Best Car Stereo Amplifiers & Sound Systems
If want a real sound system in a vehicle it requires an amplifier and much like anything the more power, the better! There are a ton of amplifiers available and it seems you can find them just about everywhere including your local grocery store. It is important to know what you are buying and here are a few tips to guide you along the proper path.
Number 1 – be careful of the brand name. You might be looking for Alpine and you will see Alpine or maybe you are looking for Rockford and you will see Rockwood. There are a lot of unscrupulous companies out there trying to make a quick buck off of someone else’s hard work, so be careful of what you are buying.
Number 2 – power ratings are not regulated. In other words a company can put whatever they want on the side of a box and they don’t have to prove that the amplifier will actually provide that power. There is however a recognized standard called the CEA-2006 and if you see that rating on a box it is a good way to compare one amplifier to another. While not required, this standard is a test that if a company participates in the program you can be assured of the resulting rating.
Number 3 – make sure when you buy a product that they place you buy it can offer support. This could also be stated as, “Always buy from an authorized dealer.” If you are ever unsure you can always contact the manufacturer direct and they will verify the dealer.
Modern amplifiers are way more powerful than the older ones of just ten years ago and they are also feature rich with extra items such as built in crossovers and even equalization control. Make sure you buy what you need and are not paying for something you will never use. If you go with multiple amplifiers, and why wouldn’t you? Don’t mix and match brands as the overall experience will not be matched performance-wise and it just will not look good when mounted and displayed.
If you are looking to hide all of your components then you should look into multi-channel amplifiers as they maximize flexibility all while minimizing the space they take up in a vehicle.
I’ve picked my top five based upon power, reliability, durability and flexibility. My top five best buys are picked based upon reliable performance coupled with good power output. You can buy any of these brands and feel confident you are getting a good product, the higher you go on the list means how durable a product will be and how good of a sound you can get. Any amplifier can be loud, good ones get loud and sound good when they do it.
For the best car audio amplifiers, look for power that is measured by the standard CEA-2006 number - not all amplifiers will have it. In addition, make sure you're not buying knock-off car amplifiers with similar names to major brands.
Best Car Stereo Amplifiers by Rob Hephner
The Best You Can Get
Rockford Fosgate is arguably the king of power and when it comes to amplifiers they have always had a rough and tuff image. While some think that affects sound, unless you plan on listening to your music while you car is parked in a dark garage not running I wouldn’t worry about it.
Rockford’s Power series is the accumulation of over twenty five years of building the best power amplifiers designed by the top engineers. Almost every amplifier line in the United States owes its lineage to Rockford Fosgate and it shows in the performance of the Power series.
The Power series includes built in crossovers and subsonic filters all unassumingly packaged as performance is the focus. You will find several different power configurations in the Power all made with maximum efficiency in mind.
I place the Power series from Rockford Fosgate as number one on my top picks list because of its reliability and power output.
Kicker hasn’t been in the amplifier game as long as some of the others on this list but the ZX series deliver all the power you want in a package that is customizable. They too take a rough and tuff approach and even promote their brand with the tag line “Livin’ Loud.”
Kicker’s affiliation with many extreme sports events and celebrities have rubbed off on their product design and although they don’t have as long of a history building amplifier they have made up time with solid electronic design
The ZX series includes built in crossovers and are of course offered in several different power and channel configuration.
I place the ZX series from Kicker number two on my top picks list because of its strong power and unique design.
The Alpine PDX series of amplifiers is a completely different approach to power than the number one and two choices. If size is your consideration for an amplifier these units will move up possibly higher than where I place them, but I’ll explain my placement a little later.
Alpine of course in known for their excellent approach to fit and finish when it comes to products and the PDX series looks as good as it performs. These amplifiers use what some call digital power, but in reality the proper term is Class-D. What that means to you is more power from a smaller package. The PDX series is the best choice when it comes to space requirements as they are small and thin and since they are all the same package size they can even be stacked.
I place the PDX series form Alpine third because while they deliver excellent power they are slightly outclassed there by the top two choices, other than that they offer built in crossovers and several different power and channel configurations.
JBL tapped the engineers from Crown to bring the power and impact from concert level systems to the automotive environment. With impact and finesse the Power series not only sounds good buy has a great look as well.
While not the smallest packages on the block, these JBL amplifiers seriously deliver in the power output category. Instead of hiding the internal components like most amplifier companies, JBL shows them off with clever smoked windows that demand that you display them.
These amplifiers are number four on my list but this is a very close category and if you are looking for a product to show off as well as deliver good solid power this might be your number one. The Power series like others offer built in crossovers and several different power and channel configurations.
JL Audio is a relative newcomer to the amplifier category but they made up for that by employing some of the most respected engineers in the car audio industry. JL is well known for their subwoofers and they wanted to make sure they could deliver good power to those woofers which is why they entered the category in the first place.
The Slash v2 series is a simplistic clever design that allows all of the wiring and connections to come out of the amplifier from one side, this design parameter while not knew was introduced by this engineering design crew and being that they have been doing it for longer than anyone the design is the most efficient.
As I stated before this is an extremely tight top five and depending upon your personal criteria for choosing an amplifier you may rate the Slash v2 series differently. Much like all the others in the top five the Slash v2 offers built in crossovers and several different power and channel configurations.
I rank this series fifth on my list because of package size and overall raw power output.
You will be happy with any of these
MTX is well known for a good product and a great price and their Road Thunder Pro series is a good example of an economical product.
Like every amplifier series on my lists the Road Thunder Pro series includes a built in crossover and different power and channel configurations. The style of the Road Thunder Pro amplifiers is a minimalist cool youthful design.
I rank this series as my top best buy because of its value orientated price points and extreme availability.
The Strike series from Lightning Audio is designed for the big box consumer and as such is built with price point in mind. That being said it is an excellent amplifier series with of course a built in crossover and is available in different power and channel configurations.
The Strike series is a clean and simple package that is designed to maximize cost in the area of power creation. The design allows for either a hidden integration of can be shown off if that is what you want.
I place the Strike Series as my number two best buy because of its availability, good power output and excellent customer service.
Boston Acoustics has a long heritage in the home audio market, when they entered the amplifier market then did so with a product that focused primarily on function and crisp clean power. The GT series fits that bill to a “T.”
Marketed to the performance crowd the GT series’ cosmetic design is a clean sleek silver low profile design. With a built in crossover and different power and channel configurations the GT checks in as number three on my best buy list.
While not as easy to find as a the top two choices in the best buy category the Boston Acoustics GT series is well worth the search if its style and design fits your needs.
I put the Kenwood KAC series as my number four on my best buy list because it is a solid design, moderately priced and readily available. At some point you will think that all amplifiers are alike but even though the KAC looks like the big black amplifiers of old, they are far more sophisticated.
The throwback design of the KAC series allows these amplifiers to blend into almost any installation and they are of course offered with a built in crossover and different power and channel configurations.
If you want a good power amp and are not so much worried about showing off your amplifiers take a look at the KAC Series.
The Pioneer GM series is a solid amplifier design with a clean black and silver look that blends well in most all installations, it is offered with a built in crossover and in multiple power and channel configurations, just alike all of my other picks.
Pioneer has spent an extensive amount of time in the car audio competitions that focus on bass and as so has made serious stride in the past few years to make a strong powerful amplifier. This technology and design parameter has trickled down into their GM series and is the reason have included them in my best buy list.
Once again I don’t look at the number five position as a last place by any means as there are plenty of amplifier brands that I don’t list at all. I believe that the Pioneer GM series is an excellent buy and as such include it here.
When you're searching for the best car audio amplifiers at the best price, there are a few considerations to ensure you get the best system. The best car amplifiers have a good power rating that is called the CEA-2006 - all other ratings are not recognized standards. In addition when buying care stereo amplifiers, you want to make sure they are authentic brand names and there is support from an authorized dealer if something goes wrong.