What it is: A portable, compact audio analysis tool with nine main functions:
• Real Time Analyzer with 1/6 octave resolution for frequency response testing
• FFT frequency response analyzer (similar to the RTA, but with finer resolution and a slower response time)
• Reverb Time (RT60) measurement tool
• Total Harmonic Distortion + Noise meter
• Level meter (measures SPL, or dBv/dBu/voltage through the line ins)
• Phase meter
• Audio oscilloscope
• Polarity checker
• Equivalent Continuous Noise Level (LEQ) tester that measures average signal levels over time, from a few seconds to 48 hours (ideal for checking for compliance with noise level standards, or just to check your average levels during a mixing session)
Distinguishing characteristic: The PAA6 has a considerably lower sticker price than similar products, but offers much of the same functionality and doesn’t require a computer as part of the setup (although it does have a computer interface and an SD card slot for saving some types of analysis data).
Up and running: Very simple—there’s a good manual and the functions are relatively self-explanatory. The PAA6 runs off AC power or the internal Lithium-Ion battery.
First impressions: The PAA6’s centerpiece is a large (480 x 272 pixels), color touch screen display. Although a stylus is included, you can access many functions with just your fingers. The screen is a bit on the slow side, and sometimes the scrolling menus aren’t as responsive as I’d like, but overall it’s simple to navigate and use.
The PAA6 includes two condensor mics for testing audio, and two XLR line in jacks. These are not combo 1/4"/XLR connectors, so you’ll need an adapter for 1/4" balanced line. An XLR line out carries the signal generator output; the signal generator is available while using any of the test functions, so you can feed a test signal into the system you’re testing, and measure the results from the line ins or mics.
In addition to the touch screen, there are four buttons: On/off, run/stop (for when you want to take measurements), signal generator signal on/off, and a sort of mini-joystick like you have on laptops for manual navigation.
Going deeper: Although there’s a computer interface for the included USB port, currently there’s no software to let your computer use the PAA6 as a “front end” for realtime measurement. However, you can save and load settings for the RTA, FFT, and RT60 functions with the SD card, and transfer the SD data to a computer via USB. Phonic has not given a release date for the interface software (nor mentioned whether it will be for Windows, Mac, or both), saying that it will be available on their website for free “at a later date.”
Conclusions: There’s a real need for reasonably-priced test gear for audio professionals, and the PAA6 is quite clever. The portability is a plus, and the large touch screen is very convenient. I do wish the screen was a bit more responsive, but it’s not a huge deal. And you’ll need adapters if you’re working with balanced 1/4" signals, as well as a splitter to feed the mono signal generator output to a stereo device.
Within a day after getting the PAA6 for review, I found a powered near-field monitor with miswired connections (the speaker’s unbalanced input and XLR input were reversed compared to each other!), and checked whether IK Multimedia’s ARC speaker correction software really does improve my room’s frequency response (it does). The test tone generator helped show whether clip LEDs really clipped at zero or had a built-in “safety margin,” and it was easy to test the noise performance of mic preamps. I expected the PAA6 would be something I’d use once to test everything out in my studio, and then it would gather dust in a corner. But in reality, I find myself reaching for it whenever a new piece of gear comes in for review, and I appreciate its ability to back up subjective impressions with objective readings. Although I have no way to test the accuracy of the built-in mics (you’d need a tester to measure a tester), including built-in mics means Phonic had the opportunity to compensate for any anomalies.
Although the PAA6 is much lowerpriced than similar units, it may still be out of reach financially for small studio owners. That’s too bad, because it really can help get a studio in shape. But for those who work with audio on a day-to-day basis, the PAA6 could be one of the most important investments you can make.
Price: $1,699.99 MSRP / $1,200 street