How To Wire A Computer Power Supply To A Car Amp

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

Can a computer power supply run a car amp man thinking question

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

Computer power supply 12V current rating examples

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)

How to wire a computer power supply to a car amp diagram

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.

NOTE: If you’re using a high amount of current be sure to use all or nearly all of the yellow +12V wires to connect to the amp. Just like with a car amp installation, you need enough wire conductors to supply higher current without losing voltage from insufficient wiring.

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

How to connect remote wire on car amp used in home diagram

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:

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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

Example of line level converter with remote wire output Axxess AX-ADCT2

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

Diagram for how to connect audio signal to a car amp used in your home

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?

Example of a USB to headphone audio adapter

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

How to connect a car amp to a home stereo diagram

You can also connect your car amp to your home stereo if you like. There are 3 ways to do it:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

speaker to line level converter examples image

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.

NOTE: It’s important to buy a quality, well-designed line-level adapter to avoid noise, poor sound quality, and other problems. Don’t get the absolute cheapest – instead, get a name brand model you can rely on (like the examples you see above). Fortunately you can get a nice one like these for around $15-$20 or less these days.

Dealing with ground loop hum (noise)

Example of an RCA ground loop isolator

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:

You can also browse all of my info & how-to articles here.

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Your comments are welcome!

  1. Hi Marty!!

    What should the gains be set to when powering an amp this way?

    I tried to use a multimeter like I do in my cars but the readings were different.

    • Hello there. :) Hmm that’s a good question since I don’t think you’ll ever have a car amp go to clipping when powered from a DC supply. Especially since a DC supply won’t go up to near 14V like a vehicle does at time.

      I would probably not worry about it much in this case and just use the 2/3 rule: set the home stereo or car stereo you’re using to about 2/3 volume and adjust the amp gain to an output volume that’s about roughly the normal listening level you’d use.

      • Thanks a bunch Marty! Appreciate the advice. Thats close to what I did by ear but was still curious. This is an excellent method btw. My shop is bumping. I can make tools fall off tables and vibrate across the floor if I want to. Loving it. Thanks again for all you do

  2. Looking at using an old car head unit and and Amp as a shop stereo. Thanks for the detailed write up on how to do this. All that’s left is to get a hold of a decent power supply. 🙂

  3. Hi Marty, I presently use a Logitech 5.1 system on my computer for VR gaming. But, games aren’t made with 5.1 typically, but they do use 4 channels. Using a dolby processor for computer games doesn’t make much sense and can actually make the sound of games and music sound unusual. I want to get rid of the center channel and just use four channels, like in a car. I want to use a base speaker as the housing for the amp as well, like the Logitech unit does. I use a Sound Blaster Audigy sound card. What is your solution for this?

    • Hmm well if I understand your question right (not 100% clear on it), you’ll just use stereo audio to a speaker system and ignore the center channel usually. You’ll disable audio processing for standard stereo sound. It should work fine.

      For the bass speaker & amp, it depends on what you’re wanting to accomplish and what parts you’re referring to which I’m not clear on.

      • Thanks Marty for the reply. When I play music from the computer, through a Logitech 5.1 surround system, it kind of wavers (hard to describe), as though the processor is unsure what channel to play certain sounds through. The ‘output’ settings on the unit are gaming, music and matrix. All sound wrong. This happens when gaming (pancake or VR) and when playing CD’s, MP3’s or FLAC’s. If the center channel speaker is unplugged, part of the audio file is not played and it doesn’t sound right, regardless of the output setting.

        My goal is to build a four channel amp from a car, into an existing base speaker housing, just like the Logitech surround systems do. Power supply can be internal with the amp, or external. RCA’s will be outputs to four, in-wall speakers. I want to achieve spatial audio, for gaming and music. Car amps have four channels, but do they have spatial audio processors, so sound moves around the room?

        With more people getting into VR, they want audio that immerses them, such as spatial audio. Many claim that headphones provide spatial audio, but I have to disagree with them, as it appears to be more illusion based on imagery, not actual sound distribution. The only immersive ‘feel the sound and where it came from’ option is external speakers. But, a 5.1 system isn’t designed for VR and although it works, it doesn’t produce good spatial sound due to the center channel and odd reactions to various audio sources. Thus, my need to drive my in-wall speakers for immersive, spatial sound, with base speaker and only four channels. Nobody is discussing solutions for this online, yet many people want this.

        • Hey there. I understand where you’re coming from, but the problem is that you’re asking for something that doesn’t – and can’t – exist. Unfortunately here’s no way to get “spatial” (surround) sound from 2 channels aside from music/movie/game audio created in Dolby Pro Logic. That was Dolby Pro Logic I/II introduced in the 1980s for some movie soundtracks and later the simulation (processing) feature was added to some home theater Dolby Digital/DTS 5.1 decoder chips. I’ve used it quite a bit in my cars with my digital sound processors (DSPs).

          If you want surround sound you’ll have to have a real audio source encoded with 5.1, 7.1, or whatever other real audio format creates independent audio channels as a surround system does. Anything else is a gimmick and never sounds right which is why it sounds odd – it’s trying to create a simulation of surround sound signals that aren’t there. A center channel cannot be derived from stereo properly, although Pro Logic does a decent job trying. Otherwise, the center is just a mono (left + right) signal.

          Audio processing that tries to create a center channel from stereo usually isn’t very good despite their claims.

          A car amp won’t help in this case, and is actually worse than using a home amplifier as it’ll waste power to get the same result. I think the last car amplifier with fake surround sound was available somewhere around 20 years ago.

          My advice would be to disable the simulated surround sound processing as I’ve mentioned already. Your best options are:

          – Try Pro Logic II processing. You may need a different sound card or an external DSP.
          – Stick with stereo, but use the reverberation/time delay options with your PC audio applications.
          – Use a real 5.1/71/surround sound audio source.
          – Try some of the recent Dolby headphone audio processing options.

          Best regards.


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