Let me be completely honest upfront – if you’re on a budget and want to buy a car amp, you’re going to have to live with some compromises. Buying the best budget car amplifier you can find can take a lot of time and work so I’ve put together a helpful guide for you.
The great news is that although you might not get the same high-end features, specs, and more that only come with more expensive models, you can still get a great amp! So don’t sweat it too much.
Let’s focus on what you need most and how we can get you the right amp you need but can afford too.
What to look for in the best budget car amplifier for your money
For years car amp manufacturers sold their products with outrageously large power ratings on the box – in some cases these are simply unbelievable for a small car amp. For example, hardly anyone would believe that an amp that measures about 12″ x 12″ in size could produce around 1000 watts of power. But for the new buyer who isn’t aware of it, it’s a misleading and confusing thing to try to figure out.
Amplifier power ratings – what do they mean?
Realistic power ratings use the “RMS” label, which is an electrical engineering term to represent “root mean square”, a mathematical way of expressing the actual, useable power that an amplifier can produce continuously. The confusion comes from amp manufacturers using the “peak” power rating, which is not at all representative of the actual amount of power an amp can drive your speakers with.
Think of it like the example of a modest-sized car with a speedometer that goes up to 200 MPH. Can most average cars really drive that fast? No way!
In the 2000s the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) developed a standard to help consumers with this. Audio amplifier manufacturers whose specs are listed as “CEA-2006 compliant” have power ratings and performance specs that are reliable.
This logo means that the company making an audio product has reliable performance & power specs you can trust. But it’s not a mandatory compliance feature – many companies still have specs on their products which you’ll have to simply hope are correct, and be aware that they might not live up to advertised power ratings, for example.
Not all companies provide this so it’s important to be careful when shopping.
For the most part, if a manufacturer does not list their specs with some type of standard like this or highly detailed information instead, you’ll basically just have to trust (or hope!) that the RMS power and other specifications are correct.
It’s important to understand this because budget amplifiers often are not CEA-2006 compliant and still, to this day, use the “peak” power ratings on their packaging and sales info. It’s a shame, as it’s very misleading.
Basic features you want
I recommend a minimum power rating of 50W RMS in 4 ohms per channel for driving full range or component speakers and 150W into 4 ohms minimum for driving a subwoofer. This is generally sufficient power for the average person to listen to music with sufficient power for good volume, clear and non-distorted sound, to be able to crank the volume occasionally.
Don’t buy an amp with close to 25W RMS unless you have a specific reason to do so. Car stereos, for reference, have a typical power output of about 14W RMS per speaker channel. That’s because they cannot produce higher levels of power as they’re limited to using the 12V supply in a vehicle, unlike high-power amplifiers.
Small amps like this one are advertised with power ratings like “200W” which is impossible for it to produce – you have to read the fine print for the RMS power ratings, and even then be cautious. I don’t recommend tiny amps like this except for the smallest basic installation, like for driving small speakers. They can’t produce good sound & power like “real” car amps. Also they lack the features of the others.
Higher power amplifiers use a special power supply to step up the car voltage and produce higher power output. The problem with small amps is that you may be mislead into thinking they can produce higher power than they can, when in fact it’s impossible – you’re still limited to power level around the same level as a car stereo.
If you’re not wanting great sound and are simply trying to power some small 2-way (or similar) speakers, that’s ok, but these tend to be tiny, low-quality amps I wouldn’t recommend. Also, most aren’t bridgeable either.
Crossovers are great features to have! And fortunately much more commonly found in car amps today than in decades past, which is a great thing!
High or low-pass crossovers work to block a range of sound you don’t want to send to speaker channel or channels. For example, you could use a high-pass to block low-end bass that small speakers can’t handle well and would cause distortion at higher power & listening levels. A great example is setting the high-pass crossover switch on an amp to “HPF” and the control to about 60Hz. That way everything above 60 Hz (a low bass frequency) would be played but not below.
Crossovers and other related controls, as shown here, are extremely useful and pretty much mandatory for getting lower-distortion, higher-volume sound with great clarity. You simply turn the switch to LPF (low pass filter) or HPF (high pass filter) accordingly and adjust the cutoff frequency by adjusting the dial.
The end result when using a crossover for small speakers is more volume and clarity at higher power with less distortion. For subwoofers, a low-pass filter means “pure” bass without hearing the vocals and other parts of sound a subwoofer doesn’t do well, and will sound terrible when allowed to play.
Bridgeable amps are those that are designed to allow using 2 speakers channels together in a push-pull way to get substantially larger power out of the amplifier. There’s no magic behind it, just using more sections of the amplifier to work together to drive a speaker or pair of speakers harder. When a speaker is connected across 2 speaker channel outputs the amp can produce up to 4 times the power of a single channel!
This is a way to have an amp that’s flexible for using with multiple speakers or to get more power to drive a single speaker like a subwoofer. You can find my post with more information about bridging amps here.
Class A/B vs. class D amps
Amplifiers fall into “classes” (design categories) based on the type of general technological design they used to boost power and create an amplified audio signal to drive your speakers. Class D is the newest and most efficient technology while class A/B is one of the oldest and generally has been used in lower-cost amps (which is fine – it produces good sound quality, but uses more electrical power).
The big picture
When choosing a budget amp, consider all the things I wrote above as well as understanding that the least expensive amps are a compromise. Expect decent quality and generally speaking good to average performance. They simply aren’t designed the same way as the big name brands which cost more. It’s always important to keep things in perspective.
That doesn’t mean you should have much to worry about, but they do tend to have higher failure rates than more expensive brands. Bear this in mind when buying. On the other hand, when you’ve got a budget, you’ve got a budget to keep!
I’ve been there and know how it feels – and that’s totally ok. The great news is that I’ve put together a list of great amps that you can afford and still get great sound!
★ The best budget car amplifiers under $100, $75, and $50 ★
Since different people have different kinds of systems they want to install, I’ll provide a few different types of amps that are great choices for you. For example:
- Mono-block (single-channel) for power subwoofers
- Multi-channel amps for 2 or 4-speaker systems, or a combination of speakers + subwoofers
Of those above, think about which ones will be most useful in the long run if you need to change things around later. Try to plan ahead. (Of course, you can always add another great budget amp later and expand your system for even more power!)
1. Best budget subwoofer amp under $90: Boss Riot R3400D – A great value for cost-conscious bass fans.
The Boss Riot series R3400D is a class D single-channel amp for compact power, and if you shop smart can be found for below $100. It’s also stable to 1 ohms and is rated at 1050W RMS x 1 into 4 ohms.
But don’t realistically expect 1700W – after all these aren’t CEA-2006 compliant amps. However you can expect great power up to the 638W RMS rating and it’s a great budget amp for one or multiple subwoofers you want to drive hard without having to about crank the gain all the way up and yet still run out of power!
It’s overall a well-built budget amp and has quite a few happy buyers as well. Don’t just take my word for it, check out the buyer reviews. Thermal, overload, and speaker short protection is built-in to help protect it from permanent damage should things go wrong.
Not only is the watts/dollar ratio great, but it includes an external bass remote you can install at your dashboard to control the bass level while driving & enjoying your tunes. It also features a bass boost and low-pass crossover. I was surprised that it also features a subsonic filter and 0/180 degree phase control, too. Not bad for the money!
You can also link together 2 amps using the DataLink feature for getting a ton of power out of both together! Very cool.
It’s a great buy and compact at only 13-1/2″W x 10-7/16″D x 2-1/4″H in size.
I’ve found one of the lowest prices over at Amazon.
2. Best budget subwoofer amp under $80: Boss Riot R2400D
The R2400D is a smaller version of its bigger brother the R3400D. If you don’t need the same huge power of its bigger brother, the amp is rated at 650W RMS x 1 into 4 ohms and measures a smaller 11.5” x 10.4” x 2.3” in size.
It has the same great features, too, including the remote.
It’s selling close to $90 at many retailers online, but if you’re lucky you might find it for about $75.
3. Best cheap subwoofer amp under $60: R1100M
The R1100M is in the Boss Riot monoblock amp family but is a class A/B amp and a reasonable entry-level model. There seems to be some confusion about the advertised power rating (413W RMS x 1 @ 4 ohms) when it’s actually 250W RMS x 1.
If you’re looking to drive a single subwoofer or pair of subwoofers down to 2 ohms and need moderate power, it’s a great choice.
Unlike the R3400D/R2400D, it also features speaker-level inputs and can work out of the box with factory systems! It’s a great value as it also features a bass boost (non-adjustable switch), low OR full-range crossover control, and the optional subwoofer remote is included. Measuring 13 x 12.6 x 3.9 inches it comes close the same size as its bigger brothers, the R3400D/R2400D.
It’s a very popular seller and while as powerful as the other models, it’s a good compromise between value, power, and cost.
4. Best budget 4/2 channel amp under $90: Planet Audio AC1600.4 – Great power, value, and the flexibility for multi-speaker or complete systems.
With 150W x 4 @ 4 ohms of power you can bridge to an advertised 600W RMS x 2, this class A/B amp is a great sounding budget amp with enough power to run some of the best low-cost custom installation setups you might think of. It’s an inexpensive but nice amp and has some features that many of the higher-end competitors don’t have.
A great example is the included bass remote control, which is separate purchase on many more expensive models!
It’s a very popular amp and a best seller with mostly great reviews too. A few complaints here and there, but not very many.
There’s a long list of features that make for great system flexibility:
- 2 ohm stable
- High/low-pass crossovers (high pass: 50-500Hz adjustable, low pass: 45-90Hz)
- Adjustable bass boost of 0-+18dB boost
- Optional remote (included)
- High-level inputs
- Thermal and short circuit protection
It’s a great looking amp! I especially really like the nice blue glow on the planet emblem and the backlight on the logo on the chassis.
It’s definitely one of the best buys out there, and a great deal for less than $90. But you’ll have to shop around to avoid paying too much. Usually the best price is over here at Amazon, in my experience.
5. Best budget 4/2 channel amp under $75: Planet Audio AC1200.4 – Another winner like it’s bigger brother!
The AC1200.4 is nearly identical to its bigger brother the AC1600.4 except for size, power rating, and cost. It’s a 113W RMS x 4 @ 4 ohms amp. It’s not very large at 10″W x 11″L x 2-5/16″H in size so it should work well for your installation.
It has the same great looks and simple controls as the AC1600.4, but you give up a few things:
- No remote bass control ability
- Bass boost is only for channels 3/4 on this model
- High-pass crossover is fixed at 80Hz (low pass is adjustable for 80Hz and below)
Still, those are very minor issues compared to what you get for the money. And besides, it’s a great sound amp for what you pay and especially how you’ll be able to run a whole speaker system or speakers + subwoofer if you like!
The price is great but it seems to be overpriced at some sellers, so head over here for the current best price on the internet.
Note: I also recommend the Autotek TA1050.4 125W RMS x 4 amplifier. It’s not a popular seller like the others, but it’s a good value as well and reliable. Also it’s well designed and an overlooked gem as it doesn’t get noticed like the others.
It has basically the same features as the Planet Audio amps and a great Autotek reputation for quality. You can head over here to find out more.
6. Best budget 4/2 channel amp under $50: Planet Audio AC800.4 – More value for tight budgets.
The AC800.4 can power your system with up to 100W RMS x 4 into 4 ohm speakers and is basically identical to the AC1200.4. If you’re on a very tight budget it’s a good choice. It’s small also, at only 10.66″W x 10″L x 2.41″H. Like the AC1200.4, it’s bridgeable, and is rated at 200W RMS per channel bridged to 2 channels.
For some reason it’s easily almost $20 higher at some retailers, but I’ve seen it near $50 here most of the time.
Final thoughts to remember when shopping for the best budget amplifier for your vehicle
When shopping, remember to not get distracted by the “max” power ratings used to advertise car amplifiers and give the impression they can produce amazing amounts of power for a miniscule price – because they can’t.
Follow my guidelines and use RMS values when making a purchase decision – and even then, be careful! Sometimes the budget amp companies have missing info, mistakes, or still don’t disclose the accurate numbers they should. My recommendations above (and the models here) should help you get on track.
Again, remember that these budget amps aren’t junk, but they’re not “high-end” either. So you can expect adequate performance and good sound for your money but not on the scale of more expensive amps. You get what you pay for, like with many things.
Don’t forget to get an amp wiring kit! Rather than get ripped off, check out this great one that’s budget priced.
You can find out more about what to watch out for in my great write-up about amp kits as well.
I hope you find a great amp and get to listening your music very soon!