In this article: I'll review AudioControl's high power LC-5.1300 amplifier. I'll unbox it and give an in-depth overview of it's features, and then hook it up to my test bench to showcase some of its intuitive, innovative tuning and signal processing capabilities.
As the level of sophistication continues to increase in factory stereos, climate control and other deeply integrated vehicle systems, ‘plug and play' products that allow installers and audio enthusiasts to easily upgrade a car's stereo without loosing any factory functionality has become incredibly important. AudioControl has emphasized OEM integration and compatibility throughout a variety of their product lineups – from inline DSPs and line output converters to in-dash equalizers and car amplifiers that combine them all. The LC series amplifiers are a great example of this dedication to providing quality signal and power in a way that simplifies installation in OEM systems. Great example: the 5-channel LC-5.1300.
5-channel amplifiers are sort of the all-in-one car amplifier. They are designed to power the traditional 4 speaker setup (6 or 8 speakers if you're including tweeters as well in a passive setup) along with a car subwoofer. A 5-channel amplifier like the LC-5.1300 will handle most consumers' needs when it comes to a system upgrade – providing plenty of power for both speakers and a single subwoofer to enable very well-rounded sound with tons of volume and bass.
Unbox & First Impressions
The AudioControl LC-5.1300 comes neatly packaged in a sleeve-style box that's encased in an outer layer of plastic. Pull the plastic off and you have access to the box and open it up to see the inner contents.
What's In the Box
In the box, you'll find:
- The LC-5.1300 5-channel amplifier of course
- Owner's manual and installation quick guide
- 4 30A ATO fuses (installed on the amplifier)
- 2 Phoenix terminal plugs for the speaker outputs
- 4 Phoenix terminal plugs for the speaker level inputs
- 2.4mm allen wrench
Amplifier components aside, I really liked how detailed the quick guide was within the box. AudioControl provides very clear definitions for all of the inputs, outputs and controls on the amplifier. In 5-10 minutes you can really get a good sense of all of the features and controls on the amp. For a DIYer, it's a great source and start and I highly recommend reading it thoroughly while you have the control panel off to get a good understanding of the product before you wire and install it.
Out of the box, the amplifier feels solid. Like most amplifiers today, it leverages a solid one-piece aluminum chassis. It looks clean with the simplistic AudioControl panel (which I'll remove later in the review). And it's pretty compact too, making it a great option for a behind-the seat install. Although I wouldn't consider it small enough for the typical under-the-seat amplifier application. See the Product Specifications section for dimensions.
I also personally really love the Phoenix plugs on the speaker level inputs and speaker outputs. For installers, this really simplifies the wiring and installation process, especially in tight quarters. It allows you to easily wire up each speaker input and output to the plug first, and then simply ‘plug' it into the amplifier once you've secured all of the wire and the amplifier itself. These are the small details that I personally love to see in an amp.
AudioControl LC-5.1300 Product Specifications:
The LC-5.1300 has a solid output that'll provide plenty of power for even some of the best car speakers on the market (four of them!). It has a respectable output for a single subwoofer too, although you're not going to necessarily be able to put a JL 12W6 (200-600W continuous power operating range) to it's full potential, for example. But still, very respectable power output all combined in a single, compact chassis and a great option for a well-rounded system.
- 5-channel class D car amplifier
- Power Output:
- 100W RMS x 4 + 300W RMS x 1 @ 4ohms
- 200W RMS x 4 + 500W RMS x 1 @ 2ohms
- 400W RMS x 2 bridged @ 4ohms + 500W RMS x 1 @ 2ohms
- 6 preamp signal inputs
- 8 speaker-level inputs
- Dimensions: 12″W x 2-1/8″H x 9-1/2″D
- Fuse rating: 40A x 4
Inputs & Outputs
In the spirit of making a universal amplifier that integrates easily into OEM systems without the mess of added components and wiring, the LC-5.1300 features both options for preamp signal inputs (6 channel inputs), and also built-in 8 speaker-level inputs that enable you to take your factory speaker signal wire and use it as the signal source for the amp.
Preamp signal inputs are standard on pretty much all car amplifiers, but not so long ago there was a time when using speaker-level inputs required a separate line output converter. This added to the wiring complexity and cost of an upgraded stereo. By incorporating the speaker-level inputs directly into the amplifier, it provides installers with the ability to directly use your factory stereo signal without the added mess and wiring that comes along with a line-output converter. This is especially helpful for consumers who are looking to leverage their factory head unit, which will more than likely not include a preamp output.
Many amplifiers, even some of the high-end ones, are restrictive in how they can leverage signal inputs to power all of the amplifier's outputs. I've seen scenarios where you literally have to have a preamp input for every speaker output! This can especially be challenging when you only have access the front signal, or rears – not both. And in most cases you won't have a dedicated subwoofer signal unless you have an aftermarket head unit or an upgraded sound system.
I like the simplicity that AudioControl brought to their LC amplifiers and how they leverage signal for the outputs. You can power all the amplifier outputs with just two signal inputs (e.g. Front left, Front Right). Or, if you do have four channel inputs, you can choose which one to leverage and sum for the mono subwoofer output on channel 5. You have the option to use signal for front, rear and subwoofer if you have access to all 5 (or six), but AudioControl provides you with flexibility if you don't have the luxury of having all preamp signal inputs. I'll show you how to do this in the next section when I dive into the control panel.
Control Panel & Features
I went ahead and hooked the amplifier up to signal and power via my test bench to showcase some of the features and settings on the control panel of the LC-5.1300. I'll go through some of the key components here that I think are important and show you how to use them.
GTO Signal Sense
GTO (Great Turn On) is a simple but powerful feature that won't take too much time to describe. It's increasingly becoming a standard feature on amps. Typically, amplifiers have a “remote” turn on wire, that leverage a 12V signal from your head unit or car to tell the amplifier when to turn on. However, there are many vehicles that use CANBUS instead of a 12V signal, making it difficult to find a signal wire in the vehicle to tell the amp to turn on and off.
GTO allows you to omit the traditional 12V signal wire, and use the speaker or preamp signals to trigger the amp to turn on. You no longer need to run an additional accessory or remote wire from the head unit to turn the amps on. Also, quick tip – when you use the GTO feature, you can use the remote wire terminal on the amplifier to provide a 12V turn-on to other amplifiers or devices.
All amplifiers come with some form of a crossover control so I won't get into too much detail here. What I will point out is that:
- Channel 1/2 only has a high-pass available. You can switch the high pass frequency control between two ranges: 30-300hz or 500-3.3khz. I thought this was a little restrictive and would have liked to see bandpass on ch 1/2. But, I think the reality is that you're always going to use at least one channel to power mids or highs and leverage a high-pass so it makes sense.
- Channel 3/4 has high-pass or band-pass. Having the band-pass in the 3/4 channel is really what enables the bi-amping capability on this amplifier. For example if you used ch 1/2 for the tweeters and ch 3/4 for the mids, you could very easily configure this type of setup using the high pass in ch 1/2 for the highs and band pass in 3/4 for the mids.
- Channel 5 is obviously dedicated to the sub so it only has a traditional low-pass.
I touched on signal summing in the Inputs & Outputs section above a little. Once you open up the cover of the LC-5.1300, it becomes a little clearer. I really like how intuitive AudioControl made it to leverage any combination of signal inputs on the amplifier.
There are three primary use cases that I'll showcase here to demonstrate the feature:
1. Front L&R Signal Only: If you only have a single front (or rear) left and right signal, you can use the summing feature to extend that signal to channels 3/4 and 5 easily. Here's what it would look like on the amplifier.
2. Front L&R + Rear L&R Signal Only: If you have front and rear signals but no subwoofer. This isn't a problem either. You can choose to leverage either ch 1/2 or 3/4 as the source of your subwoofer ch 5 signal. Here's what it would look like using ch 3/4 for the signal on ch 5.
3. Front L&R + Rear L&R + Sub: If you have all signals, it's pretty straight forward. Simply plug them in and select the “separate” on the sum switch for ch 3/4 and ch 5. Here's what that looks like.
AccuBASS is another feature that AudioControl has designed to account for OEM systems that taper the subwoofer signal at higher volumes. Normally manufacturers do this to limit the amount of bass at higher volumes.
AccuBASS counters this tapering, and can restore the subwoofer volume so that you have linear subwoofer volume that matches your speaker volume. I recommend taking a look at AudioControl's quick guide video to setting AccuBASS to get a better understanding of how this works. It's a great, unique feature that I haven't seen implemented on other amplifiers, and yet another feature that makes this amplifier a great choice for upgrading an OEM system without replacing the head unit.
Gain Maximized LEDs
On the LC series amps, AudioControl incorporated gain optimization feature that allows you to tune each channel gain pretty easily without the need to check voltage or use a dedicated distortion detection tool. You can ditch the SMD DD1 distortion detector, or any other tool you use to detect clipping while tuning up your gains.
It's a great feature that I think should be on all amplifiers at this point, and a necessity in my opinion for DIY installers who don't want to spend another $200 bucks on a dedicated tool to tune their amplifier gains correctly. More manufacturers are adding this to their higher-end lineup of amplifiers, so it's nice to see on the LC amps.
To tune your gains via these indicators, it's pretty simple. You'll need to plug in your signal to the channel you're looking to tune. Turn the crossover to the off position, and remove any speaker that might be plugged into the output of the amplifier. Using a 0 dB sine wave 1khz test tone, turn the volume on your head unit up to about 85-90% and then slowly begin to increase the gain on the amplifier. Increase the gain for the channel until the “Maximized” light turns on, then back it down until the light turns off.
For the subwoofer channel, I would recommend using a 100 Hz or 40 Hz tone although some prefer to run through a variety of hz signals from 40, 100, 500, 1k, etc independently if you really want to get serious about tuning.
MILC Source Clip Detection
MILC, or Maximum Input Level Control is a proprietary feature that AudioControl has built into a number of its products, including the LC-5.1300. It's another great feature that simplifies the tuning process for installers and audio enthusiasts by illuminating a light on the control panel when clipping/distortion is likely to occur.
When combined with the Gain Maximum LEDs, the MILC indicator can be a powerful tool to prevent damage to your stereo and ultimately optimize the amplifier to output the optimal sound.
Like the Gain Maximized LED feature, clipping detection isn't a standard feature on many amplifiers at all but it should be. If used correctly, it really saves a lot of time, and money if you don't have other dedicated distortion and clipping detection equipment. You can really tell that AudioControl was building an amp for the users/installers and not just the listeners!
Overall, I'm a big fan of the design, control panel and signal features on this amplifier. I think that the LC-5.1300 is an ideal choice for those looking to build/upgrade an OEM system without sacrificing any functionality built into the head unit. It has plenty of power, although like most 5 channel amps it might not be ideal for a power thirsty 12″+ sub.
What really stood out to me about the LC amplifier is AudioControl's dedication to the quality of the amplifier and really the installer – enabling the majority of the amplifier gain/tuning to happen directly on the amplifier without the use of external tools. Frequency tuning aside via an EQ, the gain and clipping features on this amp really simplify the installation of the amplifier and saves DIYers a lot of money and time.
Although it's definitely on the high-end of the price bracket, the fact that this amplifier has built-in AccuBass, a built-in line output converter, signal summing and the variety of tuning features make it a really unique offering and definitely worth the price for the audio enthusiasts seeking an amplifier for a high-end system with high-end components. The only thing missing from this amplifier is a built-in DSP, but AudioControl has that covered too with their D series amps. Can't wait to get my hands on one of those!