Hands-On Product Review:
Fender Passport PD-500 Portable PA System

More watts, more reach, and still one-person portable!
By Josh Vanders

FenderŪ PassportŪ PD-500 Portable PA SystemThe Passport has been performing regularly in coffeehouses and small music venues, and it’s sure to get even more gigs in the future. For singer-guitarists and small, vocal-oriented groups, it’s a perfect system—clear and clean sound that’s great for vocals. It is light enough that one person can tote the entire system, set it up quickly, and easily dial it in.

The first Passport systems were ingenious in design and set a new standard for portability. Their only shortcoming was limited power and speaker range—fine for classrooms and meeting rooms, but not strong enough for live music played to noisy club audiences. The second generation Passport systems remedied the situation with higher power and redesigned speakers. The Passport 250 models were music-capable, and artists began using them for smaller venue shows.

Fender, however, felt that it could further develop what was proving to be a successful design and has now introduced the Passport PD-500. Again the Passport has been reworked—this time even more extensively—to give it more clout, more channels, more features, more connectivity, and generally more functionality for the performing musician. It retains the ingeniously portable design and is actually two pounds lighter than the PD-250 model.

Loud and clear

The most obvious upgrades of the PD-500 are its higher power—an ample 500W—and its redesigned speaker array. A Class D stereo amplifier provides the power without the weight. The speakers are housed in trapezoidal molded poly cabs that are lighter than wood. The speakers are two-way systems consisting of two 8" Celestion woofers and a Celestion titanium compression high-frequency driver.

The woofers were designed specifically for the Passport and have neodymium magnets for lighter weight and the power handling needed for 500W at high volumes. The tweeter is positioned between the two speakers. Because of the trapezoidal shape of the cabs and their inwardly rounded faces, the cabs seem to disperse the sound so that it evenly fills the room. They are stand-ready and, when mounted, can fill a lot of space with sound.

Fender Passport PD-500 Portable
PA System Open and Closed

More features

The power and mixer section of the Passport PD-500 has the same basic layout as the earlier Passport systems. The PD-500 provides eight input channels, including six mic/line, and two stereo channels equipped with RCA and 1/4" TRS jacks that can also be used as mic channels. All eight channels have two-band EQ, effects levels, pan, and volume controls. The master section gives you three overall EQ bands, plus Left and Right levels. Channels one through six are also equipped with switchable phantom power, so if you like using condenser mics, the PD-500 will accommodate.

Connections include monitor and recording outputs (RCA connectors), both with level controls. Power amp I/O allows the addition of outboard gear such as an equalizer or effects units or external amplifiers permitting you to use just the PD-500 mixer while bypassing its amp. This is a particularly handy set of connections that greatly enhances the PD-500’s versatility.


Fender Passport PD-500
Portable PA System Back

One especially nice feature of the PD-500 is the choice of 10 reverb and delay effects—hall, room, plate, studio reverbs, delay, and a couple of combinations. You simply click with a rotary knob to select the particular type you want, then set the channel and main level knobs. I wouldn’t call them studio-quality effects, but they are good live-sound quality.

The PD-500's board is designed for set-and-go operation and to make any in-flight adjustments quick, easy, and sure. One especially key feature that makes this possible is automatic feedback detection and suppression. The Feedback Killer switches in and out, and seems to work quite well at settling down a system that’s on the edge. Gross feedback will still happen if you stick a mic in a speaker, but it hushes the distracting ringy stuff.

The main thing that makes this a desirable sound system is its simplicity. It clips together into a single unit for storage and easy transport, snaps apart for quick setup, and is complete down to the mics and cables that stow away neatly in the back of the mixer. These features, along with simple operation, make it an ideal system for institutions. It is a great system for musicians for the same reasons, and because of its sound quality and power. The Fender Passport continues to set the high mark for portable systems.