwoofer and two full range speakers. Three channel amps typically have a single channel dedicated to a subwoofer (with low frequency filters) and the other two channels dedicated to a front right/left speaker pair.
  • 4-Channel Amps – Most commonly used to power the front right/left and rear right/left speakers.
  • 5-Channel Amps – The all-in-one amplifier that has four channels designed for the front and rear speakers and the fifth channel reserved for the subwoofer.
  • 6-Channel Amps – An amp used more frequently in the marine environment when the installation requires powering speakers in the boat and on a wake tower.

Amplifiers by Feature

Another way that amplifiers can be organized is by the unique features and technology. Amplifier manufacturers are always trying to find new innovative ways to make installation easier, set-up/tuning faster and simpler, and be the first to launch new amplifier tech. While the basic function of the amp stays the same (that is, to amplify an audio signal), these convenience features could make or break an amp.

  • Micro Amplifiers – These amplifiers are uniquely designed to fit in small areas, such as near the spare tire, in a glove boxes, behind the dash, or inside a motorcycle fairing. Due to the power inputs and physical size constraints, these amps typically don’t put out insane amounts of power, but most of them will fit the needs of the average car audio installation.
  • Bluetooth Amplifiers – Bluetooth amplifiers allow users to send an audio signal from a source unit to the amplifier without running additional cables. In a traditional car audio set up, this means that a set of RCA cables would not need to be run from the headunit to the amplifier and would instead simply connect via Bluetooth. The more common application is to forget the headunit completely and just steam directly from a smartphone or tablet. For custom iPad in-dash installations, Bluetooth amplifiers are perfect because installation is simple and the installer doesn’t need to use a bunch of additional adapters. These amps are also great for ATVs, UTVs, and other vehicles where a smartphone is more convenient to use.


How to Wire Two Dual 2 ohm Subwoofers to a 2 ohm Impedance

Wiring two dual 2 ohm subwoofers to a final impedance of 2 ohms can be achieved by wiring the voice coils together in series/parallel.

This is a popular wiring method used because the subwoofers are able to maintain the stable 2 ohm impedance, while being able to receive more wattage from the amplifier than the conservative 4 ohm wiring configuration. The wiring method is also very simple to do by wiring the voice coils together in series and the subwoofers together in parallel.

Subwoofer Wiring Steps:

1Connect a positive terminal on sub 1 to a positive terminal on sub 2

2Connect a negative terminal on sub 1 to a negative terminal on sub 2

3Use a short wire jumper to connect the remaining positive terminal to the remaining negative terminal on sub 1

4Use a short wire jumper to connect the remaining positive terminal to the remaining negative terminal on sub 2

5Connect the positive terminal from step 1 to the amplifier terminal

6Connect the negative terminal from step 2 to the amplifier terminal

At this point you should have the two subwoofers connected together by a positive and negative terminal. This is wiring the subwoofers together in ‘parallel’. The jumper cable that connects the positive and negative terminals on each woofer is called wiring the voice coils in ‘series’. Together, this is called wiring in ‘series/parallel’ and is a great way to maintain two dual 2 ohm subwoofers at a 2 ohm final impedance.


For more information on subwoofer wiring diagrams and other diagrams, please visit the main Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams page.


How to Wire a Dual 2 ohm Subwoofer to a 1 ohm Impedance

Dual 2 ohm Subwoofer Wired to 1 ohm

Wiring a dual 2 ohm subwoofer to a final impedance of 1 ohms can be achieved wiring the voice coils together in parallel.

This is a very common wiring method used by those that really want to push their subwoofer and amp to the limits for heavy bass. Since the 1 ohm final impedance is not as stable as 2 ohm or 4 ohm configurations, it is commonly recommended by professionals to only wire to a single ohm for you know what you are doing.

Subwoofer Wiring Steps:

1Connect both positive terminals on the subwoofer

2Connect both negative terminals on the subwoofer

3Connect a positive subwoofer terminal to the positive terminal on the box

4Connect a negative subwoofer terminal to the negative terminal on the box

At this point you should have all the postive terminals connected together and all the negative terminals wired together. This method is called ‘series’ wiring and enables the dual 2 ohm subwoofer to achieve a 1 ohm final impedance.


For more information on subwoofer wiring diagrams and other diagrams, please visit the main Subwoofer Wiring Diagrams page.

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