REVIEWED: BEAMZ BBP96 & BBP96S
Mood lighting. Fifteen years ago that would’ve meant looking around for the nearest plug sockets in a venue and then crawling around on your knees with a roll of gaffa tape in one hand and a bunch of power cables in another. If you were posh you'd have wired DMX as well, adding an extra set of cables to the headache.
Fortunately, a lot has changed since the early days. Affordable battery-powered LED wash lighting units now allow us to put the lights wherever we want them without having to worry about running cables. This is obviously better for us in the respect that we don’t wreck our knees (and our trousers!) and it also means that installation time is cut down from hours to minutes. However, ultimately, it’s the client who benefits because we can literally transform their venue with bright, fully-controllable lighting, in a very short amount of time.
I already have RGB battery-powered pars from another brand and, up until now, I’ve always said that no-one has ever asked for a colour I couldn’t reproduce with the options I have available to me. In my mind, having HEX LEDs was just pointless but these new gizmos from BeamZ have completely changed my mind! The colour range they can generate is truly spectacular.
For anyone who doesn’t know, let’s start with the basics. With HEX LEDs you get six colour elements that can be mixed independently (red, green, blue, white, amber and UV), which means that pretty much any conceivable colour is available to you. The white and amber elements allow any colour temperature of white light to be created (without the colour shadows that are common when using RGB fixtures). Meanwhile, the UV elements mean that deep purples, hot pinks and electric blues can be created that I can’t get close to with my current fixtures.
If you’ve never heard of BeamZ before, they’re one of the many brands distributed by Tronios, a major player in the European pro sound and light market that grew out of the SkyTronic group. BeamZ is a well-established name in the worldwide lighting industry and offer all sorts of different products such as moving heads, effects machines and, of course, battery-powered HEX LED uplighters.
I managed to get my hands on both the BBP96 (the bigger ones) and the BBP96S variants that BeamZ has to offer. The differences between the two are most obvious when you place them next to each other. The BBP96 stands at around 20cm in height whilst the BBP96S is just 12cm. The added ‘S’ on the end of the product name clearly stands for ‘short’, and they really are tiny in comparison. The footprint of the ‘S’ model is slightly smaller too, but not so much that you would easily notice.
So, other than size, what are the differences between the two? Well, at the business end, they’re pretty much the same, both offering 6 x 12W 6-in-1 LEDs. The taller variant has a slightly narrower beam angle of 22 degrees compared to 28 on the shorter version, but again, you wouldn’t really notice.
They both operate on 6 or 10 DMX channels, and the channel assignments are matched across the two models. Both have built-in wireless-DMX receivers that work perfectly with my existing Donner wireless DMX system and you can also control them using the included infrared remote that allows you to access a collection of pre-set colours macros and built-in programs.
Both units also have an adjustable ‘foot’ allowing you to set them at an angle, up to a maximum of around 45 degrees, which is useful if you want to direct the light lower down instead of going straight up to the roof. From a physical point of view, they’re both metal, feel well built and have a nice handle on the top which is useful for moving them around. That’s where the similarities end.
The BBP96 has a wonderful colour display which makes life very easy when setting up. It gives you easy access to all of the internal features such as DMX addressing, channel mode selection, built-in programs and so on. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for its much shorter brother, which has that nasty 4-digit display where different codes are used for the various menu options. That said, both externally and internally, there’s no space for the electronics needed to add such a large (and useful) display, so that is one of the compromises you make when choosing between the two models. To be honest, it’s not a huge deal as a quick flick through the very useful manual and quick start guide, written in proper English may I add, made it super easy to decipher the menu system.
That isn’t the only compromise between the two. Underneath, there are massive differences. On the BBP96 you have IEC input and output sockets as well as 3-pin DMX in and out. I found the placement of these connectors to be quite strange. If you need to have them plugged in for power, it’s not physically possible to plug in a DMX lead because of how the connectors are laid out. I can hear some of you crying… “but they’re battery-powered and wireless DMX you bozo!” Well, yep, you’re right, but you may need to do it, one day…
The BBP96S doesn’t physically have space for IEC and DMX connectors so instead you get an AC adapter to get power into the unit for charging the battery and your wired-DMX option comes through a pair of RJ45 connectors, into which you attach the provided adaptors which have RJ45 plugs on one end and 3-pin DMX connectors on the other. It’s all a bit weird, and not something I’ve seen before, but it does give you the option for wired DMX if for some reason you needed to go down that route.
Charging-wise, the BeamZ website says the taller version charges in around five hours and the smaller one in around three. I would say that was pretty accurate but for some reason I could never get the smaller ones to charge up to 100%, they always stopped at around 97%, not that it really seemed to affect the astounding operating time.
Both ran for roughly the same amount of time. The taller version lasted a little bit longer due to carrying a slightly bigger battery capacity. On a single colour, I averaged around 14 hours on both units. On a two-colour mix, i.e. pink for example, this reduced down to about 10 hours, while three colours took it down to around 6. Adding in UV, White or Amber to get the exact mix you wanted tended to decrease run time by an extra hour or so, but I would certainly say if you do a lot of all-day parties and need them to be on from around 2 or 3pm to midnight, these won’t let you down at all.
The LEDs are amazing and offer bright, vibrant colours across the whole spectrum. They are 100% dimmable and, using my Donner wireless DMX system with the Lightrider app on my iPad, transitions were super smooth and they did what they were told when I asked them to.
If I had to choose between the two models, I would go for the shorter ones without a doubt because 1) they’re super cute and 2) I’m lazy and don’t like carrying big lighting around! For this review I had the chrome version (BBP96SC) and they look and feel absolutely gorgeous. A standard black version is also available as well as a classy white variant (BBP96SW).
My only worry about using these dinky little fixtures, and I think it is justified, is that some light-fingered guest could take a liking to one, pick it up, turn it off and stuff it under their jacket or in a handbag and make off with it. To protect yourself against that you could stick GPS trackers on them but that would add massively to the cost. As a negative, I’m not a massive fan of AC adaptors for power but, due to their size, it’s just not possible to offer an IEC connector on these.
As for the BBP96, it’s a great piece of kit with a wonderful and very useful colour display. As I’ve already said, the physical connector location on the bottom is questionable but that’s the only negative I can come up with.
Padded bags and charging cases are available for both units, which is really handy, and they are very reasonably priced too! Whether your personal preference is for large or small, both are good options if you’re in the market for wireless up-lighting and want the ultimate colour flexibility offered by HEX LEDs.
Pro Mobile equipment reviews are sponsored by insure4music, insure your gear today and save 10% off your quote - from just £22.50 a year.
The full review can be found in Pro Mobile Issue 103, Pages 84-86.