While much attention is placed on high-end avionics upgrades, there are still simple aircraft in need of affordable upgrades. This includes modern audio systems that offer growth potential and useful features pilots want, but won’t require a major teardown and a costly investment.
PS Engineering, in collaboration with Trig Avionics, recently introduced such a product with the PAR200. It’s an audio panel, an intercom and a comm radio that’s packaged in a two-piece system. We evaluated the PAR200 on an avionics test bench, where it earned high marks for having solid performance and generous features.
Not all aircraft need a panel that’s decked out in the latest glass fashion, but many are in need of comm radio and intercom upgrades. Add a second comm and VHF nav radio to the interface and the need for an audio switching panel comes into play. This is where the project can snowball.
The PAR200 system combines an audio control panel with many of the features that have been successful in the company’s higher-end audio panels—including a high-fidelity four-place stereo intercom with IntelliVox technology. There’s also Bluetooth connectivity and a remote mounted FAA-certified VHF comm radio. UK-based Trig Avionics is best known for building innovative and space-saving hardware, and has a line of remote transponders and comm transceivers.
The Trig TY91 and TY92 remote-mount radios are designed with dedicated panel-mounted control heads. But PS Engineering designed the PAR200 audio panel to handle the control and frequency channeling duties—eliminating Trig’s control head. More on that in a minute.
The TY91—which is the radio that’s part of the PAR200 package— is the lower-end radio in the Trig line and has a 6-watt transmitter. In the world of aircraft VHF transceivers, 6 watts of output isn’t a powerhouse, but it’s sufficient for lower altitudes as long the aircraft antenna system is kept up to snuff (the more powerful TY92 transceiver is rated at 16 watts, which is jet-caliper).
Still, we put the system on the avionics test bench at EXXEL Avionics in Hartford, CT, and noted solid transmitter and receiver performance.
The remote transceiver measures 5.5 inches long and stands 1.7 inches high, which should make it easy to mount in a variety of locations within the airframe. As compact as the TY91 chassis is, it has a high-end feel.
Electrically, the installation should be straightforward. The comm transceiver and audio panel connect with familiar 44-pin Sub-D connectors, using an RS232 serial interface. While the unit was on the bench, one installation tech spotted the TNC connector that’s used for the RF antenna input and asked why Trig doesn’t use the more common BNC connector that’s used in most existing aircraft antenna systems. This is a minor nit, but a good question, since changing the connector on the existing antenna cable is an extra step.
panel duty The brain of the interface is in the new PAR200 audio panel, which packs a big punch in a minimal control set. We like that the interconnect between the audio panel and the remote comm radio is designed for failsafe.
For example, the remote radio has its own power supply, which PS Engineering wisely uses a secondary power input to the audio panel. Should the primary power to the audio panel fail, the power supply in the radio takes over, so it will continue to function.
As with all PS Engineering audio panels and intercom systems, the pilot headset will be connected directly to the primary comm radio in case of audio panel failure or should you have to shed electrical load.
Tuning the radio is accomplished with dedicate channeling knobs on the right side of the bezel, while pushing the outer button transfers the standby frequency to the active window.
The PAR200 has a five-frequency storage and memory bank, cabin speaker control and automatic radio squelch. There’s also a frequency monitoring mode, where the system passes receiver audio from the frequency that’s in the standby. Smarter yet is that both the active and standby frequencies are monitored at the same time for a signal—enabling simultaneous reception from both frequencies.
The frequency display is a green, backlit LCD screen that has automatic dimming. Since we didn’t use the system in an aircraft, we can’t say how good or bad the screen will perform in direct sunlight. The contrast on the LCD display can be controlled by a service adjustment that’s located inside of the unit.
The audio panel accommodates two comm radios and two VHF navigation radios via momentary, push-button, backlit switches. The volume for the remote Trig radio is adjusted with the large knob on the right side of the bezel. We like the onscreen linear volume status bar that comes up when you change the volume. After five seconds of inactivity, the display will revert automatically to the frequency tuning mode.
The PAR200 can accommodate unswitched audio inputs for remote traffic and engine monitoring systems, for example. Unswitched input means the pilot has no control over this audio and we would like to see an auxiliary switched input, which allows the pilot to stifle traffic callouts.
intellivox, bluetooth The PAR200 utilizes PS Engineering’s proven IntelliVox technology. We recognized the company’s IntelliVox as a game-changer in cabin intercom technology when we initially tested the company’s first 7000-series audio panel because it eliminates the intercom squelch control. At the time, a squelch-less intercom was a bold proposition, given the noise that’s present in many cabins. But it works—quite well—thanks to microprocessor control.
Through individual signal processors, the ambient noise present in the connected microphones is constantly being sampled. Nonvoice signals are blocked and the squelch remains closed. When someone speaks, only their microphone circuit opens, placing their voice on the intercom. We’ve flown extensively with IntelliVox over the years in a wide variety of cabins and haven’t been able to trick the system. For high-noise environments, shops can reduce the microphone input gain by configuring internal DIP switches on the unit’s main board. Intercom volume control is through two concentric front panel knobs. The small volume knob controls the intercom level for the pilot and copilot, while the large knob controls the passenger intercom volume.
Like the company’s higher-end PM8000BT-series audio panels, the PAR200 has Bluetooth connectivity as standard. This can be used for music or telephone input. Two music input sources can be hardwired to the panel, or you can stream entertainment from a Bluetooth device.
We easily paired Apple and Droid smartphones to the unit. When the PAR200 is paired with the Bluetooth device, the letters “BT” appears in the display. When the phone receives an incoming call, the PAR200 plays a ring tone. Simply answer the call from the handset, and the audio panel connects the phone audio and automatically hangs up when the call disconnects. The telephone function works with the intercoms Crew, All and Pilot Isolate modes. All of the stations on the intercom will hear the telephone audio when in All mode, and the pilot is in “telephone booth” mode when the intercom is in Pilot Isolate.
The ICS push-button switch on the left side of the panel provides the selection for these three intercom modes, while an LED annunciator behind the text shows which mode is active.
Streaming and controlling music through the system is just as easy. The left outer knob controls the volume of the music and all stations on the intercom will hear the aircraft radio and intercom. During any radio or intercom communications, the music volume automatically decreases and then increases gradually back to the original level after communications have been completed. But there’s flexibility in how the muting functions, with a dedicated Mute control button.
For example, when the Mute On is selected, music will mute with either intercom or radio activity. In Radio Mute, intercom activity will not mute the music but radio chatter will. In the Intercom Mute mode, radio chatter will not mute the music, but activity on the intercom will. If you enjoy entertainment on the fly, the PAR200 offers you plenty of ways to configure it to your liking.
budget upgrade That’s exactly what PS Engineering’s Mark Schauer had in mind when his team designed the PAR200.
“There are still plenty of basic airplanes—including Cherokees, Skyhawks and even Cubs, to name a few—that have outdated avionics. The owners of these airplanes might not want to invest many thousands of dollars to make a significant upgrade to the panel. That’s the market we are addressing with the PAR200,” Schauer told us.
“Because the missions of these aircraft are different from more capable airplanes, we tried to keep the PAR200 in the middle of the road as far as capabilities,” Schauer added.
The PAR200 has a list price of $2995 and includes the Trig radio and the installation kit.
Based on our evaluation of the installation manual and the hardware, we estimate that a basic installation could require 25 to 30 hours of labor. That puts the total project at around $6000. This price, of course, doesn’t include replacing or installing a new comm antenna and cabling, if required.
The PAR200 comes with a two-year warranty when it is installed by a PS Engineering dealer. Contact: www.PS-Engineering.com, 865-988-9800.