An Audio Panel That Hears Your Voice

New Garmin GMA 350 digital audio panel.

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"Select Com One," I said into the mic, and waited half a second only to see the active light on the audio panel swap over to com one, as I'd requested. It's a cool feature, but only a small part of why the new GMA 350 has set a new standard in GA audio panels.

At the Helicopter Association International's Heli-Expo Convention in Orlando, Garmin unveiled a new digital audio panel, the GMA 350, that's now available for fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft. (I got a preview a few weeks before at Garmin's headquarters in Olathe, Kansas.) The new audio panel features some very cool though still basic voice recognition abilities. Those capabilities will grow, says Garmin, as the product matures, and be upgradeable through software. But the real story of the GMA 350 is that it's a digital product, the first from Garmin. It features an all-new digital automatic squelch, the best by far of any Garmin audio panel. There are, indeed, features galore, many of which pilots have wanted for years.

The isolate modes on the 350 are light years beyond previous products. As with other audio panels, you can isolate the pilot, the crew and the passengers. But there are more audio sources available — up to three for the passengers; more flexibility — passengers, for instance, can toggle on and off their isolate status instead of tapping on the pilot's shoulder; more usability — a new 3D sound mode makes it easier to focus on who's doing the talking; and more convenience — a playback recorder lets you listen again to a clearance you might have missed.

The GMA 350 is closely compatible with audio panels from Garmin and with some of its competitors' models. It will be available soon and retails for $2,395 ($2,695 for the helicopter version with night vision capability and other helo-friendly features). To see Garmin's press release on the new audio panel, click here.