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 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!

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.

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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12 Responses to Long Term Review: Helix Sound Upgrade

  1. Vince C says:

    Hi Scott,

    Really enjoyed you posts and I’ve learned much from them. I had just installed the Helix soundbox in my 2018 sportwagon. I am wondering if you have considered other Helix speakers to replace the stock speakers? Particularly the Helix Match MS 62C, which are suppose to be made specifically for the Golf platform.

    I am curious if the Match MS 62C is going to make further difference.

    Thanks!

    – Vince

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    • Scott says:

      Vince – I have not upgraded my speakers… it hasn’t been a priority. I’ve read in some discussions that a speaker upgrade is not recommended with Helix because the DSP is programmed with the factory speaker ranges and response times in mind. A speaker upgrade *could* produce highs that are too bright to tame without affecting other aspects of the sound. Those reports may be exaggerated to a degree… or maybe not. Regardless, I’m happy to stick with the factory speakers unless or until one fails. 😉 Thanks for writing! -Scott

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  2. Vince C says:

    Ah, if the DSP is already taken the factory settings into consideration, indeed users shouldn’t be messing with it. I am waiting for the programing dongle and eager to see the implementation in full.

    In my opinion the upgrade is definitely worthwhile given the relatively modest price tag and effort.
    Thanks for saving me the trouble! – Vince

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  3. Joseph Dessa says:

    I would like to thank you for a very well written article. Reading it made me take the plunge and buy the Helix system.

    I have just had the dealer install the Helix system in my 2019 Rabbit GTI. I had to provide the dealership with your article and video links for them to be able to wire the system correctly! They wired it wrong initially but after watching the videos linked to your article they got it right. They charged me $200 for the install and I got the system for $360 with shipping and taxes. Before programming, I thought the system sounded Better than the factory system but the treble was shrill and the bass boomy. The volume went up quite a bit though.The programming dongle cost me $30 to rent. Boy, what a difference the programming made. It changed the soundstage, smoothened out the treble , increased the volume and tightened and deepened the bass. The sound is crystal clear at all volumes with the bass felt even at low volumes.The service advisor who heard the system after I programmed it, flat out said it sounded better than the Fender unit. He said it even sounded clearer and better than the custom system he had in his truck!. Now, as far as volume goes I cannot turn it up above 60% of max volume because of how loud it gets.There is no distortion but it’s extremely loud. I wonder if the new programming code number 97 for the “new – 2 golf 7 4 door reduced output-power” is meant to address this issue. The SD card on the dongle I rented was not updated with code number 97 and so I could only use code 57. Do you have any information on this new code 97?

    For those waiting to take the plunge, my advice is go for it and if you have the dealership install it, provide them with links to this article if they have no experience installing the system. I would also advice you to try and get hold of a dongle with a newer SD card that has program number 97. Try both numbers 57 and 97 and post your experience.

    With regards.

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    • Scott says:

      Joseph – Thanks for your detailed report! I don’t know think my programmer has file #97. Looking at the contents of the SD card (I cannot access my Helix amp at the moment), the majority of files were written between 2012 and 2014. So it’s safe to say I have old data even though I bought my programmer in 2018. I’ll have to look into updating my files.

      I noticed the extra volume with file #57, too. I cannot set my start-up volume to below “3” and I prefer to not have to turn down my music every time I start the car with a passenger. My solution has been to fade the music a couple clicks to the rear. Oddly enough, that turns down the front speakers but doesn’t seem to turn up the rear. So the tactic seems sound. (<- PUN!) I don't think I'd want to load the "low volume file" since it may require more adjustments instead of a click or two of the steering control. I'm not sure. But I'm open to trying the file if I can get it downloaded. For now, the fader seems like a good fix; I can alway re-center the balance if I decide I want more volume (seems unlikely). Thanks Again! Take Care, -Scott

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  4. Joseph D says:

    Hi Scott,
    Thank you for your reply.
    I have another query that I cannot find an answer to and I hope you can help me.
    I am considering adding a rear door tweeter to my 2019 Rabbit Edition GTI. I have been trying to find the part number of the tweeter that VW uses in the A pillar in the car but have not been successful.
    I do not have a background in electronics like you do, but I have a little basic knowledge.
    The 2019 Rabbit GTI has a mid woofer(or a full range driver) and a tweeter up front and a mid woofer (or a full range driver) in the rear door. As far as I know (and assume) the mid woofer (or full range) driver in the front and rear door are the same. The impedance of the mid woofer is 4 ohms. I’m assuming the impedance of the tweeter in the A pillar is also 4 ohms. I’m also assuming the two speakers in the front are connected in parallel. That brings the total impedance to 2 ohms. The Helix DSP processor cum amplifier outputs 50 watts into the front speaker set up.As far as I can tell the rear door speaker volume is way lower than the front. So this does seem to indicate that the rear door speaker’s impedance is the same as the front door (mid woofer) one (at 4 ohms each). What is the output to the rear doors single speaker?. Assuming the rear door speaker is the same as the front, can an amplifier handle putting out a signal to a setup where the front speakers (two) are a 2 ohm set up while the rear is a 4 ohm set up?. This would mean the front two channels are driven at 50 watts each while the rear two are at 35 watts each.Or is the impedance of the rear speaker also 2 ohms, thus making the rear speaker different from the front(mid woofer)?. I cannot see VW building such a complex set up when it would so much cheaper to have the front and rear mid woofers exactly the same.
    I like the quality sound put out by the front speakers and would therefore like to add an OEM tweeter to the rear door. Can I do this?
    The OEM front tweeter in the rear door will be connected in parallel to the mid woofer thus matching the front set up. Assuming the rear door mid woofer is identical to the front, this will match the front’s impedance at 2 ohms this evening out the sound(volume).The helix amp will be able to then output 50 watts into both the front and rear set up.
    Do you think the wiring harness is already set up to accept a rear tweeter?.
    It will again increase costs to have a new harness made to fit a 2 front and 1 rear speaker set up when you already have a harness for a 2 front and 2 rear speaker set up( the Fender wiring harness).
    I am a little hesitant to add an after market tweeter to the rear door as this will definitely change the soundstage given a different physical structure and very likely, frequency response(assuming 4 ohm tweeters) since the manufacturer will be different.
    Any thoughts would be appreciated.
    Thanks in advance and with regards.
    Joseph

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    • Scott says:

      Joseph – The reason you cannot find the P/N for the front tweeter is because it is part of the A-pillar panel. I’d provide the P/N, but I think you really want the rear tweeter, which is built into the rear door card. Check out this eBay post for an example: https://www.ebay.com/i/233134503404?chn=ps. Keep in mind that this is a leather part and not the right P/N for your car. It was just my quickest example. If you replace your door panel for the tweeter, you’d have to look up the P/N for the rear speaker. I’m not certain they are identical. While I’m confident that it’s a full range driver, it probably lacks the capacitor required to keep low frequencies away from the tweeter. That said, the capacity may very well be wired into the tweeter. I’m not sure. If the rear speaker P/N is identical to the front, then the cap is in the tweeter. I cannot answer whether your harness is ready to add a tweeter. The only way to find out is to remove your door card. 🙂 Even if it’s not ready, it shouldn’t be too difficult to add wiring for the tweeter in parallel with the woofer.

      I think I read that you concluded your rear channels are 4-ohm and the fronts are 2-ohm. That is correct. Therefore, you are outputting 35W to the rear and 50W to the front. I’m confident that the Helix system has enough flexibility in it to adapt to you adding rear tweeters. I think I’ve captured all of your questions. Let me know if you have more. Take Care! -Scott

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  5. Joseph D says:

    Hi Scott!
    Thank you for your reply.
    The front & rear door woofers are the same ( I checked the P/N’s )
    I therefore believe I need to get hold of the A pillar tweeter since this is likely to be the same as the tweeter that goes into the rear door in a 2019 GTI SE without the Fender system.
    What is the likelihood of the rear tweeter being different?
    I cannot get a door card with the tweeter built in from a 2019 model SE because it would have to be in a door card without leather and the 2019 SE’s do not come without leather.
    Maybe I could try and get a door card from the 2018 SE.
    I think it will be cheaper to only get the tweeter from the 2019/2018 SE and then install it into my car.
    Does VW sell the tweeter by itself or do I have to buy the entire A pillar or door card?.
    I believe the tweeter has a built in capacitor. I see a capacitor in a used tweeter that is on sale on EBay.
    Will putting in Focal tweeters change the soundstage? I believe you said in a different post that it will since the structure and freq response will be different.
    With regards?

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    • Scott says:

      You can also try the rear door from a 2017 GTI Sport since it has cloth interior and rear tweeters. I’ve heard of people buying Focal, but I’m fairly certain it’ll change the sound stage. I use http://1stvwparts.com/ for most of my parts research. I have a recollection of it breaking down interior parts by terms such as “with cloth,” “with leather,” “with tweeter,” etc. Give it a shot and see what you can find.

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  6. Joseph D says:

    Hi Scott,
    Here is a little more information:
    The P/N for the Fender Tweeter is 5G0 035 411 C.
    The P/N for the non Fender Tweeter is 5G0 035 411 D.
    I am assuming the non Fender Tweeter is the same for the GTI Mk 7 and 7.5.
    I cannot find the non Fender Tweeter for sale anywhere. There are a couple of used ones on eBay.
    Do you have any idea why?
    With regards.

    Like

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