Fender has updated its popular line of Passport portable PA systems with a new speaker design. Since the mid-1990s, Fender Passports have become accepted, low-cost PA systems for musicians, DJs public speakers and others needing a compact, sound amplification system.
Product PointsApplications: live sound
Key Features: Complete unitary PA system – two speakers, integrated amplifier, mixer, microphones, cables
Contact: Fender at 480-596-9690, Web Site
+ Sound quality
+ Vocal Input Priority
+ Decent mics
– Limited EQ
– Limited reverb
The Score: A bang-for-the buck integrated PA system that has good power and flexibility.
The $1,499 retail priced Passport PD-250 system is an all-inclusive system with two mics and 250W of power for small venues. For slightly smaller applications, the PD-150, rated at 150W with one microphone, is available at $849. Both models are manufactured in China for Fender.
Since I used the PD-250 for most of the review, I focused on its set of features. Each of the four mic/line input channels has level, EQ, reverb and pan controls. There is only one control for equalization for each channel.
Channel 1 has a VIP (Vocal Input Priority) effect that overrides all other inputs when activated. A typical use for this might be a voiceover to a slide show; the announcer’s voice temporarily causes the music volume to be reduced when speaking, and the music returns to its original volume when the speaker is finished.
The two stereo channels have level, separate bass and treble EQ, reverb and balance knobs. There are master volume controls for both channels and a switch for stereo/dual mode. In stereo mode, the Passport operates like a normal stereo PA system. In the dual position, the left speaker functions as the main speaker, the right speaker becomes the monitor and the reverb controls for each channel determine the amount of volume for the monitor mix. Reverb will only be heard in the main speaker. Monitor volume is then controlled by the right master volume pot and reverb for the main is controlled by the master reverb knob.
The single EQ control is detented for flat or no bass or treble. Turning the knob to the left increases the bass and turning it to the right increases the higher frequencies. Each of the four mic/line channels has XLR and 1/4-inch balanced input jacks. The two stereo channels have both RCA and stereo 1/4-inch TRS inputs. Both the main and monitor channels have a 1/4-inch phone jack send and return for equalizers or other outboard processors. An outboard reverb unit can be plugged into the Passport via the 1/4-inch send and return jacks and can be muted by the optional footswitch.
Finally, there are two RCA outputs for send-to-tape recorder and a master on and off switch. The Passport has thermal and short circuit protection.
The rear storage compartment houses the two dynamic cardioid Fender P-51 mics and cables included with the Passport, as well as the 30-foot speaker lines. There are inputs for a wireless mic system.
Adding to its portability, the entire system is battery operable through an optional battery pack. The Passport is rated to deliver 250 watts total power to both speaker cabinets, 125 watts per channel. The new speaker system is a bit unusual in that its six-inch low-frequency drivers handle frequencies from 40 Hz to 400 Hz, and its 2.75-inch high-frequency drivers run essentially full range, 100 Hz to 18 kHz. There is no crossover from the large to small drivers.
The cabinets can be mounted on a wall, on stands or on the floor. The speakers latch to the main tower, and the whole unit weighs in at 55 pounds. For an average sized person, it is not too heavy to move solo.
Since I had not used previous versions of the Passports, I did not know what to expect. A local MI salesman said previous versions were a bit underpowered, so I decided to give it a try on what I do best – play guitar.
I first tested it out in my studio to get a quick listen. I plugged in my expensive handmade acoustic-electric guitar, and found the sound quite musical; bright with good bass. Not quite believing my ears that a low buck PA system could sound so good, I grabbed a Breedlove from my guitar rack and was impressed by the rich tone and volume.
The P-51 utilitarian mics included with the Passport sound similar to a Shure SM-57, though a bit thinner sounding. Since the EQ is limited to a single knob, I liked it in the flat position; changes in EQ are too drastic for my taste.
I was disappointed in the single reverb setting, which seemed to be set for a small room – about a 700 ms decay; It sounded okay, but I wanted more variables without having to resort to outboard reverb.
I tried out the VIP feature by running a CD player through the stereo line channels and overriding the volume with the mic. The Passport put out plenty of volume and only went into distortion at about the same level for the ear pain threshold. Volume was quickly reduced when I spoke in the microphone and the music ramped back up about five seconds after I quit talking.
I took the Passport out on a gig at a local restaurant where I often play. The L-shaped bar/club/restaurant seats about 200 people. I set the speakers on the floor and sent my sound spies out to the back of the room during the performance.
Their impressions of the Passport were favorable. They reported that they could hear the music above the chatter, and it was the best natural acoustic guitar sound they had heard from any system I had used previously at the venue.
I generally run my acoustic through two preamps into a house PA system, but plugging directly into the Passport gave me all the sound I needed without using the preamps, and I could hear most of what I played with the speakers slightly behind me without getting any feedback.
The Passport PD-250 is a versatile, low-cost PA package that sounds great for its size. Besides solo guitarists, singers, keyboardists and presentation users, the system is designed for music duo and D.J. work as well.