Congratulations on having your subs, amplifiers, speakers, and head unit successfully installed in your car! Your car audio system is one of your car’s prized features. It’s only fitting that you enjoy all that hi-tech audio equipment with quality sound. The only way to do this is to tune your audio system correctly. The goal: enjoy hi-definition sound that’s clean and distortion-free.
So, how do you achieve the best sound for your car amplifier? We share some tips here.
Ways to Tune Your Car Amplifier
There are primary and more advanced procedures for tuning your car amplifiers:
- You can adjust by ear, or
- You can use tuning equipment to gauge and test sound quality for each component.
Take note that using tuning tools will take some technical know-how.
Common Amplification Terms
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A Gain component setting adjusts amplifier sensitivity. By determining the limits where distortion comes in; it tells you how much power your speakers can handle. Lowering this setting from the maximum level that meets distortion, in effect reduces, distracting noise, bringing you the maximum level of power with sound clarity.
This is your speaker’s musical “pitch”. Luckily you can easily adjust this setting just by using the frequency label on your speaker’s casing. You can also find other frequency settings from the labels at the back of each speaker. It’s essential to use the specified frequency numbers to adjust your amplifier correctly.
High-pass Filters (HPF) and Low-Pass filters (LPF)
When you turn these built-in frequency settings, you will set the highest or lowest frequency range that goes through your output jacks.
- For tweeters/small speakers, you’ll need to use the HPF, and subsequently power on HPF on related output channels.
- For medium build speakers, you need to use the ‘full’ filter settings, which enables the full range of frequencies: low, mid, and high can be played.
Steps to Tuning Your Car Amplifier
We will discuss the simplest ways to tune your car amp, which is to do it by ear. Here’s how:
- Turn off all filters, then turn your Gain to zero.
- Turn up your car stereo volume slowly until you detect a distortion (distracting background sound). Then turn your car stereo sounds back down a bit until the distortion is no longer heard. Turn your music up to a 75% volume level.
- Now turn on your Gain and turn up the dial until you reach the part of the sound when you hear distortion. Then slowly dial it back until the sound is clear.
- Next, do the same thing to your High Pass Filter. Repeat the process of turning it all the way up to a distortion level and go back.
How to Tune for a Great Bass Sound?
If you want a rich, full bass sound, here’s how:
1. Take out the distortion
- Just like the above basic steps in general amp tuning, turn up your car stereo to a distortion level, then dial down a bit until the stereo sound is clear again.
- Adjust your Gain setting in the same way.
2. Flatten your signal, turn on the Low Pass Filter
- Your sub amp’s Gain should be set to the lowest level
- Set the Low Pass Filter to high (turn clockwise)
- Turn off Bass boost, or set it to a middle level. (you have the option to cut off bass on any song)
- Set your receiver’s bass tone to a zero or “flat” setting. (adjust the subwoofer to a “no gain” or middle setting )
- Turn off a low-pass filter. The same goes for the bass boost on the subwoofer output.
It’s not recommended that you use a crossover, low-pass filters, or bass boosts at the same time (on your amplifier and head unit). This causes a distortion.
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3. Tweak your Low Pass Filter and Subwoofer Gain
- Play your car stereo music at ¼ of the volume level, turn up the subwoofer gain settings to distortion level, and dial it down slowly until the sound is clean.
- Turn up the sub amp Low-pass filter down slowly until you don’t hear all the mid and high-frequency notes.
The LPF helps your subwoofer filter out all other high pitch sounds (strings, vocals, guitars, cymbals) so you bass and low drums can be emphasized.
4. Setting the Subsonic Filter and Bass Boots
- Slowly turn the bass boost until a distortion appears then dial it back to a clear sound. Doing this will enable you to hear the bass drum.
- Finetune subwoofers and all filters to make the bass sound tight or loose, depending on your preference.
5. Match your car stereo volume to your subwoofer level
- Turn up your car stereo volume level, then increase your subwoofer Gain until you hear the bass sound blending in nicely with the music.
Things to Remember When Tuning Your Amplifier
Turning the wrong level on a Gain setting can make your whole car audio experience unnecessarily noisy. Properly setting Gain is critical to set all your speakers correctly.
When you adjust your amplifier, you need to consider these:
- The type of amplifier.
- The type of speakers.
- And the type of stereo.
All the tuning methods discussed above can give you a good sound without needing a technical tuning tool.
Technical tuning tools are helpful in their own way because you can easily track the distortion without going back and forth so much. Some tools use phone apps, with a microphone connected to the phone so that you can test each amplifier component separately.
The combination of the type of head unit (your audio system’s main control panel) and the type of amplifier you use makes tuning different every time. Some Gain components need to be turned up high while some don’t need as much power.
It’s important to remember that more Gain doesn’t equal more volume.
Sound Clipping and How It Affects Audio Gear Performance
People who want to tune their car amp with a more systemized approach use an oscilloscope to test signal voltages in amplifiers. This method uses test tones of different values to observe several signal voltages.
A clean, smooth sound or audio signal has a smooth curve when detected by an oscilloscope. The audio signal is rounded out at the top and the bottom waves, even when you intensify the sound.
Audio clipping or signal clipping happens when the sound waves begin to display or taper off in square-shaped bottom and top peaks.
Using tuning tools accurately identifies sound clipping. This can help you avoid blowing up your subwoofers.
Here are what experts recommend to avoid clipped audio signals:
1. When selecting an amplifier, choose one with a capacity to give your subwoofers the maximum clean watt possible.
Look for an amplifier that has 80 – 150% subwoofer rated RMS power.
2. Always make sure to set your gain correctly.
Correctly setting your gain is a must to avoid clipping. More gain does not equal more volume. A gain is designed to match the input on an amplifier with the output of the head unit.
3. Avoid fumbling with a bass boost early.
Even though you paid for everything, including the bass, not properly adjusting the gain, while using the bass boost can unnecessarily stress out your amplifiers.
The bass boost is also a gain setting that specifically finetunes the small band of bass frequencies.
Playing it by ear is a valid way to tune a car amp, but you can ask for help and learn how to tune with an oscilloscope and test tones, for a more standard way to adjust a car amp every time.
Setting Amplifier Gain with Standard Test Tones
In the tuning options mentioned above, you either watch out for distortions or square-shaped waves on an oscillator. If you’re setting your amplifier gain by using test tones, you watch out for a buzzing sound.
A test tone refers to a single note what plays at a specific frequency. You can download tones online, and save them on a disk, on a chip, your phone, or a file. They come in 100, 400, 800, and 100 Hz.
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Here are the steps for setting amplifier gain with test tones:
- Have your EQ receiver presets and the amp’s bass boost at normal settings when you listen to music.
- While your gain is at a minimum, play the 40 Hz test tone. Increase your receiver’s volume until you hear a buzz. Back off a little until a humming sound returns. Note down the volume setting.
- Repeat step number 2, and use the different test tone levels.
- Choose the test tone with the most minimum and clean volume setting and play it again using the same settings.
- Increase your amp’s gain and watch out for a buzz, dial it back down until it hums. And you’re finished.
Also note that you should use music that’s not: rap, techno, or heavy metal so you can hear any distortion clearly. Also use music from different sources, either a CD, your iPod, etc.