hat you will find in this guide are TOP-5 best car amplifiers which are detailed in a review and comparison chart below. You will also learn how to make your the sound system in your car sound much better, richer and louder in comparison with standard options. Apart from that, this guide elaborates on the differences between various types of these devices as well as the things you should consider before you buy a product, such as the number of channels and system compatibility.

What You Will Learn From This Guide:

Why Do We Need Car Amplifiers?

Given how much time we spend in our cars, it’s no small wonder that we do care about the multimedia experience they can provide. There are many naysayers who’d argue that, given we do need to concentrate on the road, that this should be kept to a minimum. While video is certainly not on the menu, at least for drivers until self-driving cars are unanimous, hands-free technology in use today, with internet and smart devices to accent it, means that a rich audio experience isn’t difficult to achieve, and does indeed make our time spent commuting much more pleasant.

Studies have shown that in many cases, music a driver is fond of can actually help them focus and drive more safely, as it keeps the idle parts of their brain occupied and keeps their mood balanced well. That said, if you spend much time in your car, you’re probably putting concerted effort into achieving a good audio experience.

Unfortunately, for the majority of vehicles on the road, which spans more or less a three-decade range of makes and models, car audio isn’t, by default, all that amazing. Sure, it’s mostly stereo in vehicles made from the 80s onward, but it’s not good stereo. Even modern vehicles, unless you buy a rather costly “slick” audio package, don’t have sound that matches even relatively budget home theater standards.

This is due to a number of factors, one of which is that all the electrical components in cars run on a standardized signal/voltage, which doesn’t drive speakers very well. Stereos/device hookups/radios/CD players do have a built-in amplification that can run on this signal, which simply raises the range of the waveform sent to them, but it doesn’t provide much in the way of volume or power increase. Since the adoption of transistors made amplifiers possible for cars, the technology in these integrated components hasn’t advanced nor improved much, it’s merely grown cheaper and more compact.

So how do those expensive audio packages, or the custom sound systems in other peoples’ cars sound so much better, richer and louder than what comes standard? It’s actually quite simple – they have an extra amplifier module – sometimes multiple amplifiers, as well as sound channel splitters and additional speakers.

Today, we’re going to focus on the amplifier as it alone can provide a marked improvement in just the basic stereo speaker setup most cars made after the 1970s have.

What is a Car Amplifier? How Does it Actually Work?

Amplifiers, as their name suggests, amplify a signal. In simple terms, a weak signal comes in from a sound source or an antenna, and the device adds voltage to this signal without corrupting it. This has been achieved in two ways historically – originally, vacuum tubes achieved this by the wave signal oscillating a circuit that produced a mirrored version of it at a higher voltage. Another component called an inverter or rectifier flipped the signal back afterward.

Transistors, which are smaller, solid state replacements for these tubes work in the opposite manner, the incoming signal cutting the circuit, which results in a stronger copy that doesn’t need to be rectified. The more transistors one of these packs, the better it can duplicate the signal with increased strength, and usually, the higher amount of sound channels it can handle.

As said earlier, any device that can produce sound at all does have some degree of amplification technology built into it, though integrated amps tend to be just sufficient to get the job done, and are rarely as performant as add-on amplifiers.

Factors to Consider When Buying a Product

Of course, it’s not as simple as picking any old amplifier and calling it a day. There are different types of these, and different types of sound systems. Fortunately, none of it is all that complicated, despite audiophiles loving to make it seem otherwise often enough.

Sound Channels

The first thing to consider is the number of sound channels an amplifier can work with. Sound channels are individual signals – stereo has two channels. The most simplistic surround sound has four channels (two stereo signals), surround with dedicated bass (subwoofer) has five channels, and a more advanced version of this uses seven channels.

More likely than not, if you’re just working with the basic speakers already present in your car, you’ll need two or four channels – consult your manual for the number of sound channels present. Sometimes the rear speakers are slaved to the front speakers, merely being four-speaker stereo. If you’re installing a custom sound system, you’ll already know how many channels you’re working with – probably five in most cases where a subwoofer is being used.

Power

Power is another factor, measured in wattage usually. Again, if you’re just augmenting your existing speakers, consult your manual for the maximum wattage these speakers can tolerate before either distorting the sound, or suffering damage. If you’re working with a custom sound system, once more, you will have wattage information on the speakers coming into this.

System Compatibility

System compatibility is obviously a concern as well – while most speakers utilize either a straight wired or “RCA” cable interface, there do exist proprietary systems, proprietary speakers, and proprietary amps. Be sure you have the right things to plug into the other right things, as it were.

Finally, know that all of this has to connect to things integrated with your vehicle (electrical channels, dash components, speakers), and the amps themselves have to be somewhere. Be aware of space and placement concerns that come from these factors.

My Personal Experience

My current vehicle actually has one of those nice, modern audio packages that didn’t require me to modify it, and amazingly, it didn’t actually cost me all that much. This is because I lucked out at an auction, and obtained a vehicle only a couple years old, for the price of a vehicle five times that age. I count myself lucky – that sort of thing is fairly rare.

My vehicle before that, I actually got back in my college days, and it was old at that point – a late 80s Pontiac. It wasn’t a bad car, but it had a decidedly ancient sound system – two speakers in the dash, AM/FM radio, and a tape cassette player. Real museum piece, obviously. Since it had such good mileage, and I didn’t want to spend a fortune fixing something that wasn’t broken, I decided to simply replace a lot of the interior components with modern updates, about six years ago. This was the time before smart screens were really something people had.

I actually took a second generation miniature touchscreen laptop (anyone else remember those?), disassembled it, and wrote a little custom interface for it very similar to what they have now. I wasn’t the first one to do this by any stretch, nor was I the last. But at the time, I thought I was a trendsetter. Everything went fine, until I tried to wire five-channel surround into the car. The signal generation component worked fine, but the volume was so weak that if the air conditioner were on, you could scarcely make it out. It was worse on those stretches of highway or freeway where speed and pavement made that constant loud hum/whine.

I had expected the base amplifier in the sound kit, and in the computer I’d disassembled, to be sufficient, but nope. This was especially problematic for the bass, as subwoofers need a really powerful signal. So, I had to get an amp.

I made the mistake of thinking all amps could handle anything thrown at them, aside from power requirements. I wound up with a mono amplifier, which means only one of my sound channels came through. Not wanting to return it (which due to the store’s policy, would’ve cost me money either way), I wound up with three amps having to be in my car, to get the job done, which made wiring and placing them to be a nightmare.

I eventually disassembled them, and wired them all together in a custom case, mounted in my trunk, but who else is going to want to bother with that? The lesson to take away from this is to be sure you can properly amplify all the channels you need to, and be aware that mono means ONE.

TOP-5 Best Car Amplifiers

This review covers TOP-5 best products within the price range from $50 to $150 available on the market. There are stereo, four-channel and mono options. The wattage also varies but the average device has 1,000 watts. They have different dimensions so if you need a compact unit, look for items that are not more than 10 inches in size.

Best Subwoofer Car Amplifier | Pioneer GM-D8601 Class D

Subwoofer Car Amplifier Pioneer: photo

For those really looking to focus on bass amplification – which most subwoofers absolutely need, this is definitely worth considering. This thousand-watt amplifier has adjustable bass pass-through, with composite L/R and intelligent signal enhancement for shaped, rich bass.

It’s mono, which means any speakers you’re passing through will become a unified signal, so this is really best as just a subwoofer amp, when building a custom set.

Features

  • Channels: Mono
  • Connections: “RCA” composite, L/R.
  • Power: 1,000 watts.
  • Adjustable: Yes.
  • Dimensions: 13.40x4.90x10.90

Performance

I’ve seen this model in person actually, as my friend uses one in his SUV, and I can tell you, if you have a good subwoofer connected to this device, you really feel it resonate through your body. He is like me, being fond of classical music, and it’s like sitting in a concert hall, where you feel the bass cello and the timpani shake the very air around you.

If you’re mostly just concerned about amplifying your bass, then you probably won’t have any real complaints about this, although with subwoofers that have more than one voice, you won’t get the enhancement of the multi-voice technology out of a mono signal. Honestly, though, you probably won’t notice that.

Pros Cons
  • Powerful.
  • Great signal reproduction.
  • Adjustable.
  • Has a remote. 
  • Compact.
  • Not a bad price for what it is.
  • Mono.
  • “RCA” jack only.
  • Remote is wired.

Conclusion 

If you’re really looking for the best essential bass amplification you can get, and don’t need to amplify any other signals, then I am very comfortable recommending this amplifier. If you need to amplify multiple channels, though, then this isn’t really for you unless you really want that dedicated bass amplification – and some people may.

Pioneer GM-D8601 Class D: Check the current price

Best Budget Bass Car Amplifier — Mosfet Monoblock

Budget Bass Car Amplifier: photo

If you’re looking for a more affordable base or mono signal amplifier, this is worth a look, offering a lot of the basic features offered by the previous model, though not quite as elegantly.

Features

  • Channels: Mono
  • Connections: Flat-wire, “RCA” inputs.
  • Power: 1,100 watts.
  • Adjustable: Yes.
  • Dimensions: Not listed, about the size of a small cable modem.

Performance

This is a lot like an amplifier a home sound system I had used. The circuitry, form factor and features are almost identical, which leads me to believe this may be a repurposing of that design for car audio. If so, that’s not necessarily a bad thing because while not quite as solid or elegant as the other one, it will produce powerful bass, or decently-amplified mono standard audio.

It’s small, easy to hook up, and has quite a bit of configurability which means you can get the type of audio you want, tuned to the type of sound you prefer.

Pros Cons
  • Powerful.
  • Great signal reproduction.
  • Adjustable.
  • Has a remote.
  • Compact.
  • Very affordable.
  • Mono.
  • “RCA” jack only for input, requires direct wiring for speakers, which is annoying.
  • Remote is wired.
  • A bit more cheaply built than the other bass-oriented mono amp.

Conclusion 

For amplification of a mono signal, or for focusing just on bass amplification without paying a huge price, you probably can’t go wrong with this one. It’s got some annoyances with the hookups, the remote is a bit kitschy, and wired remotes are just annoying as a whole, but for the price, these are honestly nitpicks, not valid criticisms.

Mosfet Monoblock: Check the current price

High-end 4-Channel Sound | Rockford R300X4

High-end 4-Channel Sound: photo

If you’re looking to amplify your standard sound either in your default car speakers, or additional ones, this four-channel system works great, compatible with surround sound signals. You’ll need a separate signal for bass if you’re doing five-channel sound, but in that case, the previous unit is a good companion for this, without breaking the bank.

Features

  • Channels: Four-Channel
  • Connections: Flat-wire, “RCA” inputs.
  • Power: 50 watts at 4 channels, 75 watts at 2 channels, 150 watts at
  • 2 channels bridged.
  • Adjustable: Yes.
  • Dimensions: 16.5x10.3x4.3

Performance

This is very similar to the built-in multi-channel amps found in modern integrated audio packages, which means you’re getting good quality in a relatively compact form factor. Being adjustable and capable of various power outputs depending on channel usage, this is a flexible amp you can get a lot of mileage out of.

Pros Cons
  • Powerful.
  • Great signal reproduction.
  • Adjustable.
  • Has a remote.
  • Compact.
  • Flat-wires the speakers, which really shouldn’t happen in the 21st century.
  • Needs a second amp for subwoofer in 5-channel or higher.
  • Runs a bit hot.
  • On the pricy side of things.

Conclusion 

If you’re looking to spend a bit of money on your sound, and don’t mind an additional amp for your subwoofer, this works great with higher-than-stereo channel counts, though it’s also pretty good for stereo or mono if you’re just trying to get more volume out of a basic existing system. However, the power of this is kind of wasted on mono or stereo, when we’ll be looking at a good amp made with that in mind shortly. I’m happy to recommend this to audio purists with 4 channel sound systems, though.

Rockford R300X4: Check the current price

Compact 4-Channel Car Amplifier | Alpine MRV-F300 

Compact 4-Channel Car Amplifier: photo

If space is at more of a premium for your four-channel amplification, then this might be the solution for you. You’re sacrificing some versatility with this unit, it is four-channel and four-channel only, but you also get the benefit of digital class D signals, which result in an amplification of a different caliber as a result.

Features

  • Channels: Four-Channel
  • Connections: RCA and Digital.
  • Power: 50 watts.
  • Adjustable: Yes.
  • Dimensions: 13x9.1x4.3

Performance

A bit of a more modern approach, the only real downside is finding compatible speakers that can interface with the class D platform, which are different technology through and through. However, adapter kits do exist for this, and more and more speakers are moving in this direction, meaning this won’t be a problem for long.

As usual, if you have a separate bass channel, you’ll need a second amp, but if you’re just doing four-channel with distributed bass, said bass will sound pretty good coming out of this.

Pros Cons
  • Digital platform.
  • Compact.
  • Excellent distributed bass.
  • Only really ideal for four-channel.
  • Speaker compatibility is limited.
  • Still a bit pricy.
  • Kind of heavy.
  • Runs hot due to digital processing, which means computing, which means more waste heat.

Conclusion 

If you want to move into the modern, digital approach, which is easier to control, and produces better sound, this is a good entry point. It’s hard to find speakers for this kind of setup without adapting things, thus adding even more wiring and devices. However, this is the direction all vehicle audio is heading from here, so you’re future-proofing your car by choosing class D like this. If you don’t mind distributed bass, or a second amplifier for your bass, you’ll probably be very pleased with this, just be aware that in the summer, it will contribute to your car becoming a touch warm if operated for a long time.

Alpine MRV-F300: Check the current price

Affordable Stereo Car Amplifier | Planet Audio AC1000.2

Affordable Stereo Car Amplifier: photo

Finally, we come to a solution just for amplifying a simple stereo audio signal. This is a really solid example of this technology, it’s very compact, and very affordable. If you just want better sound out of custom stereo, or you just want to boost the sound of your existing stereo system, this is the amp for you, most likely.

Features

  • Channels: Stereo (two-channel).
  • Connections: “RCA” and pin.
  • Power: 1,000 watts.
  • Adjustable: Yes.
  • Dimensions: 9.5x10x2.4

Performance

This stereo amp works remarkably well, but you will find two problems when working with it, though they’re not deal breakers. If you have four-speaker stereo, which a lot of even old cars do have, you’ll have to split the signal, or use two of these in tandem.

The other issue is that it uses pin connections which, while better than flat/straight wire ports, aren’t super common for custom speakers. However, this is the interface used by most integrated car speakers, which means this is very easy to wire your existing sound system into.

Pros Cons
  • Compact. 
  • Easy to install.
  • Very affordable.
  • Low power profile with great amplification wattage.
  • Stereo only.
  • Dual-speaker only – you need two of these for four-speaker, or to split the signal coming out (which means 500 watts per speaker as a result).

Conclusion 

When you just want better sound out of your existing setup, this is a good, affordable solution. It’s easy to install thanks to using pin and RCA connections, it’s very affordable, and it’s also conservative of power and heat. If you don’t mind its two-speaker limitation (or the work-arounds to connect rear speakers), you’ll be happy with the results of this one.

Planet Audio AC1000.2: Check the current price

Comparative Chart of Car Amplifiers

Product Features

Pioneer GM-D8601

Subwoofer Car Amplifier Pioneer min: photo

Channels: Mono
Connections: “RCA” composite, L/R.
Power: 1,000 watts.
Adjustable: Yes.
Dimensions: 13.40x4.90x10.90

Effectiveness: 8

Mosfet Monoblock

Channels: Mono
Connections: Flat-wire, “RCA” inputs.
Power: 1,100 watts.
Adjustable: Yes.
Dimensions: Not listed, about the size of a small cable modem.

Effectiveness: 7

Rockford R300X4

Channels: Four-Channel
Connections: Flat-wire, “RCA” inputs.
Power: 50 watts at 4 channels, 75 watts at 2 channels, 150 watts at 2 channels bridged.
Adjustable: Yes.
Dimensions: 16.5x10.3x4.3

Effectiveness: 10

Alpine MRV-F300

Channels: Four-Channel
Connections: RCA and Digital.
Power: 50 watts.
Adjustable: Yes.
Dimensions: 13x9.1x4.3
Performance

Effectiveness: 10

Planet Audio AC1000.2

Channels: Stereo (two-channel).
Connections: “RCA” and pin.
Power: 1,000 watts.
Adjustable: Yes.
Dimensions: 9.5x10x2.4

Effectiveness: 9

FAQ 

How to install and test amplifier for car?
Installation is a matter of simply connecting speaker, power, input and remote leads. It’s no different than connecting home theater equipment. If it’s working, you’ll notice by sound difference.

How to repair a car amplifier?
Only a professional with component-level electronics repair skills should attempt to repair these devices.

Can a car amp drain car battery?
Yes, if the engine isn’t running.

Can it be too powerful?
Yes, be sure to check the power limitations of your speakers.

Can it overheat?
Occasionally, yes, but usually not. If it has ventilation slots, be sure they’re not obstructed.

Can a car amplifier be mounted upside down?
Yes. Solid state circuits really don’t care about gravity.

Can the device go bad?
Yes, any electronics can, as capacitors do eventually fail.

Can you disconnect a car amplifier?
Yes, but your sound may become inaudible.

Can you use it in a boat?
Yes, just be sure it’s not somewhere rain or splashes will get it wet.

What car amps is the best?
That depends on your sound system, but one of the ones we looked at here will definitely suit your needs.

Pros & Cons

Pros

  • Improved sound.
  • Needed for subwoofers.
  • Better control of mixing.
  • Allows additional speakers.

Cons

  • Added price.
  • Added installation, wiring and space.
  • Additional component to fail.

Conclusion

If you want the type of sound offered by modern high-end audio packages, simply better sound than your default system can provide, or really want to deck your ride out with a custom system, you need an amp to make it happen. Now that we’ve taken a look at how they work, the types available, and the concerns to be aware of, you can weigh the pros and cons of these and others with a decent bit of knowledge and experience. We’re sure one of these will suit your needs.