I had been pleased with Volkswagen’s MIB II base stereo. It’s no powerhouse, but it has cool features and adequate sound output. To add deeper bass, I would have been satisfied with simply tapping into the rear speaker wires to feed an amplifier and a subwoofer. But Volkswagen decided to discontinue an older version of its Helix subwoofer accessory, VW P/N: 000-051-419, meaning they slashed its price by over 50% to quietly clear their inventory. What was once an “is it really worth $660?” item was suddenly a very affordable $300. I managed to get the kit shipped to my door for $235 after some discount shopping and a manufacturer’s rebate. The wiring harness and digital signal processor alone are worth more than that! Watch this video for a introduction to Helix, then return to read my installation tips below.
Helix is a German high-fidelity audio system maker that based the Volkswagen accessory on their existing PP62DSP (new VW P/N: 000-051-419B). The outgoing system I bought during the clearance was based on the discontinued PP50DSP. Both systems feature 50 watts per channel (35W/channel on four-speaker systems without separate tweeters), plus 160 watts for the subwoofer, and can be programmed with sound contouring specific to each Volkswagen model with a trip to a Volkswagen dealer (details below). Calls to three Volkswagen dealerships for installation quotes, as well as internet discussions, compelled me to tackle the installation myself: One dealer quoted a very confident $312, another did a round of back and forth phone calls over a few days and then never really gave me a great feeling about their plan, and a third dealership wouldn’t touch the installation at all (but would gladly sell me the part for $660). “No, thanks!”
The installation took me a few hours, but that’s only because I did some cleaning and photography along the way. The directions were cumbersome, but someone at VWVortex said all they needed was this YouTube video (profanity warning). I took a leap of faith and just followed along with the video, pausing as needed for certain steps. Everything went smoothly, especially when making a few exceptions that I think the video producer would agree with:
1) Kill the power! He said it; he illustrated why it is prudent. The instructions say to disconnect the battery for a reason. Just do it. It took just a few seconds to disconnect my battery’s negative terminal. I did not lose any settings. Also, open the hatchback before you disconnect the battery; the hatchback requires power to open.
2) I used these keys to remove the stereo chassis. He said not to shove them in until they click because they sometimes get stuck and can break. I could not pull my radio out without the keys slipping out. So I shoved them in a little farther… they clicked. “DOH!” Clicked into place, they held the radio and enabled me to slide it straight out. But the keys were indeed locked-in and stuck. No worries! With the radio in-hand, all I had to do was press inward on the retaining tabs (depicted by the arrow in this photo) and the key immediately released without need to fight with or risk breaking anything. This is exactly how they’re supposed to work!
3) I used this pin removal tool from IDParts. The tool pair is a little more expensive than other tools, but they’re robust and reach deeper into bulky connectors. The larger tool worked perfectly for this job! IDParts’ web page has a link to a video that shows how to use the tool. Here’s a photo of it in my hand. I had slid the stereo unit out of the glove box and gently hung it by the cables that were still connected. I had to swap out one of the wiring blocks and re-pin two of the wires. It was straightforward with the video assisting me, but definitely not “plug-n-play,” as suggested by some of the vendors who sell the Helix upgrade.
4) There’s a tiny potentiometer near the end of the amp (red arrow). It is a gain adjustment that’s set at the factory. Some swear they get better sound after adjusting it. My advice is to leave it alone unless something is already wrong. I met someone whose sub stopped working after he adjusted it. We adjusted the pot and found a sweet spot. Also, the “screw head” is tiny, made of plastic, and very fragile. Again, LEAVE IT ALONE!
5) Begin at the front of the car when routing the wiring harness. Leave about 12″ so that you can remove the MIB2 brain, if needed for future service. That will also leave plenty of slack at the back in case you need to remove the subwoofer. It’s easier to disconnect if you can bring it to the hatch opening first. I made the electrical connections at the front of the car and then did a test of the stereo before committing to routing the cable under the trim panels to the trunk. I could hear the difference right away… much brighter. Of course, it sounded even better once I routed the cable and closed the doors. The Helix five-channel amp removes lower bass from the doors and dedicates it to the subwoofer, allowing me to increase the bass setting without over-driving the door speakers. The subwoofer sounds surprisingly good, especially when considering that it has only 6-inch drivers. It sounds like a “larger” system.
6) It very tempting to make sure all parts in the package are used. This includes a small jumper that fits in only one place. “There, all done,” one might think. Not so fast! This jumper is for use on right-hand drive (RHD) cars to force the DSP into accounting for the driver being on the “wrong side” of the car. 😉 It is not used in cars where the driver sits on the left side. Feel free to misplace this part if the system will never serve in a RHD car. I have no idea where mine went.
7) Disconnecting the battery causes the computer to lose track of certain position sensors. As a result, faults associated with the TPMS, traction control, steering angle, and maybe even something else will probably appear. DON’T PANIC! Simply start the car and drive it a few hundred feet. The errors will disappear on their own once the computer detects steering inputs and wheel rotation. The one-touch window opening/closing also needs resetting. To do that, switch on the ignition, close all windows and doors, pull each window-up switch and hold it for at least two seconds, release, then pull up and hold again. Driving the windows into their stops retrains the module, which allows the auto up/down feature to work again.
8) Don’t believe VW’s claim that the system is “pre-programmed” for the Golf/GTI. If it is, then it may be pre-programmed for the two-door, file 56, which is no longer available in the U.S. To program the unit, either visit a dealer, rent a dongle, or I’d be happy to flash it for you if you’re willing to meet in Yorktown, VA. Renting the dongle makes programming the system at home very easy (it takes ~30 seconds). In my case, flashing with the dongle seemed to make only a subtle difference. But others have reported dramatic changes. Later, I discovered that the distortion I had at higher volumes was gone after programming.
Since the system is marketed as a “Subwoofer/Soundbox,” it’s easy to forget that the Helix upgrade features a 5-channel amplifier with DSP. The programming adjusts the mid and high frequencies and focuses the experience on the driver. At “only” 102-dBA, it’s not going to win any sound-offs, but the quality of sound is very good for the price-point. Of course, there’s still room to tailor the tone of the music to suit individual tastes. But the point of Helix is to present an improvement to the stock system, as well as an ideal starting point for upgrades. Overall, I’m very pleased and could even be pretty happy with the system as installed if not for the fact that I had already planned and purchased parts for a subwoofer upgrade. Read more about my upgrade HERE. See more photos below.
My impressions of the Helix were renewed when I got my hands on a dealer demo switch that allows me to switch between “Original” and “Helix” sound. Of course, the switch is always in the “Helix” position. But I thought the novelty of hearing the difference from time to time would be cool, even if only briefly. I shared the difference with a coworker. I started with it in the “Original” position. “That actually sounds okay,” he said. Then I switched it to “Helix.” “Oh, WOW! That’s a big difference,” he immediately exclaimed. He became more and more impressed as the song continued and we switched back and forth between the modes. As we exited the car, he finished by saying “I feel like something’s been missing from my life.” 😀 That was funny!
UPDATE: Here is an observation for VWVortex user KsR_808:
“All of you should be VERY happy with what you got for the money. Especially those that paid $250. Yes, certain aspects of the Helix could be better, but now that I have perspective on the sound of the Helix compared with the system I just installed that cost 4 times more, I really appreciate the work and engineering that went into this bespoke sound upgrade solution for our vehicles. Helix is an award-winning company renowned for its super high sound quality and they have packed a lot of their intellectual property into this amp. The value is especially surprising when you look at how small the amp is and realize there is a built-in DSP with EQ, time alignment, etc!”
In conclusion, don’t be too quick to dismiss the Helix upgrade simply because it’s marketed as a “subwoofer/soundbox.” The system has a five-channel Class AB amplifier and the DSP is programmed to make a substantial difference in the way the stereo sounds to the driver. I’ve also read about people negotiating the upgrade into the purchase price of a new car. That can make the cost of buying the system quite manageable. But I still recommend it as a worthwhile and affordable upgrade to a non-Fender system on a used Mk7, too. It all depends on where one draws the line between sound quality, system cost, and ease of installation. I think the Helix upgrade is a great compromise between the three.
NOTE: Some have squeezed their Helix subwoofer in with the donut spare tire by removing the subwoofer’s rubber “feet” and using a longer spare tire retention “bolt,” VW P/N: 1T0-803-899-B. More details HERE.
Loving the Beat!
UPDATE: I’ve published a long-term update HERE.