Price paid: $ 220
Purchased from: Craigslist
Sound — 9
I played a couple guitars through this. The first was an Fender HSS MIM Stratocaster for a very short time, the second was a PRS CE-22. The PRS has markedly hotter pickups than the Strat, but they both sounded nice through this amp. I started with just the guitar TC Electronic Polytune and Dunlop wah into the front of the amp. With the guitar volume off, it is very quiet on the clean channel like this. The Drive channel is a bit noisy. I then added pedals to it through the effects loop; a TC Electronic Nova System and Boss 20XL Loop Station. The effects loop works flawlessly. Extremely quiet -- just perfect. I consider this amp very versatile. It has plenty of gain on tap (which I imagine is what most people are after). This will handle metal just fine. Metallica, Slayer, Godsmack, etc. Not a problem. If you want something heavier you should get a pedal. The ISF knob is very cool and very useful. You can leave it in the middle for the "Blackstar sound" or left or right to get California/England sounds. The clean channel is quite adequate. I've heard others pan the cleans but I found them nice. You'll get breakup anywhere above 7 or 8. I don't think that's surprising. Rolling off the volume will solve this if you're going to be picking hard. The main problem is lack of reverb - but if you have a pedal (or the newer model) this is a moot issue. I typically played with the treble & bass a bit past 1 o'clock and the mids scooped a bit, around 10 o'clock.
Overall Impression — 9
The intent behind this purchase was to find a head that would work well in my home but that could also be used for recording. After playing through it for about a year, I think it would be an excellent head to gig with, but only if it was either mic'd through a PA or if the gig was relatively intimate/quiet. I mainly play blues, classic rock, hard rock/metal. My musical playing tastes range from SRV, to Metallica, to ZZ Top. I found this amp willing and able to do it all. This amp also made me fall in love with tubes. There's a warmth to the tone it makes once things are heated up and being driven hard - I've not been able to do that with large wattage heads. But this guy wants to be ridden hard and put away wet - and you can totally do it without worrying about your neighbors calling the cops on you! It's currently sitting to the side as I bought one of its bigger brothers (HT-20H) but I don't really want to sell it. I love this little amp. I have the feeling if I sold it, I'd just end up buying another one eventually anyway. The only reason I can see me selling it would be to buy another small wattage amp that sounds better to my ears...
Reliability & Durability — 10
This is a VERY affordable amp. It does not have chassis mounted pots, hand-wired circuits or chassis mounted tubes. It has all overseas-made, PCB internals. That should not be surprising to anyone. The amp has never failed to work for me. It warms up quickly & plays nicely. I've never needed servicing done on it, but as it's so inexpensive, I would probably take it to a local shop rather than try to get the factory to repair anything. The discussion about gigging is interesting, but this is totally gig worthy. You'd just need to mic the thing - most clubs these days (that I've been at anyway) have moved this way anyway, so big amps aren't as useful...
Features — 8
My HT-5H is the previous generation head (not the newer one with reverb). I originally wished mine had reverb, but it's no longer necessary with my pedal board... It has 2 channels, an effects loop and a headphone jack. One thing that was poor was the length of the footswitch cable (very short). I removed the cable, replaced it with a 1/4" jack and velcro'd it to my pedal board. This mod is a must. Luckily it's probably the cheapest mod in history - and only takes a few minutes. This was my first tube amp. And while others claim here and there that it's a "hybrid" amp, I'm not aware of that as a claim. My Vox VT-series amps were hybrid. The Blackstar is described & promoted in only "tube" terms. It has a pre-amp tube and a power tube. Perhaps there's some digital wizardry happening inside, but regardless of that it's still a tube amp. It is remarkably loud when you consider it's only 5 watts. It also has a standby switch which is very useful.