Hands-On Review:Fender Passport Deluxe PA Systems
Small and efficient . . . only the sound is big!
By Jim Gault
Musician’s Friend Staff Writer
When Fender first introduced its Passport P.A. Systems several years back, the company knew it had a winner, but a lot of musicians took a wait-and-see attitude. Sure, it was from Fender. Sure, it was compact, portable, simple to set up and use, but the real question was, “How does it sound?” A system that would do nicely for a business seminar wasn’t necessarily one that would cut the mustard on a gig. Small PAs usually sound small, so would the Passport be any different?
Now that the dust has settled, the Passports have amply proven themselves to be for real, with a surprisingly clear, full sound a notch above most small systems. This, along with their practicality, portability, and accessible price, has made them popular with a variety of performers, especially vocal-oriented and acoustic groups that don’t put a lot of instrument sound pressure on their PAs.
The Deluxe Passports
Fender is always finding ways to improve its products, even the ones that don’t in any obvious way need improving. While the original Passports were adequate for smaller venues, Fender found ways to make them better. Instead of adding a few refinements—new bells and whistles—Fender improved the Passports in a fundamental way. The result was the Passport Deluxe Series.
What Fender did was focus on the most critical part of any PA system. The decision was made to fully redesign the Passport’s speakers. For assistance, Fender tapped the expertise of another company that specializes in hi-fidelity systems. For legal/business-type reasons, I’m not allowed to mention the name, but it’s one you know well. Let’s just say it’s a name synonymous with innovative high-end sound systems.
What did Fender’s partner do? Basically the works: redesigned the cabinets, porting, baffling, and such; then they loaded the cabs with killer, special-design, high-efficiency speakers. In the PD-250, each cabinet contains two sets of speakers. The two smaller speakers are actually full-range drivers that reproduce frequencies from 150Hz to 20kHz. The larger two speakers reproduce from 40Hz to about 350Hz. This combination provides an incredibly smooth crossover range (low and widespread) without requiring a tweeter that normally would cause feedback issues.
Serious high fidelity
Indeed, Fender has taken a system that works very well by normal standards and upgraded it to a new level. This new system delivers room-filling sound without blasting those close to the stage with hair-parting mids. And the Passport Deluxe outputs this kind of sound effortlessly. The design creates a very wide and balanced dispersion of sound with very clear highs and a bottom-end that is surprisingly full for such small speakers.
Another benefit of the speaker design is minimized feedback. At the first sign of feedback, quick adjustment of the single EQ knob on each channel and the main block gets rid of it pronto. You really don’t need to tweak much, but when you do, the sound responds well to the knobs.
The Passport’s stereo capability is surprisingly effective. With most small PAs, I don’t bother with the pan knobs because they never make much difference out front and often cause problems. The new Passport’s stereo capability works so well that you really can get a stereo image with different sources—make them have distinct left or right placement. This is pretty cool for an affordably priced, portable system.
Otherwise, Fender didn’t mess with what is probably the easiest-to-use PA in the universe. It snaps together into a compact, single unit, including a storage compartment for cords and mics. The whole thing will fit easily into the back seat of a compact car.
At the gig, you just unsnap the speakers; set them in place; plug in the cords, your mics, and instruments; then power up. Tweak a couple of knobs and you’re ready to rock. It’s a true plug-and-play PA.
Other features heighten its versatility and ease of operation: digital reverb, a ducking (vocal priority) feature that lowers all levels except the vocal for talkover, and selectable main/monitor operation. Tape-outs on the PD-250 and PD-500 let you record the show.
The Passports are complete systems. They even come with microphones and cords (two sets with the PD-250 and new PD-500 and one set with the PD-150). Fender has also added the PD-150 Plus and PD-250 Plus that include CD players. Optional gear offered by Fender includes speaker stands, battery packs for those outdoor gigs, and wireless mics and receivers.
Most important, a Passport’s compactness, portability, and ease of use will make your life easier and give you the kind of sound that brings out the best in your performance and music.
Features & Specs
- Stereo operation with digital reverb
- 500W power (PD-500), 250W power (PD-250), or 150W power (PD-150)
- DSA speaker design
- Unique one-touch EQ
- Vocal Input Priority
- Works on optional battery or AC power
- Modular snap-together design for easy transport and storage
- Includes mics and cords (one set with PD-150, 2 sets with PD-250 and PD-500 models)
- Mono and stereo inputs
- Speakers can stand on the floor, be tripod mounted, or installed
- Selectable main/monitor operation (PD-250 and PD-500)
- Tape out jacks for recording (PD-250 and PD-500)
- 3 mic/line inputs and mono/stereo input (PD-150)
- 4 mic/line inputs, 2 mono/stereo inputs, and 2 additional stereo channels (PD-250 and PD-500)