Price paid: $ 499
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Sound — 7
I primarily play blues, classic rock, hard rock & metal. I typically play in D# or drop C#.
I've played 2 guitars through this. The first is a PRS CE-22 with Dragon II pickups. I played it through both humbuckers as well as with coil split and various combinations thereof. The second guitar is a PRS Modern Eagle Quatro with 53/10 pickups - hotter than the Dragon IIs, but with a more Vintage tone.
These guitars go through a TC Electronic Polytune, to a Dunlop Wah-Wah and into the front of the amp. In the effects loop I have a TC Electronic Nova System and Boss Loop Station.
The head is plugged into an Avatar Premium 212 with Celestion Greenbacks. I did not try this through my 212 with V30 clones although in retrospect I should have (read on for more on this). The clean is what shines the most. It makes a pretty sparkly clean and can get pretty spanky too. The headroom I wished for with the HT-5 is found here and I would be surprised if anyone other than a Fender (or boutique) purist didn't like this clean. The lead channel did not inspire me like the HT-5 did. Whereas the HT-5 sounded crisp and clean the HT-20 sounds a bit dull & lackluster. The note separation is good compared to other amps in the price range.
It's hard to tell if the distastefulness in tone might have something to do with the Greenbacks as well as the amp. They have such a Vintage sound, I thought they'd kill with the HT-20. Sadly, that didn't happen for me.
You can get some very good, solid distortion from this amp. There isn't much you couldn't play with this - yes if you want extreme metal you're going to need a pedal, but I think that's the case (and understood) for most every amp out there. But comparatively speaking, there's not many amps I've played that can compete with what Blackstar has done with gain/distortion. It's not the brootz, but it is significant. You can also roll off the guitar volume and clean the amp up quite nicely. And for a $500 amp head, I think that says something. So I can play a chunky rhythm section with the volume rolled off a bit and then a searing lead part just by cranking the volume on my axe. Similarly I can go from sparkly cleans to a gritty growl when playing blues.
I worked with the EQ, volume, gain and master repeatedly and could not get a crisp lead tone out of this amp. And while I'm grading it relatively low, I wouldn't say it's bad. I prefer the distinction of notes this Blackstar provides over the fizzy sound other amps in this price range offer - even if they sound more crisp.
Overall Impression — 7
This amp is a good match for the type of music I play. It's catered toward rock/hard rock but plays blues very well - as well as metal. I've only been playing seriously for 2-3 years. During that time I've owned 7 amps (2 SS, 2 hybrid & 3 tube). A more expert player could probably coax a better tone from this amp - and possibly just switching to a cabinet with V30s in it might do the trick.
If it were lost or stolen I would find a different amp. Most likely I'd look toward Blackstar's higher end stuff - or possibly their HT-40/HT-60 (as I've seen first hand that each amp is different. This isn't just an HT-5 with more power, it's a completely different amp. I assume all of their other amps would be the same.
I really wanted to love this amp. Instead, I just like it. If I had to play through this amp from this day forward it'd be fine. But knowing I have a choice, I'll be looking for something different. It should be said though that the HT-20 provides a good point of reference to compare other amps. The separation of notes, ability to clean up with guitar volume, channel switching, effects loop, etc. Are all good. Listening to other amps you'll see characteristics better or worse with the Blackstar.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I never gigged with it but I was planning on it. I've never had backup equipment (other than guitars) so don't really have a frame of reference otherwise. I can say none of my Blackstar amps have broken down or needed servicing. I've bought new as well as used.
Features — 9
Having loved the HT-5H I was very excited to try the HT-20H, so bought it. I received it the first week of June, 2011. It was made the same year, in Korea.
* 20 Watt valve head
* 2xECC83, 2xEL34
* Two footswitchable channels
* Enhanced tone controls
* Patented Infinite Shape Feature (ISF)
* Master volume
* Digital reverb
* Speaker emulated output
* Effects loop
* 1-way footswitch included
* Cool Vintage styling
As for features, it's all but perfect for me. I need 2 channels, check. I need an effects loop, check. I need an amp that is civil at bedroom levels but can also be gigged, check. The only thing lacking in my mind is a Standby switch. It hasn't been a problem, so maybe I'm nit picking here, but I'm use to having that on an amp. The digital reverb is better than I expected it to be. It's digital (I'm assuming for cost-savings reasons) but it actually sounds really good. I consider this the pleasant surprise of the amp.
ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) is an interactive control that allows you to adjust the response of the tone control network between any of the traditional voicings. In this way you can design your own sound and truly find the sound in your head. Full left is very USA (Mesa), full right is very European (Marshall).
One thing that was poor on the HT-5H was the length of the footswitch cable (very short). The one included with the HT-20H is much longer and could be used in a stage setting. That being said, I removed the cable replacing it with a 1/4" jack and velcro'd it to my pedal board. This mod is a must on the HT-5, not so much on the HT-20. Luckily it's probably the cheapest mod in history - and only takes a few minutes, so I did it anyway. It also came with a cord for a speaker cabinet which I thought was a nice touch. They didn't need to include that, but did.