Price paid: $ 700
Purchased from: Zzounds
Features — 10
Ordered from Zzounds on the pay as you play plan. They Jack the price up a bit but it's all good. So, what's in the box? Twin 1x12 cabinets. Pretty solid built. Handles on top. Input jack in the rear. The amp itself. Seems pretty well built in a physical sense. Across the front, left to right you have as follows... Lower toggle, stand by toggle, Reverb 0-10, ISF, High Mid Low EQ for gain channel, Volume (gain channel) Gain, channel selector (push type) single rotary for clean tone, clean volume, and input Jack.
Across the back is the MP3 line input, send and return effects loop, foot switch jack, emulated output with a 1x12 or 4x12 selector, dual output Jack for a single 8ohm cab or dual 16ohm cab, a single output Jack for a single 16ohm cab and the power jack. It also comes with a foot switch that is a simple 1 button with a red led, 2 speaker cables, and a useless booklet that basically just list off parts. Oh and a nifty sticker. Compared to other amps I've investigated, it has limited "features." But I didn't want a million settings. Just a good useable tube amp.
Sound — 10
All testing this far has been played with a Schecter Hellraiser, EMG 81/89. Using both pickups, tone on max. Clean channel: tone knob centered. Guitar volume control low, amp volume at 1/4. It's bright just really clean and clear. Good "bedroom" level. As you roll the instrument volume up it really gets a good break up. Very warm and fuzzy. Think very soft distortion. But still at a bedroom level. The reverb at 0 is none. I like it best at about 50%. It's hands down the best I've reverb I've heard. Even at max it doesn't get that hokey sound.
Gain channel: doesn't matter too much where instrument level is. Amp volume at a smidge above 0 is bedroom. Just a millimeter past 0, if you go 2 millimeters it starts getting loud fast. The gain from at 0 is just a touch hotter than the clean side with the instrument level high. Around half way it really gets a driven sound. I find 75% to be good for Metallica, Pantera, and such where as at 50% is better for Nirvana, Bush.
The ISF or "Infinite Shaping F'er" seems to be the weakest feature. I guess it does change the tone a little but after the first couple days I just leave it in the middle. The 3 EQ knobs for gain side are really sensitive. Very useful. The single EQ clean I wish was another set of 3. The single does work, but it's nothing super.
Overall I love the sound. There's really no unusable settings. Surely a tone to suit. And my God, 5 watts is LOUD! especially on gain side, highest I've been is 50% and it rattles my house. Oh and the foot switching transitions sweetly to the other side, no clunk or cut out. Just a smooth transition.
Reliability & Durability — 10
Reliability... Well it's only been about a month. It seems well built and solid. I'd gig a small venue like 20-30 people sized bar. It'll hold its own. For a 2 channel head all tube, with the 2 cabs I think it's priced cheap so I worry a bit about true build quality. Blackstar seems to be building a good reputation and I suppose time will tell. From the shopping around I did though, there's no head/cab you can get new for this price and be all tube, with the foot switch included. I guess I expect to 're-tube eventually but I don't see ever "upgrading" from this amp.
Overall Impression — 10
I play Godsmack, Metallica, Nirvana, Green Day, Tom Petty. Dabble into a country/grunge fusion... Lol. Really haven't found any sound I can't imitate unless it uses some specific pedals. I compared it to the Fender Super Champ X2 head/cab. For tone, Blackstar wins. Plus, I don't like that fender individual sells each piece. The head, the cab, and the switch... Why wouldn't the switch come with the amp? I get letting you choose your own cab, but especially with the Blackstar and Fender, when they're designed to be together, sell them as so.
If my amp was stolen, there'd be blood shed. Really the absolute worst grievance is the speaker cables are a bit short. Really give it a shot. Go try one out now. GO! If you can't find one nearby to play, Zzounds let's you have like 30 days risk free to try it out, promise you won't return it.