Long Term Review: Helix Sound Upgrade

Believe it or not, I’m no audio systems expert, despite what this photo may compel you to believe. I just know more about stereo upgrades than the average driver; plus, I know how to get what I want in an efficient way. A 30-year career in electronics doesn’t hurt, either.  😉  Plenty have mentioned that I could have installed a much better system with digital signal processing (DSP) than the Helix system. A quick look at Crutchfield.com shows that DSPs can be expensive. Then one has to add an amplifier, the wiring to/from the trunk, and whatever else is needed, especially the parts required to break into the factory wiring harness or connector (I hate cutting factory wires). My enthusiasm for that level of effort has waned as I’ve gotten older. The Helix upgrade saved a lot of time and effort in the long run. I’m still quite pleased with it.

The more I think about it, YES, I still believe that the Helix system is worth the $500 price tag shown in plenty of online sources, especially if you install it yourself. Sure, it’s not as powerful as one can build and it doesn’t sound-off as deeply or brilliantly as a “real system.” BUT, for ~$500, Helix delivers a system upgrade that has a factory-like cable that plugs into the factory speaker harness (in and out without cutting), includes switched power routing to the trunk, DSP, decent power, a subwoofer, and maintains the factory looks and cargo space. Helix is not for you if you want something custom or dislike the factory MIB2 interface. But Helix is a good upgrade and a good launch pad for expansion if you like the MIB2.

The catch is installation can be expensive if you don’t do it yourself; plus, the system needs to be programmed to experience the DSP as intended (the system works without programming). Follow the installation directions and other details that I featured in my initial Helix entry to be up and running within a couple of hours. For programming, you can 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. I don’t advertise that I have a dongle, nor do I rent it to others, but I have one and I’m glad to help people who come to me. Just a thought. Please feel free to contact me privately if you’d like to meet.

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.  Of course, my Rockford Fosgate subwoofer reached lows that cannot be touched by the factory speakers or even the Helix subs. However, it’s worth noting that the Helix system improves the highs as well. As we exited the car, he finished by saying “I feel like something’s been missing from my life.” 😀 That was funny!

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.

Still Rockin’,

Scott

About Scott

I grew up near Houston, TX and served in the U. S. Coast Guard for over 30 years. I have an electronics background and continue to work in the electronics engineering field. I taught myself the basics about automotive systems as well as how 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. My hobbies include Volkswagens, bicycling, photography, electronics, amateur radio, web management, and reptiles. Visit my websites to learn more.
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