Home > Learn > How To's > Amplifier Tuning | Quick Guide to Tuning Your Amp
In this article: We'll run through some common amplifier terms along with a quick and easy method of tuning your amplifier gains, low and high pass filters, frequencies and bass boost.
You have an aftermarket amplifier to power your speakers or subwoofer(s), but how do you tune it to reach both your speakers, subwoofer(s) and amplifier's full potential?
CarAudioNow has put together a quick guide to do a basic tune on your amplifier to make your stereo reach its potential. Use it to tune subwoofers or speakers alike. But before we get into tuning, let's review a few basic and common terminology, features and functions that will help you better understand the tuning process.
Also see our Choosing the Best Amplifier post to see how to choose the proper amplifier to best fit your speaker and subwoofer setup if you haven't already chosen one.
Max (Peak) Vs RMS Power
The difference between “Peak Power” and “RMS Power” is simple, so don't let it confuse you. RMS Power is a measure of the amplifier's continuous power. It's the realistic amount of power that the amplifier is rated for. It's more of an average of the wattage output over a set amount of time. Peak Power can best be described as the “peak” amount of power that the amplifier can generate or handle in a very short amount of time, a burst. It is not the amount of power the amplifier emits on a continuous basis, but more of a quick burst.
Even though the Peak Power ratings are marketed by speaker and amplifier manufacturers to catch the eyes of consumers, it is not the Peak Power, but the RMS Power that you want to use as a tool to match the right speaker with the right amplifier.
Gain is the input sensitivity adjustment necessary that is used to match an amplifier's input to the receiver's output. A properly adjusted gain reduces background noise, distortion and prevents speaker damage.
Frequency is the pitch at which your speakers emit sound at. You will need to know the range of your speakers or subwoofer in order to tune your amplifier properly.
Low-pass (LPF) and high-pass filters (HPF) are filters that pass signals with a frequency lower/higher than a certain maximum/minimum frequency. If you choose the high-pass filter on your amplifier, the corresponding frequency dial will set the minimum frequency that the amplifier will send to the connected speakers/subwoofers (HPF is typically used for smaller sized speakers). Vice versa, if you choose the low-pass filter, the frequency dial will set the maximum frequency that your amplifier will send to its connected speakers/subwoofers (LPF is typically used for larger sized speakers and subwoofers). The optimal setup will have speakers that cover the high range frequencies, while subwoofers will cover the low range frequencies, without any gap in between the frequency coverage.
In addition to low-pass and high-pass filters, there is also a “Full” selection, that does does not filter the frequencies and sends a full range of frequencies to the connected speakers/subwoofers. If you have a system that does not have subwoofers, and the amplifier is being used to power 6.5″, 5″ x 7″/6″ x 8″ or 6″ x 9″ speakers, you can use this option to get a full range of sound.
Bass boost is a feature designed to boost the low range frequencies. It's typically used for subwoofers, however, can be very touchy and dangerous to use. We recommend not using bass boost unless you have to.
Tuning Your Amplifier
Great, so now that you have an idea of some of the basic terms, lets get to setting up your amplifier:
Step 1: Setting Volume and Gain Control
Turn your stereo off and disconnect the RCA cables that run to your amps. Then turn your system back on, turn the volume on your radio/receiver all the way up to max without any music playing on them. If your speakers are running off of your radio, and you are tuning your amplifier for an additional subwoofer, make sure that you disconnect all speakers before you turn your radio to prevent damaging your speakers.
Now that you have found the maximum volume (many radios denote the maximum by a number), turn back the volume to around 80% of the maximum, and set your radio's Equalizer to ‘Flat'. Then turn your amplifier's gain and bass boost to zero and turn the crossover filters to off or full.
Now, plug back in the RCAs into the amplifier channel for which you would like to tune (e.g. if you are separating speakers by channels and have separate RCAs that for each, choose one to tune). With your favorite genre of music, or purchase a test disk for tuning, slowly turn the gain up until you begin to hear distortion in your speakers. Once your speakers start to distort, back of the gain until you no longer hear distortion. This is the base gain that you will use now to tune frequencies.
Step 2: Tuning Frequencies
Now it's time to switch to the built-in cross overs and filters that are built into your amplifier. For subwoofers, select the low-pass filter (LPF) and for speakers (for a system that has a separate subwoofer or speakers to cover the low range frequencies), select the high-pass filter (HPF). If you are using the amplifier to power mid sized speakers that are meant to cover a full range of frequencies, select the full or off position, and disregard this tuning.
Now, find the frequency range of your speakers/subwoofers. If you are tuning for speakers and select the HPF, you will align the frequency dial with the lowest frequency that your speakers are rated for (note that the numbers on the dial may be in 1000s). If you are tuning a subwoofer(s) and select the LPF, you will align the frequency dial with the highest frequency that your subwoofers are rated for.
Step 3: Bass Boost
If you're feeling risky, and don't mind putting loudness in front of longevity, bass boost is a great way to increase how loud your bass is but can be very tricky to use and hard to set properly. If you are going to turn your bass boost up, make sure you turn the gain down. Each subwoofer is different, so finding the right combination of bass boost and gain is up to your ear, but bottom line is to have the highest output without distorting.
Step 4: Back to Gains
Now that frequencies and bass boost have been set, turn back to your gains while your radio is at 80% to max with music playing, and tune the gain again until you hear distortion, tuning back once you hear it.
Step 5: Finish it Up
Last step! Reconnect all amplifiers (if you were tuning channels or amplifiers separately) and turn your radio down to zero. Slowly ramp up the volume until you reach the 80% or distortion, whichever comes first. If everything is set correctly, you will reach the 80% without any distortion in any of your speakers. If not, find the corresponding gains for the speakers/subwoofers that are distorting, and turn the gain down until they no longer distort.
And that's it! Do not exceed the 80% maximum on your radio. Keep in mind that different genres of music might need different tuning to maximize the output. Now you're all set and your amplifiers are tuned!
I had a similar issue once, what gauge wire are you running? For example I was using 4g for a 2000w system and my ground wire going to the cap was slowly melting and the connection as you could imagine was about half of what it should be (since part of the wire melted) and wasn’t giving a full connection. I was getting distortion out of nowhere until my amp suddenly stopped getting power and i shortly realized my ground wire melted away from the eyelet going to my cap. Wire gauge is very important make sure your ground didn’t come loose and all your connections are solid. Best place to start
How to tune pioneer gm 9705 on the sub section it don’t boom at all
Adam what consists of your system? I had the same problem when I ran my old subs through a crossover when I finally went and wired everything to the back of a aftermarket head unit my distortion went away. Check all your wires make sure non of them are pinched or loose anywhere, check your ground and make sure it’s all the way to bare metal and there isn’t any paint touching.
I have 2 massive audio 12,s bb1499 watt max with a planet audio 3000 watt amp. How shall I tune it
I have two RCA outputs on my head-unit,
it does not say if its left or right front or rear.
How will i connect it to a Four Channel Amplifier?
Hello! If you could provide the model head unit, I might be able to help identify which is which.
Reply to Tiim. Some amps can use 2 rca to run 4 channels, like the Alpine compact amps. Also, red is always right on rcas that are hard wired into electronics. Good luck!
I recently had a JVC KD-T900BTS head unit, 2 pairs of P152 Rockford Fosgate Punch 5-1/4” and a Pioneer GM-A6704 4 channel amplifier installed in my Jeep Cherokee. I would have gone with larger speakers but 5-1/4 was the factory size. I don’t have a subwoofer so it’s just front and rear full range speakers. The amplifier has hpf, lpf and off as the 3 filter settings. Should I set these to off since these are full range speakers despite the size being below 6-1/2”? I picked the vehicle up near closing time from the installation location and when I asked if I needed to know anything or do any set up with the amp the guy said “no you should be good.” I believe they are set to hpf right now but the rear pair sounds bad when I set the fade all of the way to rear. The gains are both at normal but that’s where they were when I unboxed the amplifier. The speakers are 45w rms and the amplifier is 60×4 at 4 ohms. Thanks in advance
@JonathanTaylor I’m late to this party I know, but wondering if you got an answer to your question outside of this thread and what was the resolution? I’ve got similar headache will my rear speakers when all sound sent to them.
Thanks in advance!
Hello. Personally, if I have a system with a subwoofer (10″ or 12″), I run my 6.5″ speakers (or smaller) in HPF and limit them to only the higher frequencies in order to get more volume without distortion. If you have your 5 1/4″ speakers with a subwoofer I’d recommend either ‘HPF’ and setting the minimum frequency to the lower end of the frequency range (a littler higher than the low). Or, you can set it to ‘off’ and you won’t have to worry about setting the frequency range.
I have a kicker compR 12 pushing 500 watt rms and 2ohm to a planet audio anarchy amp with 750 watt rms at 2ohm why is my amp getting hot after 45 min?
Sean K Holm
Marquis how big of wire are u running cuz if ur pushing anything over 500rms u need min 6gauge. I have one 12kicker q series and a JL audio 1000/1 and I have 4gauge and my amp shuts off after 5mins of slumping hard and its cuz not enough power I have dual battery set up even and thats with my truck running. Really I need 0gauge and 3 batterys
@sean k holm,i had that same problem years ago & your right.jl1000s take alot of power to run them.if you dont have enough voltage running to the amp it will keep going to low-voltage then the blue light will keep coming on.i went to mobile one and thats what they told me and that i need to upgrade to a bigger alternator to make it work.
Emmanuel Ayala Castillo
Hi. I have 2020 Subaru Impreza with the stock head unit radio and the max volumen is 38. For amp gain setting, Do I have to set the volume at 80%? Does it matter if I using stock head unit radio or after market radio to amp gain setting?
So I am running a 2000 watt autotek amp. A 12 in power acoustic gothic in a q bomb ported box. My amp got really hot probably because i was pushing it to hard. And it fried the speaker out puts on a dual headunit I had installed. Now I’m running the same set up with a boss elite headunit. I turned the amp way down but cant seem to get the thump back. Any ideas?
how to tune xplod 1600 watt on 1400 watt pioneer champion 12″on grand cherokee 2000
So after you’re all done tuning, do you leave your equalizer on flat or can you turn it back to what you had it at? And also, do you leave the crossover filter on full?
Hello, thanks for your comment! If you’re tuning your system using an equalizer or in-line DSP, your amplifier gains and crossovers must be set first and remain in place throughout (and after) tuning.
I have 2 Sony Xplod 12s running off an 800w pioneer amplifier. Everything was smooth and good and then i started getting distortion out of nowhere. I replaced my door speakers with 6 1/4 inch sony speakers hoping it would help but unfortunately did not. Been playing with the gain a bit but it only seems to get worse. Any suggestions?