Fender® Passport® Deluxe PA Systems (discontinued)
Still small and efficient; only the sound has gotten bigger!
By Milton Stirch
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, simplicity, and accessible price, has made them popular with all kinds of performers, especially vocal-oriented and acoustic groups that don't put a lot of instrument sound pressure on their PAs.
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 groups and venues, Fender found a way to make them better. Instead of adding a few refinements-new bells and whistles-Fender improved the Passports in a fundamental way. The result is the new 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 systems.
What did they do? Basically the works: redesigned the cabinets, porting, baffling, and such; then loaded the cabs with killer, special-design, high-efficiency speakers. For the PD-250, each cabinet contains two sets of speakers. The small speakers are actually full-range drivers that reproduce from 150Hz to 20kHz. The woofers 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.
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When I first began to write this review, I asked Chris, the audio gear specialist at Musician's Friend, how different the Deluxe was from the original Passport with which I was already familiar. His answer? "Just listen. You'll see." He set me up for a side-by-side comparison of the original P-250 and the new PD-250. We got both systems up (in about three minutes total), dialed all knobs to the same position, plugged mics into each of the PAs, and stepped back. I was ready for a careful examination of what I expected would be subtle differences.
Wrong. The difference between the old and the new system was immediately obvious. The original Passport is an excellent system judged by normal standards. The new system, however, lights up the room. By comparison, it's as if you just removed blankets that were covering the original's speakers. The new system is louder, more full, more detailed, and has way clearer highs.
Indeed, Fender has taken a system that works very well by normal standards and upgraded it to a whole new level. This new system gets the kind of sound that allows voices to be heard over the instruments, that fills the air at the back of the room without blasting those close to the stage with hair-parting mids. And the Passport Deluxe gets this kind of sound seemingly 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. When you do start to get it, 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 sound is good enough that it really lets you use the Passport's stereo capability. 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 works well enough that you really can get a stereo image-make different sources come from left or right. 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.
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 the closest thing to a turn-on-and-go PA as there is.
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), selectable main/monitor operation. Tape-outs on the PD-250 et you record the show.
The Passports are complete systems. They even come with microphones and cords (two sets with the PD-250 and one set with the PD-150). And Fender offers a host of optional gear, such as speaker stands, battery packs for those outdoor gigs, and lots of other nifty extras. A Passport's compactness, portability, and ease of use will make your life easier and will give you the kind of sound that brings out the best in your performance and your music.