How to bridge a car amplifier
Maximizing your amp's bang for the buck
Most car amplifiers have a feature called "bridging" or "bridge mode," where two channels are combined to produce one channel with maximum output power. In this article, I'll describe two different scenarios where installing a bridged amplifier is useful and appropriate.
Using a bridged 2-channel amplifier to power a subwoofer
A subwoofer added to a factory stereo system doesn't need a huge amount of power in order for the bass to keep its level up with the rest of the music. Let's say you're looking to power a 200 watts RMS rated 4-ohm sub, without gutting your bank account with an expensive mono subwoofer amplifier. You could get a small 2-channel amp that normally puts out two channels of 60 watts RMS, and bridge it, so it could produce an output of 190 watts RMS, which would be perfect for driving the sub.
Please note: Most amplifiers, when bridged, cannot drive a speaker or sub with an impedance less than 4 ohms. Some amps are unbridgeable. Each amp is different. In order to safely and successfully bridge your amplifier, you must follow the instructions given in its owner's manual.
Components matched, time to wire
We've picked an amplifier that can put out the right amount of power through the right impedance load (4 ohms or more), and has speaker-level inputs, so it'll work with the factory system. Successful bridging depends on there being signal in both the right and left channels of the amp.
You tap into the rear left and right factory speaker wiring, and run speaker wires to a speaker-level input plug that comes with the amp. For output, connect the amp's right negative output terminal to the sub's negative terminal, and the amp's left positive terminal to the sub's positive terminal.
Similarities and differences
When installing a car amplifier, you need to install power, ground, and remote turn-on wires. The onboard gain and tone controls function the same as in unbridged mode, and need to be adjusted properly. You should note that in this bridging scenario, the amp's left positive and right negative terminals are used for the output. A different amp may use the left negative and the right positive outputs instead.
Using a bridged 4-channel amplifier to power a pair of component speakers
Another common amp-bridging scenario is to power a pair of high-performance component speakers for the front only and we're using an aftermarket receiver. You can run rear speakers off of the stereo's power, and to keep our example simple, there's no subwoofer.
You can get a 4-channel amplifier that normally puts out a mere 30 watts RMS per channel, but can deliver two channels of 125 watts RMS when bridged.
Four channels in, two channels out
You run a dual RCA cable from the receiver's front left and right RCA outputs. Then at the amp end of the cable, you attach a Y-adapter to each RCA connector, so you end up with four RCA connectors to plug into the amp's four RCA inputs.
For the outputs, connect the amp's front right negative output terminal to the left speaker's negative terminal, and the amp's front left positive terminal to the left speaker's positive terminal (well, these connection are made to the crossover box, actually). The same connection scheme applies for the rear amp channels going to the right speaker.
For convenience, we refer to the pairs of channels in a 4-channel amp as the front pair and the rear pair. As we see, in this set-up the roles of the channel pairs have been changed from powering front and rear speakers to powering a left and a right speaker.
How does bridging work?
Where does all this extra power come from? Using the negative signal of one channel with the positive signal of the other channel effectively doubles what each channel alone could put out through a 2-ohm load. Usually, this is the maximum wattage the amp can put out. So, when you bridge your amplifier, you're also optimizing your system's power potential. And that's good.
Looking for gear?
I used real subwoofers, speakers, and amplifiers in the above examples of bridging. That is, I used the specifications of the different components to plan out how they'd connect together and perform. I perused Crutchfield's extensive selection of car amplifiers, subwoofers, and component speakers to find suitable examples that would clearly illustrate bridging.
You can do the same on our site to shop for your bridgeable amplifier, or you could click on the chat icon at the top of the page for more personalized online information about a selection. Better yet, give us a toll-free call at 1-888-955-6000 and talk to a knowledgeable Advisor about which system configuration will work best for you.