How to set up my car amplifier

Have you ever installed a new amplifier in your car and been disappointed with the result?

Assuming you have correctly fitted the amp with the proper wiring grade and made sure the earthing is good and signal cables are all tight and using best quality phono cables and connectors, why does it still not sound great?

Components in a car sound system are like a chain starting with the head unit and ending at the speakers

Every link in the chain needs to be perfect, head unit, signal cables, power cables, earth return, amplifier, speaker cables, speakers.

Poor earth or high resistance in any of the chain links can result in disappointment.

However, let's assume everything is perfect, why does it still not sound good?

Most modern cars have factory inbuilt radio head units that are mass-produced down to a cost that suits the profits of the manufacturer and satisfies the majority of cloth-eared customers.

To compensate for the cheap paper cone speakers, the average factory head unit has an artificial hump in mid/bass frequencies, this rubbish obviously gets worse when you fit an amplifier.

Another problem is the speaker positions. Car designers usually shove the speakers too low in the door or footwell. (there are a few exceptions).

So, how can you overcome this and improve the sound in your car?

Well, if you use a smart amplifier or at least a decent DSP unit, you can overcome all the in-car acoustic deficiencies.

Manually setting up a graphic equaliser or digital sound processor by ear is not the best solution. A smart amp with a microphone gets it perfect every time.

¢ What is DSP?

¢ What is Smart Amp?

¢ How do they work?

DSP (Digital Sound Processor) can flatten out the factory hump and give a more natural starting point. Then it can check all the speakers are in phase and finally adjust the time alignment from the speaker to your ears.

A Smart amp simply has an inbuilt DSP, making installation much easier.

They work by either manually or automatically set up all the parameters.

Manual setup could be with the aid of a laptop, but you need a good set of ears, and the result will be your personal preference.

The automatic setup used to be expensive and the domain of the specialist.

When I was a sound challenge judge (a long time ago) I was trained to listen for the certain sound in a test track. Jennifer Warnes licks her lips just before starting to sing, and a good system resolves this tiny sound. We were trained to look out for lots of audio nuances so manually setting up an audiophile system takes a lot of dedication and work.

Then came Audison DSP amps and my company invested in a special toroidal microphone computerised system that when connected to a DSP could automatically send pink noise through the speakers, check phasing and time align the audio to the exact point of where the mic was mounted (driver's seat headrest).

This kit cost over £3k and required lots of training and patience in controlling it.

The results were astounding, I have an old 1983 Jaguar XJ6 which has a Retrosound Radio in the dash (looking like the old pushbutton original) connected to full stealth hidden Audison multi-amp speaker and subwoofer system. When this was tuned with the mic setup, I was blown away with the result, but what a lot of work!

Enter the Smart car amplifier.

These little marvels make the whole process a piece of cake. Simply connect your smart amp to the car, pop the microphone on the seat headrest, start the auto EQ process, close the car door, and stand back while the magic happens.

Watch this video for a better explanation of Smart car amplifiers