Car audio amplifiers are changing. Mini amplifiers, generally paperback book sized, are now selling at the same rate as larger, traditional models. And many suppliers expect mini amps will continue to rise, becoming 75 percent or more of the market.
Amplifiers are also starting to include digital signal processing (DSP) as part of the amplifier, rather than as a separate component. Brands including AudioControl, Audison, Hertz, Kicker, Match, Memphis, Mosconi, and Taramps are among those offering on board DSP capability.
Arc Audio will introduce its first DSP/amplifiers at CES. Cerwin-Vega is looking at offering DSP/amplifiers. AudioControl, a leader in DSP/amps continues to expand the category. And others say they expect the segment to continue to grow.
DSP/amps are now among the best selling models that Hybrid Audio offers. It markets 8 product lines under various brands, but a Helix DSP/amp model P SIX DSP at $1499 street price and a Match PP 86DSP at $909 are now among its best selling models.
“There’s a huge shift in the market right now where more and more manufacturers are starting to come out with DSP amplifiers because of demand from retailers. A lot of dealers want to take the next step up to making better sound. It’s actually refreshing,” said Fred Lynch, Arc Audio.
Embedding a DSP into the amplifier eliminates the extra wiring used in two separate devices and it reduces overall cost to the end user. But DSP also ensures that amplifiers will be able to work in cars of the future.
“DSP is not just about music. It’s about controlling the amplifier. You are taking everything into the digital domain,” said Bart Deal Director of Product Planning for Kicker explaining that DSP/amplifiers can help integrate with vehicles with start/stop technology and with electric cars.
Several automakers have announced that they will offer only electric vehicles in coming years, he said, noting, “Now [with standard amps] we’re putting electrical demands on those system that are 100 percent electrical. We’ll have to pay more attention to that.”
Not all suppliers are ready to jump on the bandwagon. We spoke to one brand that said DSP will cause technical service headaches, so it’s sticking with more traditional amplifiers.
Steve Piceno, Marketing Manager, Alpine Electronics said, “We don’t have plans for such an amp in the immediate future, but we realize there’s an interest in the field for this type of set up.”
Rockford said it doesn’t want to burden the cost of its amplifiers with the extra expense of DSP for those owners who need the digital signal processing.
Arc Audio, however, is bullish on the new technology. Lynch said, “We have to start incorporating the DSP in the amplifier so people don’t have to spend $200 to $1000 for an amplifier, if not more, and then another $500 to $1,000 for a processor,” he said.
Arc Audio’s new Arc Series are analog amps that can be converted to digital by inserting an optional card. “If they want DSP they can buy the IPS 8.8 front end card, unscrew and put in this new front end and remove all the analog controls,” Lynch said. Three models will be officially unveiled at CES in January including a 2 channel, a 4-channel and a 6-channel. All are high power designs, with Class D technology. Prices will be announced at CES.