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Capacitors: What You Need To Know Before Buying.

24588 Views 59 Replies 24 Participants Last post by  Christianbazin
So, you just installed your new stereo, but you notice your lights dim when the bass hits?


You're buying parts to build a system and youre worried that your lights will dim because (insert name here) said that you need one?

If you answered yes to either of these questions, a capacitor is not the answer to your problems.

A capacitor acts like a small battery to filter small ripples in your electrical system, it discharges when the input voltage drops below the charged level of the capacitor to keep a constant voltage.

Now you're probably wondering why they wont fix your problem if they do what I just said, right?

Well, here is your answer, a capacitor simply will not support any electrical components placing that much demand on your electrical system. Sure you could get a huge capacitor. The price of one of a capacitor large enough to adequately support that substantial of an electrical system just isn't worth the difference, and you're still not fixing your underlying problem, an inadequate charging system. Once the capacitor is discharged from being over extended from being used improperly, it becomes even more of a strain on your already limping electrical system by trying to recharge.

Now you ask, if a capacitor wont fix my problem, then what will?

Well, there are three steps that you can do to combat your inadequate charging system. Steps 2 and 3 are interchangeable, I would recommend them in the listed order, but it isn't as important as the first.

Step one: upgrade your big three wiring, these wires are:
1. Alternator to Battery (+)
2. Frame to Battery(-)
3. Engine to Frame or Battery (-)

See the following link for more detail.
Big Three Upgrade: How To

Step Two: Higher Output Alternator.
Simply replace your factory alternator with an alternator that put out more amperage. The most common and cost effective is the AD244 from the newer full size trucks.

See the following link for more information about the swap.
AD244 Upgrade: How To

Step Three: Add Another Battery
Just like it says, add another battery, you should use at least the same size wire that you used for your big three, if you have any considerable length of wire to reach the new battery, you need to fuse the wire at each end to help prevent any electrical fires if the insulation should become compromised.

If you are dealing with batteries of different types and or ages, an isolator should also be used to prevent premature battery failure, but this will also cause a half volt drop across the isolator.

This should fix your problems for up to a moderately high powered system (2000-4000 RMS Watts) if it doesn't repeat steps 2 and 3 and necessary.

Now that you've read why you don't need a capacitor, now you can see what they are useful for.
You already know that capacitors filter ripples in your electrical current from the beginning of this tutorial.
There are sound quality benefits to using capacitors as a filter before your amps. The first benefit is if there is an immediate need for a high current draw such as a bass note with a very fast attack, the capacitor can discharge faster to supply the required current, in addition to the current that is already there from your battery and alternator to keep your amplifiers response as fast as it can be.
Secondly it helps keep voltage spikes from reaching your amplifiers.

In conclusion, unless you have extremely fine tuned hearing chances are, you will never miss a capacitor in your system, but, I will not discourage you from getting one, so long as you are using it for the right reasons, if you are trying to fix a voltage problem with it, you are simply trying to put a band aid on a bullet wound, but if you have a strong electrical system and are looking for something to smooth peaks and provide an additional kick if its needed, chances are a capacitor is what you are looking for.

Happy Building,
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they said on xtreme 4x4 yesterday that they're used to stop headlights from dimming =-o i sent them an email setting them straight...
here's some cap history for you guys.. basically the origin long read but good
and i didn't write this lol

caps dont do shiznit, especially a 1 farad..read an enjoy

After studying a little history on large 1 Farad capacitors in car audio, you'd be amazed that they even sell at all. How useful are they? What do they really do? Will a Cap 'improve' my sound quality? Will it Prevent my lights from dimming? Will it audibly affect my audio system in any way?

Before you get the truth to any of the above questions, chances are, you've probably spent $100 or more on one of these devices. However, let's study a little history regarding this issue.

A long time ago, in a land far away, 2 elves...Ok, Richard Clark & Wayne Harris (Carsound magazine and the inventor of DB Drag, respectively) separately came up with a solution to preventing their lights from dimming.


As you may know, Richard Clark is one of the founders of autosound2000 Tech Briefs, Carsound magazine, and a published author of the industry of mobile electronics. In SQ competitions, he posted a record of 1234 1st place finishes, and only ended up NOT 1st in his first event. I've heard that he had minor system problems, but judging by his record, he must have corrected it. (evidently, he needed a Capacitor )

Wayne Harris was previously a leader at Rockford Fosgate in their development. Later, in his free time, he created the organization we call DB DRAG. Wayne was the first SQ World Champion from the organization we know as IASCA (International AutoSound Challenge Association).

Both of these gurus are both legends, and considered the leading experts in the field. During their competition days, both guyz came up with a way to assist in the prevention of voltage drops. In SQ competitions, the look of your system is actually more important than the sound, and having your lights NOT dim under high playing levels is a competitive advantage.

As you may know, amplifiers are made up a bank of little capacitors, resistors, etc. What has been common engineering knowledge is that capacitors store energy, and more or bigger ones assist in balancing the power supply.

Wayne came up with the idea of putting several dozen 'little' (approx 100uF) capacitors on a circuit board to 'extend' the power supplies storage. At about the same time, or shortly afterward, Richard came up with the idea of one huge mondo capacitor (I believe it was 800,000uF or 0.8F) to do the job.

Eventually, Richard won. The large cylindrical tubes won over the complicated 48 caps strapped to a circuit board. However, what did this really accomplish? Let's start here:


Basically, capacitors are an energy storage device. Large, 1 Farad or more
capacitors store energy (electrons) between their plates. Capacitors differ
from batteries because batteries store energy in the form of chemical
energy--and rely on acid and lead plates, as the place of storage. For a more detailed
description of a capacitor, go here:


Then on the right hand side, scroll down to CAPACITOR. Keep in mind the use
of capacitors in an audio system.


The number 1 reason would have to be because their lights dim when their
system is playing HARD. In car audio, we are told that a capacitor is
designed to prevent the voltage drop associated with your lights dimming.
The number2 reason is that it is rumored to 'improve' sound quality or
'stiffen' the power supply/source.


Headlights brightness is in direct proportion to the source voltage. For
instance, if your car is running, system voltage is ~12.5 -14.4 VOLTS. Your
lights will be much brighter than when your car is turned off--where battery
voltage is ~12V. Most car alternators put out between 75 to 120 amps of
current. When this current draw threshold of the charging system is
exceeded, system voltage will drop as power demands are now shared by the
alternator and the storage devices (battery & cap). We are using battery
reserves beyond this point until the demand lessens

When playing your system really hard. Your lights dim because your
alternator can't keep up it's charging voltage (around 13.5V) and therefore,
demand exceeds output. When this happens, your electronic devices are
dipping into the power storage of the battery. Since the battery stores
power at ~ 12-12.5V, there is a 1.3 to 1.8V drop in voltage available. This
in turn is why your lights dim down.


1 Farad = 100 joules or 100W/second
850cca battery = ~2,200,000 farads

For storage purposes, you'd need ~2,200 1 Farad capacitors to equal the energy of your battery.

Due to its impedence (ESR & ESL), a cap's energy is only 50% available. What's worse, is that in order for a 1 Farad cap to discharge, first the alternator output must have maxed out, and the voltage must have dropped around 1.5 volts. But I thought a cap was supposed to prevent that (voltage drop)!!!!!????? Yep, you got the point.


My question exactly. Marketing is the reason why people buy caps. In many cases, upgrading wiring will help your system get the maximum transfer of current. Once that has been reached, adding a capacitor may have a minor effect on your system. 50W over the course of a second is not a lot of power considering an amplifier may draw 2000W to put out 1400 watts. Let's look at the situation from a resources standpoint.

Alternator 80 amps
Car accessories (minus stereo) 40 amps
A large Car Audio system (DRAWS ) ~200 amps AT FULL OUTPUT

In this case, you have 240 amps of draw, but only 80 amps of current from the alternator. In your case, you need 160 amps x 12 volts or or let's say 1920 watts of energy. Since a cap stores 50W, how much of a difference do you think it's going to make? A cap is basically a peashooter. W+e need a Howitzer cannon here, to do the job well.

Also, Once a cap is discharged, where does it get it's power from? The alternator, which is already overloaded. Once a cap is discharged, it's worthless. Like SWEZ says, ・.The cap already shot its wad, an does limp til recharged・ I知 not so certain I will allow him to babysit my kids, but you get the drift. (I never said it quiet like that... and oh...I'm great with kids!)


1. Audio Jewelry- impress chicks with large cylindrical shiny thingy
2. Extra weight in winter time
3. A very POOR... BUT expensive distribution block
4. A projectile in the event of a crash
5. Rolling pin--for cooking purposes
6. A neat thing to tell your friend, "..Hey man, lick the top of this..

Please do not try # 6. New hairstyles are always refreshing, but if you are wearing railroad tracks across your teeth, you might have one big filling after it痴 over.


They can't. Sound quality is not dependant upon the presence of large bulky 1 Farad capacitors. How many 1 Farad Capacitors do you think the Boston Pops, Aerosmith, or Snoop dog use in the recording studio?


When Richard, our fearless inventor, became World renown for winning every competition under the sun, people began copying what he did. Soon, every 'serious' competitor had a 'stiffening' capacitor--not to be confused with the 'loosening' capacitor.


In the late 80s, people began sticking out their tongue when dunking the basketball because Michael Jordan did. Did sticking out your tongue improve your dunking ability? Same here with adding a capacitor to your electrical system.


Here's the Original Cap Debate.


Phoenix Gold's marketing guru had just posted information on how their Powercore (basically the Alumapro CAP15 in a Phoenix shell) had both stabilized their voltage and improved the sound quality. Richard called him on it (all in another post) and the marketing geek was unable to quantify any of the conditions that resulted in the voltage being HELD at 14.2V and the 'improved' sound quality.

Please do not read every stinking post as valid. There are a lot of people that have had the efficacy of capacitors inbred to their minds, and were not (and still not) convinced in the futility of a 1 Farad storage device.

In a final note, Richard relayed a quote regarding battcaps ( www.battcap.net ) as, "..The audio industry is the only place i know of where you can publish specs that show your product is useless and still be able to sell them------and whats worse is that technically ignorant people will argue against the math!!!!!!!..............RC.." when referring to the product. This also relates to most digital readout capacitors, and I wish my Archie Bunker skills could have said it better myself.
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I had a capacitor in my honda before i got my s10. I was running a decent sized system kicker 750.1 pushing two 10" L5'S as well as a kicker 350.4 for my highs. My lights would dim pretty bad and when i got my 5 farad cap..... no more dimming. ran it for over a year until i got rid of the car.
It worked, no more dimming, i'd recommend it for a system the size i had.
so you truly are what your name says you are huh? and you must not of read a single word in this entire thread
big 3 can only help. the only thing that could be harmful is you are stupid enough to run smaller wire than stock... THEN you will have problems
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