Sound Decisions

Right! Knowing that the old system is still fully functional, the decision that needs to be made now is whether to modify and transplant it into the Bora, or scrap it and simply design a new system from scratch… or a combination of the two.

The following options present themselves:

1. Keep the currently-installed system as is, comprising the Blaupunkt Gamma 5 head unit (with matching illumination) and the Nokia DSP that powers the eight mediocre unknown brand speakers in the four doors. Like I said, for the average driver it ain’t too bad a set-up — but it’s sorely lacking a CD player.

The starting point

  • Pros: Cheapest option, no effort, matching illumination.
  • Cons: No CD, no satisfaction, poor sound.
  • Cost: None.

2. That will simply not do! VDO (via VW and elsewhere) offer a matching CD/MP3 player that was obviously designed with the Gamma 5 in mind and blends in beautifully with the existing head unit and the car’s dash. The price tag seems unrealistic, though.


Furthermore, its natural position is already taken up by the control panel of the DSP that’s mounted in the boot. Fitting either elsewhere (like in the glove box, as others have done) would be just plain ridiculous and trashy.

  • Pros: Simple installation, matching illumination.
  • Cons: No DSP (controls), requiring different amplifiers!
  • Cost: > 200€.

3. Why does it have to be a CD player? German company Solisto offer a solid-state interface for standard USB drives which tricks the head unit into believing that it has an actual CD shuttle attached to it. The device is practically designed to be mounted in the glove box and controlled as one would any real CD shuttle, supporting a total of 594 songs (6 ‘CDs’ @ 99 tracks each). It sells for around 200€, excluding USB sticks and cables. 5th Generation Golfs already include a similar gadget as well as an iPod interface.

Stored in the cubby

Again, this is a simple and relatively cost-effective alternative for a driver who won’t mind listening to MP3-quality music on a factory-installed system. This device does have merit.

  • Pros: Easy installation, matching illumination, tons of music.
  • Cons: Still no CD, MP3 quality sound.
  • Cost: > 200€.

4. The real deal: Volkswagen offer two kinds of 6-CD shuttle that can natively be controlled by the Gamma 5 unit and can be installed in either the dash or the boot. And they want at least 400€ for it! (They can be found on eBay for a lot less).

Way overpriced!

  • Pros: Matching illumination.
  • Cons: Expensive.
  • Cost: > 400€.

5. It gets better: c-quence basically combines the previous two options by facilitating a “foreign” CD shuttle to be installed and controlled by the factory-installed Gamma units via an interface unit. Two shuttle options are available in the packages that retail for around 250€, with one of them even supporting CD-RWs and MP3 CDs.

Blaupunkt / JVC interface

  • Pros: Tons of music, matching illumination.
  • Cons: None to think of!
  • Cost: > 250€.

6. Replacing Gamma: So far, the Gamma 5 unit stays put, and we’ve only discussed connecting other music carriers to it. Replacing it would mean finding a suitable head unit, and the price range is pretty open-ended. Realistically, though, many fine CD/MP3 players are available (some with matching red/blue illumination, too). What needs to be mentioned at this time is that Volkswagen make use of proprietary plugs and cables in their audio installations. Replacing the head unit requires adapters for the plugs and even the powered antenna, costing something like 30€ in total.

It's an example

  • Pros: A fresh system, matching illumination possible.
  • Cons: Minor expense, adapters needed.
  • Cost: 150€ and above.

7. The old system: On the extreme other end of the scale lies the option of simply transplanting the previous set-up from the old Jetta into the new Bora, on a 1-to-1 basis. It’s a simple and cheap option that has a degree of nostalgia attached to it, and a certain cheekiness! The head unit, though, has no RDS or TIM or MP3/WMA/USB capabilities, does play tapes (of which I still have many), controls a CD/CD-R capable shuttle, and has a simple and pale green display that doesn’t match the rest of the car.

  • Pros: Tried-and-tested system.
  • Cons: No matching illumination, requires adapters.
  • Cost: 30€.

Of course, these options discuss and consider the head unit and primary music carrier only — be it cassette, CD or MP3. How the resulting sound waves are to emanate through the car’s interior hasn’t been covered and could also be discussed as nauseam but I’d be reluctant to replace — let alone be without — the subwoofers or the other components.

Another major requirement is a navigation system. VW offer finely-matched but very pricy all-in-one audio and navigation solutions but a simple, portable system seems more practical for our uses (many of which offer integrated MP3 players).

Some serious brainstorming is required now, and I’m not the kind of person who spends every other month adding or replacing some or other component: this is a once-off project, the results of which should last for a good while.

Images via and/or manufacturer/retailer

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