Modern audio systems for vehicles have become quite complex in recent years. What was once a simple analog installation has turned into an extensive industry with multiple options to review.
Almost every modern audio system has something in common with all the others out there. A power amp is necessary to create desirable results.
A car amp has become a necessity the moment you decide to customize your audio system. Even some stock installs include the tech today.
Although several choices are out there, a Class D amplifier is the go-to option for most systems. That means more mono blocks are hitting the streets, but is it possible to secure one (or more) on a budget?
Mono Blocks on a Budget: Is It Possible?
A mono block is a single-channel audio amplifier. With the belief that vacuum tubes create a better overall musical representation, monos often use them instead of transistors to produce the amplification mechanism. High-end models, such as the Model One from Mark Levinson, can weigh up to 100 pounds.
If you’re unsure what direction to take with your audio system, it might be a good idea to incorporate mono blocks. The only problem is that the cost can be high to the average budget.
Even when you only need a pair, the entry-level designs can still cost a bit more than $2,000 each. In return, you’ll receive support for 400 watts on eight ohms.
■ What You Need to Know about Amplifiers
Amplifiers get divided into different classes to make it easier to understand their intended performance and overall capabilities.
The first amp to hit the market was the Class A. Although the technology was relatively inefficient, it was an analog product that could provide better sound fidelity to its users. These amps are notoriously bad for wasting a lot of power because it converts the energy into heat.
A Class B amplifier uses a transistor to conduct only half the cycle of the input signal.
That means you’re forced to cool the electronics while being robbed of a high-quality performance. This design automatically includes design inefficiencies because it only operates at 78.5% at best.
The disadvantage of the Class B design is that it delivers more cross-over distortion. It can also be challenging to find the ideal transformers for the technology.
You can combine the two to create a Class AB configuration.
With a Class C amplifier, you’ll get the greatest efficiency rate available today. It also delivers the worst linearity out of all the primary options for auto audio.
The Class C amp is biased, creating a massively heavy distortion of the output. That’s why the technology is inappropriate as an audio amplifier. They’re used in sine wave oscillators and some radio frequency amps where the pulses can be converted and transmitted.
What makes a Class D amplifier unique is that zero power gets wasted in some models. It uses a different transistor type that switches on and off.
While it’s in the on position, the transistor is fully conducting. That makes it possible to avoid wasting energy. If it’s in the off position, there is no energy to manage.
By switching currents off and on quickly, a Class D amplifier creates a pulsed output that can produce signal distortion in the upper frequencies. That’s a sacrifice most are willing to make since the power efficiency rating is appropriate for virtually all vehicle applications.
Is a Mono Block the Same as a Class D Amplifier?
When you have a mono block with your system, you’ve got a single-channel amplifier. Incorporating a dual mono block means you’ve got one chassis supporting two amps.
Some Class D amps are also mono blocks, but not all of them are. Anything with that class rating involves amplifier topology with output devices that switch between being entirely on and off. That’s why some people call them a digital amp.
Class D mono block amps are popular because of their higher efficiency rating. The primary application for a single channel amplifier is to drive the subwoofer. By having the high wattage pushed through in this manner, you can get some robust bass sounds added to your mix while on the road.
Since mono block amps tend to work better in the lower frequencies, it’s a natural addition to most setups.
Size is also a factor when designing audio systems for vehicles today. Pushing the subs to their limit with a dedicated amp is an excellent outcome, especially when you grab something with a compact size. You get the power needed while retaining a low overall profile.
With a Class D mono block, you can also choose to power a wide range of speakers if you don’t want to dedicate the energy to the subs.
How Is a Mono Block Different from Multichannel Amps?
Unlike a mono block, the multichannel Class D amps have additional channels for the audio setup. The total number depends on the product selected, but most of them have two, four, or six.
If a mono block isn’t suitable for your system, a multi-channel Class D is the investment to consider. The usual configuration simulates the single-channel experience with a dedicated sub routing. You’ll send more power there while the rest goes to the other drivers for your standard transducers.
The one advantage that multichannel amps have over the mono block design is the option to bridge two or more channels. That means you’re combining the selected items to drive a single speaker. They typically support a low impedance today to compensate for the bridging process for auto audio.
What Are the Best Amplifier Brands for Class D Mono Blocks?
When you’re ready to start shopping for an affordable mono block, you’ll find that the best brands offer something for every budget. Although you might not be able to afford some of the units in each series, it is important to remember that quality often comes with a higher price tag to consider.
With so many no-name and generic brands out there creating mono blocks and Class D amps, you’ll want to stick with these brands as much as possible.
Alpine has an extensive reputation for providing high-quality amps that work well in vehicular applications. Their products are known for providing a reliable outcome with a high-quality result. It’s the right investment for anyone who demands absolute consistency with their audio system.
You’ll find Alpine offering mono blocks and other amps with some of today’s most advanced technology. Some features found here aren’t always available in the other brands.
I highly recommend installing the Alpine S-A60M S-Series mono if you opt to roll with this brand for your vehicle.
When you want mono blocks on a budget, Hifonics is the brand to consider for your audio system. It’s the best bang for your buck that you can find in the current marketplace. Just about every design comes with an affordable price and an excellent core performance.
You won’t get many features to use when working with a Hifonics amp. It will push the power to where you need it the most once installed, which means you’ve got a great choice to consider on a tight budget.
I’ve found a lot of success with some of my setups when using the Hifonics Brutus Gamma BG Series Mono. It handles up to 1,900 watts!
3. JL Audio
When you need something quick and fast because you want to enjoy better audio on the road, this brand delivers the result. It’s not quite an entry-level design, but it’s certainly not something at the top of the industry either. Some of the models could be right for some beginner systems.
This brand works well for anyone who wants a refined experience, but they don’t have the cash available to spend more on their mono block.
Most people are familiar with this amp brand. It’s been favored by many audio enthusiasts over the years, especially with its versatile range of home, auto, and commercial sound production. The amps you’ll find here are high-quality, delivering reliable power at the moment you need it.
Although the pricing for the amps from this brand is surprisingly reasonable, you won’t find much in the “affordable” range.
Kenwood products are better than JL Audio items (in general terms), but they don’t rise to the level of Alpine’s amps.
I’ve always been a big fan of Kenwood’s KAC-M3001 compact mono block. The soft-start feature is one of the best attributes you’ll find added to this tech today.
This amp brand is arguably the most underrated option found out there today. It’s built like a tank, designed to offer a consistent and constant performance in most settings. That’s why Kicker continues to grow in popularity.
It won’t be long before these mono blocks start reaching the level of the other exclusive brands. If you can afford the amp, you’ll find that the investment is worthwhile.
With Kicker, it’s often better to go bigger whenever you can. I highly recommend the 46CXA8001T mono block that offers 1600 watts of peak power and 800W RMS. You also get a 24-decibel filter for protecting the equipment from potentially damaging frequencies with this investment.
6. NVX Audio
This upstart brand is still working on establishing its reputation as a mono block and Class D amp creator. If you decide to shop here, you’ll want to compare the specs to what your system needs. You’ll find the actual performance lines up accurately across the board with each model.
The reliability of NVX Audio continues to impress. If you’re looking for something a little more powerful, you’ll find some choices to consider.
I love the 2700W mono block offered by NVX Audio for almost any application. It comes with a bass remote, is marine-certified for its quality, and uses platinum-plated RCA level inputs.
If you’ve got an older Orion amp, you don’t need to change your mono block or Class D. You need to invest in a repair professional who can get your unit operational again. That’s because the vintage items from this brand’s lineup are legendary.
When you need something new for your vehicle, the HCCA lineup looks stellar. You’ll find tons of power waiting for you, a callback to the vintage designs, and the expected reliability for the performance.
If you want a mono block, you won’t find a better pound-for-pound deal for your amp out there than here with this brand. The Cobalt Class D powers loads of 1 ohm continuously without needing to worry about overheating.
8. Rockford Fosgate
You’ll find an above-average result in all price ranges when working with this brand. You’ll find some of the most affordable products in this category, yet it still gives you’re the performance and quality you’d want for general listening.
This option might not be right for the inner audiophile or those that demand a specific result from their mono block. For everyone else, there’s a lot of good stuff to enjoy with the different options available.
The Rockford Fosgate R250X1 mono block amplifier delivers 150W RMS and works with aftermarket or factory-installed source units. Although the multi-channel Class D is a bit better than the single-channel design, you’ll find the punchy bass when routed through your sub is still fantastic.
Something Else to Consider with Mono Blocks
Class D amplifiers (including mono blocks) revolutionized how we approach automotive audio. No one needs to experience the limitations from the A or AB units from the past that overheated when pushed too hard. You can design a competitive system with lots of energy without worrying about melting your wiring.
Although every vehicle has some potential issues to consider when installing a mono block, the overall performance you’ll find with a Class D unit is better than almost anything out there right now. Even if you can only afford an average-quality product, the results will be far superior to most stock installs.
If you’re just getting into audio customization for your vehicle, I will encourage you to research the subject further, especially if you’re learning about amplifiers.