HT 20 Studio review by Blackstar

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  • Sound: 9
  • Overall Impression: 9
  • Reliability & Durability: 8
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8.8 Superb
  • Users' score: 8.7 (19 votes)
Blackstar: HT 20 Studio
2

Price paid: $ 399.99

Purchased from: Manchester Music Mill

Sound — 9
Full disclosure: my main instrument is a MIM Fender 70s RI Stratocaster, and I play rock with alternative and pop leanings (no heavy stuff). The HT-20's clean sound is VERY clean, with a lot of headroom for a 20-watt amp. In my band, which gigs out playing both originals and covers, I've only had occasion to bring the volume up over the halfway point on one occasion, and at that point I can confidently say the HT-20 was not even close to breaking up. This could be considered both a positive and a negative thing, depending on whether or not you like a little grit in your first channel. I personally have mixed feelings about that, as I like to play right on the edge of breakup so that when I dig in with the pick, the amp responds with a bit of snarl; however, I will say that the clean channel on this amp sounds great, and I haven't really found myself missing that edge when playing live. The clean channel seemed really bright to me, almost Fender-y which is by no means a bad thing but I generally prefer a chimy Vox-type of sound with a little less snap to it. I was unable to turn the tone knob past the 9:00 point without the treble being physically uncomfortable for all in the room. However, I realized about two months into ownership that this could be caused by my Strat's bridge pickup, so in a sense the Blackstar prompted one of the better guitar-related moves I've ever made: swapping out the shrill stock bridge pup for a DiMarzio FS-1. This cut down the ice-picky high end, and the guitar sounds infinitely better through all of my other gear and amps now, too (although I still don't turn the tone knob past 12:00, but that's just personal preference at this point). The dirty channel is REALLY flexible as well. The three EQ knobs give you lots of tone-shaping options and I've spent a lot of time tweaking them as they're highly reactive. I would suggest anyone who isn't sure about the amp's sound invest the effort into getting to know their way around these controls. The gain knob is a real quandary; I saw another review that described the amount of nastiness that is on tap here as "a classic case of enough rope to hang yourself with," and that's exactly true. I'm reasonably sure you could play some form of metal with the HT-20. Since I don't, I often find that keeping the gain knob below the 11:00 setting yields everything from great, potent classic-rock overdrive to hotter modern rock sounds. Anything above that just sounds like too much, to my ears. I guess it's nice to have that flexibility. As stated above, the real trick here is the ISF knob. Now, I'm not sure I totally buy into the whole "American sound vs. British sound" that Blackstar is touting, as less-experienced players will probably not notice a world of difference between either end of the feature's spectrum. That said, it's a very subtle control which, when tweaked, really allows you to take that last step in sculpting your sound and getting it RIGHT where you want it. I don't know if I'd call it revolutionary technology, but damn if it ain't really useful! Finally, the digital reverb is okay; I don't use it much, personally, but it's got a pleasant enough sound. It's not overly extreme even at the highest setting, and while it doesn't sound like a spring tank or anything, adding a touch can take your sound from maybe a little thin to very lush indeed, even through the single Celestion speaker.

Overall Impression — 9
All in all, I would recommend the HT-20 Studio to any rock guitarist looking for an amp with the versatility to cover a lot of ground, while still retaining its own special something. It's nice to have an amplifier that can conjure sounds reminiscent of yesteryear but with enough flexibility to execute my own visions, especially considering I play both covers and originals. I haven't played every other amp in the HT-20's price range and power class, but I would strongly suggest you check one out if you're in the market for a 15 to 20-watt amp in the $400 to $600 range!

Reliability & Durability — 8
So this is an odd area: the HT-20 I now own is my second one. The first one was with me for less than a month. I had to return it because the volume kept cutting out on me for no real reason at all. The store where I purchased the amp has a terrific repair shop (one of the best in New England) so the owner had them look the amp over at no cost to me, since it was still under warranty; the techs found some shoddy soldering work somewhere in the chassis and they re-did it. Everything was great for a day or two, but then it was back to its old ways and I had to wash my hands with it. However, I was enjoying the sounds so much when it WAS working that I hesitantly agreed to accept an exchange for another new HT-20. Despite the above experience, I'm glad I did because my current amplifier is VERY sturdy. It's worked night after night for rehearsals and gigs and never given me ANY problems. So while I'm docking two points for the first experience, my guess is that it was something of a fluke as the second HT-20 seems so well assembled that I can only assume the first was a fluke.

Features — 9
I purchased this Blackstar HT-20 Studio 1x12 combo about six months ago and delayed writing a review of it until I'd spent some time with it. There's nothing worse than an evaluation from someone who got a new piece of gear the day before; they're so overwhelmed with excitement that they immediately ascribe the piece a five-star/10-out-of-10 rating but one has to wonder if theirs is an accurate opinion. By this point, I've gotten to know the amplifier in its stock configuration and I must say, it is truly impressive. This is a 20-watt combo with a single 12" Celestion speaker. It's powered by two ECC83 and two EL34 tubes. There are two channels, clean and drive, which can be changed via the included single-button footswitch (note: the cable on the stomper is a fixed length, but it's a pretty generous amount of rope). Each channel has its own volume and EQ knobs, and the dirty channel has a gain control. The downside of this configuration: the clean channel only has one control, labeled Tone, which makes for a somewhat limited amount of manipulation. The upside: the dirty channel has a 3-band EQ with High, Mid and Low knobs, which allows many more options in terms of sculpting the sound. There's also a built-in digital reverb with its own control, as well as a master volume knob. The real secret weapon with the HT-20, however, is the Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) knob. When dialed all the way to the left, one gets a more "American" sound with a tight bottom-end, a glassy high end and a sort of scooped-mids feel. With this knob turned all the way to the right, the character of the sound is more "British" with a looser bottom end, clangier, softer highs and a more pronounced midrange.

17 comments sorted by best / new / date

    BlackSabbathFTW
    the reviews here are getting annoying and completely pointless. It's either "this is amazing buy it" or "this blows and the whole company and all their products blow because of my encounter with this one piece of gear"
    ucmband
    For the record... we're playing everything from Haggard, to Kansas, to the BeeGees musically, and the little HT-20 did great on all the songs.
    ucmband
    I've had my HT-20 combo for a few weeks and I am very pleased. While it is not a vintage Fender, it is for the money, a very wonderful sounding amp, and as I was looking for cleans that lasted, it works great for me. I set the dirty channel for a nice bluesy crunch and it does great. If I want more dirt from either channel, I kick in my overdrive pedal. The reverb is decent, but nothing to brag about, or to complain about. I highly recommend the amp for exactly what it is. It is a great sounding amp that can hold its own on small to medium gigs if your band isn't trying to set new sound level records! I have received several compliments from other players who know what they're doing, and I like the sound a lot. Would I rather have my friends custom made amp... yep. Do I love my HT-20... yep.
    joedoggy1
    I use this amp as a recording amp for my small bedroom JoeDoggy Studio here in Maui..I live in a condo type setting and this amp works perfectly...the recording out sounds great..different guitarists can use the ISF and the EQs to get their sound.... the speaker that it came with did not spark me so I put in a V30...world of difference...Way better... Took the amp to a jam 2 guitarists,bass,drums...worked great..good comments on the tone in comparison to vintage Fenders... I call this the Poor Man's Mesa Boogie...not bad for the money..upgrade the speaker with V30 from Avatar Speakers--Hellatone 60...will make you much more happy...
    seanwyseman
    Reviewing a used amp that is not in perfect condition is really a disservice to most of us because we know the unit's not stock and therefore not at all the same. Sounds like the owner tried to modify it or perhaps a repair store stole the original speaker and put that piece of crap in it. Regardless I'm demoing the HT 20 right now against the PRS Archon 25. I'm just getting started so I don't have a lot to say yet except that both are pretty awesome from where I sit. I'll post more when I get further through the review but I'd gig either one of these amps without a second thought. So far the PRS seems to have a much tighter bottom but I just found out about the ISF feature in the above article so I'm going to try to get the bass as tight and dense as the PRS. Side by side the Blackstar at 1/2 the price of the PRS is looking pretty good. I could buy a nice pedal or two for the difference. But that's not a good enough reason to buy the Blackstar. I just need to justify the cost of the PRS (plus buying another reverb or using my Boss GT100 for verb and compression) The thing is I don't care so much about effects as long is the verb is not annoying I can usually get all I need from my fingers and volumes. I'm playing a PRS 245 SE which (swore I'd never buy an SE model. But I tried the guitar a couple weeks ago and it is every bit as nice as my loaded standard 24 (PRS) at five times the price. I didn't know that these Chinese versions actually have American PRS employees in China ensuring QC .)
    bezza63
    PS to that comment - have replaced this bland amp with an old Music Man RD 65: night and day. The MM sings, has masses of clean headroom, fabulous note separation and takes pedals amazingly. And you can still pick one up for the price of this amp, or even less. No-brainer.
    rexbass24
    I just started using the head version last night and I must say that it's terrible! No definition in notes, almost like the upper mids are boosted too hard. Can't get a decent sound out of this. Just sooo sooo muddy. No amount of EQ'ing can get rid of that cocked-wah sound. Even using an outboard eq.. you can't get rid of it. Really Blackstar? You couldn't realize how aweful this sounds?
    drnuke
    I traded a Fender Blues DeVille Reissue for the HT20, and am having some remorse. I wanted to downscale from 60 to 20 watts, but not lose all my tone. The Rocket 50 speaker is one of the worst I've used. Plugged in a V30 cab, a CL80 cab, and a Sheffield 1230 cab to test things. Yep, this amp could seriously use a better speaker. I'll hold off writing a real review until I've replaced the stock speaker.
    bezza63
    I don't get all the fuss about this amp. I bought one recently and the fxxking thing died on me completely within an hour of use! Fortunately only during band practice and not on stage. Currently waiting for Blackstar to answer my tech enquiry so will reserve judgement for now. However, having it bought it on the basis of the many rave reviews, here are a few observations: 1) it is not at all loud for a 20W all-valve combo and can barely keep up with our moderately loud drummer. An AC15 will blow it away. Had hoped for much more volume. Clean headroom is also limited, and starts to break up from 12 o'clock onwards, which is well short of even small gig volume. Distortion channel is smooth but a bit uninspiring. It's not Marshall and not Boogie - not too sure what it is, but it doesn't excite me. This amp is fine for home use, low-volume rehearsals or recording, but lacks the balls for any kind of gigging, unless you like running everything at 3 o'clock plus. Once I get the immediate problem fixed, it's going in the small ads. Don't like being let down by an amp and not enough sonic reason to keep it. Try before you buy!
    TT-B52
    Have any of you HT20 players tried the HT40 as well? On other sites with user reviews it seems the HT40 gets a bit higher rating, and any negatives don't sound like the same as those for the H20. Could there be that much difference between the 2 amps except for the power rating? One more thing, some have said that this amp really comes to life with new pre tubes, and/or a different (Celestion) speaker. But, the HT20 and HT40 are not that inexpensive for small tube amps, and if they really need new pre tubes and/or a new speaker, then to me that means the amps are over priced. A good Celestion will cost between $100-$150 depending on where you buy it from, and a good 12ax7 with cost about $20. That's about $120-$170 to get the amps to "great" or "excellent" level. The HT-20 goes for about $600 and the HT-40 for $700. So that moves the price to $720 and $870. I don't know if it's really worth it. Great amps, but expensive.
    LeifEricson
    I got mine for $499 new, and yeah, the Tubes probably cost me $50 on Ebay. The speaker sounds a lot better when it's worked in, but I get it.... they could have put a better one in. There's enough inputs on the back though, for a 2x12.... I think that would do well, with this amp. I don't really need anything louder, so I've not bothered.
    TT-B52
    Strange that the vast majority really like this amp or think it's very good, yet a small minority reviews almost sounds like someone has issues with Blackstar and it's products rather than the actual amp. I even noted some comments that serious players, or other players that are "...used to quality amps...' don't like Blackstar. Well, that sounds snobbish to me. It just doesn't seem possible that there are that many positive reviews on this amp, and Blackstar in general, and then negative reviews that seem right out of left field. It's almost as if the negative reviews didn't try the same amp, or that particular amp was defective.
    LeifEricson
    I have this amp. I thought it took a little time to get the settings where I wanted... and I did change out the tubes for some JJ's, and also the preamp tubes I switched to a very low gain tube. That makes the gain knob on the amp work a lot better, with more range. Once you get your sounds dialed in, this amp rocks. I don't use any pedals, just plug 'er in. Thie is the best "cheaper" amp I've used for the gain channel. The clean is acceptable, but I haven't really fooled with it either.
    LeifEricson
    If you're not using hotter pickups, the amp doesn't have the same oomph. I think that's the problem with some of the negs. about the amp. That's just a guess though, but one of my axes doesn't make it with this amp, cause the output is too low. You could fix that with a pedal, I would think.
    bezza63
    Depends on expectations, I guess. As a first tube amp, it could be impressive. If you've been round the block a few times, it's really not that special. I bought mine to try out for small gigs, where I could drive it a bit without deafening everyone. Problem is, it's not got the balls for even small gigs, and is always struggling for clean headroom. I find the overall sound is OK but a bit neutral. Seems nothing beats a good JTM or similar, with a couple of decent pedals. This amp certainly doesn't.
    waytooloud
    I gig with this amp (or my faithful old WEM Dominator) and it's perfectly loud enough for pubs/clubs/weddings. Not that keen on the overdrive channel though. The clean gain at about 3 o'clock suits me fine. I just stomp on my pedals for the extra beans. Bags of depth and character, and it's pretty sturdy. Picked mine up for 250 quid second hand. And no it's not been modded. Gibson LP Standard Marshall ED-1 EHX Big Muff Pi EHX Germanium OD