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Old 03-29-2008, 04:13 PM
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Exclamation Car Audio System Setup 101

Over the past week (spring break), I’ve been making this guide little by little. Been a little bored, so I figured I would do a complete car audio break down to the best of my ability for anyone new to the car audio game, or is just trying to learn something they maybe didn’t know. Feel free to add anything to it, comment on anything, or ask any questions!

Keep in mind that Car Audio is a very wide and broad subject, with many different components, aspects, opinions, and variety. It is impossible to cover every little thing that should be done when planning a system setup (some things depend on the vehicle itself), but this guide is intended to help on the more important and basic components, and things to look for when planning and shopping.

First off, before you do anything, do some basic research on car audio in general.

What are you trying to achieve?

What will work best with your vehicle?

Does your vehicle have any limitations or disadvantages?
(I.E. GM’s with OnStar, or factory amplified systems: car harness $100, depending on the year of the vehicle the dash kit may exceed $100, you have a truck and you can’t get a big sub/enclosure setup in the vehicle, etc.)

Research terms, understand what you are looking at, understand the money involved in your ideal setup, do a little research across the internet on other car audio guides. By understanding the basic requirements of a car stereo system, you will be able to find the right components for excellent performance, and what is suitable for your needs.

(Just too let it be known, I did not do my setup in this order, but now that I look back, I wish I would have. I now how all the components I will be mentioning and touching on, but some came with a headache.)

In order to get the most out of your car audio system, you need to do a little planning before starting anything. The first necessity for any car audio system is to make sure your vehicle has the electrical capacity to handle the demands of the system setup you are planning.

Does your car have a decent battery?

Can your alternator handle your system load?

Is there any faulty wiring in the car?

Before you start running any type of system or setup, you should definitely look to replace the battery. I would recommend going with an Optima Red Top, or Yellow Top, but getting a decent regular car battery from places like AutoZone or Advanced Auto (I.E. Die Hard, Interstate, etc.) will be better than nothing. As far as the Optima’s, the Optima red top is considered a starter, ignition & lighting battery, basically a good, upgraded version from you car battery. The Optima Yellow Top is considered a deep cycle starter battery and used for marine, and system setups, and things of that nature. It is an above and beyond average car battery quality. Optima deep cycle/starter batteries serve a couple purposes. They are superior starter batteries, but they also are designed to withstand repeated deep discharging without having their life span shortened at all. This ability makes them especially useful when electrical loads exceed recharge rate (including times when the battery cannot be recharged at all, such as running car audio equipment with your engine turned off.) If you need high performance power for car audio, and are planning on expanding on any aspect of your system in the future, the best bet would be getting one of the largest Optima deep cycle/starter batteries you can fit in.

After I fried my alternator, I got a Yellow Top, and a high output alternator. I had to do a little custom adjusting to get my Optima Yellow Top to fit correctly.

Also, making sure you alternator is in decent condition is a big factor when planning system setups. Ideally, any time you are running a system, or any type of aftermarket electrical work (I.E. underbody LED's, headrest monitors, in-dash units, etc.) you would want a high output alternator.

Couple ways to check your existing alternator:

1. Generally when there is an alternator problem, you parking brake & battery lights on your dash will be on.

2. Check the gauges, if the car is equipped with them. If you have a volt/amp gauge, it will read the alternator output for you. Turn on your AC or Heater, the headlights, and any other accessories that you might have that will put a strain on the alternator, and watch the gauge to see if it decreases voltage or amperage. If the voltmeter is higher when the engine is running then when the engine is not, you can confidently assume that the alternator is charging. The gauges should read about 13.5 Volts when the engine is running. If these values decrease when you turn on electrical accessories, the alternator may be weak.

3. Listen to the alternator while the engine is running. If there is a problem with the bearings you may hear a squealing sound coming from the front of the car, which becomes louder with more electrical accessories using power at the same time.

4. Feel the alternator after the engine has run a few minutes and you turn the engine off. If it is VERY hot, there may be wear on bearings, or the insulation on the copper windings may be breaking down, an indication the part may fail soon.
Most auto parts stores have a bench tester for alternators that can read output for you, but this requires removing the alternator from your car. Even if you conclude the alternator is not working, the problem may not be in the alternator itself. You may have a blown fuse, a bad relay, or a defective voltage regulator.

Now, it’s time for the basics on a system setup.

I'm going to give you an example of all the components I believe are needed for a basic system setup. After that I will show you how to make compromises and leave out parts that may not be as important to you to keep your system within your budget. Also, you do not have to get everything at once. I’ve been putting my system together over 2 years now, and I’m still not done. With a little planning you can upgrade your system in steps. This way you will not break your budget, and achieve the sound you are aiming for.
Basic System: The following are the components of a basic system setup.
Here's an approximate price break down of the components of a basic full system, with averaging pricing. Keep in mind it all depends on what you are planning, and the sound you are trying to achieve, because prices will vary. Obviously you aren’t going to get a perfect sound for what you would call “cheap.”

Head unit (deck): $100-$400
Speakers: $100-$500
4 channel amp: $150-$350
Mono amp: $150-$500
Subwoofers: $150-$500
Sub enclosure (If you choose not to purchase a loaded enclosure with subs): $75-$300 (custom)
Capacitor: $100-$350
Wiring and accessories: $50-$400
Sound deadening: $100-$500
Installation: $0 (do it yourself), professional installation all together can grow up to well over $500.

(Remember, these price ranges are average, it all depends on what you are trying to set up.)

This can come out to anywhere around $1000-$6000. I realize that this is a lot of money, and that most people do not spend nearly this much money on their car stereo. However, the things listed above are what I feel is necessary to have a system with only a few compromises. Getting a reasonably priced deck can help a lot. Make sure you are getting features you want and need, and not getting unnecessary features. Getting the ideal unit you want will help with pricing. If you are concerned about loud highs, think about running a component set, and getting a 4-channel amp. If you are less concerned about highs, get coaxial’s and don’t worry about amping the speakers (I.E. No 4-channel). This will save you about $300-$600. If you want that hard hitting subwoofer action, look into a solid mono block amplifier and a good sub to match. If you are really not into bass too much, you can forget about all the bass related equipment, and think about running a component set with a 4 channel. This will still give you clean sound with not much bass. And you will also save anywhere from $500-$2500.

I would start with what I have listed above and take out parts you do not care about as much. Only you know what kind of system setup you will happy with. When buying audio equipment try to spend some time listening to it before you buy, especially with speakers. Also, try to use equipment that is similar to yours when listening in a store. When expanding on your setup, you want to get it as close to the sound it will be putting out in your car. As for amps, it costs money to build a good amp, so if you see a great price on an amp you have never heard of, it is probably a piece of shit. Stick with well-known names with amps, because remember, you get what you pay for!
The Alt.™
1999 Nissan Altima GXE

The Garage:

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Old 03-29-2008, 04:16 PM
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Finally, if you are on a budget (Like most of us), it works better to upgrade in steps. The most important thing is to have a car audio system that sounds good to you, not someone else, or what somewhat like me (a retailer car audio specialist) thinks sounds good [some salesman lie just for the sale]. If you are happy with just changing the factory speakers and stopping there, then do just that. If you want to just replace that crappy tape player in your dash, upgrade to just a head unit. There is so many options and variety with car audio, honestly in my eyes there is no limits to what you can do. Now, if you aren’t going for competition status, now there is kinda that level when that new amp, or speaker is not going to make a difference, so it is not necessary to always upgrade. There are people who think my system can be better, but whose system can’t? You can always do better. But it works well for me, and I almost got the sound I was aiming for. I’m almost done my setup, but I’m almost getting to the point where anything else I do to it would be a minor gain, and not worth my trouble. Don’t always listen to what that salesman or your boy says, (You need bigger gauge wire, you need a bigger cap, you need more watts on your amp, you need this, you need that), do your own research, see what you are going to need for your setup to function correctly, and get what you want, and think is necessary!

Now, a little overview on each component of the basic system setup.

Head Unit (Deck)

Honestly in my opinion, the head unit is the most essential component of your setup, and I think it should be the first investment in the starting of your setup. It is the most elementary component in your car stereo system, and is the control panel for the sound system in your car. The head unit is the tuner, cassette deck, or CD player that sends the signal to the rest of your car audio system. If you just walk into any retailer or car audio store and ask for a stereo deck without knowing what specifications to look for, you may end up spending lots of unnecessary money on an inferior product, with features you may not even need or use.
Things to look for in a head unit:

Usability (The basic setup of the unit): Always look at a head unit in a store using the display model, and play with it for a while. Try to flip through radio stations, and tracks on a CD to see if it is quick and easy. (I.E. Some of the new Pioneer head units [5900, 6900, 5000, 6000, etc.] are a pain in the ass because the volume knob is also used for changing the track or station. It’s basically like a joystick, and it can get very annoying, and frustrating if not used with sensitivity.) If you have problems with small buttons, imagine what it will be like when you are driving. Since many models in the same price range are similar in features and sound quality, usability is often the deciding factor between models.

Features: Of course, one of the hugest factors is the features on the radio.

Does it have all the features you want?
Pod ready, HD ready, SAT ready?

USB capabilities?

Power: Basically, to get the right stereo deck, you need to know how many watts the deck puts out, and generally, a good stereo deck will deliver an output of 50x4, which means the distribution of 50 watts to 4 speakers. Using the head unit power can be a temporary solution until a separate amplifier can be purchased, just make sure you do not try to power any subwoofers or insensitive component sets with the head unit's built in power. Using the head unit’s internal power for you speakers is really the only thing the stereos amplifier should be powering. (Keep in mind that the distortion may be higher when powering from the head unit, than an external amplifier.) Also, keep in mind that the power specifications given by most manufacturers for head units are not accurate. They often use terms like "peak power" which have little meaning because there is no standard definition of those terms. If the power is quoted in "RMS" terms, then it is usually more accurate. However, there is still one other place of misconception. Often manufacturers will quote power as "30 watts x 4 RMS". The "RMS" seems to mean it is a true indication of power, BUT they are implying that all 4 channels can produce 30 watts RMS AT THE SAME TIME. With a head unit, this is almost always not true. Because of the small power supplies in head units they can rarely output more than 20-60 watts TOTAL (at one time). This means that the power to each channel at maximum loading would only be 1/4 of that total. Some manufacturers are better than others about giving accurate specifications (Pioneer, Eclipse, etc.), and units are available with excessive power supplies which have higher power output, but they are VERY expensive. If you're paying less than $500 for a head unit (Like most of us are) then usually your head unit will not put out much power. In-dash DVD/Navi unit’s (flip-outs & Double-Dins) also usually have a more significant amount of power, versus regular head units.
Pre-amp outputs: One thing to keep in mind: Make sure the head unit has pre-amp outputs when you buy it. You'll need them when you're ready to add amplifiers later. These are a MUST for any serious head unit. These outputs allow you to run an amplifier directly without need for any conversion. This is the cleanest output of the head unit. Some units have multiple outputs and sometimes ones that are crossed over. Look for the amount and type of out that you need for your setup, make sure to keep in mind future expansion. Nothing is worse than buying a head unit with 2 outs, and in the future you are going to need 6. GET WHAT YOU NEED THE FIRST TIME. Also, the pre-amp outputs can have different voltage. You can get up to an 8V pre-out with an aftermarket radio (Eclipse), but most decent head units have around 4V-5V pre-outs, instead of the usual 1-2 volts (Usually head units around $100). The pre-out voltage does matter when you are installing a system setup, the pre-out determines how much you can turn your gain up on your amplifier. This can be very beneficial since cars have a lot of electrical noise in them. The 5 volt output is less susceptible to noise, however, you must be certain that the amplifier being connected to the output can handle 5 volts, or you will not be able to use the extra voltage.

If your head unit does not have RCA outputs you can buy an adapter which will convert your speaker level outputs to line level. They range in price from $20+. Another option is to use an amplifier that accepts speaker level signals directly, but those are not as easy to find.

Note about using factory radios: First off, I’ma say it, FACTORY RADIOS SUCK!!! Many people ask about using the factory radio with external aftermarket amps. Typically you cannot get a clean signal from the factory radio because factory radios do not have line level (RCA) pre-amp outputs to drive an amp. You can use a speaker level to line level converter, but the sound is still going through the factory head's internal amps. An aftermarket head unit will give a clearer and better sound then ANYTHING factory can give you. Some people are willing to sacrifice some sound quality in order to keep their factory radio (I.E. Maybe there is no easy way around getting it out [Some Lexus, Benz, etc.], no dash kit has been made for the vehicle, they like the look of it in there vehicle because it matches, etc.). Also, if your factory system uses a factory amp you can find adapters and bypasses so you can use an aftermarket amp instead (Which ideally, is what you should do).
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Old 03-29-2008, 04:19 PM
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Overall, the head unit source sends its signal to the speakers. Another important part of your car stereo system is the speakers, which are central to sound quality, and determines how your whole system will sound. No equalizer, amplifier, or head unit can compensate for poor (or poorly installed) speakers. Even if you're on a budget, you should focus your spending on your speakers. (And if you're really on a budget, plan on a head unit and a set of speakers, and worry about amps and subs, and other mods later.) If you are not going to buy the head unit first, I would say then look into getting the speakers first. Better speakers can make your stock radio sound a lot better. You can get the speakers to get an idea of the better sound, and then you can upgrade the radio later. And trust me, you will want to. The speakers you use will have the final say in how your system will sound. There are many types of speakers available. A single speaker can be used to reproduce the full range of sounds, but it is not ideal. If the speaker is too large it will have problems reproducing high frequencies which require rapid movement of the speaker. If it is too small it will have problems reproducing low frequencies, which require large amounts of air to be moved. Because a single speaker cannot reproduce all sounds accurately multiple speakers are used, each of which reproduces sound in the frequency range it was designed for.

Coaxials: Coaxials are by far the most common speaker. It’s the basic speaker which most get to replace factory speakers. A coaxial is basically a low to midrange woofer with at least one tweeter mounted right on top of it. The result is a low to midrange sound reproduction from the woofer, as well as having high frequency sound from the tweeter. Coaxial speakers are normally described as 2-way, 3-way, 4-way, etc. Basically, a 2-way is one woofer with one tweeter attached to it. A 3-way adds another tweeter, and so on. Honestly in my opinion, it really doesn’t matter. You can have a 2-way coaxial or a 15-way coaxial. As long as it has a (decent) tweeter, it’s going to reproduce about the same sound. Tweeters allow your speakers to reproduce the basically impossible sound, giving you a much clearer, and defined sound quality. Additional tweeters (3-Way, 4-Way, etc.) supposedly adds more detail to the sound, but you can get decent coaxials that are only 2-way and get a quality, defined sound. If you really want a quality sound, you should be looking into a component system, which I will explain below.

Tweeter: A small speaker called a tweeter reproduces high frequencies, generally above 2 kHz. Tweeters are small and lightweight, so they can respond quickly. Very little power is required for powering tweeters because they are very efficient. On the other hand, tweeters are usually very small ranging in size from 1/2" to 2" in size. Typically, tweeters larger than 1" in size cannot respond quickly enough to sound good.
Component System: A component system is a set of 2 speakers and a crossover matched for excellent sound quality. Usually a pair of tweeters and “mini” subwoofers are matched with a crossover to limit the frequency range each speaker plays. Component subwoofers are separated from the tweeter, which is very directional, so the tweeter can be placed in an ideal position, usually on the dash or the top of the door to face the listener, while the larger subwoofer is usually placed where the stock speaker was located. Usually when you are going for great sound, a component system is recommended.

Subwoofers: Subwoofers are the speakers that deliver the lower frequencies of the audio. They demand more power to play at acceptable levels without distortion, and usually require large amounts of power to really move air. Woofers are meant to produce sound at frequencies below 250 Hz, and often just below 100 Hz. Because a woofer must move large amounts of air, they are usually large with typical sizes of 10", 12", 15", which I’m sure most know.

Things to look for in speakers:

Power Handling: Many manufacturers of subwoofers (and amps) will claim very high power handling, but they are usually for very short peaks only. Peak or MAX power is a guesstimated number with no real standard of measurement. RMS (Root Mean Square), is the limits given by the manufacturer as the continuous power a sub can handle before failure. Ideally, you don't want to exceed the RMS rating by more than 10%. RMS is a big factor with subwoofers. RMS is basically what you are hearing most of the time. Usually RMS is around half of what the peak power is claimed (I.E. The subwoofer’s peak is 1000W, the RMS would usually be around 500W). Keep in mind that lower quality brands, the power handling is very overrated. Usually if you pay a $100 for a sub that is listed at 2000W Max, it’s probably a quarter of that.

Size: Decide what size subwoofers you want. Common sizes are 8-inch, 10-inch, 12-inch, and 15-inch. The larger the subwoofer, the lower the frequency it will produce. And depending on the setup, you don’t necessarily need a 15” to get that loud, hard hitting bass you want.
Enclosure: Whether you are looking at buying a loaded enclosure (Subs + enclosure), or buying the subs separately from the enclosure, the enclosure is equally as important as the woofer, and should be designed to compensate the particular woofer you have. Deciding which enclosure(s) and woofer(s) are best for you can be a complex task, but size of the vehicle’s area you are planning for sub setup, knowledge, and understanding the sound characteristics of different enclosure designs will help you decide. There are 3 common enclosures: Sealed, Ported, and Band Pass.

Sealed-Usually, sealed enclosures are constructed with the front, or rear wall of the enclosure angled, to prevent standing waves within the enclosure, but since many sealed enclosures are so small, that usually isn’t a factor. A sealed enclosure may be as simple as a square box. Remember, it all depends on the sound you are trying to achieve.
Ported (Vented)-Vented enclosures are similar to sealed enclosures as far as design, except it has a port that is precisely matched to the enclosure to achieve an efficient sound. By adding this port, the rear wave of the cone motion is used to reinforce the front wave. With a proper built vented enclosure, it can significantly reduce distortion, and increase power handling at very low frequencies. The subwoofer(s) usually become more efficient with a ported enclosure design. A vented system can be up to 3 dB more efficient at certain frequencies than a sealed box system that has the same bass frequency, and size. Some disadvantages of the ported box are a more complex design, a larger enclosure (as compared to a sealed enclosure), lower power handling, and slightly less accuracy.

Band Pass-The band pass enclosure is basically a combination of a sealed, and vented enclosure. These can be fairly small enclosures, though larger than a sealed enclosure. They offer great power handling, good low frequency response, but are not as efficient as vented enclosures, and are more complex to build. However, when built correctly, these make excellent enclosures and are often used by competitors.
Keep in mind there are many types and varieties of woofer enclosures. The following information is intended to provide you with a basic understanding of enclosure types and their characteristics, design possibilities, and to help you decide which enclosure may work best for you.
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Old 03-29-2008, 04:20 PM
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The purpose of a car audio amplifier is to take a low level signal from the source (headunit), and change it into a high level signal for driving speakers. Amplifiers range in power from about 20 watts per channel, to over 1000 watts per channel. The price range can be anywhere from $50 to $1000’s, depending on power output, and quality. An amplifier may have as little as one channel, or up to eight channels. The most common amplifiers are two and four channels, two channels mostly used for subwoofers, 4 channels mostly used for amping your speakers. Although, mono subwoofer amplifiers are also very popular, usually very good amps to power one, quality sub. Amplifiers have an input voltage range. You want to make sure that the input section of your amplifier can handle the output voltage of your head unit (discussed in headunit section). As long as the input voltage of the previous component doesn't exceed the range of your amplifier, you should be OK. An amplifier boosts your signal power, resulting in a cleaner sound, and more volume. And because more power is usually good thing, an amplifier might be the next thing to add to your system to give it the sound you were looking for. Be careful though, because if you are planning on adding several high power amplifiers, you may need to upgrade your car's electrical system with upgraded capacitors, battery, and high output alternator, which was discussed above. Amplifiers are really what give your system the power, and ideal sound you are looking for. With more power you'll achieve a cleaner, more dynamic sound at higher volumes. But installing an amp yourself can be tricky. Be sure to plan your install carefully. Never mount amps or other components directly to the metal of your car. (That's just asking for noise problems.) Instead, use screws with rubber isolators when you have to mount to metal, or mount the amp to a board, and then mount the board to your car's body. And before you drill holes to mount anything, hook the amplifier up and give it a test in your chosen location. It’s better to test before you do anything, especially with car audio, because there is nothing worse then completing your objective, or putting everything back together, and it doesn’t work, or there is a problem. Make things easier on yourself. Amps are sensitive to electrical and motor noise, and they can interfere with your radio reception. They should be mounted at least 3 feet away from your head unit. You can mount an amp under a front seat, this is closer to your head unit, but you will be able to use shorter cables and wiring. Usually, you don’t want to mount larger amps here. In my opinion, the most ideal place to mount your amp is in your trunk, where it will have plenty of room to breathe, which is important because amps produce a lot of heat. You will see and here cooling fans on an amp, especially if they are of higher wattage. They radiate the heat into the surrounding air, to help cool the amp. For these fans to operate properly, they need a few inches of air space around them at all times. Also, try to keep the amp vertical. Amps should not be mounted with the fans facing downward, because heat will radiate back up into the amp.
A tip for grounding amplifiers:

Just because something is metal, doesn't mean it's a good ground. Ground your amp directly to areas of heavy chassis metal only, not to a piece of metal that's merely attached to the chassis. Try to use short ground wires, for the most part, the shorter, the better. If you do need a longer ground wire because of your amps location, try to make it around 18"-24" maximum.

Things to look for in Amplifiers:

Power Ratings: Extra features may also be built into an amplifier. These features include built-in crossovers, equalizers, signal processors, and speaker level inputs. When shopping for an amplifier, consider that all power ratings are not created equal. Some of the low quality brands will exaggerate, or even lie about the power output of the amplifier. Basically the same situation I discussed in the subwoofer section. That said, it is a GREAT IDEA to stick with the well known manufacturers. The only true measure of an amplifier's power is its continuous power rating,or RMS rating. RMS (root mean square), which was also discussed above, refers to the amplifiers average power output. Another thing to note is that doubling the amplifier power does not double the sound output. Doubling of system power adds only 3dB of SPL (volume) to the output. SPL works on a logarithmic scale, so it takes 10dB of change for the sound to be "doubled". This works out to a little over three "doublings" of power. So if you have 100 watts of power, you would need to double that 200 watts, double that to 400 watts, and then double that to 800 watts. That would give you a 9dB increase. To truly get the 10dB increase, you would need around 1000 watts to increase in power.

Class: This refers to the way the amplifier operates. The three types that are most likely to be encountered are A, A/B, and D. Class A amplifiers are the least efficient in terms of power consumption, staying on continually, but also have better sound in general than A/B amplifiers. They are very, very rare in car audio. Some argue non-existent, but in any case don't expect to see any. Class A/B amplifiers are more efficient than the class A design, and are the most common type. Almost all amplifiers in the car audio market are of the A/B design. Class D amplifiers are usually reserved for high power subwoofer amplifiers, and can reach efficiencies in the 80%+ range. This design can therefore be smaller, uses less current, and produces less heat than the other classes. However there are some full range Class D amplifiers available.

Quality: Also keep in mind the quality of the amplifier. A good indication of a quality built, high power output amplifier is the size and the weight of the amplifier itself. Better quality amplifiers will usually be heavier and larger, versus a low quality amplifier of the same power rating, which usually would be around half the size of a good quality amplifier. Do not accept size as a definite indication though. It’s a good thing to refer too, and take into consideration, however there are many top quality amplifiers that do not follow this rule. The Class D amplifier is much more efficient, and therefore does not produce as much heat, or use as much power. This means a smaller power supply and a smaller size. Because of the high efficiency design of these amplifiers, a heavy weight is not required. Also a good indication of an amplifier's true output is the size of the fuse used. True 200 watt amplifiers do not use a 10 amp fuse. Use your head when buying an amp! Keep in mind the brand's reputation for quality. A quick and dirty way to check the true power output of an amplifier is to take the sum for multiple fuses used (I.E. The amp has three 25 amp fuses=75), and multiply it by 6 for class A/B amps, or multiply it by 10 for class D amps (higher efficiency). This is by no means an accurate way to judge power, BUT it will tell you if your amp is even close to it's specifications. For example, if a class A/B "1200 watt" amplifier has a sum of 25 amps, then you can take 25 times 6, and get 150. So this "1,200 watt" amplifier is more in the range of 150 watts.
Bridgeable: This feature allows a pair of amplifier power channels to be combined into one channel of greater power. This is usually used for driving a subwoofer, although it will work with any other type of speaker as well.

Channels: A channel is one power (speaker) output of an amplifier. The more channels an amplifier has, the greater the installation flexibility it will have. Especially in terms of options, future add-ons, and upgrades. Although, sometimes amplifiers with too many channels are not always the best route to go. Ideally, I would say stick to the mono’s, and 2 channel amps for the subs, and use a 4 channel for the speakers. Don’t get an amp with intentions of using it for every aspect in your car. In Circuit City we carry the 5-channel Kicker amp, and we’ve had a couple customers return because one of the channels would go. Not to mention KICKER SUCKS, but you get the idea.

Separate Gain Controls: This allows the gain of each channel of the amplifier to be set independently from the other(s). This allows you to more evenly match the amplifiers channels. Very ideal and important for most amps of any class, type, and channel.
There are more factors to keep in mind when shopping for your ideal amplifier, but the few I listed are some of the more important things to keep in mind, at least in my opinion.
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Old 03-29-2008, 04:21 PM
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Have you ever been in a vehicle with a system, and as soon as the bass hits, the interior light dims? Well, if your car lights dim when your car audio system produces a deep bass note, then your amp will be greatly helped with a capacitor ( Although, your lights don't necessarily have to be dimming for you to have to add a capacitor. Capacitors always help a sound system). Honestly in my opinion, any car system could use a capacitor, regardless if you amp is pushing 200 Watts, or 20000 Watts. A capacitor acts as a secondary battery that reacts very quickly to sudden current demands. Capacitors are basically power storages in the car. These capacitors accumulate that power which is essential for the amplifier to produce great sounds. You can hear the hard hitting, booming bass only because of capacitors. Capacitors accumulate power whenever it is not required. This power is released when the demand for power exceeds the supply capacity of the power system of the car. Audio capacitors are necessary to complement the regular power supply of the car, in order to ensure the smooth functioning of the amplifier.

Things to look for in capacitors:

Capacitors are measured in farads. The farad is defined as the amount of capacitance for which a potential difference of one volt results in a static charge of one coulomb. Car audio capacitors usually range from 0.5 farads up to around 40 farads (competition). When installing a capacitor, make sure it complements your amplifier (For example: For 500 RMS of power output, it is necessary to have a capacitor of around 0.5-1 farads.) A rule of thumb is to have 1 farad of capacitance for every 1000 watts of power. It is also necessary to place the capacitor as near as possible to the amplifier, for ideal functioning.

Wiring and Accessories

Wiring and accessories is a broad topic. To run a system, you need an amp install kit (one per amp), and you need RCA’s (per amp). A amp install kit consists of a power, ground, and remote wires, fuses and terminals. The power of your setup really determines the size of wiring of the amp kit needed. Usually amp install kits have the ideal wattage that should be used with the kit. Just to keep in mind, if you are running anything under 500 watts, you can use 8 gauge ground & power, 500-1500W use 4 gauge, and 1500W+, 0 gauge would be ideal. As far as RCA’s, the good old saying comes in to play here also (just like everything in car audio), YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR. Cheap RCA’s can sometimes lead to whining problems, which is a more common problem with system setups. Keep in mind that the wiring is EVERYTHING to your system, because it’s where you power supply is coming from, and what is sending signals from the source, to the other components. You should DEFINITELY invest in decent wiring, it will bring the ideal power and performance out of your car audio components.

Things to look for in Wiring and Accessories:

Amp install kits: Make sure the amp install kit you are interested in has all the need wiring for the setup. Look into Tsunami wiring kits, because they come with everything need, it’s good quality, and have enough wiring for two systems.
RCA’s: Make sure you get the right channel RCA’s to match your amp. If you need RCA’s for a 4 channel amp, get 4 channel RCA’s. If you need RCA’s for a 2 channel amp, get 2 channel RCA’s, etc. I would also recommend to look into Tsunami RCA’s as well, usually are of very good quality.

Sound Deadening

Last but not least, is sound deadening. Sound deadening is what contains your music in your car, and not giving a concert for the road you are driving down. There are many options to sound deadening, dampening your trunk, your doors, your whole car, etc. Ideally, where ever you are getting extreme sound from, I would sound dampen. For example, I will explain some custom deadening I did to my car. There is piping expanding foam, it's called "Great Stuff". You can get it at Home Depot, Lowes, etc. I used the whole can and completely filled the trunk lid with it, and let it dry and expand (It takes a bout half the day to expand and dry, considering the weather is reasonable). Then I took Styrofoam, and 3M 90 adhesive spray, and put Styrofoam in the spaces between the sections inside the trunk lid. It basically gave it a completely flat surface on the inside of the trunk lid. Then I took dynamat and completely dynamated over the inside of the trunk lid, to complete the sound deadening, and give it a cleaner, flat surface. Then I took trunk carpet and carpeted over the entire inside of the trunk lid, to give it a flush, clean stock look, sort of like what a stock Maxima trunk looks like. You can knock on my trunk and it just drowns. It's SO solid, but at the same time, the trunk does get significantly heavier. Just an example of some deadening you can do, to get the best sound out of your setup.

Things to look for in Sound Deadening:

The most popular sound dampening material is Dynamat. They make many different kits, usually measured in amounts of square feet. It will probably be the easiest dampening material to find, it’s sold at Circuit City, Best Buy, etc. Usually in stores, the trunk kit has the most square feet, I believe it’s around 12 square feet.

That’s it! That’s a basic overview of a complete system setup, what to look for, and some things to keep in mind. I tried to cover everything I thought was necessary, I’m sure I missed a few things, but as I mentioned, car audio is a VERY broad subject. You may agree, or disagree with some of the things I discussed, but basically this whole guide is based on my opinion, but keep in mind that it’s an opinion of someone who has been doing this for a while now. Hope this will help for anyone needing some advice, or answering to some questions! Feel free to leave some input!
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