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How to Tune a Car Amp for Mids and Highs – Step By Step

First of all, We would like to start off by saying Congratulations on having your amplifier successfully installed in your car!

There’s no denying that installing an amplifier in your car can make a night and day difference in terms of quality of the sound you get from the speakers and subwoofers, but it needs to be tuned correctly to get the best results.

Tuning a car amplifier is a delicate procedure that must be done correctly, because otherwise, you may not get the best performance, or worse, you could damage your equipment.

Tuning a car amplifier is also a challenging task that can take a little time and effort, as well as incredible patience and skill to get the right sound you want from your speakers and subs, but the rewards of a well-tuned audio system are overwhelmingly cool and satisfying.

Here are some tips to guide you through the process of tuning your car amplifier for mids and highs.

Keep in Mind…

First and foremost, it must be noted that your car isn’t acoustically perfect. Surface shapes, surface materials, distances from speakers to these surfaces, speaker placement, engine and external noises, your seating position… etc can all make tuning process challenging.

In fact, a car is about the worst environment to build a good stereo. Hard surfaces in a car reflect sound like crazy, while absorbent materials soak it up. To add insult to injury, we don’t sit equidistant to the speakers. So, when tuning a car audio system we are primarily tuning out the environment, reducing the car’s impact on the sound.

Since there’s a wide variety of variables one must take into account, it’s really challenging to say that what works for one car will work for all cars. As a matter of fact, you can have the same exact car, with the same exact speakers, but if one of them has leather seats it’ll need to be tuned differently than the other one with cloth seats.

Before You Get Started

Before you begin tuning your car amplifier, you need to make sure everything is working properly and that all of your speakers are properly assigned (left and right, front and rear).

Also, since tuning takes time, expect to play your stereo really loud for some time. So, make sure you won’t annoy anyone with your loud music. This is a simple but critical part of the tuning process.

Also, it’s of utmost importance to make sure that all of your speakers are in phase. When all of the speakers are in phase, that means they are moving in unison in the same direction (either in or out) at the same time.

How to Properly Tune a Car Amp for Mids And Highs

First, of all, it must be noted that there are many different ways to tune a car amplifier. Each of which requires a good understanding of the basics and some tuning experience.

Generally speaking, there are two main tuning procedures: basic and advanced.

The basic procedure is obviously the easiest way and doesn’t require any tools whatsoever. It can be applied by almost anyone. However, since you’ll be relying solely on your ears, knowing how to correlate what you’re hearing to adjustments that need to be made might not be that easy especially for a beginner.

The advanced procedure on the other hand may require using some tools such as an RTA (Real Time Analyzer), a multimeter, or an SPL meter …etc. It’s geared more towards serious audiophiles who want to go the extra mile tuning an amplifier.

Keep in mind that these methods and processes can be used to tune any system regardless of speaker types.

Speaking of speaker types, it’s always a good idea to know the strengths as well as the limitations of the drivers you have installed or are working with.

Step 1: Settings and Reference Volume

The main idea here is to get all the clean signal voltage your receiver has. That’s to say, your stereo will sound way better if you pump more volume in to your amps and leave the gains low, than if you were to pump only mid-volume to the amps and compensate with more gain.

1. So, the very first thing you need to do is to make sure your amplifier’s gains are set to their minimums, their high- and low-pass filters are off (set to “all pass” or flat), and that any bass and treble boosts are also off.

2. You also need to turn off all “enhancements” your receiver may have. So, set your receiver’s tone or EQ controls, its balance, and its fade to their middle, off, or flat positions. You may want to keep track of these settings as you might want to revert back to them down the line. Additionally, if you have a subwoofer in your system, make sure you turn its amp gain all the way down.

3. Now, play a well-balanced soundtrack that you are familiar with and know what it’s supposed to sound like. Make sure the soundtrack has plenty of sonic variety: lots of very high notes like flutes, trumpet, brass, and cymbals, great amount of mid-range content like piano, violin, guitar, and vocals, and a ton of low notes like bass and drums.

4. Set the receiver’s fader all the way to the front speakers.

5. With your amplifier’s gain controls still all the way down, turn the volume up on the headunit to around three quarters of its range, or until distortion starts to kick in (If you don’t hear any music at all, bring the the amp’s front gain control up just a bit until you do.) If you hear distortion, turn down the receiver’s volume until all traces of obvious distortion go away and the music sounds clean.

6. You can double check by turning your amp’s front gain up slightly and re-create the distortion before lowering it again.

7. Turn the receiver volume down.

8. Set the receiver’s fader all the way to the rear speakers, and make sure the front gain is turned down as low as possible (but remember where you set it!).

9. Now repeat step #5 above for the rear speakers: turn the receiver’s volume up to around three quarters of its range and slightly turn up the rear gain control of your amp until distortion is audible and can be noticed, then turn it down so the music plays clean again.

10. Now, that volume setting on your receiver is your “reference” point. All further tuning will be done at that volume level, so make sure you note it down.

Step 2: Bring in the Fronts

At this point, your headunit should be playing at your “reference” volume level and the gain for both front and rear channels should be where you left it off. Your subwoofer should still be OFF at this stage.

1. First, turn the gain on the rear speakers all the way down. Then, bring up the gain on the fronts until your front speakers start to distort. Don’t push your speakers too hard.

2. Now, fade the receiver to the rear speakers only, and turn up the volume until the music is a bit loud. Engage the high-pass filter on the front channels of your amp. Set it to roughly 100Hz to eliminate some of the low notes coming from the front speakers in order to bring extra clarity to your soundstage. (That’s the ability of your stereo to give drivers and passengers superior sound perception and a high fidelity audio rendering that sounds like a band is playing in front of you).

You will notice that the higher you set the high-pass filter, the less distorted the speakers sound, but also the tinnier the sound. The goal is to make the music sound as fuller as possible without apparent distortion.

3. Take your time and keep adjusting the high-pass filter and the gain until you hit that sweet spot.

So, at this point you should have your front speakers blasting with the least amount of bass bass, but nice and clean.

Step 3: Bring in the Rears

1. Set the rear channels’ high-pass filter to roughly 100Hz, and the raise the gain a bit. At this point, you should be to sit in the front seat and hear the rear speakers blasting out music. However, the brunt of the music should be in front of you.

The goal here is to hit that sweet spot where you get an appropriate balance of sound from the front and the rear speakers. That sound balance is a matter of choice and personal preference, so make yourself happy here.

2. Now that a proper front/rear balance of sound is achieved, it’s time to do the same adjustments to the rear high-pass filter that you did to the front high-pass filter.

    • 2.1. Fade the receiver to the rear speakers only and turn the gain on the front speakers all the way down so the rear speakers can be heard more clearly.
    • 2.2. Next, raise the gain on the rear channels until the speakers start to distort…don’t over do it.
    • 2.3. Keep tweaking the rear channels’ high-pass filter and gain until you have achieved an ideal compromise.

Once that’s done, return your receiver’s fade control to its original position.

P.S: Keep in mind that all of these adjustments will likely be “fine tuned” down the line once you have everything working together.

 

Step 4: Bring on the Bass

Now that you know how loud you should have the volume, and that your mids and highs are crystal clear and nicely balanced front to rear, it’s time to turn that subwoofer on.

1. So, set your low pass filter to around 80Hz and slowly turn up the gain until the bass notes sound balanced and smoothly blended with the rest of the music.

Typically, you’ll notice that the lower crossover point you use, the more the bass seems to come from the front, which is one of the main goals of quality car audio.

In general, all of this is a matter of personal preference. And 80Hz is only a good basic starting point. So, if you want to rock out really loud and hard, you will find a lower setting might be preferable.

2. If your amplifier is equipped with a “subsonic” filter, set it as low as you can. A subsonic filter will not allow the frequencies below where you set it to pass through. It’s usually used to attenuate very low frequencies that your subwoofer cannot reproduce/or will harm the subwoofer if it does so. Typically, we set the subsonic filter to roughly 25Hz for a 10 inch subwoofer or 20Hz for a 12 inch subwoofer. But, again, this is all personal preference.

3. If your highs and lows seem balanced but the bass sounds like it’s coming from the rear, set the low-pass filter on the subwoofer channel a bit lower to “de-localize” it. Furthermore, if bass notes are too loud relative to other frequencies, turn it down! On the other hand, if the mids and highs are meddling with the bass notes turn them down.

It goes without saying that you when you’re tuning a car amplifier for mids and highs, you need to aim for that natural front/rear balance, and strive to make it all “blend” nice and smooth.

One of of the most important thing to pay close attention to is the “crossover area”, which is
the parts of the music where sound transitions from one audio source to another. The crossover area is usually played by both the full-range speakers and your subwoofer.

So, basically what you want to do is to smooth any roughness in that transition area by fine-tuning the filters. For example, if the vocals sound tinny, you can adjust the high-pass filters on your amp to include more low notes. If the vocals sound boomy, tune the high-pass filters higher.

Step 5: Fine Tuning

1. Last but no least, try different genres of music to see how your audio system plays each, and most importantly, don’t be afraid to tune it all for your own ears as needed and you will never go wrong. A well-tuned stereo system can play anything from Mozart to Metallica, Jazz, Blues, or whatever you throw at it.

2. Now that your car audio system sounds better across the entire frequency spectrum and plays louder without distortion, you can go ahead and play with the EQ settings. But be gentle, and adjust the settings gradually as all of these adjustments can play havoc with power handling.

Alex Brown

Hey There, my name is Alex Brown, I'm an LA-based sound engineer with over 10 years experience installing, troubleshooting, and repairing commercial, automotive, and household sound equipment. I've installed highly competitive car audio systems, and everything from navigation systems to full car stereo systems, remote starters, alarms and beyond. I enjoy creating solutions and simplifying everyday needs. I also love helping people get great sounding gear, thereby, saving the world from bad sound one customer at a time.

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