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.

Written By: MF Staff

  • http://www.bob.dinkins.com Bob Dinkins

    I've had my Mini 2 weeks and have the HK system. I love it. When I'm alone I can crank it up and it's very clear. When others are in the car with me I can have the volume low and still hear it. I had the “best” stereo in my Porsche Boxster and it wasn't half as good as this. Highly recommended.

  • MG-BGT

    Great link, thanks! For me this helped me solve the booming bass problem many have voiced: in Mini H/K mode, the rear speakers are used as (sub) woofers only, not as broadband. This means that if you move the sound stage backward with F/R fade, you are boosting bass. Great info in the link, thanks again!

  • http://www.starwars.com Michael S.

    I would have gone with the HK if it was available. I just replaced the speakers and was able to get good sound out of them, but not quite HK. IMHO the stock speakers did NOT handle any real music very well.

  • Sailor

    The MINI with H/K is the perfect environment for listening to classic British Rock! Try the Beatles 1 CD, Rolling Stones, or any other classic. Amazing this vehicle icon of all things English is detailed right down to the music balance!

  • Eugene Loke

    i have an after market Sony MP80 on my mini cooper – can i still connect it to the harman kardon system?

  • http://bridger.us/mini Gabe

    Good question – someone with an H/K want to give us an answer?

  • Ansel Olson

    Does anyone know the specs on the stereo system that comes standard with the car? Does HK make that one too? I can't find info anywhere. I didn't get the upgrade stereo because it seemed a little pricey, relative to other aftermarket products–I figured I'd wait a year or so and plop down the cash on something custom.

  • http://users.adelphia.net/~gbmini/images/20030304/MINIinSnow1.JPG Ian Cull

    I had the HK in my MINI. I replaced the HU with a Kenwood recently. The HK takes only the front speaker levels and processes them to all the speakers. YOU HAVE TO HAVE THE STOCK HU CONNECTED or the HK amp will not power up!

    If you removed the HK amp you would need to add crossovers since there are none for the midrange in the doors.

    Also: Recently had the rest of my upgrade done. New speakers and aftermarket amp. MUCH WORSE than HK at the moment – hoping they will get it better :(

    Contact me for more info.

  • Dixon

    Personally going the aftermarket route. I am a firm believer that the factory systems just don't give you the same quality speakers or amps….

    The reason the HK system still sounds great and sometimes better than aftermarket set ups is that the HK was probably EQ'd for the interior of the MINI. Same as any other premium factory system (bose, HK, ML)

    That's something to consider when you go aftermarket. Get a quality listener to properly adjust the sounds for the car.

  • steve hines

    I have a rattle in the passenger door speaker – I believe it just the ring cover – do they just pry off- so I may check the speaker. I also find that w/ the sunroof open – the noise is so loud -its difficult to hear the CD/radio.

  • Gilbert Cabral

    I got HK stereo in my Mini I have alerady a problem on it the speed volume doesnt work the dealer said they do not have it but read the manual this include telephome muting,is any body have a fix for this?

  • Jim

    I got the HK system because it was in the car I wanted. I've never believed in “factory” systems even upgrades. That said; The HK system is SUPER. Much better than even most of the aftermarket systems I've had installed. Muddled bass is a problem though. It seems to resonate through the door handle tubes. I've been thinking about adding a bass port to clean it up. Has anyone done this?

  • Eric Le Coultre

    I ordered my ONE with H/K and it is the best sounding system I've had in my car so far. Outclasses the Bose factory fitted system in my Alfa Romeo 147! Speed volume is missing though so have to get my dealer fix that. Read the manual posted at the top: very useful!

  • Gilbert Cabral

    Dear Every Body, Seems to be that I went to all 3 dealers here at southern cal. and brought my mini in regards to the stereo (volume speed). As per the manual said they have this features Check your CD goes along with the car (unwrap) said that you can adjust the volume of HK depended at speed of the car, this feature is not in the system.BMW have a standard stereo that have this feature and work’s, also a regular c230 Mbz have this.Mini advertise this and should work. Is any body knows telephone number of North America bmw mini that I will address this issue to solve the problem? Thanks, Gilbert

  • http://bridger.us/mini Gabe

    Give MINI customer relations a call at 888.ASK.MINI

    Best of luck!

  • dees mini

    I'm a little concerned now about replacing the stock radio with something else after reading Ian's post. I am satisfied with the quality of sound with my HK system, but it is not loud enough. I can have the radio full blast and still talk to the person beside me without really raising my voice. We are going to have it checked out by the dealer to see if something is not programed right. I've tried every setting possible though. Has anyone replaced their stock radio with another one that sounds better and still looks good with the style and lights in the MINI? I'm afraid that the only way to get the “system” that I want, I am going have to add additional equipment…and I don't want to take up any space.


  • Gilbert Cabral

    To all Mini Rider’s and lover, Re: Speed Volume

    Finally I spoke to Mini NA specially the Tech for the H/K mini, that we discuss the issue of the speed volume. Here are the answer of the person(I will not say the name to protect the privacy) that the design of the stereo if you have the regular H/K unit that doesn’t have the boom box the SPEED VOLUME will appear at the panel. Now if you have the Extra amplifier the speed volume will disappear but, the speed volume still there. This unit will make the deference if you run the car at 50miles pr hour, then if you are slowing and drop your speed 50miles the volume will be back as you pre-seated. Now as he said that if the speed volume doesn’t work you should go to the dealer says that they should run the car at the speed i.e. 50 miles to activate the speed volume, if doesn’t work they need to change the unit or some wire are not connected at the back of the unit. By the way guy’s if you need to confirm this discussion by MINI USA Na you may call at this No. 1 866 ASK MINI they will answer promptly.

  • Gilbert Cabral

    Again, After Talking to Mini NA They are totally trying to ignore the problem. The Amount you pay for Harmon Kardon Stereo to make your mouth shut, this is me, and I will never stop bugging them every day. Dec. 5 at Around 9:00 am. A have Sched. To drop the car at IRVINE BMW, to fix the SPEED CONTROL, as the MINI NA that the problem solution will be at the program of the software of the car, they did, but the program they are looking is option stereo. They are not there, finally I again call BMW mini NA talk to TODD saying that still a problem, and guess what?, he told me that should work ,”GEEE ” Both me and Irvine tech saying it doesn’t work .So finally I said to Miguel the Irvine rep. I will deal with them in my office so that I have the area of pounding the table. So, I start calling again the BMW Mini NA (1866 ASK MINI) and goes to another person and start talking that they never understand what I am talking, he said slow down because I don’t understand what you are saying (pay back).then start calling them “F” “S” “D” words that if you hang up that’s it, you got it. (It’s a game to play)Because they don’t understand what I am saying and call them ‘D’ words finally it goes to the Manager of their department, then I start talking professionally, saying that problems I have in my car should be solve or I drop the car on in any dealer until it’s solve the problem or I will file a LEMON LAW. “Now he is cooking gas” as he said he will send the Engineer at BMW Irvine to investigate the case of my car, as he scheduled on December 11, 2003. this problem is a unique one, and it should work. I even said that, why it is only on US model that have this problem, in UK they are using SONY but it works. As he said they will check it with the engineer, from there we will see the next chapter.

  • Callaway

    I can't understand any of your posts Gilbert. Do they teach english and grammar at UCLA?

    Sorry to hear about your problem though, I'd love to understand it better.

    Good luck.

  • Gilbert Cabral

    Thanks for your Response Callaway at least somebody read my tread in regards to this issue of h/k speed volume. The first story runs this way; thanks Gabe, the number you gave me helps me a lot and I call immediately. Two story what I’m getting from BMW NA from customer relation (the person is TODD) and the BMW field Engineer.

    BMW NA relation customer says that: 1) Regular stereo H/K no Booster amp, YOU CAN SEE THE SPEED VOLUME AT THE HEAD UNIT AND ADJUSTABLE. 2) Upgraded booster amp. You don't see the adjustment at the head unit BUT it is built in at the booster amp. Again he says that it will work if the car runs at 50 m/h that’s the time you can hear the deference. The BMW engineer says that: 1) Your car doesn't have that feature; it is not design to US cars. 2) Doesn't have the house wiring design. (Electrical wiring of the car) 3) And he will, and says that all cars sold here in US don’t have the feature SPEED CONTROL. 4) The manual is a MISSED PRINT and He can technically say that.

    Now tell me who among of this people are telling the truth, the engineer, in witch I belong or the customer relation that rely on engineer say. This is what I did: •At the back of the car right side there is a side opening were the booster amp and un-bolt the amp. •I un-plug the wire and lay down the amp on the floor •I turn the head unit olala there is your SPEED Volume. •I install two speaker outside and run the car at 50 mile

    Now, the volume adjusts by it self from 50miles and 70 miles max volume according to preset you placed.
    The tread that I wrote is purposely made that way, the reason why, if any body have the same issue will answer diligent and a please. I put a lot of time for fighting this issue even in U.K. I send a letter asking how I can fix this problem due to NA can’t do it, U K relation says that the issue were never encounter there; even SONY will work according with the manual. I talk to the Field Engineer of NA at BMW Irvine, as he says that most tread are monitored by MINI NA sometimes they see a legal action at held and almost the NA Attorney will take an action on it, but they found out the writer is a 10 year old kid. I hope you are not one of the attorneys of NA (joke only) and this will answer you question.

  • David

    Gillbert, maybe I can be of some help to you. Email me sometime (you have my email in this post). Maybe you are not a native English speaker – if not, possibly I will know your native tongue (languages are my hobby!) Possibly, I can help you to draft letters to send out, this might make it easier for your thoughts to be read and understood by MINI NA. Good luck!

  • Gilbert Cabral

    David, Thanks anyway you are not a help to this issue. The only what I want to know is any body have the same issue or they are happy what they got.

  • Louis Zamudio

    These issues sound interesting. I have the stock system because the option was not available when I bought Mine, But I had the H/K in my 2001 BMW 330 and loved it. I want the H/K in the MINI.

  • fozzy

    Gilbert! take a hint, stop posting because no one here understands your attempted english and you dont want help so do us a favor and STOP POSTING!

  • Gilbert

    Thanks Fozzy, I got the answers anyway, H/k of uk send me a letter of correction now its working. By the way this web is a public posting no one can stop it unless the owner will block.

  • Brett

    Has anyone figured out what the actual specs are for the HK system? Watts and such, it does not seem to be printed anywhere.

    I am pretty disapointed with my HK system and have had better stock systems in other cars. It happened to be part of the MCS that was available.

  • Gilbert

    Brett, With booster amp 302Watts, without 35 Watts Disadvantages of adding booster you loss some feature like speed volume and others, it cost me harrast emotion and money, so I do it my self to fix mine. I would like to see all mini to come forward to to fix thier system payed, that they don't get what they pay for according to the manual.

    Note: My English is not good it was meant that way.Gabe if i post wrong please remove my posting.

  • http://bridger.us/mini Gabe

    Gilbert – don't worry about your English. You may want to try to use Google language tools from time to time though. I use them to read German all the time.

  • Gilbert

    Thanks, Gabe I'll do that.

  • Carlos

    I'm in the process of buying a MINI, and I'm considering buying the HK upgrade option. However, I also want to know that this the best buy for my money. Anyway, I'd like to compare prices to other alternatives but the specs don't tell me what size speakers or anything. Can any of you guys help me? I need to know the # of speakers and their watts/size etc…


  • Gilbert

    did any body installed in their mini a cd changer and replaced them with hard drive mp3? check this out. http://www.phatnoise.com/products/digitalmediaplayers/mini.php

  • gz

    Does the HK sound much better than the standard stereo? I'm considering the extra $550 only if it's worth it. Opinions?

  • Kathy

    Can anybody tell me if you can purchase the HK system for a used car? Heard one in my friends Range Rover and was very impressed.

  • Kenny

    I am purchasing a 2005 MINI Convertible soon. Could anyone confer as to whether or not one can use the “Official BMW/Mini Ipod adapter” with the Harman Kardon system? (listed here: http://www.motoringfile.com/2004/07/19/theipodminiconnector_reviewed )

  • Gilbert Cabral

    gz,it is worth to pay 550$$$ just ask the dealer to program it properly


  • Gilbert Cabral

    Kathy, If you are buying the used car stereo from a used car 1) no warranty,2) migth not fit right, 3) the wiring got something to do with your speedometer also migth damage some of your electonic component.But somebody did it already I think IAN Cull have more info.

  • tim

    i have a 2004 mini cooper s with harman kardon stereo, i also have a dvd player installed in my car. are there aux audio in jacks( red and black type) in the back of the head unit so i can hear sound from my player through the car speakers?

  • rich

    A little too late to ask… my MINI (S) with the H/K upgrade is at the dealer undergoing all the dealer installed prep. I will pick it up in a couple of days. But, does the CD play MP3s? Anybody? I do have a 20 Gig MP3 Player that I will take with the car to play through the auxilory input, but it would really rock if the CD player can handle MP3s on my own audio CDs. Does anyone have an answer? Thanks in advance.

  • Randy

    I have a 2003 cooper s with the hk system. I added the cd changer when i bought the car. I have had three speakers replaced over the last year. Both tweeters in the doors, and one of the other speakers in the door. Today I heard the familiar buzz again of a blown speaker. Is anyone else having this problem? Most of the time I listen to npr and when i listen to cds it's older stuff, like the band, dylan, or blues; the point is I am not blasting. Also, how do you remove the lower speaker cover panel (I know how to remove the tweeter speaker cover)? Thanks.

  • Minirizzo

    I have a 2005 S on order and am having a devil of a time getting the right info on the Sirius install. The dealer want a cool $625.00 for the install and that won't allow me to move the unit to my home or office. There are several systems on the market for as little as $99.00 (I don't want XM)

    I got it from AskMini that the factory installed antenna is satellite ready and you can also hook the sirius up through the optional AUX port and have it interface with the HK Head unit. What I can't figure out is how to get the factory antenna to the Sirius device…

    Any thoughts?


  • bikaa-m.

    hi there mini fans. first time inquiry from a soon-2-B proud owner of 2005 mini cooper – I am still on the waiting list at longbeach mini; but I just got a call today from them telling me that my peppaa-wht mini will be part of the end-of-nov.04 order raster! jahoo. after reading lotsa posts from all of you, I am glad to have 'instinctively' picked the anthracite headliner [$200 option] after choosing the anthracite dashboard color [$0]!! but here my real question: I considered ordering the 'sport exhaust' option [$675 plus install]. can anybody tell me what I will get? is it any good and worth the expense? what company makes it? borla? remus? what should I expect to get charged for the install? which after market cat-back exhaust do ya'll recommend? thanx for your insights.

  • Troy

    I am awaiting a 2005 mini cooper s without the hk sound system upgrade. I was thinking of adding an after market alpine cd changer (which I already have sitting around) to the stock head unit. Does anyone know if the stock mini radio has cd shuttle control capability? The adapter is only (according crutchfield.com) compatible with factory head units with cd shuttle control function.

  • http://www.gbmini.net/ Ian

    Check Blitzsafe for one example of an interface that will convert the MINI factory CD changer to your aftermarket one.

  • Matt

    In Australia, the Mini has HK speakers as an option – no difference in the head unit and no additional amps. The standard head unit is 4x 15 watts. Sure the HK speakers might sound a bit better than standard, but 15 watts is miserable. I am currently running a Pioneer unit 4x50watts with Cerwin Vega speakers and this isn't satisfying me in me hard top car. I tested an MX5 and with the roof down, the standard stereo was terrible. Perhaps Mini should offer a more suitable head unit upgrade in conjunction with the speakers.

  • http://www.gbmini.net/ Ian

    Matt, I am surprised by what you say – I don't believe the stock HU could drive the HK speakers (especially the rears which are 2 ohm dual voice coils)!

  • javier

    i have a bmw325i/2003 and think the HK is great…but i was thinking of adding alittil more Bass(like a Self-Amplifier Subwoofer System)any help out there on ideas..oh yeah my car came with the operations manual for the HK.

  • Tim Griffin

    Food for thought. For the secomd time in so many years the main amp for my HK system has blown. Annoying. This second time I went shopping for aftermarket fixes to this problem which HK apparently has gone to great lengths to prevent. American systems tend to use 4ohm electrical systems…HK was kind enough to us 8ohm. This causes several problems. To replace the amp only the installer must completely bypass the original amp and run new wires and capacitors to each speaker, keeping in mind there are 8 of them. A very difficult install for even professionals. If you replace the amp and speakers, the head unit must be replaced also. Therefore…it would be wise for anyone considering an aftermarket system to save the several hundred dollars for the HK and just invest that into your aftermarket bliss. BTW, when it works, the system sounds very nice, however it is not very loud.

  • Tim Griffiin

    Javier…JBL makes a very tight little sub designed for the mini boot and HK system. You may want more for a beemer however ti is pretty cool anyway.

  • Ewen Woo

    Anyone has the JLAudio Stealthbox installed in the mini cooper S?

    Is it a non-intrusive installation which is compatible with the HK option?

    Pardon me, but I don’t know much about such set ups?


  • Ron

    Tim said: ‘JBL makes a very tight little sub designed for the mini boot and HK system.’

    I can’t find any info on this on JBL’s website, or even by Googling it. Can you provide a model # or any more info?

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