A Classic P.A. Gets Upgraded and Downsized
by Jon Chappell
Fender’s Passport, the long-established line of portable P.A.s, has been upgraded to the PRO series, and improved in the only two ways that matter for P.A.s--they’re more powerful and lighter. The three models in the upgraded series (the 150, 300, and 500) reflect increasing output power and channel counts, but the feature set becomes more comprehensive the higher up in the food chain you go as well, so be sure to check the specs of each model to find the one that suits your needs. My review unit was the 500 PRO, whose highlights include 500 watts of Class D stereo power, an eight-channel mixer, and CD-quality USB recording.
The 500 PRO weighs only 53 pounds (a full 11 pounds lighter than a Fender Twin), and is easily carried in one hand, aided by a nice handle design (see Fig. 1). The speakers attach to the central mixer/amp console via heavy-duty spring-loaded clasps in what looks like a giant boombox. Once you unclip the speakers from the center module, you can position them anywhere within reach of the provided 22-foot cables. All the cables—and anything other small accessories, such as fragile mic clips and even the mics themselves—can fit in the storage compartments in the back of the console. Neat.
Fig. 1. The Fender Passport PRO 500 weighs less than a Fender Twin Reverb and is easy to carry in its suitcase format.
About the only thing I didn’t like was that the speakers have no handles on them and the recessed space in which you’re supposed to insert your fingers to grab them is a little small. You can’t really get a secure grip with one hand, so you’ll have to use two hands to safely move the speaker.
The PRO series features speaker redesigns or voicing changes that the manufacturer claims to have improved clarity. I didn’t have an original Passport to do an A/B comparison, but the sound from the 500’s 10" and 8" woofers pumped out punchy, clear tones in my guitar’s chords and baritone vocals, and high-note leads from my guitar retained a cutting, but not shrill, clarity when aided by the 1.2" horn-loaded tweeter. (See Fig. 2, which shows the two cabinets flanking the front panel.) The 500 sports a sub-woofer output (as does the 300 model), so if you play with, say, an acoustic bass, you can employ an active sub and save the power you’d normally devote to producing these low-end frequencies (below 120 Hz) and apply it back toward the mids and highs—improving the efficiency of your system and effectively extending your available power. Plugging a subwoofer into this jack automatic activates a highpass filter at 120 Hz on the main speaker system. Note to bandleaders: Make your low-end instrumentalists supply their own subs; you'll increase your effective power considerably!
Fig. 2. Opened up. Each cabinet houses 10" and 8" woofers, plus a 1.2" horn-loaded tweeter.
Mixing It Up
The mixer console puts the master controls on top and centered, in their own section, for quick grabbing and intuitive operation (see Fig. 3). The individual channel strips are oriented vertically, with the volume on top, which is not like a typically horizontally oriented mixer, but works better here. I like having the Volume controls at the top of the stack. I also like that you have separate controls for left and right, as it's rare that you'll be playing in a perfectly symmetrical room, especially if you're doing the bar circuit.
Fig. 3. The front panel is comprehensive yet logically laid out and easy to work when you're on the bandstand.
On the Job
When my bass-playing partner and I set up the 500 Pro, we used the three-color LEDs to set our levels (green for signal present, yellow for close to clipping, red for clipping) and found tweaking the controls to be a snap. The tone knobs all have center detents, so it’s easy to return to a flat setup in seconds. The onboard reverb won’t replace a dedicated processor, but its two-mode operations allows you to adjust both the Time and the Tone. You could use this on less-critical sounds, such as the guitar, while devoting your higher-quality outboard unit to the lead vocals. Unfortunately, there’s no footswitch jack to defeat the reverb, for your stage patter. But if you’re using an outboard unit, as previously mentioned, you can hit the Bypass switch Pre Out/Power Amp In jacks, where you’d have the effect routed.
We found the unit had plenty of power on reserve to accommodate our accents and musical spikes. We rarely hit the red, and we were plenty loud in large-size rooms that seated up to 250. (Though, sadly, we did not fill those particular venues on the night we played.) In a live situation, the controls are so easy to grok: the large master Volume and Tone controls are on the top row, and the individual channels follow--again, with the Level at the top of the stack. I would recommend this to any bandleader who must play and/or sing and run the P.A. simultaneously.
Bonus Feature: Recording
The 500 Pro features USB recording, which you can access by inserting any ordinary flash drive to record CD-quality (16-bit/44.1 kHz) wav files of the stereo output. You can also play back from the drive, using a channel strip to control the sound. This is a great rehearsal aid. The Stereo Out jacks allow you to route the mixer’s signal to another location, including a recording device if you opt not to use the onboard one, and the output’s level is not affected by changes to the master volume during live use. You can even hook up a mic into a spare channel, and record ambient or crowd sounds into the recording.
The 500 PRO is clearly the next generation of portable P.A. systems for musicians, DJs, and presenters on the go, offering versatile routing, sub-woofer output (with automatic 120 Hz highpass filter on the main speakers), and onboard CD-quality recording—all options that today’s musicians need now or will grow into. The powerfully clear and punchy sound—delivered in a lightweight and compact format—makes the Fender Passport 500 PRO a great travel companion for rehearsals and gigs of all sizes.
I have an older Passport 250 and it has a main monitor switch on it. I was just wondering if this one does. I definately use that at times. I have been considering upgrading to one with a little more power.
Very nice product. Very well placed parts and looks very good.-Immigration Law Firm