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Ultra-Compact Amplifiers, Big Power from a Small Package

Ultra-Compact AmplifiersIt’s hard not to notice that almost every reputable car audio manufacturer now offers several ultra-compact amplifier solutions. These amplifiers are small enough to fit in the pocket of your jeans and help make installations easier when space is tight. While diminutive, they can deliver an impressive amount of power to upgrade the signal to your factory speakers or let aftermarket speakers transform your mobile sound system into an amazing listening experience. In this article, we’ll talk about how companies can cram so much power into such a small package and look at how these amps differ from conventionally sized solutions.

What is an Ultra-Compact Amplifier?

While small amplifiers from companies like Sony, Soundstream, Rockford Fosgate and Linear Power have been around for decades, most of these early solutions were limited to around 20 watts of power per channels.

Ultra-Compact AmplifiersOne of the first modern high-power compact amplifiers to make its mark in the industry was the Alpine Power Pack KTP-455U. Measuring roughly 8 by 2.5 by 1.5 inches in size, this four-channel amplifier could deliver a real-world 45 watts per channel into 4-ohm loads. Alpine marketed this amplifier as an easily integrated solution to upgrade a factory or aftermarket radio and deliver almost three times as much power to your speakers.

Ultra-Compact AmplifiersA few years later, Rockford Fosgate introduced its Boosted Rail Technology series of amps. These amps use a unique and creative power supply design that was different from all the other solutions on the market. From a power-production perspective, the four-channel PBR300X4 could crank out 75 watts of power into a 4-ohm load and had a footprint of only 6.75 by 4.25 inches.

Fast forward five years, and there are dozens of companies with small, high-power amplifiers available. You can choose from four- or five-channel solutions to upgrade your sound system, and most offer a roughly 300-watt subwoofer amp to add big bass without taking up much space. Several models include water-resistant designs that make them ideal for marine, motorcycle and powersports applications.

Big Power in an Amazingly Small Package

Amplifier size is determined by two factors: how much space is required to house the components needed to make the amp work, and how much heat sink does the design need to dissipate heat reliably under all conditions.

One of the biggest technological advances that have allowed amplifiers to become so small is surface-mount devices. Thanks to subminiature resistors, capacitors, diodes, transistors and microcontrollers, circuits and their components can fit in half or a third of the space they used to require. Think about your smartphone — it has more processing power than desktop computers from 10 years ago, yet fits comfortably into the palm of your hand or a shirt pocket. By comparison, the computers that took the space shuttles into orbit ran at about 1.2 million instructions per second (MIPS) and had a total memory of a couple of megabytes. The Apple A11 processor found in the iPhone X can manage a jaw-dropping 600 billion instructions per second. With that said, the Apple CPU isn’t designed to handle the rigors of outer space and prolonged exposure to radiation — so keep that in mind if you’re planning a trip to Mars with our buddy Elon Musk.

Ultra-Compact Amplifiers

The surface-mount Metal Oxide Semiconductor Field Effect Transistors (MOSFETs) used in the power supplies of these ultra-compact amplifiers have also allowed the amps to shrink in size dramatically. You can fit four of these devices on the end of your finger, and each one is capable of passing 50 amps of current. Thirty years ago, a single 50-amp transistor would have been bigger than all four of these modern devices.

Ultra-Compact Amplifiers

Another technology that has reduced amplifier sizes is multilayered circuit boards. Four-layer boards provide significantly more options for connectivity among the devices in the circuit and reduce the space required for signal traces.

Finally, high-speed Class-D amplifier designs help to reduce current consumption in the output stage of the amp. Class-D audio amplifiers operate by switching the output devices on and off at extremely high speeds, and varying the duty cycle (on vs. off periods) recreates the original audio waveform. Because the devices are either on or off, they spend less time acting as a resistor and, subsequently, waste less energy as heat.

Are Compact Amplifiers the Perfect Solution?

With any benefit, there are often drawbacks. For ultra-compact amplifiers, three limitations need to be considered: cooling capacity, features and noise. As we mentioned earlier, fitting lots of parts into a small package is much easier, thanks to surface-mount devices and multilayered circuit boards. The drawback of a small amp is that it still needs a heat sink to the cool the switching devices. If we reduce the heat-sink area for a given power level, the amp will be more prone to overheating when pushed hard. You might be fine for one or two songs, but you likely won’t be able to jam on these at full-blast on a hot summer’s day in Arizona or Texas without them going into protection.

Ultra-Compact Amplifiers

The features included with an amplifier are often based on the space available for controls and switches. If you want high- and low-level inputs, adjustable high-, low- and bandpass crossovers, infrasonic filters, signal summing, individual sensitivity controls, bass-boost circuits and remote level controls, you need lots of space. In an ultra-compact amplifier, that space simply doesn’t exist. As such, most of those features won’t be found on this class of amplifiers.

Finally, we need to talk about noise. Noise, or more specifically, signal-to-noise ratio (S/N Ratio) describes how much background noise (heard as hiss) is added to an audio signal when it passes through a device. The power supply and Class-D output stage of an amplifier produce a lot of high-frequency electrical noise. In a conventional and physically large amplifier design, these noisy circuits can be located physically and electrically far away from the sensitive input and signal gain stages of the amp. When we shrink an amplifier’s size by 30 percent, everything is much closer and thus more of this noise is added to the output signal.

Let’s look at five different four-channel Class-D amplifiers to compare noise levels relative each amplifier’s physical size.

Comparison of Four-channel Amplifier S/N Ratio

Amplifier          Footprint         Power / Channel           S/N Ratio at 1 Watt
Square Inches   Watts                           A-Weighted

Amp 1              26.76                      50                                >68 dB

Amp 2              41.99                      70                                >70.4 dB

Amp 3              60.41                      75                                >84 dB

Amp 4              68.07                     75                                >84 dB

Amp 5              89.03                     150                              >88.2 dB

As you can see, larger amplifiers add less noise to the output signal. While none of these specifications is  atrocious, you will be able to hear a little hiss from the first two amps between songs and likely won’t on the top three amps. Of course, the third amp has a 50 percent larger footprint (length times width) than the second amp, so pick your poison appropriately.

Ultra-Compact Amplifiers Offer Unique Installation Solutions

If you are trying to add an amplifier to a motorcycle or a side-by-side and finding space for the amplifier is a concern, then, by all means, choose one of the many ultra-compact amps that are available. With that said, if you have a little extra space, larger amps offer better noise performance and more features. In this case, you get an audible improvement in performance by investing a little more money.

If you are interested in upgrading your mobile sound system, drop by local specialist mobile electronics retailer and speak to one of their product experts. They can provide you with several options to dramatically improve the sound quality and volume level of your existing system.

Filed Under: ARTICLES, Car AudioTagged With: Alpine, Linear Power, Rockford Fosgate, Sony, Soundstream


Car Amplifiers

Amplifiers for Car Stereo Systems —–

Draw even more from your new speakers by powering them with vehicle audio amplifiers from leading brands that produce the loud, clear sound you need to hear. is the leading car stereo shop with hundreds of amps for any setup. From compact vehicles to trucks and SUVs, we’ll help you find the right car audio amplifier with a low price guarantee.

Car Amplifiers

If you’re ready to get loud — and we mean really loud — step up your car’s audio system with a new or replacement vehicle amplifier. While many people focus on the speakers and receiver for their stereos, audio experts know the car amplifier is just as important. This device is what takes the audio signal source and makes it loud enough for listeners to enjoy. The best car audio amplifiers produce a powerful, clear, distortion-free sound at your desired decibel levels. Many factory head units come with weak amplifiers that aren’t designed to really let all out — but has the solution with aftermarket car stereo amplifiers at great prices to power up your system.

Amplify Your Listening Experience

We’ve stocked our shelves with hundreds of amplifiers to fit every audio setup. Basic 2-channel car amplifiers will serve the needs of most drivers who only have a tweeter and woofer in their vehicles. Get a 3-channel amplifier if your system also has a midrange speaker. Amps with more channels, even six or more, are available if you’re a real audiophile with elements for the finest detailers. If you drive a small vehicle or have limited space for upgrades, a mini car amp will make the most of what you have.

Those adding a subwoofer to a factory system will likely need a mono subwoofer amplifier to do what the OEM amp can’t.

Most vehicle amps are Class A or Class AB, but we also have a growing selection of Class D amplifiers that are more efficient and produce less heat. A Class D amp is also the best option for low-frequency bass sounds — and their high-end response has improved rapidly in recent years. Heading off the main path? Marine amplifiers can withstand the harsh conditions of off-roading.

The Power & Clarity You Deserve

Any size system will be louder and sound better when it has the right vehicle power amplifier. They’re available in many wattages so your setup will be like Goldilocks — not too big and not too small. Select a category and use the search filters to find the amp that’s just right. We’re an authorized dealer of leading car audio brands such as Alpine, JL Audio, Soundstream, Kicker and Infinity. Buy with confidence thanks to unmatched service that includes free shipping, free lifetime technical support and a hassle-free shopping experience online or in-store.

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About Amplifiers

Kicker amplifiers provide amazing power, control, and flexibility, accompanied by a sleek design. With a focus on quality and design, our car amps allow you to command the sound within your ride. Amps serve to increase the power to the car radio and speakers, all while improving the quality of the audio. Our car-stereo amps are constructed to deliver in every aspect with the folks that enjoy loud and refined sound in mind.

Kicker offers five series of car amplifiers: the IQ, KX, CX, DX, and compact PX. The IQ amplifiers combine power and control to deliver great sound. The KX amps boast a more sleek design, along with potent features to pump out up 2,400 watts of power. The CX series benefits from an optimized circuit layout and the highest-grade internal components available to obtain massive power levels. DX amplifiers comes loaded with Fail-Safe Integration Technology circuitry to deliver superior clarity and wiring flexibility, which allows you to wire the amp directly to your factory radio without any converters or special plugs. The PX amps, with as much as 500 watts, deliver incredible power from a small footprint. Find the perfect amp for your system today and enjoy free shipping on all amplifiers.

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