HT-5RS Mini-Stack Review

manufacturer: Blackstar date: 08/02/2013 category: Guitar Amplifiers
Blackstar: HT-5RS Mini-Stack
I think this will be one of those amps that years from now are modeled on the Axe FX or Pod or whatever. This is an instant classic; don't miss out on it.
 Sound: 10
 Overall Impression: 9
 Reliability & Durability: 8
 Features: 8
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overall: 8.8
HT-5RS Mini-Stack Reviewed by: decreebass, on august 02, 2013
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Price paid: $ 630

Purchased from: Easy Music Center; Pearl City, HI

Features: FYI - this is for the HT-5RS Mini-Stack; the combo is different and there are various versions of the head, and various versions of the stack (some have 8" speakers); the head will sound different with other cabinets. This review is for the as-is HT-5R head plus the two 1x12 cabs. Without further adieu; the HT-5RS... I'm not sure exactly when this amp was made, but I bought it from Easy Music Center in Pearl City, on 28 July 2013. It was a clearance item and they would not sell just the head. It was the whole stack or nothing. Luckily, they had a bunch of Blackstar stuff so I spent a good two hours trying them all out. They had the HT-1R head and combo, the HT-5R combo, as well as some of their modeling amps and a couple of the big boy heads & cabs. I began by playing the HT-1 through a Vox 212 with Celestion Greenbacks. I was un-impressed. It was obviously deceivingly powerful, very tube-y, but just didn't light my fire. I ditched the HT-1 nearly immediately. It just wasn't my thing. Then I tried out the HT-5R combo. It was better; very rich harmonics, lots of volume, a nice toneful clean, but I still felt it sounded a little boxy; no matter where I set the ISF. For a quick PSA, the ISF is Blackstar's Infinite Shape Feature, supposedly allowing you to switch between an American sound at fully counter-clockwise, or a more British Marshally sound at fully clockwise and everything in between. Essentially it changes the character of the mids and highs; not really in any sort of linear or obvious way, but it's very intuitive and useful. For instance, if you feel your sound needs a little warmth or less harshness, adjust it clockwise. If you feel your sound lacks balls, turn it a little counter-clockwise. It's very useful for tone shaping; and remember; a little goes a long way; sure you could have it fully cranked one way or the other, but you're missing out, IMO. Anyway, I was in love with the HT-5RS from the first note I played (happened to be using a Ibanez S series, which is most similar to my Carvin DC747). It was bright, present, amazingly responsive and glassy - clean AND dirt were ear candy. I figured I must be hearing things since I had just got done playing with the HT-5R combo and experienced no such elation. These were the two amps I kept A/B-ing with identical setting until I was sure it wasn't all in my head. It wasn't. The HT-5RS is superior to the combo version, except it's slightly less portable. Even if I just use one of the cabs that come with the stack, it's still significantly sweeter of a sound than the combo. Just for giggles, I tried out one of Blackstar's combo modeling amps. It was solid state but had a section where you could choose which output tube it emulated. I can't Imagine what audience that would cater to. I couldn't even tell you what kind of tubes any of my amps have, let alone be picky enough to have a preference or really know the difference. I can tell the difference between a tube amp and solid state though, and it was immediately obvious and I cringed at the tone of this thing compared to the glorious HT-5RS I had just experienced. I won't go into all the features; just the ones that are important, IMO. There is a remarkably musical EQ section (including the ISF) for the OD channel. It's hard to find a bad tone - no matter how you crank or cut the knobs. The volume and gain knobs are very interactive. It was hard to find an unusable gain setting, whether you're going for super heavy or just some bluesy tube OD. The volume knob has a very small usable range in an apartment setting though. Even as loud as 1, I started to worry I was gonna get a noise complaint. But at 0.5, I could hear my guitar acoustically louder than the amp, so I had to slightly nudge it to get a perfect usable volume. Anyway, there's a very nice master reverb built in. The clean channel just has a volume and tone knob, but again, the ranges are very musical; overall - and this applies to all the EQ-type knobs on this amp - you're not going to find unusable extremes at either end of the throw; the tone knob for the clean channel fully CCW kinda darkens and warms the tone, whereas fully CW it adds (or reveals?) shimmer and chime to your sound. New strings are a blast to play through this amp. The Headphone/Line out is okay; I like the live sound better than the direct signal, but I haven't tried recording with the line out yet. I'll update this review as I do so. Supposedly you can emulate either a 1x12 or a 4x12 cab... Again, I'll update when I try these out. Thoroughly. There's a series effects loop. I think a parallel would have been better for this amp, given that I wouldn't want to compromise a single waveform of this thing's tone, but it's not a deal-breaker, and I'm not that tuned in to the EXACT nuances of the tone anyway. Overall, a really adjustable, musical, and practical featureset for an amp of this size. // 8

Sound: My main guitar though this amp is my passive Carvin DC747 7-string. I also have an active Carvin DC800 8-string, as well as several other passive 6-strings (Epi Dot, Epi Les Paul Custom, Gibson SG, Carvin DC135). Sound is a hard thing to describe, but I think Blackstar nailed it with their slogan: "The Sound In Your Head." It's hard to disagree. I really feel great while playing through this amp. It makes my guitars come alive. I've never had an amp that was so responsive to my guitar volume, tone, and dynamics. I feel like this amp has and will change my approach to playing guitar. I've been playing for 15 years and I thought my playing came alive when I got my Carvin V3M tube amp; that was just the beginning. I love looping a little 4-bar phrase and vamping over it with changing dynamics and volume; again, my volume knob is now more than just a fully on/off affair. It's part of my sound and playing now. I can get a good sound for blues, jazz, rock, even metal. You won't find a super high gain, tripple-rectified sound but neck pickup sweeps still sound buttery; the open B-string and power chords rooted on the B-string sound full and rich in harmonics. I challenge you to find an unusable tone in this amp. This thing is awesome for leads, solos, open chords (on either channel), power chords, hell; even djent (don't quote me on that - I don't even know what djent is. I thought it was a musical term, but all I know is that I got booted from for a week for even mentioning the term... Maybe it's racist?) The only pedals I use with this amp are a Vintage EHX Deluxe Memory Man analog delay and a DigiTech JamMan delay looper (in the effects loop to catch the unaltered pre-amp), and a Wampler Ego compressor in front of the amp for the clean channel. I just love this amp's pure sound so much. I am somewhat tempted to take out or keep out anything not analog in my signal chain (except that would mean no looper). I suppose I'll eventually experiment more with my Big Muff Pi, Tubescreamer, Wampler Pinnacle, and various other pedals, but for now, I'm just in love with this amp's pure sound. // 10

Reliability & Durability: I'm giving it a 8 in this section because from just an hour or two in my truck with the windows cracked parked in the shade, the tolex on the bottom of the amp started to become un-peeled. Not an amp killer, obviously, but a pretty big annoyance, especially since you can't just press it back on to make it stick again. Plus, being a tube amp, it's definitely not gonna be as durable as solid state, but I'm sure with reasonable care I'll never have any issues save for a quick re-tube some years down the road. Overall, I would be perfectly comfortable using it without a backup. Would I tour North Dakota in the middle of a sub-freezing winter leaving it in the trailer between gigs without a backup? Probably not. Maybe if it was in a good flight case... But I'll digress. // 8

Overall Impression: I began playing guitar through whatever amp I could afford when I was 14 or 15. Back then I had no idea there was even such a thing as analog versus solid state. I played through what I could afford, what was loud enough, or what looked cool, and I never thought Marshall stacks looked cool. I was also playing crappy guitars back then so the name of my game was trying to polish a turd. Well, my tastes have evolved considerably since then. I have had countless practice amps, performance amps, solid state amps, modeling amps, stomp-boxes, modeling floor-boards, Pods, RPs, etc. I can say with perfect honesty that this amp has the sweetest OD I have ever heard, hands down. It's a sort of sound that begs you to keep playing. It's not melt-your-face high gain, but I only want that sound every now and again anyway, like when I'm trying to emulate John Petrucci or something. Besides, you can always use stomp boxes for that. This amp will satisfy for all but the most triple-rectified tones. Where this amp really shines is in its dynamics. It lets you use the full spectrum of your guitar's volume and tone knobs. FINDING YOUR TONE (my suggestion): 0) "Zero" the amp (Reverb off, EQ & ISF at 12 o'clock; all volumes & gains at "0"). 1) Have your guitar's volume & tone wide open. 2) Set the amp to the highest gain you want using the incredibly responsive & interactive volume & gain knobs. 3) Adjust the ISF to your taste (bright enough to cut, but not too shrill in my case). 4) Fine tune your "high-gain" setting with the EQ. 5) Now that you have your maximum OD set, just roll back your volume knob for the sweetest dirty "clean." 6) Enjoy all tones at the full range of your guitar's volume knob! Using this method nearly marginalizes the amp's clean channel, though that's still good for pure clean. GRIPES: I suppose if I had any gripes, I wish the amp would have a less sensitive volume knob on the OD channel; it seems like no matter where you have the gain setting, the difference between hearing your guitar acoustically louder than the amp and having wall-rattling volume from the amp is but a microscopic increment of the volume knob. I think a good apartment practice room volume setting is somewhere between 0.5 and 1-ish (again; regardless of where the gain knob is). Kind of annoying to dial in on such a sensitive knob, but it is what it is. I also wish the EQ section and ISF knobs worked for the clean channel too, but I can fully understand why this might be undesirable, especially if you're switching channels. Even at the current price (assuming you can't find it cheaper) BUY THIS AMP. I think this will be one of those amps that years from now are modeled on the Axe FX or Pod or whatever. This is an instant classic; don't miss out on it. I can't believe it took me so many months to buy it after seeing it the music store just begging me to play it and buy it. Video from YouTube:

// 9

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