Phonic PAA3 Handheld Audio Analyzer with USB Interface

As they say, the best audio device is the one that you use. That describes the Phonic PAA3 (Personal Audio Assistant) because it is such a convenient measurement tool. You can just grab it and get useful results in a few minutes.
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Fast FactsApplications: Contracting, field, studio, broadcast

Key Features: Handheld analyzer; SPL meter; 31-band spectrum analyzer; speaker polarity; signal volatge; A, C-weighting; USB port; battery operable

Price: $469

Contact: Phonic at 813-890-8872, www.phonic.com.As they say, the best audio device is the one that you use. That describes the Phonic PAA3 (Personal Audio Assistant) because it is such a convenient measurement tool. You can just grab it and get useful results in a few minutes.

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Since 1978, Phonic has been marketing pro audio products such as mixers, wireless equipment, power amplifiers, speakers, effects, audio testing devices and digital interfaces. Their PAA3 is an accurate, palm-sized audio analyzer for sound engineers.

Features

Although it costs only $399 street price ($469 list), the PAA3 handles a wide range of measurements. It has a 31-band spectrum analyzer, RT60 test, SPL meter, speaker polarity check, signal voltage test, and mic calibration.

Four AA batteries allow seven hours of continuous operation. The Auto Off feature shuts down the analyzer if it is unused for 15 minutes. The unit also runs on a supplied DC adapter.

You operate the PAA3 by selecting items from menus. Navigating the menus is straightforward. Either press the arrow keys, or use the handy scroll wheel on the side of the unit.

Other features that make operation easy are a built-in calibrated microphone and signal generator. This generator supplies pink noise, a 1 kHz tone, or a polarity test signal from a balanced XLR output. Line input is also via XLR. On the back of the analyzer is a battery door, mic-stand adapter, power-lock switch and contrast control.

In RTA mode, the unit analyzes the signal from either the built-in mic or the line input. The spectrum is divided into 31 bands at 1/3-octave intervals (with weighting if desired). On the large LCD screen, the spectrum shows up as a bargraph, and the SPL of each band can be displayed in numerals one band at a time. An EQ-setting feature suggests how much to boost or cut various frequencies based on the RTA measurement. Readings can be stored to memory for later recall, and several RTA measurements can be averaged. Display options include peak hold, freeze and maximum SPL.

The SPL meter can measure from 30 dB to 130 dB SPL with A, C, or flat weighting. Line signal measurements display in dBu, dBV or AC volts.

The device uses pink noise to measure reverb time. It does not display RT60 at various frequencies, but rather the average RT60 over the audio spectrum, based on the falling SPL vs time of the pink noise. You could use your own source of band-limited pink noise to measure reverb time at different frequencies.

To check speaker polarity, you select Phase Check in the menu and play the polarity test signal through a loudspeaker. The display shows a plus sign if the speaker's absolute polarity is positive.

Saving the displayed data is easy. Select Memory from the menu, select Store, and select a memory location from 1 to 10. You can clear all the memory data by pressing two buttons. By connecting the PAA3 to a computer via the supplied USB cable, you can view the display on the computer monitor screen and upload data from the analyzer's memory to the computer.

A supplied CD-ROM includes the display program, plus a useful set of wave files such as tones at various frequencies, sweeps, pink and white noise, a polarity test signal, in-phase and out-of-phase signals, SMPTE-EBU time code, and musical notes.

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As for limitations, the PAA3 lacks a mic frequency-response plot, so you do not know how accurate the spectral plot is. Also, the RT60 measurement is not at several frequencies, and the RTA display is fixed at 31 bands. To use an external mic you would need a separate mic preamp. These limitations are an acceptable compromise for many users who appreciate the unit's low price and ease of use. But acoustic consultants would need measurements with more detail.

In Use

I was impressed how intuitive it was to operate the PAA3. In five minutes, without reading the manual, I was making RTA and SPL measurements. I liked the unit's clear labeling and large, easy-to-read text in the LCD display, which can be backlit for use in dim venues. The built-in mic swivels into position and locks at a 45-degree angle relative to the sides of the analyzer - preventing sound reflections off the analyzer into the mic.

Navigating the menus is a piece of cake, thanks to the scroll wheel which can be operated with your thumb. All the menu designations make sense. In addition, the user manual is clear and to the point.

The manual was necessary when I tried to measure RT60, but it is a simple process. Select RUN, let the analyzer sample the background noise, play some pink noise, and shut it off. The PAA3 quickly calculates the reverb time.

I appreciated the built-in generator and test CD, both of which made it easy to play test signals without needing an external generator. You can pop the CD into a standard CD player and play audio tracks of the test signals. Using the PAA3 in RTA mode, I could quickly fine-tune the EQ for my home stereo speakers and studio monitors.

I connected a USB cable between the analyzer and my computer running the supplied software. Whatever was on the analyzer screen appeared on the computer monitor. Also displayed were the contents of each memory location (such as SPL vs. frequency). From the computer I could print or save the display.

Summary

Because the PAA3 omits some features to keep the price down, it might not be adequate for acoustic consultants. But it fills a need for most sound engineers. It is convenient to operate, easy to understand, and packed with a wide range of measurements for the price. I really liked the PAA3 analyzer and would definitely buy one. Great job, Phonic!