Aircraft audio system pioneer PS Engineering is doing what a good avionics manufacturer should do to survive in the current chip-shortage supply chain, and that’s tweak an already good product to save component supply.
The way we see it, the PMA450C—priced $300 less than the flagship PMA450B—is a win for dealers and customers. In an avionics world plagued with backorders, the PMA450C is available now—giving dealers a good option to offer their customers ready to buy now. For owners with aging Garmin GMA 340 audio panels (Garmin recently dropped repair support for these), the PMA450C is a drop-in replacement, giving the radio stack a new lease on life.
But there are a few key features that were stripped from the PMA450C, which may or may not matter. Here’s a quick look.
Deep Feature Set
The $2595 PMA450C is far from a clean-sheet design. Instead, it’s a slightly defeatured PMA450B—which still occupies the top of the PS Engineering GA audio panel line, and is priced at $2895. We covered the 450B back in the July 2018 Aviation Consumer and it’s been a brisk seller, mainly for all of the things we liked about it when we put it through the wringer. The same is true of the slightly scaled-down PMA450C.
The user feature set is mostly unchanged, and the OLED graphical display does a good job of leading the operator through primary functions and advanced custom configurations. The panel also has a USB-C charging port on the front bezel, delivering a useful 5 VDC (3 amps of current at 15 watts). There’s also a six-place intercom with three isolation modes—features you would expect from a modern audio panel in this price range, of course.
The 450C includes dual Bluetooth modules, which means you can simultaneously connect the panel to an iPhone and an iPad. That’s useful because maybe the iPad is running your favorite cockpit app (and audio output alerts) and the iPhone is streaming your tunes.
The PMA450C retains the smartly designed built-in recording function that stores the incoming comm radio audio from the one you’re transmitting on. It’s pretty simple to use and a good backstop for getting ATC instructions correct the first time. Simply press and hold the comm receiver push-button that’s associated with the radio you’re transmitting on for the recorder’s playback. And if you fly with an action cam, the PS Streamer is a built-in audio module that streams Bluetooth audio out of the panel. It’s compatible with some GoPro models and is useful for including cockpit audio in a video production or for training purposes.
If on-the-fly music is high on your list of priorities for you or your passengers, the PMA450C follows the lead of the flagship 450B with the most configurable panel on the market. There are four possible independent entertainment inputs, including Bluetooth one, Bluetooth two and two wired inputs. Wired music isn’t dead—yet. Maybe you want to plug a patch cable from a music device or a laptop into a cabin audio jack, or maybe hardwire a remote SiriusXM receiver for satellite music. Like the Bluetooth sources, these inputs are all configurable so they mute (or not) when there’s comm radio and intercom chatter.
What It Doesn’t Have
A major feature and selling point in the flagship PMA450B is PS Engineering’s IntelliAudio, which is tech that’s licensed from the U.S. Air Force and is intended as an intuitive way to process headphone audio when there are multiple audio signals coming in at once. The lower-cost PMA450C still has this functionality, which allows the user to digitally position the comm radios in separate positions in the headphone so they’re more easily recognized. But instead of being able to position the radios in up to nine unique spatial positions (this is called HRTF, for head related transfer function), activating the IntelliAudio places comm 1 in the 10 o’clock and comm 2 in the 2 o’clock positions. This is pretty much the standard go-to setting, anyway—but perhaps not for everyone.
For instance, pilots battling hearing loss may have better hearing in one ear than the other, and the ability to spatially fine-tune the radios for more positions (bring the audio closer to the better ear, perhaps) might make the PMA450B the better choice. Remember, this doesn’t increase the volume of the spatially-placed radios—it only changes where in the headset they are heard.
Another major feature that was nixed from the PMA450C is Flightmate. The function (standard in the 450B) enables a handful of discrete and configurable messages (up to four) that are triggered from externally connected systems. Think landing gear and engine monitors that output the correct signals—JP Instruments and Electronics International engine displays are two that are compatible. In the 450B, you can even record your own alerts in your own voice by speaking them into the microphone. “Check Fuel, Check Gear and Check Speedbrakes” are a few.
And, unlike the PMA450B, the 450C doesn’t have the useful count down and count up timers, which are complete with customizable voice alerts—handy for managing fuel tanks, as one example.
Wanna Save $300?
We do, for sure. But we have to wonder how many buyers won’t go for the flagship PMA450B to get more configurable IntelliAudio functions and the Flightmate audio alerting system. Our reasoning is that these panels will likely be installed as part of major avionics upgrades, with buyers shrugging off the $300 savings in a $30,000-plus package.
“Not necessarily,” PS Engineering founder Mark Scheuer told us. According to him, the typical customer is trying to save bucks whenever possible and plenty of 450B buyers are ones who want to upgrade from Garmin GMA 340 panels (Garmin has a replacement for it with the $2145 GMA 345, which was out of stock as we go to press). Incidentally, PS Engineering has three models that will directly replace the GMA 340, including the PMA8000G ($1696), PMA450B and now the PMA450C.
“We are able to ship the PMA450C right now,” Scheuer told us at press time in late August , sort of pointing out what we already know about the problematic supply chain of small-component electronics. This includes the DSP (digital signal processor) that is used in the PMA450B to handle some of the advanced functions that have been removed to make the PMA450C. Moreover, like other manufacturers, PS Engineering faces the problem of component extinction, and there are only a select couple of vendors who can provide the DSP used in the PMA450B.
The problem is compounded by the fact that the TSO process limits the choices of approved suppliers for sourcing the components. Unlike in other industries, this makes it difficult to shop the small-electronics supply market via brokers and other alternate sources.
PS Engineering was showing its new PMA450C at AirVenture this past summer, calling it the “inflation fighter” and while that may be true, it’s also a supply chain fighter, and we applaud the creativity.
Saying that, for many we think the extra $300 spent on the flagship PMA450B could be worth it. For others, we can easily recommend the PMA450C as a good value for its generous features and solid performance.
For more information, visit www.ps-engineering.com.
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