Installing Your First Car Amplifier

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Two SoundQubed S4-100's and Two SoundQubed Q1-4500.1's installed in a Ford Bronco

Purchasing your first amp was fun but now what?

You’ve heard your friends’ car systems and are ready for your own.

Let’s turn your daily driver into a rolling THUMP machine and install your first car amplifier!

For starters you’ll need:

*You can find many of these installation accessories in the Soundqubed Amplifier Wiring Kit, although you will still need the tools and meters described above.

Step one: Determine your amplifier install location

Take into account where things will be situated when you’re finished with your build.

Keep in mind the spatial constraints of your vehicle and leave enough room to work on other elements of your car audio system like subwoofer enclosures, battery banks, and wiring. 

You’ll want the amp to be at least three feet away from your head unit to avoid electrical noise and radio interference.

Make sure you leave enough room for the amplifier’s heat sink to work effectively with at least 2-3 inches of space on the sides. Amplifiers generate heat during operation and need to dissipate heat for long life.

Do not mount your amplifier directly to the vehicle’s chassis unless you are studying ground loops and the long term psychological effects of buzzing and humming sounds interfering with your music. Use rubber feet, boards, plastic panels, or have your friend hold it in perpetuity. 

Mount the amplifier securely. 

If the amp is mounted upside down, the heat it creates will have a harder time dissipating, which can result in overheating, an amp going into protect mode and the creation of an RMA. 

Failure to securely mount your amplifier invites disaster, either in the case of the amp bouncing around your vehicle and destroying itself and your subwoofers or in the worst-case scenario of an amp flying through your car and striking you or your passengers.

The ideal place for this will be different for everyone.

You may want the amp in your trunk, under your seat, or on its own air-cooled rack. As long as the amp is safely and securely installed, the sky’s the limit. 

Mounting in the trunk leaves a lot of room for cooling, cables, and controls. If this is a monoblock amp installation, this will mean short speaker wire runs to your subwoofers.

Installing your amplifier in the trunk means losing some space for groceries and backpacks, and while you’ll be able to save some speaker wire here, it will mean longer RCA and power wire runs.

Mounting under-seat leaves your amplifiers closer to the head unit, so RCA runs will be shorter, power wire runs will be shorter, and your audio signal will be less prone to degradation and interference. Under-seat mounting also leaves your cargo area relatively intact!

Putting your amp underneath the seats requires small footprint amplifiers like the S1-850 and S4-100. Opting for under-seat installs will require removing seats and protecting your amplifier from rain, snow, and other elements your shoes may expose the amp to.

Using a dedicated, fan-cooled, or air-cooled rack is the best option if you have space for it.

After you’ve determined the best place in your car for your amplifier, install it! 

If you’re still unsure of where you want your amplifier, you can mark a space and move it after you’ve gotten your enclosure, battery bank, and kid’s toys installed in their permanent locations. 

Step Two: Prepare the canvas for your masterpiece

Using a pry tool and screwdriver, remove the interior trim panels along the floor. 

Slide the pry tool underneath the edges of the trim panels. Raise or leverage the handle of the pry tool until the trim pieces pop off. You may need to use a little bit of force to make this happen. 

Your vehicle may require a screwdriver to remove your kick panels and some panels will require prying up on a recessed clip. 

Some scuff panels may be attached to the panel that your seatbelt is connected to. If this is the case, you will need to remove your seatbelt anchor’s nut or bolt to remove it.

You will have a lot of trim pieces. Label them or set them aside in the order you removed them in to make putting them back into place an easy task. 

Prepare Your Amplifier Mounting Feet and Amp Rack.

Prepare your rubber feet or amplifier rack for their installation. This includes determining space for your amplifier rack, and installing your amp feet. 

Next, measure the lengths of wires that you will need for power, ground, and signal from the head unit.

Measure twice, and leave enough room for wiring mishaps that require cutting and stripping the cable down, especially if this is your first install.

Pay attention to which side of your vehicle the stock battery location is. 

Running the power and signal cables on the same side can result in interference and poor signal, so let’s separate these.

Run the power wire and gain control knob along one side of the floor and your RCA cables and speaker wire along the other side of the floor. 

Typically, power lines will run along the driver’s side with the signal running along the passenger side of the vehicle but every install is different.

Step Three: Running power wire! 

There are NO corners to cut here.

None.

No matter what your neighbor, cousin, or friend that tattoos in his mom’s basement say.

This will take some time and may be the most difficult part of your installation.

To begin running your power wire, set the parking brake and disconnect the negative terminal of your battery to keep you and your gear safe.

If you’re using an Amplifier Wiring Kit, choose the longer of the two strips of large wire. This should be 16-20 Feet of either 4 Gauge or 1/0 AWG depending on which Wiring Kit you have.

Your power wire needs to go from your battery to your amp. This includes a pass through the firewall, through the cabin, and to the amplifier. 

Let’s find an access point on the same side of the firewall as your battery.

You’ll want to find an accessible grommet in your firewall for this. 

Look inside the engine bay or the footwell on the same side of the car as the battery for a grommet with space to add your power wire or an available access point.

If you do not have an accessible firewall grommet, you will need to drill a hole in your firewall to run this before grommeting.

Be extremely careful not to drill into any gas or electrical lines when doing this. 

After determining that both sides of a given firewall location are free from obstacles, drill a small pilot hole in the firewall. Next, drill a hole large enough (step bits are great for this) for your grommet and power wire. 

You may want to paint this hole before running your wire to prevent rust from forming. Now puncture your grommet and run your power wire through it.

Run your power wire through the firewall.

This step will require using your coat hanger or semi-rigid cable. Tape the wire to the tip of your hanger or cable. Use that taped end as a guide to slide the wire through the chamber until you are able to grasp it on the inside of your vehicle. 

Do not run your power wire through your steering column, the outside of your car, or on the same side of the car as RCA cables and speaker wire.

Let’s leave that 16-20’ wire intact for now so we have room to wire your fuse!

Step Four: The Fuses your amp uses

Only Fuses Can Prevent Forest… er, Car Fires.

Properly installed in-line fuses prevent fires from happening by stopping the current flow when short circuits cause them to blow. 

Keep that fuse as close to your battery as possible. No more than 12-18 inches away from the battery is the common practice though every install is different. 

Start by Installing the Fuse Block.

Wherever you can safely and securely install it, within 12-18 inches of the battery, is the best place for it. There is no one-size-fits-all location for this component. Every car will be different. Find the right place in your car.

After your fuse block is secure in the engine bay, measure and cut enough power cable to reach from the positive battery terminal to the fuse box we just installed.

Crimping and Connecting

If you’re using the SoundQubed Amplifier Wiring Kit, utilize the pre-terminated leads and then after measuring twice, cut and strip a few inches from the non-terminated ends before crimping and heat shrinking with the ring, spade, or other terminals you will be using.

Next, we will affix two of those crimped ends to the fuse box. Leave the connection from the fuse box to the battery and from the fuse box to the amplifier alone for now.

Want to learn more about crimping and wire management? Click here.

Step Five: Running Power and Ground to the Amplifier

Installing the Power Wire to Your Amp

The bare end of the power wire that is in our cabin will need to be inserted into the 12V slot of the amplifier. Run this along the edges of the cabin where it will be covered by the kick panels we will be reinstalling at the end of our project.

Make sure that you have a snug fit in the power terminal and that your power wire is sheathed outside the terminal.

Verify that the power wire is not too taught through the cabin, as it may need to be tucked back or underneath the trim panels. 

Grounding Your Amplifier

Properly grounded systems help stabilize voltage levels. The ground wire is crucial- It can save or destroy your system, so it’s important to get this step right.

You’ll want to set your ground wire as close to your amplifier as possible, using the same gauge ground wire as power wire. 

This should ideally be less than 12 inches away from your amp, though every install is different. 

The shorter this run is, the better your ground will be. 

Find a bolt that is secured to your vehicle’s frame. 

Not your seat belt bolt, as it may lack a solid metal-to-metal connection and could introduce extra resistance to your ground.

If you cannot find a suitable bolt, you will need to create a grounding point by drilling into your chassis. 

Select an area with uncovered metal and drill a hole for your bolt or screw. 

And if you cannot find a bare metal surface within 1.5 feet from your amplifier, you will need to prepare a surface by grinding any paint, dust, or rust down to the bare metal. 

Clean this area thoroughly- Bare metal is essential for this ground connection. Exercise caution to avoid drilling into your gas tank, existing wiring, and gas/brake lines. 

Verify that the underside of your drilling location is clear from obstacles, gas lines and other wires.

Make sure that your bolt is free of any rust, dust, or paint and is connected directly to the metal chassis of the vehicle. If there is paint or residue present, sand it or grind it down to the bare metal. 

Now we’re ready to connect the ground wire!

Having created and prepared the grounding point, the next step is to connect the ground wire terminal to the grounding bolt. 

Tighten the ground wire onto the terminal, using a washer and nut, and make sure it is secure so it will not come loose over time from vibrations. 

Using a star washer will make sure your washer bites into the metal to keep your ground terminal in place. If you opt to use a star washer, place it over the ring terminal so it will not add resistance to your ground.

See this article on testing your ground wire.

Step Six: Remote Turn-On

Why do we need this?

If we connected the amplifier (and Power to the battery) as it is right now, it would probably turn on. 

But without a remote wire, the amplifier would continue drawing current after you turned your car off. Your battery would be dead by the time you’re ready to leave for work in the morning.

Correctly installing your remote turn-on wire means that your amp will turn on when you start your vehicle or turn your radio on and turn off when you remove your key from the ignition or turn your radio off.

If you’re using an aftermarket head unit 

There will be a ‘remote out’ or ‘12v’ wire on the back of the unit. If you’re using a factory head unit, you will need to look up the wiring diagram to determine which wire is for remote turn-on. 

If you do not have a remote turn-on wire, the power antenna wire may be a suitable alternative- If your car has one. 

Make sure that your power antenna wire will work with the radio off if you are taking this course of action. Many new vehicle’s power antenna wires only operate when the AM/FM radio is on. 

You may also use the vehicle’s fuse box, provided the fuse is an ignition-controlled source. 

To access these wires, use your pry tools and screwdriver to remove the dash panels and brackets that hold the head unit in place. 

As with before, either label those pieces or keep them in order from what was removed first so putting everything back together is a breeze when you’re done.

Once you have removed your head unit

Identify the 12 Volt wire, which is commonly blue and white. Strip an inch or two of this wire’s insulation with your Amplifier Wiring Kit’s Remote Turn-On wire using solder, a crimping connection, or T-Taps. 

Next, we will route this remote turn-on wire to the amplifier.

While we use one side of the vehicle for power wire and the other side of the vehicle for speaker wires/RCA’s, the remote turn-on wire can be run on either side of your car. It uses very little voltage and is unlikely to create noise.

Step Seven: Making connections

Connect your RCA’s to your head unit now. 

After attaching them to the head unit, route them down the opposite side of the vehicle as the power wire. 

Connect the RCA’s to your amplifier.

If you are using your factory head unit, you will need to connect your head unit to a line out converter or other components that reduces your signal from high level to line level. 

This will require attaching your stock factory speaker wires to the converter via crimp, solder, or T-Taps. 

After those wires are connected to the Line Converter, attach the RCA’s to the Line Converter, and route them to the amplifier.

Next, make your connections to the amplifier: Power, Ground, Remote Turn On, and RCA.

Step Eight: Put it back together

You’re almost finished with your first amp installation!

To finish this install, we need to put things back together:

  • Put the kick/trim panels back in place
  • Put the dashboard back together
  • Reattach seat belt bolts and seats
  • Attach your fuse block to the battery
  • Re-Connect the battery’s negative terminal
  • Turn your vehicle on
  • Listen to music
  • Turn the music UP

Want to learn more about your amplifier or MonoBlock Amplifiers?

**The advice in this article is not intended to be the end-all, be-all advice for amplifier installation. Every install and vehicle are different. The tips and advice offered are no substitute for safe practices when dealing with electricity. SoundQubed is not responsible for any errors in installation nor does Soundqubed assume any responsibility for the effects of poor installation.