Price paid: A$ 499
Purchased from: Mega Music
Sound — 9
Blackstar amps have a reputation of being chameleons of sorts, in that they can pull of a range of different sounds, yet still retaining a fairly unique character. I play a huge range of music from instrumental pop, to blues to hard rock and metal, and while it doesn't necessarily pull off every one of those styles with equal aplomb, it certainly gives an excellent covering of the bases that most guitarists will want to cover. The clean channel is very bright and almost Fender-esque (is that a word?) and dirties up just enough when you crank the volume on your guitar. The distored channel is quite the beast to behold. This is also where you get the true character of the ISF knob I mentioned earlier. Crank up the gain and swing the knob to the left and by scooping the mids you will get an excellent late 80s Metallica sound, particularly through a humbucking guitar like my Les Paul. Swing the knob back to the right and you'll be greeted by a thick crunch reminiscent of Cream or Black Sabbath (I could go on for days going over the myriad of tonal possibilities with this amp, but suffice it to say it's one hell of a versatile animal). Does this amp suit the styles I play? 100%. Does it give out the tonal character most people have come to expect from high-end boutique amplifiers and big-dollar, big watt items? Almost. As you would expect, there is some trade off, but as an amp to be used stand alone for rehearsals, small venues or recording, it's virtually peerless. Along with that, if you want to go a bit bigger, you can extend into a 4x12 or mic it through your PA. Overall, unless you have an infinitesimally specific sound you are chasing, and have the wallet to back it up, there aren't a lot of sonic applications where this little black box doesn't come up trumps.
Overall Impression — 9
Having been playing for 15 years, I've had the opportunity to play through some very cool gear. Like I said at the beginning, I need something that is more than a 1 trick pony, which I'm sure many of you will agree, is the downside of some of the high-end amps that we all drool over. While this particular model, being the older combo, lacked some of the other features I had been looking for ie. Reverb, it made up for it in the fact that it is an amp that is full of character, and yet is also a blank Canvas in terms of the way it can be used to achieve such a wide array of sounds. Frankly, aside from a few gripes, mainly to do with packaging and layout, I cannot fault this amazing little machine!
Reliability & Durability — 9
I'm yet to gig this amp, but it is build solidly and despite having a semi open back, the speaker is well protected. Unfortunately, it's relative light weight may prove a hazard as I can see this being a lot more easily knocked over by an over-enthusiastic bass-player than a bigger, heavier item. All the more reason to keep one's bass player on a leash. Obviously, being an all valve item, there are specific care and servicing requirements, but I won't bore you those. It certainly looks tough enough to withstand everything I intend to throw at it.
Features — 7
First things first, I'd done a lot of reading up on blackstar's products for a while and while I had made a pretty firm decision to get one, I needed to be convinced. The amp is an all-valve (or tube depending on what country you're from)5 watt combo with a single 10" celestion blue speaker. Made in Korea. It's come with a pretty simple set up, a clean channel and an overdriven channel, and basic eq settings of bass, mid, treble and a control that Blackstar call the "ISF" or "Infinite shaping feature". It sounds like a load of wank, but it does actually have a significant effect on the way the amp sounds, but more on that later. I haven't had it long but the main reason I got it was to supplement my other amps, and have something semi decent to practice on instead of some cheap crappy practice amp that I was using previously. Along with this I needed something with a fairly neutral clean channel to play acoustics through on smaller gigs, and to use as a back up to my 40w Marshall combo. All in all, it came with everything it said on the box. The only thing I would have liked would have been a larger speaker and maybe a reverb or chorus feature. They have now remedied this, having released the HT-5R which has a 12" speaker and a digital reverb channel. The only real gripe here is that the back inputs for the footswitch (optional) and effects loop and to hook it up to an extension cabinet are facing downwards, which makes it ergonomically awkward. Only a small gripe, and with such a small and lightweight amp, it's easily dealt with.