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What are Amplifiers and How Do They Work?

Updated: Oct 8, 2021

Breaking Down This Popular Piece of Audio Equipment



At face value, what people know about amplifiers is that they make music louder. To put that another way, they amp up the volume. However, the world of amplifiers – specifically, car stereo amplifiers – is a bit more complex and technical. Here at San Diego Car Stereo, we love to talk shop about aftermarket car stereo equipment. That’s part of what makes our business a dream job. We get to educate customers about the science behind car audio installation and how these components work. However, car amplifiers remain a relative mystery to most people. So, we’re going to take you to school today and break down how one of our most popular items works. Let’s talk about the ever-popular amp.

Car Audio Amplifiers 101 – What is an Amp?

We all know that car stereo systems use circuitry and wires. And we all know that they run off electricity. So, where does an amp fall in line with all that? Basically, an amplifier is used to increase the current, power, or voltage of the signal. Although we mainly work with car amplifiers here at the shop, amps can be used for a wide variety of electronics such as TVs, radio receivers, computers, and other audio equipment. It’s a highly versatile piece of equipment. It’s also a necessity if you have upgraded speakers and a subwoofer in your car because they need more power.

Car Audio Amplifiers 201 – How Does an Amp Work?

Okay, so this is where things get a little bit technical. Try to stay with us. There are two types of signals: input signals and output signals. As you might have gathered, input signals send information into a device. Output signals do the opposite.

The role of a car stereo amplifier plays is taking a small input signal and increasing it to deliver a large output signal. In this case, the signal is a musical frequency that is coming from your car stereo to your amp. Using an internal power supply, the amp will generate a greater amount of output voltage that is then delivered to your speakers. You may be wondering where the amp is getting this additional power from. Inside the amp, there is some unique circuitry it uses called a switched mode power supply. This is the driving force behind your car amp’s ability to deliver all that extra voltage. A 12V power supply can easily be boosted to 28V – no problem.

Car Audio Amplifiers 301 – How Many Channels Should My Amp Have? How Much Power Do I Need for a Subwoofer?

If you’ve browsed around online looking at amps, then you probably already noticed that there are several options regarding the number of channels offered along with the wattage capacity. Each of the amp’s channels is going to serve as a source of power that is intended for one speaker. For instance, if all you’re really wanting to get out of your amp is more power to your two front speakers, then a two-channel amp should suit you just fine. However, if those two speakers in the back of your car are valuable to your listening experience, then you’ll want to go with a four-channel amp. The more channels you have on your amp, the more options you give yourself.

Regarding power for subwoofers, different subs require different amounts of power. If all you’re using is the vehicle’s factory stereo, then 50 to 200 watts RMS will do just fine. Amplified speakers will require about 50 RMS per channel, so you should plan on around 250 – 500 watts RMS for the bass portion of that. For a per channel system that requires 100 watts RMS or more you’ll want to plan on at least 1,000 watts RMS for your subwoofer. Always make sure that your sub’s top RMS level is equal to or greater than your amp’s top RMS level.

Visit San Diego Car Stereo to Find Your New Car Audio Amplifier

Now that you’ve been taken to school on what car amplifiers are, how they work, and how to select one, the next step is to come to San Diego Car Stereo to get your new amp installed. We have the largest stock and widest selection of car amps, speakers, and subs from the nation’s top brands. There’s no limit to how powerful we can go.

The best way to see everything for yourself is by visiting our shop at 4220 Convoy St. in San Diego. You can also give us a call at (858) 527-7194 to make an appointment or reach us via email using our contact form.


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