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Monday, March 19, 2012

Personal Sound System Review!
Yamaha's Powered STAGEPAS 500:
Plug In Your Guitar, Play Anywhere!

The vitals...
Price: $1,249 retail; $899 street
Likes: Amazing audio, mixer ease
Dislikes: A little heavy for little guys

by Bob Kovacs

Portability and sound quality are usually at odds with each other, at least if you want good sound quality that will fill a large space. Many manufacturers have come up with solutions for compact PA systems that can be used in clubs and cafeterias with varying degrees of success. Yamaha makes a line of high-quality portable PA portable systems, called the STAGEPAS. The entry model is the STAGEPAS 300. The top of Yamaha’s portable PA line is the STAGEPAS 500, and although pushes the upper limit of what can be considered portable. it produces club-thumping sound that belies the modest size of its speaker cabinets and lightweight mixer/amplifier.

The Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 consists of two identical speaker cabinets, each measuring about 21.5 (H) x 13.5 (W) x 11.75 (D) inches. Each cabinet has a compartment on the back, and the mixer/amplifier mounts in one such compartment. The compartment in the other speaker is great for storage of the included speaker and power cables, and might even fit a mic cable or two. Since the speaker cabinets are identical, either can be used to store the mixer/amp.
Each speaker cabinet houses a 10-inch woofer and 1-inch compression tweeter, the latter of which is fitted to a horn molded into the cabinet. The cabinets are designed to mount on speaker stands (not included with the STAGEPAS 500) and will also sit on the floor in an angled-up posture that works well for stage monitors. Actually, the speaker cabinets will sit just about anywhere, and are small enough to perch on a bar stool, if necessary.

The Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 is a portable system with excellent sound that can handle venues as various as churches to corporate auditoriums to rock clubs. The components look and feel great, and anyone with a hint of audio geek in their genes can connect and operate the STAGEPAS 500 in minutes.

The mixer/amp is rated at 250W per channel into 4 Ohms at 1 kHz with a rather generous 10-percent total harmonic distortion. More realistically, the STAGEPAS 500’s amplifier can deliver 200W per channel at 1-percent THD. The mixer has four balanced XLR/phone mic/line inputs, and three stereo line inputs with RCA jacks. Each input has a rotary pot for volume, as well as high and low EQ adjustments. The four mic inputs can be assigned to an onboard reverb effect but there is otherwise no effects loop for an outboard effects system. The four mic/line inputs have switchable phantom power, and the first two inputs have a switchable compressor/limiter.
All the electronics for the mixer/amp is packed into a surprisingly small and lightweight chassis, measuring about 13 (L) x 7 (W) x 4.4 (D) inches. Added to the speakers, the entire Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 system weighs 53 pounds. If the system is too stout for some to carry, optional YBSP500 roller cases are available for each speaker.

The Audition
I first tried out the Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 in my basement with a vocal mic and an acoustic guitar plugged in. With the sound loud enough to raise the ire of my wife, I played for about an hour and thought the sound was clean and nicely balanced. I expected the tweeters to have some sizzle but was surprised at their neutral quality ⎯ there was plenty of good treble from my bright-sounding guitar, but nothing that called attention to the tweeters. That’s just the right quality for a sound system. Bass sounded clean and solid, as well.

STAGEPAS Mixer Section

Then I tried the STAGEPAS 500 with a keyboard using a variety of sounds. I eventually came back to piano sound and pounded out a few songs, again at a volume that made itself known throughout my home. Through the STAGEPAS 500, the keyboard had the same familiar tones it has with other amplifiers, and at any volume I could want.
Finally, I took the Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 to a small-to-medium-sized club and set it up to be used by a five-piece blues/rock band for its vocals and keyboard. Despite having to set the speaker cabinets and microphones carefully to prevent feedback, the STAGEPAS 500 worked wonders during several hours of the rock band — interspersed with various other acts, from solo to guitar combos. The sound completely filled the club; the sound was clean and clear. The band members said several times that they enjoyed the sound, and that it worked amazingly well for their setup. In fact, they wanted to use it for the entire evening.
Which brings up the setup of the STAGEPAS 500. I took it to the club and had it set up and adjusted in 15 minutes, literally from the trunk of my car to the stage and ready to rock. The speaker cabinets are made from thick, tough plastic, and the mixer/amp module is made of sturdy metal, so the STAGEPAS 500 is built to take some abuse. Connecting everything and adjusting the pots is intuitive and obvious — I can’t think of a single thing that would make it easier to set up.

The setup of the STAGEPAS 500 was simple. From the trunk of my car to the stage and ready to rock, it took me 15 minutes. Connecting everything and adjusting the pots is intuitive and obvious.

The power to handle a rock band in a club comes with a price: weight. At about 53 pounds, an average person can carry it easily by using the handles integrated into the speaker cases. However, you won’t want to carry the system more than a block or two. Yes, the STAGEPAS 500 is portable, but don’t think that it’s just a little bigger than an iPod. This is a meaty system for meaty applications. If the weight is an issue and you are going to be using the STAGEPAAS 500 for a lot of gigs, I suggest buying the Yamaha roller cases for transport.

The verdict
The Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 is a portable system with excellent sound that can handle venues as various as churches to corporate auditoriums to rock clubs. The components look and feel great, and anyone with a hint of audio geek in their genes can connect and operate the STAGEPAS 500 in minutes. I was impressed that the STAGEPAS 500 could keep up with a full-bore blues/rock band and the mixer/amp chassis got barely warm in the process.
With its neutral, clean sound, powerful amp and tough components, the Yamaha STAGEPAS 500 is an excellent system where you need a strong sound that is punch-tempered with portability. You might want to eat your Wheaties if you need to move the STAGEPAS 500 often. But once it’s set up, just kick back and enjoy the sound. By the way, the amp also gets an Everything Guitar Network Grade-A Award.

Bob Kovacs is an accomplished musician who lives in Annandale, Va. He also is an engineer, who has been involved in radio and television since 1979. He can be reached at bob@bobkovacs.com.

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