Price paid: $ 699
Purchased from: Sweetwater
Sound — 9
My only electric guitar at the moment is an Epiphone G400 Custom, with a DiMarzio Steve's Special in the bridge, GFS Fat PAT in the middle, and DiMarzio Humbucker From Hell in the neck. The versatility of those 3 pickups in one guitar through this amp can get me any humbucker sound I could ever want. Even some single coil-esque sounds with the humbucker from hell. Whatever style of music I feel like playing at a given moment, this amp handles it with a little tweaking. The tone controls are straightforward, but incredibly well voiced. The clean channel has 2 modes: a "boutique" mode that's warm and sweet and breaks up nicely at higher volumes, and "modern" mode that's brighter with a little more focused low end and a lot more headroom. This channel has a single tone control, but it stays musical whether it's all the way up or down, or anywhere in between, while still providing a nice variety of tonal possibilities. The Drive channel is where this amp shines in my opinion. The 2 modes for this channel are: "classic" mode that is very warm with a slightly spongy bottom end, and a nice round sounding top end, and "modern" mode that is higher in gain and much more aggressive sounding, with a much firmer bottom end and a high end that cuts like nobody's business. I use the modern mode exclusively when using the Drive channel. The Drive channel is incredibly vocal. Even in the more aggressive modern mode playing high gain modern music, it has a musical midrange that is very "cocked-wah" sounding, especially for lead playing. For rhythm playing, the vocal quality is still there, but it doesn't muddy up even the most aggressive high gain chugging. I typically set the gain just shy of 9 oclock, with the channel volume at about noon. This gets me a good base dirty tone with just enough gain, and I use a Hardwire CM-2 as a boost when I want to get into real high gain territory. This combination makes for a beast of a go-to distortion sound. It sounds absolutely fantastic. With the channel volume as high as I set it, most master volume amps would have to be pretty damn loud to sound their best, but the master volume circuit on this amp is very... Transparent. Of course, there is nothing like cranking it up and getting some power tube breakup, but even at bedroom levels it retains it's attack and bite that many master volumes take away. The Drive channel is clearly the best part of the amp, but the clean channel is no slouch either. It may not be a Vintage Deluxe Reverb, but it sounds damn good.
Overall Impression — 9
As I said before, I play a pretty wide variety of music styles, and this handles all of them well, many of them exceptionally. I've been playing for about 3 years, and this is by far (for me) the best amp in it's price range. I tried out roughly 10-12 different amps in this price range, and kept coming back to this one. At one point I considered getting a Carvin V3M for the versatility of having 3 distinct channels, but to be honest it just didn't sound as good as the Blackstar. Blackstar's clean channel is very solid, and it's Drive channel is stellar. I use some pretty standard effects (delay, chorus, wah, vibe, TS style OD (as a boost), reverb) but the core of my sound is this amp, and very little would make me happier with it. The constant shuffling happening on my pedalboard is another story, but I've found the amp that's right for me. There's no way I'm ever going to lose this amp but if it were stolen, may God have mercy on the poor, poor soul who chose to take it because I sure as hell won't.
Reliability & Durability — 9
I haven't gigged with this amp, but I have no doubt it would be an outstanding live performer. Obviously a backup would always be ideal for a live situation, but with this amp it would basically by a formality. This thing is a workhorse. I've had the map for about 4 months and put probably 2-3 hours of play time on it per day, virtually always pushing it hard enough to compete with a drummer, and have never had a single problem. The footswitch is sturdy and feels like it could withstand years of enthusiastic stomping without missing a beat.
Features — 9
Made in 2011, in Korea I believe. 40 watt 1x12 combo (Celestion Seventy 80 speaker), 2 12AX7's, 2 EL34's, 2 footswitchable channels with 2 modes in each channel, series effects loop, footswitchable digital (don't be fooled by the D-word!) reverb and a speaker emulated output. I play a reasonably wide variety of styles. Classic rock, 60s/70s blues/rock stuff, early progressive type stuff (Pink Floyd, Yes, etc), modern alternative type stuff (Coheed And Cambria, A.F.I., etc), metalcore type stuff (Underoath, As I Lay Dying, etc), a little post rock from time to time (Explosions In The Sky, This Will Destroy You, etc), and assorted random stuff that strikes my fancy. This amp excels at most styles, and I've yet to find a style this amp can't do at least moderately well in the 4ish months I've had it. At 40 watts it's just right in my opinion in terms of power. Small enough to turn up a little in a practice situation without killing anyone, and more than enough power to drown out even the loudest drummer. Any more power would be unnecessary and at times inconvenient. I'd give it an 8.5 for this section, and the only improvements that would be beneficial would be more tone controls for the clean channel. Don't get me wrong though, the clean channel is more than a 1 trick pony.