Hands-On Review:American DJ Performance Pak A

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A quality, affordable, simple lighting setup for live bands and DJsAmerican DJ Performance Pak A


By Ralph Wechter


American DJ's Performance Pak A proved to be very easy to set up and really intuitive to run. Even for a first-timer like me, it's a complete snag-free system

that's easy to transport and very solidly built with a lot of options for creating a varied visual environment to enhance your act. And it's so smart

you don't need an extra band member to handle it.


Big difference

I'm a guitar player, not a lights man. I sometimes write reviews for Musician's Friend about guitars or effects, but when my friend at MF found out that I'd recently ordered an American DJ lighting package for my band, he wanted to get my opinions. So here they are.


This all came about when my band, the Puffins, got a gig at a local venue that had a simple lighting system mounted above their pathetically miniscule stage. We felt kind of glamorous under the lights, but I had no idea what a difference they can make until my buddy, Gretchen Stack, sat in on guitar for a couple of numbers while I watched from the back of the room. That night, the guy who'd installed the lighting system was manning the controls and creating a lot of really cool visual changes. I couldn't believe the impact the lighting had. It made the band more appealing visually  and made the show look a lot more professional.


Simple setup
Next day I got onto the Musician's Friend site and found the Performance Pak A for just a few hundred bucks. The package includes 4 par cans (the standard can-shaped lights you see in theaters) with 300W sealed beam lamps installed, a sturdy T-bar stand to hold them, a Visage chase controller, a Visage/RS infrared sensor, and four colored filters (gels) that fit into gel frames on the front of the par cans.


The new package was waiting at my house when I got home from my day job with just enough time to grab my gear and head for a gig. I decided to drag the box along to the gig-a party at a nice house in the hills. I was worried that I was setting myself up for a headache, but the gear went together without a hitch. In about 15 minutes I had assembled the stand and mounted the par cans on it, plugged the AC cables from the par cans into the chase controller, mounted the chase controller on the stand, and inserted the colored gels. I ran an extension cord from the Visage to a normal 110 wall socket and the whole thing sprang to light.


Click to Enlarge The P-56 Special par cans come fully assembled and ready to use with gel frame, socket, hanging bracket, A/C cord, and wiring kit. A simple nut-and-bolt arrangement attaches them to the 3' T-bar on the stand. There's also room for another four cans on the bottom of the T-bar (in case I want to double the cans to expand the show). The steel tripod stand is collapsible, lightweight, and telescopes up to nine feet high. I set it at seven feet so I could reach up and point each light at a different band member.


I connected the external remote sensor and set it in a place where it would be in line of sight with me at all times. This gave me more flexibility in placing the lights because it meant the Visage, which is mounted on the stand, didn't have to be in line of sight.


Effortless operation
At first glance the Visage chase controller looked a little mystifying because it had so few control buttons. But once I got to messing with it I realized it couldn't be much simpler. Speed control arrows let me speed up or slow down its chase pattern. I could slow it down to only one change per minute or speed it up to fast, fast.

There are 16 built-in chase patterns to choose from. That is, 16 cycles ranging from something as simple as A, B, C, D to more complex patterns like A/C, B/D, A/D, B/C, and so on. These patterns repeat indefinitely. Or you can choose all on for a static but multihued stage presentation. The included 300W bulbs in the par cans burn cool enough to run all night without a break, and they're rated to 1,500 hours.


Click to Enlarge

There's also a switch that lets you select between speed settings and sound activation. A mic inside the Visage picks up the bass notes from the music and advances through the pattern once per beat. You can adjust the sensitivity of the sound activation so that it only changes on particularly loud beats of the bass drum.


During the break, I spent a few minutes experimenting with the system to see if I could create some really cool effects. I could control all of the Visage's parameters from my hand-held wireless remote. I got familiar with all the functions and had a blast during the last set. First I had the chase pattern changing on a slow speed setting. Between songs I changed the chase pattern and had it changing on only the heaviest bass beats. As the set warmed up, I changed patterns again and accelerated the chase quite a bit. During our last song our drummer, Aaron Beals, took his big solo. It was very cool. I picked up the remote and set the Visage to very high-sensitivity sound activation. The thing was changing with every beat of the bass drum. The audience gave Aaron his best reception ever.


The upshot is that I'm really impressed with this package. It's improved our show a lot and we paid for it with the proceeds of that one gig. Plus, it's quick to set up and tear down and it's easy to cart around.


Features & Specs:

4 P-56 Special Aluminum Par CansLTS-6 Black Tripod Stand:
  • 300W lamp with 1,500 hour rating (long life)
  • Gel frame
  • Socket
  • A/C cord and wiring kit
  • Hanging bracket
  • Fully assembled
  • Light weight
  • Durable design
  • 141/4" x 91/2"
  • 3 lbs. each
  • Extends up to 9'
  • 3' T-bar
  • Steel tubing
  • Collapses easily
  • Includes T-bar with 8 hanging-point bolts
  • 11 lbs.
  • 4 Colored Gels (filters)
Visage Wireless Remote Chaser:
  • Infrared sensor
  • Remote sensor with 6' cable
  • 16 built-in chase programs
  • Black out
  • Full on Speed control
  • Sound activated with adjustable sensitivity
  • All features controllable by wireless remote
  • Includes reversible hanging bracket
  • Clamp mount or pole mount
  • 4-channel/600W per channel maximum load
  • 73/4" x 61/2" x 23/4"
  • 4 lbs.