Reading a brochure is one thing. Flying with a new product is something else entirely. Now, following a preview of the PS Engineering PMA9000EX in the December 2007 issue, Ive had the chance to actually, no-kidding fly with it in place of the PMA8000B already in my Glastar Sportsman. The two are pin-for-pin compatible, so installation was a 5-minute job.
With the 9000EX, PS Engineering has reduced the button count and placed many of the auxiliary functions into a menu system whose status is shown by an LCD. The two primary com and nav selectors remain, as does the “ICS” button to select among All, Crew and Isolate intercom modes, but secondary inputs have been moved to the menu. The main mode buttons are smaller, but I didn’t find them difficult to locate or activate.
The company’s IntelliVox circuitry monitors the noise level in the cabin and automatically opens only the microphone spoken into, so the twin potentiometers on the left side of the bezel are for crew and passenger volume, no manual VOX control at all. The 9000EXs intercom can handle up to six stations, all of them with stereo headsets.
Sing the Song of the Aeronaut…or Not
The major new features center on the 9000EXs entertainment capabilities. A twin-input, multi-mode system remains: You can send either of the two stereo entertainment channels to all seats, or parse them individually for pilot, crew and passengers. Two entertainment inputs can be hard-wired, but the front multipurpose jack can be #2 so that casual connection of an MP3 player or iPod can be made. New with the 9000 is an improved method of adjusting music levels.
In case you’ve forgotten your Nano at home, try the internal MP3 player with a 512-megabyte capacity. (More capacity is in the works as the cost of the memory chips comes down; a 1- or 2-gigabyte system is conceivable.) Uploading is easy. Put the music on a USB thumb drive, take it to the airplane, use the supplied connector cable, and after a brief tour of the menu system, the music will load onto the 9000EX. Music encoded at normal bit rates results in files of 3 to 5 megabytes each, so figure on 100 to 170 songs. An episode of Car Talk is 25 megabytes, in case you were wondering.
Music stored internally sounds fine-maybe not quite as punchy as a current iPod with some audio equalization-and is easily managed through the menu system. Initially, I thought the 9000EX had taken a step backward by moving the Mute control to the menu system (its a dedicated button on the 8000). You must invoke the menu by pushing the Data Select knob on the right, then scroll to the function you want to change with the large outer knob, then select the configuration by pressing the Data Select knob again. I used the Mute function often with the 8000, which selects either the Soft Mute mode (intercom or radio chatter silences the music) or the so-called karaoke mode. But after modifying the early programming, PS Engineering has simplified life and reduced the number of pokes and twists necessary to operate the Mute function as well as other oft-invoked features.
Blue in the Tooth
One feature I wasn’t able to test is the 9000EXs Bluetooth cellphone networking. I did, however, try the wired version with my somewhat prehistoric (by cellphone standards) Samsung; telephone audio is amazingly good and my caller reported fine sound from my end.
Suggested retail for the 9000EX is $2395, $400 more than the base PMA8000B, and this includes built-in com-radio recording-press either transmit button to hear the most recent “message”-and split-com functions-simultaneously push both transmit-select buttons to allow the pilot to transmit on Com 1 and the copilot to transmit on Com 2 independently. (Well separated com antennas are recommended.) You also get an internal marker-beacon receiver and four-count em!-unswitched audio inputs for EFIS alerts, electronic stall warning or angle-of-attack instruments, or whatever.
PS Engineering has, generally speaking, made a baseball bat out of clever new features and beat its competition senseless with it. The PMA9000EX is, really, just more of the same.
For more information on the PMA 9000EX, contact PS Engineering at 800/ICS-AERO or http://www.ps-engineering.com.