Should You Use an Amplified TV Antenna?

Mohu Leaf and Leaf Plus

The idea of amplifying a TV signal seems to make perfect sense: if your TV signals are weak, the amplifier will increase the signal levels so you can get more channels more reliably. A no-brainer, right?

I’ve tested a few amplifiers and indoor amplified antennas. My conclusion is that they can help in many situations, but there are some cases where they can actually harm your reception.  Here are a few scenarios to help you decide whether you should use an amplified antenna or not.

Scenario 1: Strong and Weak Signals in Providence RI

Providence, RI has very strong TV signals from local stations (under 10 miles away) and weaker ones from Boston (about an hour away).

I did direct A/B comparisons between the un-amplified (passive) Mohu Leaf and the powered Mohu Leaf Plus.  I tested to see how many channels they could pick up in four different locations around my apartment.

In one location in my apartment they tied at 10 channels each, a tie.  In two locations, the amplified antenna picked up a couple more stations (32 stations for amplified to 29 for passive, and 30 for amplified to 28 for passive). But, in one location, the passive Leaf picked up A LOT more stations and blew the powered Leaf Plus out of the water (18 stations to 11)!

Mohu Leaf and Leaf Plus
Passive Mohu Leaf on the left, powered Mohu Leaf Plus on the right.

These are very mediocre results for the much more expensive powered antenna!  I found similar results with the amplified NV20 Pro.  Basically it was about the same or a little worse in a few cases than the unamplified Mohu Leaf!

After I got these results, I was baffled.  Was there something wrong with the way I was testing?  How could the more expensive powered antennas be no better than the passive one?

How Can That Be?

Providence has very strong TV signals, along with a lot of weaker ones.  What happens is that the strong signals get over-amplified, which overwhelms the weaker ones, resulting in poorer reception than if you had no amplifier.

Recently, I heard from an actual transmitter engineer who works for a TV station who corroborated this explanation.

Scenario 2: Medium-Level Signals in Los Angeles

On the other hand, an amplifier can be beneficial when there are no super strong TV signals in your area.

I now live in Santa Monica, CA, where the TV signals all come from Mt. Wilson over 20 miles away. On the Station Finder, they are all green but they are not that strong. Using an un-amplified Mohu Leaf antenna, I can get a lot of channels, but my condo faces the wrong direction so the signals are not super strong and my reception is flaky.

Adding an amplifier improved my reception across the board and made most of my flaky channels solid!

Scenario 3: Long Cable Runs

If you are driving a long length of coax cable or more than one TV, an amplifier will probably improve your TV reception.

It should be placed at the end closest to the antenna, NOT at the end closest to the TV, or else you’ll lose all of the benefit of having an amplifier.

The Bottom Line

So, TV amplifiers are not all hype – there are many situations where they can help!  You just need to know which situation you’re in before buying.

If these conditions apply to you and you want to try an amp, I recommend ones made by Channel Master (go to Products -> Signal Amplifiers).  I tested their Amplify and Ultra Mini amplifiers with good results.

Before purchasing a powered antenna or amplifier, figure out which situation you’re in.  If you’re driving a long coax cable, get the amplifier.  If all of your signals are weak, get the amplifier.

If you have strong signals and want to get a few more weaker ones, an amplifier probably won’t help!

Please comment on your experiences with antennas, whether amplified or not! – Brian

  • patrick_healy

    My dad said he couldn’t get anything in San Francisco, and I have a hard time in San Mateo (but most are yellow)… I’m confused as to why that is!

    • HI Patrick,

      San Francisco is tough because of the hills. You should be able to get TV signals if you have a direct line of sight to Sutro Tower near Twin Peaks. If this is blocked by a hill or tall building, your reception might be worse than expected.

      Try a variety of antenna locations, as high up as possible.

      Best,
      Brian

  • Daniel

    I live in the city, very close to most of the transmitters for our market. For the life of me, I can’t get my omnidirectional flat antenna to pick up signals consistently. It just goes in and out all the time…especially the audio.

    I actually contacted one of the local stations about this and told him where I lived…he said, “From there, you ought to be able to pick us up with a paper clip.”

    I live in a townhome, and I have one TV on each floor. The TV on the second floor gets nearly flawless reception. The bigger TV on the first floor really struggles. I’ve tried multiple antennas with this TV, and I’m starting to wonder if the tuner on that TV itself is the real problem.

    Between my close proximity to the transmitters and my unamplified omnidirectional antenna, shouldn’t I be able to “set it and forget it” most of the time? It’s a constant battle.

    • HI Daniel,

      It seems clear that there is something blocking the reception on your first floor. It might be your neighbor’s building or something in your wall.

      The answer is to either move that antenna to the second floor or use something like Tablo to transmit broadcast TV from one antenna on the second floor to all of your TVs (requires a Roku or other set top box though, and changing channels is slow).

      Best,
      Brian

  • worldbfree4me

    I’m running 1 powered antenna to send signals to 3 TV’s and it works great. I’m not sure if a non-amplified would work so well.

    • Hi worldbfree4me,

      By all means, stick with what works!! To drive 3 TV’s, amplified is best.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • richfiles

    I live in a river valley with two towers south of me (172° and 201°) and no line of sight. tvfool tells me that both transmitters are only able to reach me by way of 2 edge diffraction (ouch). I can pick up the 172° transmitter, which is 26.9 miles away with a Terk Trinity amplified indoor antenna, and I get a variable 60-70% signal strength on my signal meter on my TiVo, with it favoring around 63% most of the time. tvfool lists my noise margin for that transmitter as 25.5 dB, and power of -65.3 dBm. That has proven more than enough to consistently pull in that tower, and I’ve never seen it drop, only occasionally artifact.

    Problem is, that is a local affilaite tower with only a CBS and a FOX feed, and nothing else.

    The tower situated at 201° is the one I was HOPING to get, but my apartment may have me in an impossible situation. The 201° tower is only 16 miles away, but like the other tower, it has no line of sight, and can only reach me by way of 2 edge diffraction. The best signal from that tower has a Noise Margin of 20.3 dB, and -70.5 dBm power, while the average station off that tower ranges between a NM of 5.4 and 14.5 (2/3 above 10) dB, and the power level at -76.3 to -85.5 (most sitting around -80) dBm. I have a spare room i use for storage at my apartment, and it’s physically closest to the direction of the towers, so I pulled an old yagi antenna out of storage and tried to set it up indoors. I suspended the narrow end from a plastic shelf, facing south-ish, and set the wide end on another plastic shelf, with the antenna lined up to aim through a gap in the one plastic shelf, against the south facing window. I don’t know how far off my aim is, as my phone’s compass is garbage. :P

    The issue, is that I got 0 signal strength from it, on any channel, period. Now, I know it HAD a booster. I was unable to find the booster, and hoped I could t least get ANYTHING off it for testing, and if I could pull ANYTHING… then buy a booster, but I’ve got ZERO… Nothing at all. I had a false lead when i saw one of the wires hanging off the dipole, but I STILL got nothing when i reattached it.

    I don’t know if I have bad aim, if I have a bad antenna, a bad pre-amp, or a pre-amp that won’t pass ANY signal if not powered… I mean… I get a signal averaging around 20-30% on the tower I WISH I could tune, using the tiny wifi router sized Terk indoor antenna, but that’s not enough to tune. I get Ziltch, Zip, Nada, a big fat O from the yagi… 2 tines were broken, so I cut aluminum foil, modeling it off the non broken tines and attached it with some scotch tape and plastic… I tried to match it’s shape tot he best of my ability… Could that be preventing it from working… I just don’t know… This antenna is like a 6 foot long yagi. I could try another cable, If I can dig one up. It used to be used with an ASTC set top converter box, so I know it ONCE worked.

    I guess I could use some advice. I just figured I’d pick up SOME kind of signal. Even a trace of a bad signal. The two antenna’s locations are about 8-ish feet apart, one in one room, same facing wall, and the other in an adjacent room, facing the same exterior wall. My apartment has no balconies or railings either (I am aware that if I had such things, I could use them for an out door antenna)… I just simply don’t have them.

    The WORST part… Is that my apartment is located just below the horizon of a hill… The Walmart only several blocks away, and up over the edge of the hill, picks up all the stations from the “desired” tower, clean through their steel roof and block walls! I’m literally 3 blocks from 1 edge diffraction, and 4-5 blocks away from true line of sight.

    WHY! ╱)⤳⁔⤺(╲

    • Hi Richfiles,

      My suggestion would be to completely remove the preamp from your antenna in order to make sure it is not blocking the signal.

      Then, just as a test, try using it outside, and as high up as possible, on the roof perhaps, even if just temporarily for testing purposes.

      Best wishes,
      Brian

  • Ron Oestreicher

    Brian,
    I live near NYC. While I do get good strong signals, I live in a 1st Floor apartment with a lot of brick buildings and trees in the area. I have a non-amplified antenna, and my reception is mediocre at best. I know you’d said an amplifier would make reception worse if you are close to station transmitters, but would it help with all the interference I’m getting?

    • Hi Ron,

      It is very difficult to predict whether an amplified antenna will perform better under these conditions. Some channels might come in better, while others are worse.

      Before getting an amplified antenna, here are some tips to try: http://disablemycable.com/blog/antenna-tips/

      Best wishes,
      Brian

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  • robbo4473

    Good review. I live in Providence – the reception is terrible!
    I made that DIY antenna you always see on YouTube, the ugly coat
    hanger one, and got the same amount of channels as just a coaxial cable sticking out
    of the back with nothing on it. Which is about 13 to 17 channels, that have shaky signals
    and need constant antenna adjustment.

    • Hi robbo4473,

      Hey, great to hear from Providence. Yeah, reception is not so great in there, but I was able to get all of the networks and PBS when I was there. I used to live at the 903 behind the Providence Place mall. On the ground floor, I was able to get about 19 channels using the Mohu Leaf. Later, I moved to Benefit street and was able to get 30 channels on the second floor, with my Leaf antenna lying flat on my floor. The signals come from every compass direction, so you can’t use a directional antenna. Keep experimenting: http://disablemycable.com/blog/antenna-tips/

      Thanks,
      Brian

  • Marty

    I purchased a leaf like product (not amplified) from Best Buy and got very few channels. But today I bought the MOHU Amplified Indoor HDTV Antenna 50-mile range and got 25 stations! It was an easy set up and I am very happy with the purchase. I put it on an inner wall behind my TV where it will not be seen. It is also in the BASEMENT of my home! To get all these channels without putting it in a window or outer wall was AWESOME!
    I want to thank you for your website which gave me the courage to cut the cable cord!

    • Hi Marty,

      Thank you for sharing your story! There are indeed situations where an amplified antenna is better. Glad you got the channels you wanted!

      Brian

  • PS: I tried the Mohu Leaf and came away with 5 channels unfortunately three were repeats, which two would barely come in. I purchased a $10.80 rabbit ear RCA from Wal-Mart and receive 3 channels during day and 5 channels after 6:30 pm. all different and all crystal clear. I am going to try the Coat Hanger Antenna because of the reviews and the amount of people who have viewed the video. I’m almost certain it’s a sure bet!

    • Hi Fran,

      Thank you for sharing your experience! The performance of antennas depends on a lot of factors such as distance and direction of the TV transmitters. One antenna that is good for one person might not work well for another. I’m glad you found an antenna that works well for you!!

      – Brian

  • Want a very good antenna for a very inexpensive price? Try this- and do watch the video and read the comments before exiting.
    Coat Hanger HDTV Antenna!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EWQhlmJTMzw

  • Lydie

    Thank you for sharing your experience with amplied and non amplied antennas. I am 35-38 miles from stations. I jbought a Winegard Flatwave and get good reception during the day. However during poor weather and evenings some vhf stations are lost. Therefore, based on your conclusions it would seem the amplified Winegard Flatwave might be a solution.

  • Marie

    After trying to use the Mohu Leaf and not having success getting all possible OTA channels I began to research outdoor antennas. I loved the idea of not having indoor antennas all over the house on our TV’s and also being able to use the existing cable coaxial outlets to connect to. After talking to a neighbor who cut the cord a few years back she informed me that our homeowner’s association doesn’t allow outdoor antennas. I was shocked and wondered why it was ok to allow pay tv fixtures such as satellite dishes but not antennas. After doing some research I am proud to say not only did we get an OUTDOOR antenna installed on our house, but we also schooled our homeowner’s association on this GREAT law by the FCC which PROHIBITS anyone from denying consumers access to OTA channels. PLEASE do your readers a service by sharing with them this: http://www.fcc.gov/guides/over-air-reception-devices-rule. My antenna installer was pretty impressed that I knew about this rule and confirmed that there is nothing the homeowner’s association can do. For the cost of about 5 months of cable, I got an antenna installed and will NEVER go back to pay TV, EVER!

    • Hi Marie,

      Wow, this is fantastic information!! I will definitely share that with my readers!! Thank you for sharing!!!

      Brian

      • Marie

        I’m trying to let as many people as I can know about that law because I believe there tons of people who could benefit from it!

    • HI Marie,

      Thanks again for this. I have posted it on the DisableMyCable Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/disablemycable), and added it to my section on outdoor antennas (http://disablemycable.com/antennas.php).

      Thanks!!
      Brian

      • Marie

        I am glad you are helping get the word out about this FCC law!

  • Carol

    THANK YOU SO MUCH.
    This is difficult for me because I am getting rid of U-Verse and because the internet is combined, I must try and find the best and least expensive products available. I am a senior disabled person, that is basically home bound, so these services are most important to me. I can no longer afford the high cost .You have helped as far as the antenna for the Converter Box. I have 1 flat screen and 2 older sets.
    NOW I MUST FIND INTERNET! lol

    • Brian

      Hi Carol,

      Thank you for your post! Here are some ideas for reducing cost of Internet:
      http://lifetricks3.com/cut-your-internet-bill-in-half/

      Thanks,
      Brian

    • Ben

      Brian great test on the Mohu leaf, a good reminder that sometimes less is more.

      Carol we feel your pain of high Cable TV costs. Once you have found a low cost internet provider, point your web browser to mkvXstream.com for a large source of Free Internet, Roku and Google TV channels. More Free TV then you will ever have time to watch.

      Kind regards,
      Ben

      • Ben, thanks for your comments and the link! – Brian