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Used Avionics Buying Guide
Years pasts, audio panels were boring and the only
utility they had was to switch transmitters and receivers, supply marker lights
and audio and maybe allow you to place the ADF or DME audio on the headphone or
speaker. In my opinion, the
aircraft speaker in small, general aviation aircraft should be used only when
the headset fails. Trying to listen
to low quality speaker in a cabin that has 92dB of noise is not an easy task.
Yes, there are a few pilots who insist in using only the cockpit speaker
but those numbers are dwindling; in fact ANR heads are out selling passive
headset by three to one according to our shop sales figures.
The audio panel has taken on a new meaning in the cockpit.
With features such as crew position, pilot isolation, built-in ICS, dual
music inputs, cell-phone interface, the aircraft audio panel is now the heart of
the audio system. Remove the audio
panel, and nothing happens, you can't talk, hear and in some cases can't
navigate. A pilot should really
research which audio panel best suits his/her needs and type of flying.
No longer should the aircraft owner 'just pick a panel' based on
price or because it's made by the same manufacturer as the other avionics in
Lets talk about some of the PMA8000 features.
First off, read the Pilot's Guide before attempting to operate the
panel. Today's audio panels have
far more features than in years past; one needs to know how to operate those
features. Modern panels such as
this PMA8000 even have an on/off position, while you can still use the #1 COM
when the unit is turned off or fails in flight but everything else quits.
At Avionics West, we insist that you take some time with us to learn
about the new equipment that was just installed in your aircraft, I'm sure
other shops feel the same. To turn
on or off the PMA8000, simply push the ICS volume control, when turned on, all
kinds of pretty green lights will be illuminated on the faceplate.
The PS-Engineering PMA8000 panel has provision for two
nav/coms; the Garmin has three. Now
the question is, how many small aircraft have three VHF comm's installed?
Not many that I've seen have three. Sure some may have an HF and if you
have three coms, the 8000 may not be the best choice for you.
PS Engineering decided to use that third com spot for cell-phone use
(most pilots have cell-phones). Be
advised, using the cell-phone is illegal in the air but OK on the ground.
When using the cell-phone, you talk and listen using your aircraft
headset (full duplex). There is some interfacing that must be done in order to get
the phone to work, so talk to your local avionics shop about interfacing your
type of phone with this audio panel. I
flatly refuse to hook up any piece of panel-mounted avionics to a cell-phone but
the capability is certainly there if you want it. The cell-phone operation is full duplex.
The Split Mode.
When the Split Mode is selected, the pilot is transmitting and receiving
on com #1 and the co-pilot is transmitting and receiving on com #2; it's that
simple. I've found this feature
to be very handy when flying with another pilot.
Often the PIC is with ATC and the co-pilot is off getting weather, ATIS
or working with Flight Watch. If
you're in the market for an audio panel, make sure it has the Split Mode
feature. Once you've got it,
you'll use it often. One does loose ICS capability when in the Split Mode of
operation. Be advised with
strong transmitters like the Garmin 430/530, you may experience some bleed-over
on some frequencies when operating in the Split Mode.
During my evaluation we never experienced this problem but the potential
is there; this is true with all audio panels that offer the Split Mode feature.
Lets dive into the Intercom Functions.
When the 'ALL' mode is selected via pushing the ICS button on the
far, bottom left, all passengers (up to four), pilot and copilot can talk and
listen on the intercom at the same time. When
a person is not talking, that mic input will not be active, thus no background
noise is generated into the ICS system (it's quiet).
The crew will hear music input #1; passengers will hear whatever is on
music input #2 (if only one music input is used, all will hear the same). All
stations will hear ATC and the music will mute to a defined level if someone is
chatting on the ICS buss or ATC speaks. The
Crew Mode places the pilot and co-pilot on the same ICS and the passengers on a
totally different ICS. In other
words, the pilot and copilot can chat and not hear the passengers, the
passengers can talk to each other but don't have any communications with the
crew or hear ATC. This is a good
mode use if you're lost or running low on fuel and only want to discuss it
with the co-pilot, or you're fighting with the wife and you don't want the kids in
the back to hear. When in the Crew
Mode, the pilot and co-pilot can hear what's on Music #1 and the other seats
hear Music #2 (if the aircraft is wired for two music inputs).
And now the Isolate mode: If
I'm flying from the left seat and know I'm fixing to get a butt chewing from
ATC, I'll go to the Isolate Mode (I'm the only one who hears the tongue
lashing). When in the Isolate mode,
the pilot is only with ATC, no music, no copilot and no passengers.
The copilot is now on the same intercom as the passengers and can still
listen to Music #1.
The Crown Jewel of the PS-Engineering PMA8000 is the
'Auto-Squelch' feature of the ICS within the 8K. Unlike other audio panels, the PMA8000 has no intercom
squelch control, simply set the volume controls to where it's comfortable for
you and the 8K keeps the back ground noise out.
Some audio panels have two ICS squelch controls, and it's a real pain
to properly adjust them; the squelch levels change with the prop RPM and cabin
noise. Not so with the PMA8000, it
automatically adjust to cabin ambient cabin noise. I flew with this audio panel over eight hours and had three
other pilots fly with it, and all loved the auto-squelch feature.
Never once did it fail to work properly. At one point I even opened the
pilot's window and the 8000 just kept on working as if nothing had changed.
I don't know how the boys at PS-Engineering figured out this modern
marvel but it's the best in the business. You don't have to shout into the
mics to get the ICS to work, simply place the mic close to your lips and speak
in a normal tone and voice level. Based
on this feature alone, the PMA8000 is worth the price you'll pay for it.
The PMA8000 offers two separate music inputs.
Think about it, you want to listen to Freddie Fender or Hank Snow and of
course the kids want to listen to Deep Flesh, Kiss or some other weird group,
what is one to do? Easy, the 8K can
input two separate music sources such as CD's and tapes.
Now you can listen to your music and the kids can stay entertained via
their own input. In fact, we often
install the second Music input near the rear seats so the back seat folks can
easily plug in their CD without interfering with the pilot.
Imagine this'a long cross-country trip and NOT having to listen to the
kids complain. Now be honest, what
is that worth?? Some audio panels
do not have enough gain in their Music input to produce enough volume to run
numerous headsets. No so with the
8K. Using the same CD player, we
found the 8K produced about 30-40% more volume level to the aircraft headsets
than their competitor. In fact, we
had to turn the volume level down on the CD player, because it was too loud!
Of course the system can be wired to supply the same Music to all the
jacks should the aircraft owner desire for it to be wired that way.
Let me say this about the Music reproduction with regards to the 8000,
there's nothing and I repeat, nothing in the aviation market today that even
comes close to the music audio quality the PMA8000 produces.
Place a Bose X on your head and plug your CD player in the jack that
leads to the PMA8000 and you're in for a treat that is beyond belief.
The music audio quality is awesome to say the least.
Pull the PMA8000 out of the rack and slide in the Garmin GMA340 and run
the same test and the results will be obvious.
While the Garmin music audio is OK, the PMA8000 is concert hall quality. I had my young install guys compare the Music differences
between the two panels and hands down the PMA8000 was the clear winner.
The LightSPEED headset sounded pretty good under the same test but when
using a Bose X, the end results were much better.
Anyone demanding top audio quality from their CD or MP3 player should
look at the PMA8000 with the Bose X headsets.
Once you hear this combination, you'll never be satisfied with anything
Yes, the PMA8000 does have some of the 'Standard'
features, other panels offer such as a three-light marker and PA outputs.
I doubt you'll ever need the PA function in your Cessna 210 unless you
just want to hear what you sound like over a speaker; this function was mainly
incorporated for cabin-class aircraft. Notice
the bottom right of the unit has what looks like a little lamp.
This is an IR sensor and you can expect some nice video and audio system
to be released from PS-Engineering in the future that will use this sensor.
Imagine, a company building a product today that is capable of operating
features they will have available in the future.
Looks aren't everything but it helps.
The main complaint we received from aircraft owners about the
PMA6000/7000 series audio panels was; they didn't like the looks of the panel.
Seldom did we have a complaint on the quality or performance of the
product but oh did we hear it about the looks.
PS Engineering went to an outside vendor to design the faceplate of this unit. My guess is they got the input from some lady engineers; the
girls seem to have a better idea on how something should look versus us guys.
Anyway, the 8K faceplate has a totally different look than prior models.
Take note to the detail on the faceplate and the switching layout. At
night the PMA8000 puts off an awesome glow.
The first night I had an 8K; I went to the hanger, removed the GMA340 and
slid in the 8K. After turning up
the dimmer I was stunned at the back lighting, you will have to see it to
believe how well it looks at night; it made me want to go get the wife, some
cheese and wine and have a romantic supper in the aircraft with the audio panel
lighting on (of course I'm somewhat of a strange person).
The script on the panel is easy to read during the day as well as night.
The PMA8000 offers four unswitched inputs, most
manufacturer's only offer two if that. Lets
say you have a CNX80, GTX330 transponder, S-Tec autopilot with altitude
pre-select; that equals four audios that you may want to hear.
With just two inputs the avionics shop must work out some type of summing
network in order to plug all the audios into the panel.
The extra two unswitched inputs the PMA8000 offers eases the burden when
dealing with unswitched inputs and believe me, easier means faster, and faster
means cheaper. If your aircraft
doesn't contain any audio producing elements such as the CNX80, then this may
not mean much to you but for the guy with all the bells and whistles, the 8K
sure can make it easier on us. Even
if you don't use the four unswitched inputs today, future avionics needs may
require the capabilities the 8K offers. Sure,
you can purchase aviation-approved boxes that network and sum the audio inputs
but they are expensive and take up room behind the panel.
Discuss this with your avionics shop when you consider upgrading your
Pin for Pin Compatible with the Garmin GMA340.
In theory, you should be able to pull out the Garmin GMA340 audio panel,
slide in the PMA8000 and everything work. That's
not completely true. If you have an
aircraft with two nav/coms, no DME and no unswitched inputs (as mentioned above)
then the 8K is plug and play as the manufacturer has stated.
With DME we found that you must press the 'Aux' button on the 8K
panel to listen to the DME audio and if you have three coms (but who does) the
third com will not work. Some
additional wiring will need to be completed for cell-phone feature.
Of course the GMA340 never had this feature and one would expect some
wiring changes to incorporate it. We
found in one case when we removed the GMA340 and slid in the PMA8000, we lost
some of the unswitched inputs. Next
week we will have the aircraft back to evaluate why this happened.
According to the prints, the unswitched inputs should have operated just
like they did with the Garmin GMA340 but for some reason, didn't. We did
notice the 8K didn't have a dimple in the case to take out side play but we
just shimmed the rack to cure this problem.
My understanding is this minor problem has been cured with the latest
While these aren't big issues, it's something you need to be aware
How good an audio panel is this unit?
To answer this question I thought it would be best to get input from some
of my customers who presently have the Garmin GMA340; let them fly with the
PMA8000 for a period of time and record their results.
I first loaned the panel to a Cessna 210 owner, sure enough we pulled out
the Garmin and slid in the 8K and everything worked.
After two weeks the owner reported that he loved ICS auto squelch circuit
and the general layout of the panel and went on to say he liked the looks of the
unit. The second aircraft owner
flew a Piper Dakota and had a Bose headset.
He stated that he couldn't believe the difference in the Music when
comparing the Garmin to the PS-Engineering.
The third pilot owned a Cessna TR-182 that we recently had installed a
large avionics stack, which included the Garmin 340 audio panel (note what Phil
says about the product). Phil loved
the ICS auto-squelch and the back lighting but did have a few negative comments.
Phil traded in his Garmin GMA340 for the PMA8000 because he liked the
panel better and needed the four unswitched inputs.
I personally flew this panel in two different aircraft and felt right at
home with it.
At first I questioned why PS-Engineering would make a
panel rack compatible with the Garmin audio panel.
But think about it, now the customer has a choice.
Lets say pilot doesn't need the cell-phone interface or unswitched
inputs and goes for the Garmin panel. Now they can fly with both and decide which panel
best suits their needs. Imagine
being able to fly with both and take your pick, now that was smart thinking on
The PS-Engineering PMA8000 is an outstanding product that is feature rich as compared to many of the other panels on the market today. The quality of the unit is outstanding and the manufacturer is one of the best in the business with regards to customer satisfaction. List price is $1,995.00. So you've got a Garmin panel and wonder if the PMA8000 is the one for you? No problem, fly over and lets slide it in and go for a test flight. But bring your check book, chances are you'll fly away with the PMA8000.
Up to now, an audio panel was called, well, an audio panel. In my opinion, the PS-Engineering PMA8000 is really an "Audio Control Center", the High Performance trend setter other companies should aim toward.