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Gain Settings: Sometimes Less is More

I've written about car audio for Crutchfield since 2003, after four years as Crutchfield Sales Advisor, and 10 years as a music teacher. I'm an avid music listener, with a real love of classical and film music. I love having a great system in my car, and I'll still match the system in my 98 Ford Ranger (may it rest in piece) up against anything else I've heard for great SQ. I attended West Virginia University, where I received a Master's Degree in Music Performance and a Bachelor's Degree in History. Let's Go Mountaineers!

More from Ken Nail

I just learned a valuable lesson about amplifier gain settings — sometimes less is more.

I recently put a new head unit into my truck, and I was having a bit of trouble getting the sound dialed in. No matter how I tweaked the receiver's settings, there was a certain "tinniness" to the sound, and the bass was weaker than I liked.

The receiver was the only new part of the system, so I was perplexed as to why I was experiencing the step down in performance. Finally I realized that I should take a look at the gain settings on my four-channnel amp. The amp's front channels power a pair of component speakers and the back channels are bridged for the subwoofer. Initially I had both the front channels and the rear channels set to the same level. But by lowering the gain for the front channels my system sounded better immediately - the sound was fuller, and the bass response stronger.

Lowering the gain might seem counter-intutitive, but the lower gain on the front channels improved the balance between the subwoofer and the rest of the system. By lowering the front channel output, I'd kicked up the bass output relative to the rest of the system. Now when I set the volume on the receiver, the bass comes through with more authority, and the sound is richer and stronger overall.

So remember, when you're tuning a system with a multi-channel amp, don't be afraid to experiment with different front and rear gain settings. You may find it makes all the difference between a system that sounds OK and a system that sounds great.

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