There’s more than one way to power a car amp in your home. Even so, computer power supplies are easy to find and make a great option – if you know how.
In my detailed guide, I’ll show you how to wire a computer power supply to a car amp. I’ve also put together some great diagrams, tips, and more to help you enjoy your music with less hassle and fewer headaches.
Can a computer power supply run a car amp? What to know
Yes, it’s possible to use a PC computer power supply for powering a car amp.
There are a few things you’ll need to know though. For example, unless you’ve got a higher-power model supply you won’t be able to drive speakers with the same power you could when installed in a car.
Do you need to hook up the remote wire on your car amp?
Yes, a car amp won’t work without a +12V signal on the remote wire terminal. The amp’s internal power supply is controlled by this wire and acts as a shutoff control. Likewise, you’ll want to either turn the power supply on & off as I’ll show you or use the remote wire as a shut off in order to keep the amp from drawing power when not in use.
Computer power supplies also have a particular control wire you’ll need to connect in order to switch the supply on as I’ll show you.
Computer power supply current (amps) & power limits
Examples of the current output (amps) for a typical 200W supply and a higher-power 700W supply. The current output will limit how much power you can get from a car amp.
Computer power supplies are available in a wide range of power output options, with 1500-200 watts being very common but others as large as 700W or more can be found (although they cost a bit more). This is important to know because the current limit of a power supply will limit how much power your car amp can produce.
That means you need to be aware that for higher-power amps you can’t expect to drive speakers with the full power output it’s rated at. The good news that unlike in cars, speakers used in your home use less power for the same volume because vehicle interiors are poor for sound and require more power for good results.
How to power a car amp with a computer power supply (diagram and details)
Using an ATX (desktop computer) power supply for a car amp isn’t hard – in fact, you only need a few steps:
- Power connections: Cut the +12V wires (yellow) and the same number of ground (black) wires. Strip the insulation to leave about 3/8″ to 1/2″ bare wire. Twist them together tightly or use a crimp connector (ring terminal, spade terminal, etc) and connect to the amp’s power & ground terminals, being sure not to leave any stray wire strands sticking out to cause a short-circuit.
- Supply on control: PC supplies don’t turn on even if the on/off switch on the case is used. A PC motherboard uses a control signal to the “supply on” wire pin. To do the same, you’ll need to find, cut, and jumper this control signal wire to a ground wire either directly or with an on/off switch if you like [See diagram]
- Amp remote wire: There are several great ways to do this and I’ll cover them below.
Once you’ve connected the +12V and ground wiring then ground the “supply on” wire the supply should start up and your car amplifier should power on. There are some cases where you could have a problem, however.
A note about some amps
Larger, very high power car amplifiers can sometimes draw a short current “spike” when they’re first connected to a power source after being disconnected. That’s because they contain large capacitors that, when first connected to power, momentarily draw a huge number of amps.
When this happens it’s possible it could trip the self-protect mode in your power supply. If that happens you can try starting the supply and then wait before turning on the remote wire. You can also leave the supply running when the remote wire is disconnected so the amp’s capacitors don’t discharge when the amp is turned off.
It’s possible you may need a more robust power supply if it happens but it’s not a problem most people should run across.
Remote wire options & examples
The car amp “remote” terminal uses a low-current +12V input to start its power supply & related circuits. You’ve got a few different options you can use:
- Jumper wire: When connecting the power and ground 12V connections, you can use a small jumper wire from the +12V battery terminal to the remote it so it’s on any time the amp has power. 18AWG or smaller wire is fine (you don’t need a large gauge wire).
- Jumper wire + switch: The same as #1 but to control it yourself you can add a simple inline switch on the remote wire. This is helpful if your power supply doesn’t have an on/off switch or you’d rather leave it running.
- Home stereo use – RCA converter with remote lead: If you’re connecting the amp to speaker outputs on your home stereo you can use a line level converter with a remote wire output. This will turn the amp on and off automatically with the stereo’s output.
If you’re using a toggle switch on the remote wire you can leave the AC/DC power supply plugged in. When the amp’s remote wire is off (disconnected) the amp will shut off and it won’t drain power.
Using a line level converter with remote wire output
An example line-level converter with remote wire output. You’ll need to connect these to 12V power and ground for the internal electronics to work. When the speaker level inputs detect a signal the remote wire output will produce +12V and turn on your amplifier. When the speaker signal is lost it will switch it off automatically.
Connecting a laptop, tablet, or smartphone to the amp for audio
What’s great is how many options you have for getting an audio signal to your amp’s inputs. In fact, nearly any analog (non-digital) jack can be used from almost any device. Smartphones, tablets, and laptops can be used either by their headphone jack or via Bluetooth.
Just be aware that not all headphone or audio out jacks are created the same – some work well and have good sound & volume while others can have low volume and “meh” sound quality. However, the good news that generally speaking they’ll work well and I’ve used this approach several times with no complaints.
Connecting your smartphone or tablet via Bluetooth
You also use an affordably-priced Bluetooth receiver for around $25 from places like Amazon. They offer a direct line output jack or RCA jacks to go into a home receiver and a car amp just as easily.
Be sure to get a decent brand as the generic/no-name brand models tend to have sound quality problems and can produce odd noises between music tracks playing on your phone, for example.
What if I have a laptop with no headphone jack?
You can use a cheap USB to stereo 3.5mm adapter to get a headphone sized jack to connect an audio signal to your amp. They’re really affordable (under $10 in some cases!) and are a good option if your laptop’s headphone jack is broken or none is available.
If you’re like many people and want to enjoy music, movies, or more from your laptop there’s a problem if you don’t have a line-out or headphone jack – or if it’s just not working. A great option is to use a USB audio adapter as it’ll provide a 3.5mm jack you can connect to your amp’s RCA inputs.
I’ve found some for under $10 available with both the older USB-A and the new USB-C connection as well.
How to connect a car amp to a home stereo
You can also connect your car amp to your home stereo if you like. There are 3 ways to do it:
- Home stereo with no RCA output jacks + car amp with speaker level inputs: It’s fairly common for home stereo amps and receivers not to have RCA jacks available to connect to. If your amp has built-in speaker level inputs these can be connected to either an unused pair of speaker terminals or alongside speaker terminals in use.
- Home stereo with no RCA output jacks + car amp with no speaker inputs: You’ll have no choice but to use a line level converter in this case. These are car stereo adapters that you connect to speaker wiring or speaker terminals. This will drop the signal down to a level compatible with the amp’s RCA inputs.
- Home stereo with full range RCA output jacks + car amp: This is the easiest way 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.
Line level connectors will let you connect a car amp with no speaker inputs to any home stereo. You can connect these to unused speaker terminals on the receiver or amp as well as in parallel with home speakers already in use.
Dealing with ground loop hum (noise)
You can use a ground loop isolator to break the ground conductor in RCA cables but still carry the audio signal. Since the ground connection can carry the noisy signal that gets amplified this often eliminates ground loop noise.
One thing you might not count on running into is noise. Ground loop noise, which appears as a very annoying 60Hz “hum”, is somewhat common for home stereo equipment. Unfortunately, despite car amps being designed to eliminate it, it can still happen.
One thing you can do is to try using a small gauge wire and connect it between the grounds or metal casing of the car amp, the RCA cables, and the power supply. If the noise disappears you can connect the wire to those points as a solution.
Alternatively, a ground loop isolator can often get rid of it. Connected inline with the RCA cables, they work by physically disconnecting the RCA cable’s ground connection while still sending the audio signal. They’re not expensive, but it’s a good idea to shop carefully as the “el-cheapo” units don’t always carry the entire audio range well and can cause a loss of sound quality you can notice.
Additional reading and helpful guides
Don’t go just yet! Check out some of my other great articles:
- Got an older home stereo? I’ll show you how to connect a subwoofer to a vintage home stereo.
- Put your car sub to good use! You can connect a car subwoofer to your home stereo.
- What is speaker impedance? Find out how to tell the impedance of a speaker (and what it means).
You can also browse all of my info & how-to articles here.