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The PS-Engineering PMA8000 Audio Control Center

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.PS-Engineerings Flag Ship  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 the aircraft.  

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!Note the Dimple on the Garmin   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 else. 

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. PMA8000 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 radio stack.  

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 panels. Garmin GMA340 While these aren't big issues, it's something you need to be aware of. 

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 PS-Engineering's part. 

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.

This article by Tom Rogers originally
appeared on and
is republished here with permission.
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