Using a car amp…at home? It’s not such a crazy idea after all! While it’s true that it’s not super easy, it’s really not all that hard and you can do it.
In this article, I’ll explain how to connect a car amp to a home stereo with clear diagrams anyone can understand. I’ll also show you all the little things you need to know before you try so you avoid disappointment & headaches.
- First things first: Can a car amplifier be used at home?
- How to use car amp with a home stereo + diagram
- What voltage & size DC power supply do I need for a car amp?
- Connecting 2 RCA stereo outputs to a 4 channel amp
- Can I use 8 ohm speakers with a car amp?
- I have a hum (ground loop noise) from the amp. What can I do?
First things first: Can a car amplifier be used at home?
The good news is that YES, one way or another, you can definitely connect a car amp to a home stereo.
However, since car amps use a different power source the single biggest challenge is getting enough power to them. They also use a remote-on wire to turn the amp on & off so it doesn’t draw power and kill your battery when installed in a car.
Fortunately, these (and other) problems are fairly easy to deal with. Here’s a list of what you’ll run into when using a car amp at home:
- Signal inputs: Not all home stereos have RCA line-level jacks, so this may require a workaround to connect to your amp’s audio inputs. Some amps make this pretty easy, however. (This isn’t much of a problem as you’ll see from my diagrams below)
- Power source: Unlike home stereos that are powered from alternating current (AC), car amps work from a +12V direct current (DC) supply. You’ll need a +12V AC-DC power supply with enough current to run the amp. Not just any AC/DC 12V adapter will do as you’ll see later.
- Turning the amp on/off: This is actually really easy! You can simply disconnect your DC power supply and let the amp shut off or use a simple switch to turn the amp on and off. I’ll show you how to wire the car amp so it can turn on.
The bad news is that unless you have the parts you need already, you’ll probably have to spend a little bit of money to get it working well. The good news is that most of what you need can be found and bought new or used but you may need to order some online.
Sadly, retail stores are usually poorly stocked when it comes to power supplies that you can use for a car amp indoors. You’ll have much better luck online at places like Amazon or electronic parts suppliers.
How to use car amp with a home stereo + diagram
The way you’ll connect your car amp depends on both your home stereo and your car amp’s features as I mentioned earlier. You’ll end up with one of 3 situations:
- Home stereo with no RCA output jacks + car amp with speaker level inputs: It’s actually fairly common for home stereos and home theater receivers to have no full-range RCA jacks you can connect to the amp. In this case, if you’ve got a car amp with speaker level inputs these can be connected to either an unused pair of speaker terminals or alongside speaker terminals in use. The amp’s speaker level inputs will scale down the speaker inputs to a low signal it can use.
- Home stereo with no RCA output jacks + car amp with RCA jack inputs only: In this case, you’ll have no choice but to use a line level converter commonly used for car audio. Just like in #1 above, these are connected just like speakers to unused speaker terminals or alongside an existing speaker set. This will drop the signal down to a very low level that’s used by the amp’s RCA inputs. Note: I strongly recommend getting a decent quality model converter with adjustable outputs for best results.
- Home stereo with full range RCA output jacks + car amp: This is the easiest way by far, but not all home stereos have full-range RCA output jacks. Some only have subwoofer RCA output jacks which are bass-only outputs. Full-range RCA output jacks can be connected directly to the car amp’s RCA inputs.
How to connect the remote-on wire on a car amp
In all cases, you’ll also need to wire the amp with power and a remote-on wire so it can turn on. You can do this one of several ways:
- Jumper the remote on terminal: When wiring the power and ground 12V connections, you can use a small jumper wire from the +12V terminal to the remote terminal so it’s on any time the amp has power.
- Just a jumper wire + switch: Basically the same, but you can also duplicate how a car stereo’s remote on wire works by using a simple inline switch on the remote wire to turn it on/off yourself.
If you’re using a switch you can leave the AC/DC power supply plugged in if you like. When the amp’s remote wire loses its +12V signal, the amp will switch off internally and draw zero power.
What is a line level/RCA converter and how do they work?
Shown here are two examples of line level/RCA speaker level converters that work well for home receiver/amp to subwoofer use.
Line level converters (also called RCA speaker level adapters) are small electronic devices that connect to speaker outputs from an amp or receiver and scale down the higher-voltage signal to a low level (“line level”). The outputs are RCA jacks which can then be connected to an amplifier or subwoofer with RCA jacks.
They’re extremely handy in the car stereo world because they make it possible to connect a stereo without RCA outputs to any amplifier or powered subwoofer. We can also use them for home stereos, too.
How much do line level converters cost?
While you can get the el-cheapo ones for under $10, I don’t recommend those. Expect to spend around $15-25 or so for a good one. No need to spend too much these days as there are lots of good values out there.
What voltage & size DC power supply do I need for a car amp?
You can get a rough estimate of the maximum amount of electrical current you’ll need for a car amp using its maximum RMS power as shown here. However, if you’re not using an amp to its full capability you can get buy with a smaller (and less expensive) power supply.
What voltage does a car amp need?
Car amplifiers, when installed in a vehicle, work off of a voltage range as the engine runs. Although we say cars & trucks use a 12V supply, in reality, a car amp is designed to work from somewhere around 11V to 14.4V or so as the alternator in your vehicle raises or lowers it’s output while charging the battery.
Therefore you can use a power supply with a DC output similar to this, but I recommend 12V to 13.8V. Most power supplies you can buy are one of these.
What size power supply do I need?
You’ll need a power supply with a decent amperage (A) rating. Regular wall adapters won’t work as they’re very weak (0.5 to 1 amps or so). You can find 5A supplies for under $15 depending on where you shop. Desktop computer “ATX” power supplies are affordable and available in power ranges up to 500W or more. They’re easy to find but need a certain wiring connection in order to turn on.
In order to figure out how big of a DC power supply you need, you might want to calculate roughly the amount of current your amp will draw at full power. Once we know that, we can take into account wasted power that all amps use up and come up with a fairly accurate number.
Just so you know, class D car amplifiers are more efficient and therefore waste less power (and draw less current) than standard class A/B amps.
If you’re not sure what class your amp is, if it’s a class D amp it’s usually stated on the box or the amp itself. Class A/B amps often don’t state it anywhere. (Many new amps are class D so I wanted to take that into account)
Estimating amp current
You can estimate amp current based on the maximum RMS power of the amp. Don’t use “peak” or “maximum” watts as these don’t reflect the actual continuous power a car amp puts out.
As class D car amps are around 85% efficient and A/B amps are around 65% or so efficient we can use that to estimate the total current an amp would need.
As you can see, to run a car amp at full power you’ll need a pretty big power supply! However, the good news is that it’s only if you really want to drive the amp at full capacity. For lower-power, casual listening, we can get by with a smaller (and thankfully, cheaper) power supply.
Realistic power ratings you’ll need
For just listening to music with decent volume, I recommend at least a 2.5A supply for small amps (under 50W/channel). For 4 channels or higher power ones, I’d get a 5 amp or bigger. If you’d like to have more power, consider getting 15A or above.
You can find a 5A supply for under $15-$20 if you shop carefully. 10A and 15A supplies are fairly popular so they’re usually really affordable, too. However, when it comes to much bigger supplies that will let you drive a subwoofer with heavy bass, for example, those can be expensive: $100 and above.
Connecting 2 RCA stereo outputs to a 4 channel amp
What if you’ve got a 4 channel amp? No problem! You’ll still use the same methods shown earlier but you’ll need to jumper either the speaker level inputs or the RCA inputs using “Y” connections to get a signal to the rear channels too.
Most car amps with front & rear speaker level inputs can be wired to 2 speaker input pairs as shown in the diagram here. When using RCA connections, you can pick up a pair of inexpensive female-to-male Y adapters to split the signal from 2 into 4 connections. (Don’t spend too much on Y adapters as you can use a decent pair of cheap ones just fine)
Can I use 8 ohm speakers with a car amp?
This graph shows what happens when you use an 8 ohm speaker in the place of a 4 ohm one. The 8 ohm speaker will work – however, it comes with a price. Since the 8 ohm speaker isn’t matched to the 4 ohm car amp, it can only receive up to 1/2 the power output and has a lower maximum volume than a 4 ohm speaker would.
Using 8 ohm home speakers in place of 4 ohm ones with your car amp won’t hurt anything. There’s a catch, however. They’ll only develop 1/2 the power of a 4 ohm speaker meaning lower maximum volume is possible.
For example, if you were to use some home stereo 8 ohm speakers instead of 4 ohm speakers, you’d notice the volume would be a bit lower than when using 4 ohm ones. That’s because a speaker needs more and more power output to increase the volume more and more; also 8 ohm speakers allow only 1/2 the same amount of electrical current to flow vs 4 ohms.
Car amplifiers & car head units don’t have a high voltage supply like home stereos and home amplifiers do. That means they’re designed to use lower impedance (lower resistance) speakers to develop the same amount of power by letting more current flow.
As long as you’re aware of this it’s ok, because they’ll still sound and play fine – you just can’t get the same power and as much volume when you crank it up vs using 4 ohm speakers.
I have a hum (ground loop noise) from the amp. What can I do?
Example of a ground loop isolator you can use to break the ground conductor connection in RCA cables to eliminate ground loop noise.
Unfortunately, noise is a problem with car amps despite them being designed to prevent it. It’s also true that home stereos and amps are known to sometimes create “ground loops” between different electronic components via the RCA cables.
Ground loop noise happens when there’s a slightly different potential (electrical voltage point) between the grounds of an amp, stereo, and other components. Despite everything you try, sometimes it’s nearly impossible to eliminate.
In that case, you can use a ground loop isolator to connect inline in the RCA cables. This usually does the trick. Note that you shouldn’t try to get the cheapest you find because they can negatively affect sound quality.
You can find a good one for $10-$25 or above depending on the brand and features. The good news is that they’re super easy to use: just connect them to the RCA cables and you’re done!