Planning Out Your Amplifier Install

By January 29, 2014Audio

One of the truly great pleasures in life is listening to good music: Another is driving your favorite scenic road. But the ultimate is to drive that road listening to your favorite song on a stereo system that puts you right in the front row …well in a manner of speaking.

Fitting a stereo amp isn’t rocket science and can actually be a lot of fun if you follow some basic tips and procedures. In this 2-part series we’re going to walk you through the do’s and dont’s and some simple fitment steps that could have you out on the road in a couple of hours.

In this guide we’ll look at important things to consider and plan for before the installation process.

1. Find the Right Spot

If you are installing subwoofers it’s usually best to put the amplifier in the trunk next to, or attached to your subwoofer enclosure. With this setup you sacrifice some cargo space and require longer wires and patch cords, but the fitment is simplified.

If you are going to power your main car speakers with the amplifier then it may be better to put the amp under the passenger’s seat. Before deciding on this route, remember: Large amps don’t fit, and you may have to remove the seat to do the installation, which means you’ll probably have to deactivate the vehicle’s SRS system.

If you’re fitting a smallish amp, you can also look at fitting it to the passenger side firewall.

Placement Tips
  • Amps can be sensitive to electrical and motor noise; and because interference from the amp may affect your radio reception, try to mount it at least 3 feet away from the receiver.
  • When working inside the trunk, tape over the latch, so you don’t lock yourself in.
  • Make sure the heat can be dissipated efficiently. You don’t want your amp completely enclosed.
  • Check that there’s a few inches of air space around the amp to help keep it cool.
  • Try to position it so that the slots in the cooling fins are vertical.
  • Don’t mount the amp on the bottom of the rear deck with the fins facing down, because the heat will radiate back up into the amp.
  • Leave enough room on either side of the amp for all the wire connections.
  • If you’re attaching the amp to the vehicle’s floor, check beneath the car to make sure your screws won’t puncture a brake or gas line or rip through a wiring harness.

2. Get the Correct Wiring Kit

Once you’ve carefully determined where you’re going to fit this upcoming source of heavenly indulgence, you’ll want to make sure you have the right wiring to complete the installation.

Manufacturers often make wiring kits that go with their amps and these can be bought separately. Alternatively, several specialty sound-system outlets stock ready-made amplifier wiring kits. If you choose to go this route, make sure the kit comes with the following:

  1. A heavy gauge power and ground cable
  2. A thinner gauge wire for the turn-on lead – remember to take into consideration the power of the amp and the length of the wire when making the choice.
  3. A fuse, or circuit breaker. Make sure the fuse rating of your amplifier does not exceed the rating of the fuse that’s included in the wiring kit.

3. Determine if the Amp has RCA Inputs

An important aspect of an audio amplifier is the way it accepts a signal from the audio source or your head unit.

Often, your factory radio system does not have RCA connections coming out of the back, designated for an amplifier connection. However, most aftermarket radios will contain several preamp outputs to connect multiple amplifiers. If you take a look at the amplifier it will have high-level inputs, low level-inputs or sometimes both.

High-level (Speaker Level) Inputs

Speaker level inputs are commonly referred to as high-level inputs. Speaker level inputs are used when an amplifier needs to be connected to a radio that does not have low-level (RCA) inputs. It allows you to use the signal coming from the speaker outputs of your head unit as an input source for the amplifier. Some amplifiers will have special adapters with bare wire at the end, this wire will connect to the speaker wires.

Low-level (Line Level) Inputs

Line level inputs, also known as RCA inputs or low-level inputs, use RCA interconnect cables to link the amplifier with the head unit. Most aftermarket radios have multiple pairs of RCA outputs that can connect to multiple amplifiers. Factory radios, even those with stock amplifiers, often do not have low-level inputs so these are used mostly with aftermarket setups.

The preferred route here is to use RCA inputs. If you’re using an aftermarket stereo, there won’t be much difference between high-level or low-level inputs on basic systems. But we suggest, if you’re going high-end, use low-level inputs.

Another important factor to consider: High-level inputs require that you splice into your vehicle wiring (which could affect your warranty – you’d want to check this out), some users prefer to use RCA cables instead.

Having done all our planning, we’re now ready to perform the installation in Part 2.

Photo credit: Kicker

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