Price paid: $ 450
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Sound — 6
I play the HT-5 with a Strat and a C1-EX. It handles everything the guitars can do without trouble, responding well to changes in volume, pickup selections, and pick dynamics. The clean channel is just a good clean channel with no hiss or hum. I'm pretty underwhelmed. Honestly it's no better than what you'll find in good modeling amps at half the price. The louder you play it the better it sounds, but it sounds great without getting annoyingly loud. The HT-5 has a lot of gain to offer, but it isn't responsive enough. At the low end it's finicky and getting a good sound can take a while. At the high end it's not much better; there's little difference between three o'clock and cranked. For rock that fits in between those extremes its great, but the extremes need smoothing out. The real problem is that the volume of the overdrive channel seems completely disconnected from the soft clean channel. It only sounds great if you turn the volume up, but that point is well beyond apartment/parent friendly. It also makes it hard to match a high-gain sound to the clean channel; I'm finding that I rely on a pedal for that. If you can't play loud, this isn't a good amp for you. It needs an attenuator just for the overdrive channel. There's also a headphone jack/emulated line out, this is the amp's big loser. Plug in a pair of quality headphones and it sounds like garbage. Everything you don't want comes out; humming, hissing, crackling, all cold and sterile. The sound is just as bad if I try using it through the line-in on my Mac or even just plugging it right into my sound system. Oddly, all of that goes away when I play it through a pair of $25 Sony headphones. It sees like nobody at Blackstar thought to test the HT-5 with headphones people who like sound might own. The cabinets sound great. The ten-inch closed back speakers hit a sweet spot between just enough bass response and too muchliving up to the low-volume, great sound promise.
Overall Impression — 7
I play mix of music and the versatility of the amp lends itself to that. But I do feel that the amp was very overrated, and I may return it or sell it and just go back to playing with a Valvetronix amp. It's also important to note that while the tonal range of Blackstar's ISF feature is nice on clean channels it can't compare to a good modeling amp. It it were stolen I would just cash the insurance check and buy a VT50. Blackstar's claims that this amp gives big-amp, high-gain sound at low volumes is rubbish; they should mail a free attenuator to everybody who fell for that line.
Reliability & Durability — 6
Everything is very well constructed and should age well. I was a little disturbed when one of my two cabinets had a bad speaker out of the box. Every connection was good and nothing was loose or torn, so clearly it was not tested at the factory. Blackstar's response to this problem was to ignore my request for support. That is probably because Blackstar does not have warranty service outside the UK, but an email acknowledging it would have been nice. Fortunately Guitar Center replaced it, but be aware that if you are outside of the UK and your Blackstar fails, you are on your own. Blackstar should at least have some kind of FAQ or host a support forum if it can't offer international service, especially with the huge number of dealers it has in the USA.
Features — 9
This amp was made in Korea in 2009. A three band EQ and the ISF sound tweaking feature are just sensitive enough to do a lot but not sensitive enough that it's hard to find a setting. It has a clean channel, and overdrive channel, and effects loop. It needs an attenuator to reign in the overdrive channel. There is a headphone jack with 1x12 or 4x12 emulation. Come with a footswitch.