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The Harman Kardon Stereo System Reviewed

It seems that one of the most common questions from people ordering their MINIs is should get the HK stereo. Part of the problem is that to my knowledge there haven’t been any professional reviews of the stereo not to mention that there is no operations manual that comes with the option.

So to address this issue I’m posting a couple excerpts of very well written review about the stereo. If you want to read the entire article with much more technical data you can find it here. The review was compiled by Bob and was sent my way via Scott from the Madison MINI Group. Here’s an excerpt:

Marshall amp

Because there has been some controversy and apparent misunderstanding of the nature of the upgrade H/K audio system offered by MINI, I thought it might be useful to explain some of the features and the apparent design philosophy behind the system for users and prospective purchasers of the system

As a recording engineer by trade, I have worked for years with Harman Kardon and Harman Group professional equipment and have developed a respect, and a certain trust, for their products. Given that, I stuck out my neck and ordered the H/K stereo sight-unseen. I, for one, wasn’t disappointed. After listening to and analyzing the system, here are my observations. Please understand that all the information contained in this document was acquired through “reverse engineering”, meaning the information came from listening to and experimenting with the system, rather than from Harman Kardon. Where the heck is the manual that should have come with this thing?…

…If you are looking for an earth-shaking, modern, extremely high-powered system designed for hip-hop, and you plan to run it at 110db or above, maybe this isn’t the system for you. If you are looking for the type of system that can be heard from within your living room as a car passes out on in the street, this possibly isn’t the system for you. If you are looking for an “attack” system that can be leveled on the other motorists around you at stoplights, this probably isn’t the system for you. That isn’t exactly “Motoring”. Do I sense an attitude from the author here? Sorry. At any rate, those systems typically need a separate sub-woofer, which takes up extra space in the foot well or boot, space that is at a premium in our MINIs. If you are hoping to have a system with four similar-sounding speaker locations, this may not be the system for you.

If, on the other hand, you are looking for a reasonably powerful, musical, wide-range stereo, one which can be configured to optimize the front seat listening experience or provide music for all, this might just be the system for you. If you enjoy “audiophile” stereo systems at home, this may just be the system for you. If you don’t want to loose foot room or trunk space and want to keep the nondescript (though excellent) Boost front-end unit to deter theft, this might just be the system for you. Also remember, when installed at the time of purchase, this stereo is also covered for the duration of the MINI’s warranty.

As in most things audio, the final result is very subjective. Some will love this system, some will hate it. You’ll want to go down to a MINI dealer with your favorite disks in your hand and ask to spend an hour with a Harmon Kardon-equipped car to find out. You can listen with the car turned off, but the system will automatically shut down every twenty minutes. Just turn it back on. Bon appetite!

Again you can read the entire review here.

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Written By: MF Staff

  • Hugh Sherry

    Getting an MCS due in end of April…opted out of the HK because of $550 price tag! What’s an acceptable upgrade to standard system? Replace only the speakers or receiver too? Difficult to replace? Does Crutchfield have anything worthwhile? Hugh

  • DaveTinNY

    What’s with the speed-volume fixation, folks? I personally dislike the “feature” – some of the rentals I’ve driven had the function and it was annoying. I guess being a drummer I prefer my music to remain at a constant level – regardless of speed. I’m perfectly capable of multitasking, i.e., reaching that steering wheel volume control to adjust it up or down, lol. I went with the H/K upgrade after the test drive convinced me the system sounds amazing for one installed at a factory. Thanks MINI! Dave in New York

  • John

    On the “speed volume” feature: We just took delivery of our ’05 MCS convertible two weeks ago. It has the premium h/k system with boost CD. The manual says it has a speed volume feature, but it does not show up in the settings menu (just as Gilbert described). Sometimes it kind of seems to increase the volume, but in general I’m not really sure if it’s working.

    For most people with hard-tops this features is surely not a big deal (and to some perhaps annoying, as DaveTinNY mentioned). But when the top is down you have all the wind noise and having the volume follow your speed is quite handy.

    I noticed that Gilbert’s original post was in Nov. 2003, so is this still an ongoing issue even in the 2005 models??

    • John

    • John

  • http://www.gbmini.net/ Ian

    John … not exactly “an ongoing issue”; the H/K system has a non-adjustable speed compensation system which is enough to compensate for road noise / etc in a hardtop MINI but only just enough so many people think it is not working.

    I don’t know if the convertibles have an updated system but I doubt it.

  • Gilbert

    Come’n Guy’s… it’s an issue sense then.

    If you stay with regular HK system the speed volume will work and I tryed with other mini’s have it.. but if you up grade to premium sytem this will not work even the manual say so….therefor the book is a lier…

    We just got a mbz compressor c230 2005 that has the same system HK premium it works…….the way we want and how come this system with mini doesn’t work..

  • fahed

    i ordered mine with a harmon kardon speaker system and i really hope it will satisfy me because i read a lot of peoples comments it other site about there problems with the system i hope there just braging because what i see is that ur all satisfied with the system

  • Damen Knappett

    Hi

    I recently brought a mini one, with the H/K upgrade, but i want to put an alpine headunit, in the car, now the people installing the alpine are having troubke doing i, because they dont know how, thay have a few ideas, they have rang round all there contacts in the uk and apparently no one knows how? does anyone know how, could you email or post back suggestions that i can show the audio shop!

    Cheers

  • Gilbert

    You can’t harman kardon have a digital system works with booster amplifier they call them dsp alpine have analog unless you install conversion kit…

  • Damen Knappett

    Where could i get this conversion kit from, how much is it ruffly going to cost? how easy is it to install? Are somthing to do with BMW gilbert?

  • gilbert

    Well I don’t know the cost but, I see this on the web on germany page… to start with you may look at BMW site or Alpine… BMW’s uses alpine before 2000 I know this co’z I break them and repair… Also the way I understand is you will cut some wiring to do it this I don’t like it, so I’ve never bother doing it.. Now, in UK sure they use SONY Crucified.. this sure they have it’s own Booster and wire harness….

  • Robert

    I bought a Mini Cooper in September 2004 with factory fitted radio/CD player and Harmon Kardon speakers. Now I want to replace the radio/CD player with a digital radio receiver. However, Mini dealer and their contract fitter say this is impossible because HK system fitted to the Mini cannot be used with anything other than factory fitted radio. Has anyone found a way round this problem?

  • http://www.TheOfficeMaven.com Mike (The Office Maven)
    …Now I want to replace the radio/CD player with a digital radio receiver. However, Mini dealer and their contract fitter say this is impossible because HK system fitted to the Mini cannot be used with anything other than factory fitted radio. Has anyone found a way round this problem?

    Try this cool little gadget from Ian Cull and MikeyTheMini over at NewMiniStuff.com:

    HK Enabler

  • Gilbert Cabral

    Sounds like ian found it Now robert you enjoy it….

  • Adam Pruitt

    Guys,

    I was in the car stereo business for 10 yrs. Anything can be integrated into any factory system with the proper know-how. You can install an aftermarket head unit with the HK system. You also can install an aftermarket amp with the HK system. It’s just a matter of knowing what goes where and how. I have an ’05 Cooper S with the HK. As a previous sound quality judge for car audio competitions, I have a very critical ear. Is the HK system perfect? No. But neither is any aftermarket system costing thousands of dollars more. For the money, the HK is the best option for anyone considering a new Mini.

    Siruis radio: Many people have asked how to integrate Sirius. There is now an adapter plug available to integrate the direct digital sound from your satelite, Ipod, or whatever other audio device you may have. You can get it from outmotoring.com for about $40. It simply plugs into the back of the factory unit and works through the auxilary button on the radio (you cannot use this feature if you already have something connected to this input, ie cd chager). It’s about a 30 min install and gets you a direct digital sound instead of the inferior FM modulator used by both satelite radio companies.

    If I can be of further assistance, please let me know.

  • Rich

    I’ve got a 2006 Mini S inbound. With NAVI & HK, no CD Changer. Can I get a XM or Sirius integrated vrs. an extra unit exposed in the cockpit? Info. has been hard to find as it seems most people don’t get the NAVI option.

    If so, does it display Artist, song etc? Do the steering wheel controls work with the SAT unit?

    Any help would be GREATLY appreciated!

    RD

  • Robert

    Rich,

    Check out Blitzsafe. I’ve been looking into it as well though I don’t have NAVI. They make a gizmo that allows the XM Direct box interface with the factory HK unit. There are two models: one for a single aux unit, and another that allows connection of a CD changer in addition to the aux unit (XM, MP3 player, etc.)

    I ordered one from logjamelectronics.com though there are other dealers that sell it as well.

    But after reading something else after my order, I just might call tomorrow morning and cancel that order cuz I found out about a new unit from Terk (the same folks that make XM Direct). The XMDRDS100 supposedly interfaces with any RDS radio – head units that can display station data. The HK system is RDS capable at least since the ’05 MCS which I have. This unit was just announced at CES this past week and, as far as I can tell, does the same thing and maybe even more as the Blitzsafe unit at half the price.

    Check it out: http://www.audiovox.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?catalogId=10001&storeId=10001&productId=14946&langId=-1

  • Brody

    All,

    I have a 2005 Mini Cooper Convertible with the H/K sound system. For a factory installed sound system, I’m really pleased with it. However, I do have one problem that the dealer is unable to verify, and therefore unable to authorize the repair of. After I have been listening to something heavy like Korn, or Social Distortion – Live at the Roxy (excellent by the way) for 30-40 minutes, the volume begins to decrease by as much as 50%. My assumption is that the amp is overheating, but since the dealer can’t seem to duplicate it, they won’t fix it. Does anyone else have this problem?

    Thanks, Brody

  • j & R

    Looking for assistance, just replaced factory stereo with Pioneer head unit and there is no sound, seems a known issue with the HK amp, can anyone provide help on how to fix this? Even tried putting factory ‘head’ back on but it is reading ‘disabled’ and won’t work now either. Please Help!

  • Ben

    Adam Pruitt and others,

    I recently purchased a 2002 Mini Cooper. Sadly, no HK. Do you have a recommendation for a quality after-market system that won’t break the bank (I’m looking to spend $750 or less, but will pay a little more for significant improved sound quality)?

    thanks,

    -Ben

  • Doug

    Hello,

    Got a new battery for my MINI and after installation no longer have AM rather I now have MW (Medium Wave) and LW (Long Wave). Tuning to my normal AM stations is more difficult.

    Does anyone know how to toggle the HK system back to AM from MW???

    Doug

  • EBS

    With HK sysyem are back speakers connected?

  • Chris

    Hey folks, I have an MCS with the HK system installed. Problem is the previous owner took the HK amplifier! Does anybody input on where to look for a used HK amp so I can restore the system? Any help is greatly appreciated! Thanks in advance.

    /Chris.

  • FLAussen

    To the April ’06 post: I wouldn’t think that a dealer would be required to fix some kind of overload/clipping issue. That’s clearly an issue of misuse. That’s kinda like saying a dealer should be required to repair any damage caused by constantly running the car at 80mph in 2nd gear. Just because it goes to 11 (to paraphrase Spinal Tap), doesn’t mean it should be able to operate at 11 for an extended period of time. It’s common sense.

  • Hector

    I have a Question? I purchased a Harman/Kardon Drive and Play iPod system. What exactly do i have to do to install into my 06 Mini Cooper. Is it difficult to install? Any Help would be greatly appreciated. Thank you

  • Frenchy

    I just bought a 2007 MINI convertible with the iPod adapter. Since it’s not the Harman/Kardon stereo, I can tune the Speed Volume Control. My question is: what is the difference between “Speed Vol 1″ through “Speed Vol 6″. The manually doesn’t say what the difference is. Also, does the Speed Volume Control work with the iPod or is it just radio and CDs? Thank you so much!

  • J da Funk

    OH MY GOD!! i managed to blow my HK front speakers. Someone please help me to locate some new onez! i’m desperate!! Thanks

  • victor

    I have a 2006 mini cooper Park Lane with the harmon kardon system and it seems that the audio will cut in and out at times. Took it to the dealer to replace a new head unit a month ago but the problem has started again? Does anyone know or have had any problems like this? And where is the HK amplifier located?

  • french boy

    Hi, please do anybody knows where I can find the manual the connections for the amplifier Harman Kardon HS3897 of my MINI Cooper S from 2003??? Big thanks, anthony

  • Nikolaos

    I just purchased a used 2005 Mini S Works with the H/K sound system. Surprisingly, the volume is not loud like I was expecting it to be. I have had other cars with Bose and H/K sound systems before, and they played nice and loud. Albeit the clarity of the sound, the volume is just not there, as it is not loud enough. Don’t get me wrong, I am not expecting it to make me deaf; all I am saying is that when I have it at MAX vol, I don’t need to “yell” for the person next to me to hear me. Maybe something’s wrong? Should I take it to a dalership for a check? I’d appreciate any guidance! Thank you!

  • Dave

    here’s my dilemma. i bought an ’04 cooper used, and i love it, but it didn’t come with the HK stereo. i’m thinking about pulling out my boost stereo for the ’05/’06 boost stereo, so i can get MP3 CDs and skip-proof playback. while i have my dash ripped apart, is there any way i can buy the HK kit and have it installed alongside the MP3-compatible boost unit?

    i mean, the stock stereo is plenty loud, and i don’t have any real problems with clarity, but everyone’s ranting and raving abut it, and my karman kardon desk speakers are an absolute joy to listen to music on, so i figured why not put a set in the car too.

  • Dave

    oh, also, my ’04 boost manual comes with some pages marked with “if your vehicle is equipped with the optional H/K premium stereo” so harman kardon didnt include their own manual, but the regular boost manual does mention some of the HK features.

  • Will

    I have no problem with the sound of the MINI h/k system. My only issue is that the system has been designed to preclude the use of any after-market head. I’m irritated beyond measure that I have to rewire the car or spend a significant amount of additional money to buy the “HK Enabler.” It would have been perfectly easy to design the amp to be compatible with most after-market heads; there was no need to be exclusive.

    Were I to advise someone who was thinking of buying a MINI, I’d suggest that they get the standard sound system, simply to leave open the option of an after-market head of their choice.

  • Bayan

    Hey! So i’ve been having problems with my convertable Cooper 2007 speakers.. it seems that it’s been rattling alot, the bass is just beginning to suck! and i was really concidering replacing my speakers with something else which i have No idea what,, but anything better than the harman kardon ones! When i took it to the dealer they said that the “seatbelt was rattling so they clipped it” which isn’t true cuz i sat in the back of my car next to the bad speaker with my seatbelt on and it wasn’t the problem!! Can anyone help me out with this?? anyone know better speaker? Or any ideas how to fix it or what i can do??

    Please HELP i’m so desperate and tired of these speakers!

    p.s. I listen to alota Trance music and alota base n i like my music loud anyway… i practically lost hope in ever finding someone that could explain this to me and help me out… but if someone here knows what im talkin about help plz!

  • DaveyB

    Bayan,

    I never had stock systems in cars, but tonight I’ve just bought a 2003 very well spec’d cooper with the HK system.

    From experience, it can be various issues.

    1. A clip has dropped down near the speaker and is causing resonance.

    2. The speaker has blown

    3. There is a scuff/tear in the excursion material

    4. Your door card/rear card isn’t fixed properly

    Now a question for anyone

    I would like to add an aftermarket sub and amp but keep the fronts going thru the DSP and the front component and was wondering if I got an amp with Hi-level inputs is this do-able either

    a. by bypassing/splicing the inputs to dsp to new amp

    b. to run 2 sets of wire from head unit to dsp and new amp

    Many Thanks

    Dave

  • http://mnmmfg.com betsy

    I have a 2004 Mini with the HK system. The radio lights up but no sound out of the speakers. Do you think this is a problem with the amp? If so, can I fix the amp? Model HS 3897 Help!

  • Tom

    Will,

    I am so glad to hear you share my frustration that Mini and HK designed the amp so you can’t use an aftermarket head unit. I have an ’03 Mini S and do not share the enthusiasm of others on this board for the sound quality, and I really need an iPod jack so need a new head unit. The fact that I need to totally rewire the car to do this simple thing is incredibly irritating. I just convinced a neighbor not to buy a Mini for this reason and because the service quality at Manhattan Mini is criminally bad. I love the car otherwise but it’s been in the shop about ten times since I bought it and the stupid stereo thing is just the last straw. Bad for customer loyalty for sure.

  • Gina

    Im losing my mind! I have a 2004 mini factor radio. It’s suppose to be Sirius ready. I went to XM to have it activated and subscribe but they need the SID#. Tech support told me where to find it in the MODE but its not there. I called two Mini dealers and they have no clue either. I don’t know if I don’t have a receiver or tuner or what I need. I can’t find any info on this and really want to hook up Sirius. I don’t want a portable device, I want it to run through my radio. I’m so annoyed that this info isn’t out there anywhere and that the dealers don’t even have a clue. I am wondering if 888-askmini would know.

  • Dan

    Hi there i have a 2004 mini one d with the upgraded HK sound system and the amp has decided to break, does anyone know where i can get a new HK DSP amp?? and how much the cost? ive been quoted £700 from the main dealer!!:(

  • http://www.in2guitar.com Bob

    I saw a used HK DSP amp on EBay recently.

  • Kaz-03

    I would like to by one for my mini where do I by one from and how much are they thanks kaz

  • P44LAS

    how much is the speaker system for BMW to fit too???

  • mercman

    Can you help with this?

    we are looking for a repair or replacement for A Mercedes R class amp we have no sound coming out, we are in the uk.

    Our part number is A251 820 9589, I am led to believe that the following part numbers will also fit and work :

    A251 820 4489

    A251 820 7689

    A251 870 6689 (this is the newest revision, which should be more reliable)

    Any ML/GL or R class with Harman kardon sound system should have this amplifier fitted from 2006-2008. 2009 onwards is different.

    David 07831 119047 david@mercman.net please email or call if you can help or know someone who can.


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