HT 20H Studio review by Blackstar

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  • Sound: 7
  • Overall Impression: 7
  • Reliability & Durability: 9
  • Features: 9
  • Reviewer's score: 8 Superb
  • Users' score: 9.5 (11 votes)
Blackstar: HT 20H Studio
1

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.

Specs:
* 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.

25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    TextOnTheScreen
    Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    Higher wattage isn't always better. Some people prefer using lower wattage amps, and they'll pay more for better construction and tonal definition/ease-of-use.
    deletedacct123
    i just picked this up today. the cleans are amazing - pristine with plenty of headroom but will break up if you want it to. The distortion channel sounds great too, great definition and no fuzz at all. like the reviewer said, an OD in front of it gets you some lacking palmmuted chug. as for the 20 watts, i cant forsee a problem there . any place too big for this amp would have you miced. Its plenty loud.
    bezza63
    Nice, realistic review. I have one of these and it's currently up for sale. The reason is that although it's a capable allrounder, it's really nothing special: I'd call it safe but bland. It does tick all the boxes - twin channel, effects loop, loud enough for small gigs (although clean headroom is limited) - but that's pretty much all. The acid test for me was playing it head-to-head against some classic amps: a JTM 45, a Dual Showman and my recently acquired Music Man RD 65. Conclusion, you can't beat a phenomal base sound, to which you can add whatever effects you get off on. OK, there's a big price difference on the Marshall and Fender, but you can still pick up an old Music Man for a similar price to the Blackstar - and you'll be in a totally different sound world. If you're really serious about tone, put this amp on the back burner before you check out some of the less trendy classic amps of the 70s and 80s.
    Ryan_Good1
    Nice detailed review. Nice read Also a somewhat realistic rating which is rare on this site. I am currently saving up for a Blackstar HT-40 so reading this was useful. Cheers
    WantsLesPaul
    I have had mine for almost 2 years now. Definitely sounds better with some quality pre and power amp tubes. Also, if you feel like the amp has too much gain, you can put some lower gain pre amp tubes in it, for example: a 5750 has about 30% less gain than a 12AX7, 12AT7 has 40% less and a 12AY7 has 55% less gain.
    richardlpalmer
    Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    The wattage of tube amps is sometimes deceptive. You might not think 20 watts is loud, but it can be significant. Honestly, 1 watt can get the neighbors complaining... But what I've observed is the tube amps I've played through sound 'better' cranked. Once the tubes are red hot and sizzling, they're in their element. But to do this you obviously need to have the volume very high. On a 100W head that's very uncomfortable while just practicing. Another thing to consider is even at clubs, bars & taverns these days, they don't want you to crank your 100W (or even 50W) amp. They want you to put a mic in front of your cab and run the volume through their board and PA. So you're once again in need of a lower wattage solution if you want the best tone. So on one hand you've got the need for playing a small non-PA'd gig (church, festival, carnival, school dance, etc.). On the other hand you've got clubs that require you to mic your cab and run through their PA. In both cases you'll want a lower wattage amp. But if you're doing a stadium or big festival (and they also don't have a big PA system) then knock yourself out with the 100W+ heads.
    Ubergrue
    richardlpalmer wrote: Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?The wattage of tube amps is sometimes deceptive. You might not think 20 watts is loud, but it can be significant. Honestly, 1 watt can get the neighbors complaining... But what I've observed is the tube amps I've played through sound 'better' cranked. Once the tubes are red hot and sizzling, they're in their element. But to do this you obviously need to have the volume very high. On a 100W head that's very uncomfortable while just practicing. Another thing to consider is even at clubs, bars & taverns these days, they don't want you to crank your 100W (or even 50W) amp. They want you to put a mic in front of your cab and run the volume through their board and PA. So you're once again in need of a lower wattage solution if you want the best tone. So on one hand you've got the need for playing a small non-PA'd gig (church, festival, carnival, school dance, etc.). On the other hand you've got clubs that require you to mic your cab and run through their PA. In both cases you'll want a lower wattage amp. But if you're doing a stadium or big festival (and they also don't have a big PA system) then knock yourself out with the 100W+ heads.
    Hey Richard, You seem to know a lot about tube amps and such. I'm gonna buy this Amp head(20 Watt studio) with their Blackstar 408 4X8 Cabinet. Together, would they be able to play small gigs? Like say, a High School Gym or a Church, or a bar? How would it do with practicing? And can you give me any opinions and/or advice? Thanks in advance for an answer.
    notryt
    yep the emulated output is also a headphone jack.. also own both a 5 and a 20 Both are completely different.. the ht-5 doesnt play cleanly.. breaks up at even 10 o'clock..but you can control the eq... the ht20 has a real nice clean but a lame 1 knob tone control.. It works but you get only what it wants you to have.. the 5 has a very good hi gain channel.. the 20's hi gain channel is darker than the 5 but if you use active pickups you wont have any muddiness at all.. I like the darker sound myself... I also have a tweaker 40 running thru 2x tweaker 112x cabs and you can get that setup really dark if you choose... far darker than you can get the ht20.. using an octaver it is actually bone rattling
    hungBunny
    Does anyone know if this model, or any of the other lower wattage Blackstones, has an output for headphones? I see that there is a speaker emulated output. Not sure if thismismthe same thing.
    richardlpalmer
    Ubergrue wrote: Thanks for the info man. I hear people around me, who've never even played this amp, tell me 20 Watts won't do anything. But all the pro's I've asked about it tell me otherwise. Good to hear this combo will suit me, And sure, give me a link to the classified
    Well, I'd hardly call myself a "pro", but if you're talking about SS (Solid State) amps, your friends might be right. In the realm of tube amps, 20 watts is a different animal.
    Ubergrue
    richardlpalmer wrote: Ubergrue wrote: Hey Richard, You seem to know a lot about tube amps and such. I'm gonna buy this Amp head(20 Watt studio) with their Blackstar 408 4X8 Cabinet. Together, would they be able to play small gigs? Like say, a High School Gym or a Church, or a bar? How would it do with practicing? And can you give me any opinions and/or advice? Thanks in advance for an answer.Absolutely, no questions asked. And to be honest, you might have to turn it down depending on the gig. Be sure to check out my ad in the Classifieds if you're looking for a good deal on an HT-20. I'm moving on to my next amp ASAP!
    Thanks for the info man. I hear people around me, who've never even played this amp, tell me 20 Watts won't do anything. But all the pro's I've asked about it tell me otherwise. Good to hear this combo will suit me, And sure, give me a link to the classified
    richardlpalmer
    Ubergrue wrote: Hey Richard, You seem to know a lot about tube amps and such. I'm gonna buy this Amp head(20 Watt studio) with their Blackstar 408 4X8 Cabinet. Together, would they be able to play small gigs? Like say, a High School Gym or a Church, or a bar? How would it do with practicing? And can you give me any opinions and/or advice? Thanks in advance for an answer.
    Absolutely, no questions asked. And to be honest, you might have to turn it down depending on the gig. Be sure to check out my ad in the Classifieds if you're looking for a good deal on an HT-20. I'm moving on to my next amp ASAP!
    richardlpalmer
    faulterPro wrote: I just bought the HT Stage 60w combo.. And I am constantly blown away by how good it sounds every time I play it!
    Yeah, the Stage 60 sounds REALLY good to my ears, too. Congrats on getting one!
    faulterPro
    I just bought the HT Stage 60w combo.. And I am constantly blown away by how good it sounds every time I play it!
    Most_Triumphant
    Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    20 Watts are plenty loud being 50% as loud as a 200watt. The rule is you divide by 10 or something like that. (amp wattage being a logarithmic scale) So 10 Watts is half the volume of a 100watt (which is still plenty loud).
    guy_tebache
    Nice review! I've been thinking about a Blackstar HT5 for a practice amp since my main amp is a 100W marshall. But After reading this I'm thinking maybe get this for practice, smaller gigs and maybe for something a bit different recording. You've given me something to think about...
    richardlpalmer
    guy_tebache wrote: Nice review! I've been thinking about a Blackstar HT5 for a practice amp since my main amp is a 100W marshall. But After reading this I'm thinking maybe get this for practice, smaller gigs and maybe for something a bit different recording. You've given me something to think about...
    I loved my HT-5, so kept it. It's plenty loud for practice & recording -- and realistically for smaller gigs. If you need it louder you can always mic it. But having come from a 100W head you'll almost immediately want more headroom (understandably).
    MaggaraMarine
    Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    This isn't even expensive. Valve King is one of the cheapest heads you can find. Check out some Mesas and tell me what is expensive. Because I think they all cost over $1000. And 20 watts is loud enough for almost everywhere. And if you are playing on larger stages you will have a better amp anyway because then you will have some money to spend.
    GizzardTheGreat
    About the pedal, what I meant is that if you have a really high wattage amp but can only play at a really low volume level you might as well use a pedal instead.
    GizzardTheGreat
    Basti95 wrote: Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    I'd also like to add that if you're using tube distortion it sounds much better when the volume is cranked-up, in fact you might even be better off using a pedal in this case. Lower wattage tube amps allow you to get good distortion and that nice "tube" sound at a much lower volume, without using a hot plate or dummy load or whatever.
    Basti95
    Sorry i don't know much about amp heads, but why would you pay that much for 20W? Surely you can find a 100W Valve King head for just a little more?
    richardlpalmer
    Thanks for the comments guys. From what I've personally heard, the HT-5, HT-20, HT-40 & HT-60 have different tonal qualities. I think the HT-5 & HT-60 sound the most alike -- although the volume is massively different.