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How to Tune the Amp and Subwoofer in a Vehicle

written by: •edited by: Lamar Stonecypher•updated: 9/25/2009

This basic guide tells you how to adjust the volume controls to get the best quality sound out of the subwoofer in your car stereo system.

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    Amps and Subs

    There isn’t any one perfect way to tune the subwoofer in your auto stereo system. The reason being that different people have different tastes, and you need to adjust your subwoofer so that it sounds the way you want it to sound. In this article, I will cover the basics of how to get started and the steps to take in order to get the best quality sound out of the subwoofer in your vehicle, no matter what kind of music you like.

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    Subwoofer Tuning

    Once you have installed your amp and subwoofer, it’s time to configure the sound. In order to get the optimal bass settings for your personal taste, I recommend you use a favorite song. By picking a song that you are very familiar with, you can fine tune the sound to match the way you think it should sound. If you like various styles of music, you may want to test them all to see what works best. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it makes between hip hop and classic rock, because one uses a lot of resonating bass sounds while the other has more punch type bass from bass drum kicks.

    Amp You should always start by turning all the volume levels on the amp to zero. Get it out of your head that louder is better, because if you crank up the gain too much you will end up with muddy sounding bass that flutters instead of thumps and distortion that ruins the sound. Play your song at your usual listening volume, then slowly turn up the gain on the subwoofer until the bass starts to hit like you want. You want the bass to be clean and the sub should not rattle inside the box. Keep turning it up until you hear distortion, then turn it back down a notch.

    Some stereo head units have individual subwoofer volume controls, so you may want to adjust it as well as the amp volume. There are too many different types of configurations to discuss here, but the basic idea is to turn it up until it starts to sound bad, then turn it back down a little. You’re looking for that sweet spot where it hits really well and still sounds good. If your amp has a crossover or bass boost feature, those are more knobs you’ll need to play with.

    The end result of all the adjustments is that you should be able to turn your stereo volume up as loud as you can possibly stand it and the sound still remain clean. Don’t turn it up as loud as it will go, because it will surely not sound good. What’s important is that your usual listening volume sounds good to you.

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    Road Test

    Now you have your subwoofer tuned just the way you want it and everything sounds great, but you’re not quite done yet. While that subwoofer might sound just the way you want inside the nice quiet vehicle sitting in your driveway, it may sound much different when you get out on the road. I know that my entire system sounds different when I get on the Interstate with the tire and wind noise. Be sure to take your car out for a spin and see how the system sounds with road noise in the background. You may find that the volume needs to be slightly adjusted to accommodate for the added sound. Just be careful not to do so while driving.