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For months now I've been trying to find the time to write this "Review" on PS-Engineering's new 7000 Series audio panel. One good thing about taking longer to write the "Review" is we now have installed several PMA7000 audio panels and obtained feed-back from my customers. After all, my customers are the real judges in any product. If the customers don't like it, then rest assured you won't be seeing it for sale on this Website.
PS-ENGINEERING PMA 7000 AUDIO PANEL
How about a little history on PS-Engineering. If my memory is correct PS-Engineering was incorporated in 1985 by an Electronics Engineer named Mark. Mark purchased an aircraft that didn't have an intercom. Mark then researched the market for a "real" intercom that had some features he desired but the only other ICS on the market for general aviation was the David Clark ISOCOM. The ISOCOM was an OK but lacked any of the features Mark was looking for. Stereo inputs, co-pilot transmissions just weren't available yet. So like any good engineer, he along with others, started a corporation called PS-Engineering. Their goal was to make a quality ICS, with features that were quality all the way through. I heard about PS-Engineering from some of the other shop managers in the late 80's but didn't give much thought to the new company. One day while on CompuServe I ran across PS-Engineering owner Mark answering technical questions about his product. It seemed some of the CompuServe folks had purchased his product from dealers and they didn't understand all the features. Mark in every case took the time to explain how the unit worked. No doubt this should have been done by the installing dealer but he wanted to establish a reputation for service. If a customer had a problem with a PS-Engineering product Mark would have them send it in and he would make sure it was OK or fixed. In all honesty, I thought PS-Engineering would disappear within a year or so. After all, how dare this small company try and compete with David Clark and some other established ICS makers! Thirteen years later, PS-Engineering is still around and one of the leading audio panel and panel-mounted intercom companies in general aviation. As in many cases, I was wrong and glad I was. Yes, there other manufacturers today that make audio panels and panel-mounted intercoms with super features. I wonder if PS-Engineering hadn't been the first company to incorporate all these features, would we have the great ICS systems we have today? They were definitely a pioneer in their field and still are. Why did PS-Engineering succeed? Two big reasons come to mind. Mark hired some of the best in the business. He hired a gentleman named Charles Johnson. Mr. Johnson serves as Senior Systems Engineer over the products. From what I hear Mr. Johnson is one of the top audio design engineers in the country. I've had the opportunity of talking to him on several occasions and he knows his job. Another key person at PS-Engineering is Gary Picou. He is Vice President of Marketing and Technical Services. I've known him for fifteen years. Picou is an Icon in the avionics industry. I doubt if you could find a shop manager that doesn't know him. I'd give my left ear to have either of these wizards on my team! The other reason PS-Engineering has been successful is because everything they build is quality. When you blend the dedication to quality and good team members, you can't go wrong. Another plus in my opinion, is that the PMA7000 is American made.
Factory Service. Got an installation problem or suspect a box malfunction? PS-Engineering is there to help. The folks at PS-Engineering are serious about warranty and seeing that their products are properly installed. When I call them, I get a "Real Human Voice" that transfers me to the person I need to speak to, not some voice mail in never never land. PS-Engineering's customer service should be the industry bench mark, it's that good. Judging from what I hear from others, I'm sure they treat all their dealers and end users that way.
The best feature on the PMA 7000 is what PS-Engineering calls (IntelliVox). What this means is all six ICS circuits are automatically AND independently adjusted. No more knobs to turn to set the squelch, it's all done inside the audio panel automatically. Remember how big a pain it was as you were going down the runway and the ICS squelch would open, thus massive noise in the headsets until you reached over and turned the squelch knob? What a hassle! Those days are gone with the PMA7000 but more on that during our flight test section. This feature alone is worth the price of the PMA7000. The audio quality is nice. It doesn't sound like you are talking through a tin can and a string.
Selectable Intercom. This is another good feature that my customers and I love. Normally the PMA7000 will be in the "All" mode, meaning all seats are on the same ICS. Everybody hears everything and everyone can talk to whoever. Let's say the mother-in-law in the rear seat is starting to become a major pain as they sometimes do. At that point you can select the "Crew" position. Now the Pilot and Co-pilot are on one intercom and the passengers are on another. Ta Ta, no more mother-in-law! Pilot and Co-pilot can talk, transmit on different radios and the others just talk or listen to music. Now the Co-Pilot starts hinting about borrowing some money from you! What is one to do? Easy, just switch the PMA7000 to "Iso" mode. Now the Co-Pilot and passengers are on their own ICS and you are only with ATC. This can be real handy when a non-pilot is in the right seat and you don't want then to hear when ATC reams you out for a screw-up. I've used this feature before...Seriously, you will find this is an excellent feature that will be used many times.
Dedicated Front and Back Music. Here's the scenario. You are making a long cross-country with the family. The kids in the back want to listen to the latest Willie Nelson CD while you listen to a talk show on the AM dial. No problem with the PMA7000. It has input for two music sources! This feature alone could be worth it's weight in "Microsoft Stock" on a long cross-country. We have installed external switches that even allow you to swap music sources with the flick of a switch.
TSO Requirements. The PS-Engineering meets just about every TSO in the audio market. This makes it a snap getting the FAA to sign off the installation. The warranty period for the PMA7000 is three years. The unit is field repairable should a problem arise but I'd recommend getting the shop to send it back to PS-Engineering. Most shop people like myself can't see well enough to work on the tiny parts on the PC board. PS-Engineering has exchange units for over-night exchanges should you need one. Most shops have "loaners' but I have yet to see a failure in a PMA7000.
Compatible With the KMA-24 Audio-Panel. If you already have a King KMA-24 audio/marker panel, the installation will take less time, thus saving you installation money. I knew that would get your attention! The wiring going to the radios remains the same. If you have an intercom already it will have to be removed and the ICS wiring changed. Installation time with a pre-existing KMA-24 is normally reduced by around 40%.
The Split Mode. Most boring audio panels have only a 1/2 switch. The PS-Engineering PMA7000S is different. The pilot can either select com one OR com two. In the "Split Mode" the pilot can be on com one and the co-pilot on com two OR the pilot could be on com 2 and the co-pilot on com 1. Think about this... Ever wanted to let the co-pilot call Flight Watch or get the ATIS while you are with center? I can think of a lot of cases where this can be a handy feature. Both pilot and co-pilot can talk and receive on individual coms at the same time! The avionics shop can install a switch in the aircraft that allows the pilot to switch from Com 1 to Com 2 remotely. We installed this switch in one of our installations and the pilot said this feature alone was worth the price of the PMA7000. There is a lamp on the audio panel alerting the pilot when "Swap" mode in active.
No Mono/Stereo Switches Required. This is another labor saving feature. The PMA7000 doesn't care if you use a $80.00 mono headset or a $900.00 Bose headset. You can mix headsets all your heart desires and the thing will work.
Auxiliary Inputs. There are inputs for items such as the Radar Altimeter that aren't turned on. The audio portion is always on. The PMA7000 has inputs for this and flight voice recorders if you have these items.
Three Light Marker. The marker is about the only normal thing on the PMA7000. You get the normal Outer, Middle and Inner marker lamps with a high/low/test position switch. To turn off the marker audio simply press the "MKR" button. There're external outputs should you desire external marker lamps.
Cellular Telephone Interface. Yes, you can interface the audio panel with a fabricated harness to go to your cell phone. BE AWARE!, it's a $10,000.00 fine for using the Cell Phone in the air. Just for fun we interfaced the PMA7000 to my Nokia Cell Phone. I could use my cell with my headset but still had to dial the number. It worked fine on a Ground test. Not all Cell Phones will work with the audio panel. The instructions said my phone wouldn't but I made it work. Of course if you've got the big bucks, get a Aircell system and use it with the PS-Engineering panel. You can use that in the air without getting busted by the FCC.
Enough on the features, what is it like to install a PMA7000. Our first installation was a Cessna T210 with a new stack of King radios. The PMA7000 install manual was easy to read and follow. If the shop follows the installation instructions and uses the proper wire, things should be pretty straight forward. We use single point grounding in our shop to reduce audio background noise. The installation manual is 36 pages long and can be down-loaded from the internet if need be. Whoever does your install would be time ahead to read the complete manual before starting the job. Installation of any audio panel should be done by professionals. You need a good knowledge of electronics, how to terminate shields and proper tools and crimps. Avionics West has an agreement with the local doctors. They don't install radios and we don't do brain surgery. The metal rack the PMA7000 slides into is strong. The rear connector fits nicely into the rack. If the PMA7000 has a weak point it's the single Allen screw holding it in the rack. True, King and Narco do the same and no one has had a problem but the panel can be easily moved around in the rack from the front. This causes the pilot to "think" the audio panel is loose in the rack but in reality it isn't. I personally like the panels to lock from the front, they feel locked that way. We ran into no surprises on the three PMA7000's we installed over the last two months. Our last install was in a Cessna 206 using OLD 1973 radios. Even interfacing these dinosaur radios with the modern PMA7000 no surprises were found. Our second install using the PMA7000 in a Piper PA-28 using Collins radios. Again, everything went together as it should. You need about 1 inch of vertical panel space to install the audio panel. The audio panel is the heart of any radio install. Install it per the installation manual and you will have a decade or more of excellent service. Take short cuts or do shoddy work on the install and you will have a life of grief, guaranteed.
The buttons on the face of the audio panel feel great. Not the cheap air filled buttons you may find on some cheaper radios. The ICS volume knob is big as is the transmitter selector knob. There is a lamp on the panel that turns Red when you transmit or to show you have a stuck mic. The rectangle push buttons light up when they are pushed, showing the pilots which radios they are receiving. To turn on the speaker, simply press the button marked "Speaker' By the way, there's enough power in that speaker amp to run you out of the cabin. The "Aux." button can be anything input you desire such as TCAD or sorts. The switches are well laid out and you soon find your way around the panel without looking . The push buttons are configurable, meaning you can change the labeling to display whatever you desire. I changed the "Aux." to read 'TCAD", it was pretty painless. Should the audio panel go south all you have to do is press the "volume" knob and the unit goes to the (Fail Safe) mode. Everything is by-passed inside so the pilot's mic and phone go directly to the radios. This is a nice feature should you take a lightning strike or the audio panel does pack it in. The PMA7000 is back lighted and is very visible at night. All the buttons, knobs and switches are mechanical, so direct sun on the panel isn't a problem. My boys finished the installation and now for the fun part, the flight test.
During our Ground Test I tried everything humanly possible to screw up the (IntelliVox) system. I plugged in four different types of headsets. I figured this miss-match of headsets and mic inpedences would definitely cause problems with the auto squelch in the PMA7000. Again, I was wrong. The squelch worked great regardless of which headset was plugged in. We found during our first PMA7000 install that the CD music input just wasn't loud enough. PS-Engineering now has changed the input level so stereo inputs are louder. Now I have to turn my Walkman CD down or it's too loud. No audio adjustments were required during our ground test.
Now for the fun, flying! After we cleared up the paperwork, I picked up ATIS and taxied out. I set the ICS volume control in the center and adjusted my headset volume control to what I felt was correct for me. The Co-Pilot did the same. After take off we whipped the old Cessna up to 4,500Ft and leveled off. Now was the time to play. I could already tell the intercom worked better than I ever thought it could. Using the PMA7000 with a good ANR stereo headset sounded almost as good as being on the ground with the engine off. The intercom didn't cut off syllables nor did the squelch open with a pop as some ICS systems do. I tried speaking softly, then shouting into the mic to see if the automatic squelch could handle the rapid change in audio levels. It did without a problem. Now I turned the prop to full RPM, aimed the aircraft slightly down (to generate more noise) and opened the pilot's window on the Cessna. We measured cabin noise with our dB meter, it read a big 103dB. I figured with this much background noise they would be no way the automatic squelch could possibly work. The squelch was closed during this test but as soon as I started talking, it opened even though I wasn't shouting into the mic. I quit talking and the squelch closed. I couldn't believe it, the (IntelliVox) worked under this condition! I was determined to make the intercom fail. We leveled the Cessna and I gave control to the Co-Pilot. With the window still open, I stuck my head outside as good as I could. Believe it or not, the squelch never opened (even with 140 kts of wind blowing on the mic) until I spoke. After I quit speaking the squelch closed! We shot everything in the Avionics West arsenal at the PMA7000 ICS but couldn't kill it. To put it bluntly, the thing works better than it has to. Next we plugged in the Walkman with our new Stattler Brother's CD. The audio was excellent and like on the ground we had plenty of volume. The music faded down when ever we talked on the ICS or ATC talked. The music then would rise back up to the level we had set prior. The stereo inputs seemed to work much better in the PMA7000 than in the earlier PMA6000 series. We "Split Mode" so both pilot and co-pilot could transmit at the same time. I was amazed at how clearly the King KX-155 receiver was using the PMA7000 audio panel. Reception was crystal clear and the side-tone during transmit was perfect. We returned to base and parked the Cessna. Flying with the PMA7000 was a pleasure. The intercom with it's (IntelliVox) squelch worked even better than I expected, the stereo input was second to none and the audio panel is a no brainer to operate.
I talked to the pilots that had prior installations of PMA7000. All had nothing but great things to say about it. One flies the aircraft as part 135 with two pilots so the "Split Mode" is a big plus for them. One said her cross country flights were far more entertaining than before because of how well the squelch circuit worked and how little background noise was on the audio buss. Everyone that I've talked to that has a PMA7000 loves it because of the nice and easy to operate features.
I did have a problem , well sort of. We removed an old PMA6000MS for some updates in a customer's Piper and I slid a PMA7000 in the rack and let the owner fly with it until we finished upgrading his older panel. Two days later the pilot called and said he would NOT accept the old PMA6000, he insisted that I leave the loaner PMA7000 in the aircraft and send him a bill! He was crazy about the features on the PMA7000. I soon found the best way to sell a PMA7000 is to let someone borrow it! MAP price on the PMA7000 is $1,750.95. This isn't much more than a "Plane Jane" audio/marker panel from some of the other audio panel manufactures. After three full PMA7000 installs and hours or torturing the panel, I had few faults with it. The PMA7000 is a by-product of excellent engineering, second to none service and the PS-Engineering team sprit. They've done good.