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Video: setting your amp's gain control

Properly set gain prevents distortion and reduces noise

I've been with Crutchfield since 1999, where I began as one our advisors, helping our customers choose new gear. After a couple of years, I moved to the writing team where I spent a decade researching new products and getting hands on with car stereos, amplifiers, speakers, and subs. Yeah, I've been doing this for a while.

For the past few years, I've been the managing editor of Crutchfield's Car A/V web article content. I couldn't ask for a better job — we get to play with car audio gear every day! I'm a Virginia native from the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Outside of work, I love listening to music, playing board games, and installing new audio systems for my friends.

More from Robert Ferency-Viars

Check out our quick and easy method for properly setting the gain on your car amplifier. This simple adjustment will have you on the road to stellar sound.

Video Transcript

Properly setting the gain on your amplifier is key to getting great sound in your car. The gain control is not for adjusting volume. It simply adjusts the amount of signal coming from your receiver into the amplifier.

If you set it too high, you're introducing distortion into the sound. But if you set it too low then you're choking back on what the amp is there to do in the first place. So the key is finding the right balancing point for your car.

Every manufacturer is a little different in how they design their amps, so be sure and check your owner's manual to see what they recommend. We're going to show you a technique that works pretty well with any amplifier.

First turn the amp's gain all the way down. Then go up front and put on some music. Now crank the stereo's volume until you hear distortion. Then back it off until the distortion goes away. Now go to the back again and turn up the amp's gain until that distortion comes back. Then, once again, back off until the distortion's gone. You're done.

If you're using the amp to power your speakers, everything should be clear and strong. If you're powering a subwoofer, then as you turn it up that sub should continue hitting hard and tight and the bass should be well-defined.

  • Martin from Nixa mo

    Posted on 7/23/2016

    Not sure but it looked like in this video that the bass boost knob was all the way up. Should this setting be at zero when adjusting the gain ?

  • Buck Pomerantz from Crutchfield

    Posted on 7/25/2016

    Martin, It sure does look like that bass is fully boosted, which probably wouldn't sound so good or make setting the amp gain any easier. Fortunately this is a demonstration video and the amp was not in someone's car. An amp's gain should be set with all EQs and boosts set as you would normally listen to music. Applying bass boost after setting the gain, for example, will result in clipping.

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