Phonic America PAA2 Personal Audio Assistant

Phonic America expands its audio testing equipment product line with the PAA2 ($469.99), the second-generation of the company's Personal Audio Assistant handheld measurement tools.
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Phonic America expands its audio testing equipment product line with the PAA2 ($469.99), the second-generation of the company's Personal Audio Assistant handheld measurement tools. The PAA2 provides a useful set of audio-oriented test functions including real time spectrum analysis, SPL and line level metering, test tone and noise generation, and speaker/line polarity checking.
Product PointsApplication: Audio Test Equipment

Key Features: Portable 31-band 1/3-octave RTA; SPL meter; line level Vac/dBu/dBV meter; polarity tester; 1kHz, pink noise and polarity signal generators; CD with test signals and remote operation PC software

Price: $469.99

Contact: Phonic America at 800-430-7222, Web Site.
Significant improvements over the previous PAA1 model, plus a street price of around $469.99 put the PAA2 in the category of useful tools that engineers at all levels of the audio profession can afford (and should be using anyway).

Features

The Phonic PAA2 Personal Audio Assistant is a multipurpose portable audio test device covering a range of measurement and analysis functions. The PAA2 package includes a vinyl protective case, A/C power adaptor, RS232 computer interface cable plus a CD containing test signals and PC software for remote operation. The unit can be powered with the included A/C adapter or four standard alkaline AA batteries.

Like similar products on the market, the PAA2 is not an absolute, "all-in-one" audio testing device. Nor is it a substitute for oscilloscopes, volt/ohm meters and the like. Instead it is designed to provide quick access to several of the most essential diagnostic tools with little or no setup effort.

The PAA2's molded plastic case measures approximately 5.75 inches x 3.25 inches x 1.5 inches (roughly the size of a GameBoy). The front of the unit features a 160 x 160 LCD screen and four rubberized navigation/function buttons: enter, cursor up/left, cursor down/right and a recessed power/backlight button.

The two remaining physical controls on the PAA2 are the recessed combination scroll wheel/enter button located on the left side of the unit and a LCD screen contrast adjustment wheel on the back.

The PAA2 provides an omnidirectional measurement microphone that swings out from its protected position and locks in its outward position at a 45-degree angle from the unit. Connectors found on the PAA2 include line-level male and female XLR jacks, a 1/8-inch RS232 jack and a #6-20 threaded socket for mounting on a camera tripod.

The core function of the PAA2 Personal Audio Assistant is as a 31-band 1/3-octave real-time spectrum analyzer (RTA); the PAA2 defaults to the RTA screen upon powering up. The analyzer can be used in conjunction with the built-in mic for SPL measurements (dB SPL) or to measure line voltages through the XLR input (in dBu, dBV and voltage).

Spectrum analysis display response time can be set to 35ms, 125ms, 250ms or 1 second. The analyzer features a selectable peak hold function, three measurement weighting options (A, C and flat) and three sound pressure level display ranges (30 - 90, 50 - 110 and 70 - 130 dB).

The RTA display shows all 31 bands in bar graph form in the lower half of the LCD screen. The upper half of the screen displays the chosen SPL display range, weighting and a numerical SPL display.

Up to 10 snapshots of RTA display data can be stored and recalled from the PAA2's onboard memory. Used with a computer more memory settings are available.

An EQ Setting page in the PAA2 works in conjunction with the stored analysis data to provide a 31-band display of suggested 1/3-octave EQ adjustments necessary to achieve a flat system response.

In Use

I had the opportunity to use the PAA2 for several months and in a variety of settings. I initially had to remind myself to try out the PAA2 on studio and live engagements ideal for the purposes of this review. Once I used the unit a couple of times, I found myself looking forward to finding other opportunities to use the device.

The thing that enabled that kind of enthusiasm for a test product is that just after hitting the power switch, the PAA2 is immediately producing useful RTA data. The ability to discreetly pull out the PAA2 and quickly ascertain RTA and SPL data without any disruptive setup (or accompanying, 'Hey, what's that?') was a real boon on engineering sessions and live gigs.

After months of use, I found the PAA2's build quality to be very robust, eliminating another source of stress from my workday. The high-impact casing of the review unit took a few knocks and falls without showing any sign of distress, which bodes well for rigors of live work. Most controls on the PAA2 are recessed or protected by other means from accidental adjustments and meddling.

One common use I found for the PAA2 was to quickly ascertain the response of resident speakers in unfamiliar studio rooms and general listening situations. On occasions where I brought my own speakers to track or mix on, it was both interesting and practical to see how they interfaced with the new environment.

The ability to take several quick RTA readings from around a hall or room, average the data, and instantaneously receive a clear display of corrective EQ measures to be taken makes the PAA2 ideal for live use. It is also a simple matter to quickly determine if a club's various monitors and mains are wired in phase.

On the whole, the PAA2's graphical user interface and menu logic are well thought out. There are a few tweaks that could be made to improve menu navigation and ease of use. The biggest one of these is the inconsistency of the menu programming and conventions.

For example, some menu lists let you go down or up (wraparound) to get to the item you want, while others do not, resulting in a lot of wasted button pushes.

Compounding this minor annoyance is the inconsistent implementation of the onscreen "ESC" function: in some displays, you simply have to hit the Enter button to get out of the screen, others you have to cursor down to an "ESC" menu listing, while still others require you to scroll horizontally through the 1/3 octave frequency bands.

Another puzzler I found was the inability to scroll through the stored snapshots in order to quickly compare differences in the readings. A USB connection instead of the RS232 is also on my wish list.

Summary

While the unit could benefit from a few interface tweaks, that didn't amount to any consequence in the big picture. Phonic's PAA2 Personal Audio Assistant was an apt and accurate performer at every occasion in which it was used. The speed at which I could obtain valuable data from the unit ensured its place in my workflow.

The PAA2's range of diagnostic tools, ease of use, build quality and absolutely affordable street price should put the PAA2 at the top of every audio engineer's Christmas list.