Every car sound system has an amplifier of some sort, but most of them are built into the headunits, and they’re typically nothing to write home about in comparison to their external counterparts. If you’ve ever cranked up the volume on your receiver and noticed that your speakers are distorting, one of the main culprits is the underpowered, built-in amp. Your speakers’ power handling characteristics are definitely part of the picture, but a powerful amp can do wonders even in a stock situation.
Many people who are looking to upgrade their car audio system have no idea where to start and often go with the most visible option first — a new aftermarket receiver. While a new receiver can relatively enhance overall sound quality, it’s the speakers and amplifiers that are the key to making a night and day difference.
Choosing the best car amplifier isn’t an easy task. There’s a wide variety of types, features and prices, which makes choosing the right amplifier a challenge. That’s why you need to figure out what your needs are.
To help you make the right call, we’ve put together this resource – a one-stop-shop, all-inclusive buying guide so you can make an informed buying decision.
Best Car Amplifiers Reviews
1- Rockford Fosgate Prime R1200-1D Review
- Variable low-pass filter (50-250 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Variable subsonic filter (15-40 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Variable Punch bass boost (0-18 dB at 45 Hz)
- Included wired remote Punch Level Control
- Class-D amplifier design
- MOSFET power and output stages
- Frequency response: 20-250 Hz
- Preamp-level inputs and outputs
|Dimensions||11-1/8"W x 2"H x 7-3/8"D|
|Number of channels||1|
|Frequency response||20-250 Hz|
When it comes to car amplifiers, Rockford Fosgate is probably one of the most legendary. They’re one of the most reputable brands in the car audio industry. They’ve been around for a very long time, and have mastered the art of providing quality audio component for reasonable prices.
Rockford Fosgate offers a wide range of reasonably priced car amps. Their car amplifiers come in three general categories labeled “Prime”, “Punch”, and “Power”. Amps in the “Prime” category are the entry-level amps while those in the “Power” series are company’s high-end amps. More of a middle-of-the-road line of amplifiers, the “Punch” series which offer a great value for the buck.
The R1200-1D is one of the best car amplifiers in the Rockford-Fosgate Prime series of amps. With this class D monoblock amp is designed to respond quickly to the peak demands that you may throw at your sound system. It’ll put out 400 watts RMS to a 4-ohm sub, but will crank out 1,200 watts RMS when it’s running a 1-ohm subwoofer setup.
Rockford Fosgate R1200-1D is an ultra-efficient mono amplifier thanks to its Class-D circuitry. It’s designed to deliver rich, full bass to any system. It’s featured with variable low-pass and subsonic filters, Rockford Fosgate’s famous Punch bass boost, as well as a wired remote Punch level control. It also has preamp-level inputs and outputs so you can hook it up to almost any stock or aftermarket car receiver.
All in all, the R1200-1D is a solid amplifier for the price. It has plenty of power, it runs cool, and most importantly, it has no distortion whatsoever.
2- Rockford Fosgate Punch P1000X2 Review
- Variable high- and low-pass filter filter (50-250 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Variable PEQ2 bass/treble boost (0-18 dB at 45 Hz and 0-14 dB at 12.5K Hz)
- C.L.E.A.N. gain setup system includes test tone CD
- Class-AB amplifier design
- Dynamic Thermal Management and MEHSA MOSFET cooling systems
- MOSFET power and output stages
- Preamp inputs and outputs
- Speaker-level inputs (speaker wire to RCA adapter required)
- Signal-sensing turn-on with speaker-level inputs eliminate need for remote turn-on lead
|Dimensions||15-1/8"W x 2-7/16"H x 7-13/16"D|
|Number of channels||2|
|Frequency response||20-20k Hz|
If you’re looking for a 2 channel amplifier, we can’t think of a better option than the Punch P1000X2. It’s one of the best performing Rockford Fosgate Punch series 2 channel amplifier.
With its outrageous output stage, this 2-channel amp is well-suited for driving a pair of power hungry speakers or subwoofers, filling your ride with plenty of loud, clean music. This versatile amp can also be switched into mono mode to drive a single sub with up to 1000 watts RMS.
This 2 channel amp is featured with high-pass filter to keep the low bass out of your speakers so that they perform more efficiently. It also has built-in low-pass filter to send the correct low frequencies to your sub(s). Furthermore, this amp has preamp inputs and outputs, as well as variable Punch EQ2 bass/treble boost, in case you want to add a little boom and sizzle back into the mix.
Rockford Fosgate Punch P1000X2 sports C.L.E.A.N. setup (Calibrated Level Eliminates Audible Noise), which is meant to help you match a source to amp, optimize output, and ensure that your music will sound as clean and powerful as possible. It works like this:
- You play the included test CD
- Then you adjust the receiver volume until a red clip light on the amp turns off
- Turn the amp gain up until a blue light comes on.
And you’re done. It’s that simple — your amplifier is now set to match your receiver’s output.
If the Blue stays Red while you’re playing your music, that means the amp is telling you that it’s not well-matched to the source, and you should turn it down to prevent damage.
3- Alpine MRV-F300 Amp Review
- Variable high- and low-pass filters (50-400 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Selectable bass boost (+12 dB at 50 Hz) on channels 3 & 4
- MOSFET power supply
- Preamp and speaker-level inputs
- Remote Sensing automatic turn-on when using speaker-level inputs
- Gold-plated screw terminals
|Dimensions||8-1/4"W x 2-3/16"H x 7-15/16"D|
|Number of channels||4|
|Frequency response||20-20k Hz|
Alpine is another well-recognized names in the car audio industry. They’re offering a wide range of car audio components including speakers, subwoofers, headunits and amplifiers.
Alpine MRV-F300 is one of the best car amplifiers that you can buy. This compact 4-channel amp is quite versatile. Alpine made this amp so small that you can mount it almost anywhere in your car.
In 4-channel mode, this amp can deliver 50 watts RMS to each of your car’s front and rear speakers. It can also be switched to 3-channel mode to power a subwoofer with 150 watts RMS while driving a pair of aftermarket speakers with 50 watts each. Furthermore, the MRV-F300 can be switched to 2-channel mode and send up to 150 watts RMS each to a pair of subwoofers.
This amp features an advanced thermal protection technology called “Enhanced Shutdown Performance” to prevent annoying shut-downs. This technology works by slightly rolling back the output when the amp is about to overheat from playing at its limit for too long. So, instead of completely shutting down, the amp continues powering your speakers or subs, until it cools down enough to return to full power.
The Alpine MRV-F300 is featured with high- and low-pass filters so that your speakers and subs can play efficiently and sound their best. It also features a bass boost so you can apply some extra low-end punch. This amp comes with preamp- and speaker-level inputs, so you can hoot it up to almost any receiver, even a factory-installed one.
4- Rockford Fosgate Prime R600X5 Review
- Variable high- and low-pass filters (50-250 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Selectable Punch EQ bass boost (0, 6, 12 dB at 45 Hz)
- Class AB amp technology
- Variable low-pass filter, always engaged (50-250 Hz, 12 dB/octave)
- Variable bass boost (0-12 dB at 45 Hz)
- Class D amp technology
- Remote Punch level control included
- preamp and speaker-level inputs
|Dimensions||13-1/4"W x 2"H x 7-3/8"D|
|Number of channels||5|
|Frequency response||20-20k Hz|
If you’re looking for an amp that is so versatile that it can power an entire car audio system, then the Rockford Fosgate Prime R600X5 is a great option to consider. It’s one of the best 5-channel amplifier in its price range.
This 5-channel amplifier can drive 4 speakers with 50 watts RMS each, while powering a subwoofer with up to 300 watts RMS. It can be switched into 2 channel mode to power a pair of power hungry component speakers with 150 watts RMS each, while still sending that 300 watts to a sub.
Rockford Fosgate R600X5 features a heavy cast-aluminum chassis which efficiently dissipate heat away from the amp’s internal component, ensuring reliable, and long term performance.
Speaking of long-lasting performance, this amp is incorporated with built-in sensors to keep track of the output current and power supply temperature, ensuring that short circuit and plunging impedances won’t damage your amp.
The R600X5 amp comes with variable high- and low-pass filters. It also comes with Rockford Fosgate’s famous selectable Punch EQ bass boost to get maximum performance from your speakers and sub. Additionally, this amp has speaker-level inputs so you can hook this amp up to almost any system, even a factory stereo.
Why Add a Car Audio Amplifier?
Some people think that amplifiers are just for seasoned audiophiles or bassheads who want the whole world to hear their bass. In reality, an amplifier is for anyone who cares about great sound quality and awesome music. A powerful amp will breathe life into your music, bringing out all of its excitement and detail. Here are some benefits to adding an amplifier to your car audio system.
- Better sound quality — If you want to get the best sound out of your car audio system, it’s vital that you don’t underpower your speakers. Under-powered speakers means low sound quality and distortion. External amplifiers are quite powerful when compared to their counterparts built into in-dash car stereos. They’re designed to give you a clean power source that can drive your speakers without straining.
- Power for aftermarket speakers — If you’ve upgraded your factory-installed speakers, it’s highly unlikely that your in-dash receiver will not do justice to your upgraded speakers. Aftermarket car speakers, especially component ones require more power for peak performance than what a factory or even an aftermarket receiver can put out.
- Powering a subwoofer — Subwoofers require a ton of power that no factory-installed or aftermarket in-dash receiver can provide. If you’re adding a subwoofer to your car audio system then a powerful outboard amp is a must.
Types of Car Amps
External amps are categorized by the number of channels they have. There are mono channel amps, and multi-channel amps. Multi-channel amplifiers come in 2-channel, 3-channel, 4-channel, 5-channel, and 6-channel varieties. A channel is an electronic circuitry output used to provide power to a single speaker.
Car amps with multiple channels can be used to power multiple speakers at once, while mono amps can only power one speaker at a time. The right number of channels will depend on how many speakers you have in your audio system.
- Mono channel amps — These single channel amps are designed for subwoofers. They’ll work with a wide range of impedances. They have a variety of controls and filters specifically made for bass reproduction. Furthermore, mono-channel amps will typically produce more power than multi-channel amps, which makes them ideal for low-frequency applications since the human ear cannot distinguish stereo in the extreme bass range.
- Two-channel Amps — Mutiple channel amp are more versatile than mono channel amps. For example a 2-channel amp can be used to power a pair of speakers like the ones in your car’s front doors. It can also be bridged (combine the power output of its two channels into one channel) to power a subwoofer.
- Three Channel Amps — 3-channel amps are basically a 2-channel amp and a monoblock amp combined. They’re most commonly used to power an entire audio system in 2-door truck, or other compact vehicles with very limited space. You’ll find 3-channel amps used to power the front-door speakers and a subwoofer in a budget system. 3-channel amps can not be bridged.
- Four Channel Amps — a 4 channel amp puts out equal power in four separate channels. Thereby, It can be used to power two pairs of full-range speakers. 4-channel amps offer greater flexibility and can be configured in a variety of ways. A 4 channel amplifier can be bridgeable to three or even two channels. In a 3-channel configuration, you can power a subwoofer from the bridged channels and use the two remaining channels to power a pair of speakers. If Bridged down to two channels, the 4 channel amp will provide power to two subwoofers, or a single dual-voice-coil subwoofer.
- Five Channel Amps — 5-channel amps are meant for complete system amplification. Just like 3-channel amps, 5-channel amplifiers are basically a mixture of a 4-channel amplifier and a monoblock amplifier built into the same box. These five channel amplifiers eliminates the need for buying multiple amplifiers. 5-channel amps are a great, simple solution for those looking to power 4 speakers and a subwoofer.
- Six Channel Amps — 6-channel amps are rare. They are most commonly used in specific audio applications where you may require more than the traditional 4-speaker setup.
How to Choose the Best Amp for Your Car
External amplifiers are often categorized by class ratings (A, B, A/B, D, etc.). The class of an amplifier relates to the design and features of the amplifier’s electronic circuitry.
Power dissipation (in the form of heat) and audio signal distortion are two key factors in determining the efficiency of an amplifier. The table below describes the primary advantages and disadvantages of each car amplifier class.
|Car Amplifier Class||Pros||Cons|
|Class A||Clean Output|
Generate a lot of heat
|Class B||Energy efficient|
Generate less heat
|Potential sound distortion at high frequencies|
|Class AB||Excellent high-frequency sound reproduction|
Energy efficient; low operating temperatures;
More efficient than class A
Less distortion than class B
|Slightly lower peak performance than class A amps
Less efficient than class B
More distortion than class A
|Class D||Energy efficient|
Low operating temperatures
Superb low-frequency sound reproduction
|Very poor high-frequency sound reproduction + Distortion at high frequencies|
- Class A amplifiers : Class A amps are “always on”. Their transistors never turn off. That’s the reason why they offer high sound quality. The downside, however, is that these amps are quite inefficient and run very hot. This is because the output transistors always have current running through them even when there is no audio signal, which causes the amp to heat up unnecessarily.
- Class B amplifiers : Unlike class A amps, class B amplifiers are “switched”. They’re featured with some internal circuitry that allows them to effectively “turn off” their output transistors for half of every signal cycle when there is no audio signal running through them. This design greatly improves efficiency and saves energy, however, it introduces some distortion during the switching periods.
- Class AB amplifiers : Class AB amps are designed to offer the best of both worlds. They’re effectively a hybrid of the traditional A and B amplifier classes. Class AB amps are designed to allow the current to run through their transistors (at a much lower level) even when no signal is present. This allows Class AB amps to perform more efficiently than class A amps without as much distortion as a class B amps.
- Class D amplifiers : Class D amps operate by rapidly switching their transistors on and off at least twice during every signal cycle. Class D amps sport higher efficiency, produce less heat, and draw less current than traditional Class AB amps. Class D amps are more susceptible to distortion than Class AB amps due to the high-speed switching on and off of the transistors. This distortion is usually filtered out easily by the low-pass filter and is inaudible to the human ear.
Your amplifier gets its input signals from your receiver’s output typically via RCA cables. Most, if not all aftermarket headunits are equipped with at least a pair of RCA preamp outputs that allows you to connect the receiver to the amplifier directly.
Some stock headunits do not have these pre-amp outputs. In that case, you’ll have to purchase an amplifier with speaker-level inputs (aka “high-level inputs”). These will allow you to connect the amp to a receiver that lacks RCA preamp outputs.
Bass boost is a type of electronic circuitry built into some amplifiers. It’s meant to increase the output of low frequencies in dB increments. Most car amps allow you to adjust bass boost on the go. If you decide to boost the bass, you’ll need to re-adjust the amp’s gain, to compensate for the boost and prevent the amp from clipping and distorting.
Peak Watts and RMS Watts
RMS is one of the most important things you need to take into account when looking for a car amplifier. It referes to the amount of continuous power (measured in watts) that an amplifier can produce. The higher the RMS figure, the louder and cleaner your music sounds.
Peak wattage on the other hand refers to the maximum wattage an amplifier can deliver as a brief burst during a musical peak. It often double the RMS value. And it’s often used as a marketing gimmick to entice people to buy. When choosing an amplifier, the RMS rating is the only power rating you should pay close attention to.
Amplifier built-in crossovers
Most car amps have crossovers built into their circuitry. Crossovers consist of both high-pass and low-pass filters. These filters are electrical circuits used in amps to prevent sound distortion.
Crossovers consist of both high-pass and low-pass filters. The low pass filter allows only frequencies below the crossover point to be amplified, while the high-pass filter allows only frequencies above the crossover point to be amplified — useful for keeping highs away from the subwoofer and lows away from your speakers, so that each component can play more efficiently.