Helix Sound Upgrade

helix-msrp2I had been fairly pleased with Volkswagen’s MIB II base stereo. It’s no powerhouse, but it has cool functionality and its sound output was adequate. I had originally planned to simply tap into the rear speaker wires to feed a signal converter, an amplifier, and then a subwoofer. I really think I would have been satisfied with that relatively simple setup. Then Volkswagen decided to discontinue its Helix subwoofer accessory, 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! The Helix subwoofer features two 5-1/2″ subwoofers and requires permanent removal of the spare tire. So I really had no intention to keep that setup in place after the initial installation and test.

helix_croppedHelix is a German high-fidelity audio system maker that was founded by car audio pioneer Heinz Fischer. Helix has built a reputation for creating high-quality amplifiers, speakers, and subs, along with innovative systems for improving the performance of stock sound systems in many popular vehicles. They based the Volkswagen accessory on their existing (but now discontinued) PP50DSP. Volkswagen advertises it as being pre-programmed with sound contouring specific to the Golf/GTI model, but can be updated for the other models with a trip to a Volkswagen dealership. Discussion in the programming dongle rental thread at GolfMk7.com reveals this to be inaccurate. Frankly, the system sounds really good, even without programming. Still, I’m glad to have an avenue for programming my Helix amp myself because most dealer techs don’t know much about this accessory. I base my conclusion on calls to three Volkswagen dealerships for installation quotes as well as internet discussions. 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 MSRP).

helixspecsI decided to tackle the installation myself. It took a few hours, but that’s only because I did some cleaning and photography along the way. I found reading the directions and having to refer to the separate illustrations in the German section to be quite annoying. 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.

removal-key2) I used these keys. He said not to shove the stereo removal keys 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 stuck. I could see how people might be inclined to wrestle with the keys and wind up breaking them. Lots of reviews at Amazon told me that I wasn’t the first. 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.

helix-connectors3) I used a pin removal tool that I bought at IDParts.com – http://www.idparts.com/vw-pin-remova…et-p-6236.html. They’re 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! Their web page has a link to a video that shows how to use it. Here’s a photo of it in my hand. I had slid the stereo unit out 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.”

helix-testfit4) I did 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 stock system didn’t give me the kind of bass I like, plus I don’t prefer to load the door speakers with too much bass. So I had kept the “bass” setting low to decrease mid-bass. With the Helix system, the 5-channel amp cuts-off lower bass from the doors and dedicates it to the subwoofer, allowing me to increase the bass setting. The subwoofer sounds surprisingly good, considering it has only 5-1/2″ woofers.

Dongle-575) Rent the programming dongle! I linked to a discussion above. But there’s another option in the Mk7 Facebook group. I was on both lists; the Facebook list was shorter and moved faster. In my case, flashing with the dongle made only a subtle difference. But others have reported dramatic changes. In the end, it only costs $20-$35 (depending on the list) and some waiting time. Using the dongle takes about 30 seconds. In fact, it takes longer to access the Helix amp than it does to use the dongle. Thankfully, my Helix amp is mounted in a very accessible position, so I was able to flash it while sitting in the back seat. See the photo for details.

faderThe brighter sound after upgrading to Helix allowed me to back off on the treble settings a little. Since Helix attenuates the bass frequencies on the four door channels, that means those speakers are able to work more efficiently at producing the mid-to-high frequencies, resulting in an improved sound stage. 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 ideal starting point. Overall, I’m very pleased and could even be pretty happy with the system as installed if not for the requirement to remove the spare tire and the fact that I had already planned and purchased parts for a subwoofer upgrade.

Update: My subwoofer upgrade is complete! See my Electronics Suite page for details. 

Loving the Beat!

Scott

About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and joined the U. S. Coast Guard in 1986. I am trained on electronics and taught myself the basics about automotive systems and to perform some of my own maintenance (cars and bicycles). I became involved with Amateur Radio and computers in 1995. The explosion of technology has made my job and several of my hobbies quite interesting. I retired from the Coast Guard in 2016 and continue to work in the the electronics systems engineering field. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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2 Responses to Helix Sound Upgrade

  1. Pingback: First 10,000 Miles – Broken-In | Stealth GTI

  2. Pingback: 20,000 Miles! | Stealth GTI

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