Price paid: $ 99
Purchased from: Guitar Center
Features — 9
A new amp from Blackstar. Just released this year (2014). It is a 10 watt amp. There is also a 20 watt and 40 watt version. This amp is a sort of modeling amp, but not exactly. Whereas modeling amps try to capture the particular sound of one or more specific amplifiers, Blackstar seems to have made an amplifier that can mimic certain aspects of well-known amplifiers, while maintaining it's own identity, sound-wise. The amp is outfitted with 2 5-watt, 3-inch speakers. They are in stereo. Blackstar advertises it as "super-wide" stereo. More on that in a bit.
Interestingly, and importantly, I think, the speakers are full-range speakers, not just your typical guitar speakers. This is nice because there is a stereo analog audio in, so when you play your ipod through it, it sounds really good. There is also, of course, a stereo headphone out. There are six amp channels. Warm clean, Bright Clean, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD1, OD2. There is a Gain knob, a Volume knob, and an ISF (British/American sound profile) knob. The ISF knob switches the sound profile between a tight, mid/treble forward "American" sound profile and a woody, bass forward "British" sound profile.
There are also 3 buttons for effects. One is for reverb, one is for delay, and one is for modulation effects.
There is a selector knob that switches between 4 different effects (and their respective depths) for each effect category:
- Reverb: 1) room 2) hall 3) spring 4) plate
- Delay: 1) linear 2) analogue 3) tape 4) multi
- Modulation: 1) phaser 2) flanger 3) chorus 4) tremolo
There is a level knob that allows you to set the level (depth) of each effect, independently. There is a Tap button that allows you to set the rate of modulation and delay effects, also independent of each other. There is a "Manual" button, which allows you to switch between presets and a what-you-see-is-what-you-get control scheme.
As a final feature - one which is curiously not mentioned on the paperwork that the amp comes with, nor is printed on the box - there is a built in tuner. You have to hold the Manual and Tap button down simultaneously for about two seconds and then the amp enters tuner mode. The 3 effects buttons serve and an indicator. When the middle "Dly" (delay) button turns green without the other two buttons showing red, the string is at pitch. I found this out through the users manual, which is available for download on Blackstar's web site. Blackstar also has free software available for download which allows you to create and edit patches that can be sent to the amp via USB.
The bottom line here is that you can choose between 6 amp types, control the gain level of each, as well as master volume, select the level of British or American sound profile that pleases you, and then put 3 effects on at the same time while controlling the depth, level, and rate (where applicable) of each. That's about as many features as you can pack into a practice amp. However, it doesn't have stompbox modeling, like the Peavey Vypyr series. And it doesn't really have the carefully modeled sounds of the Fender Mustang series of amps. It does, however, have stereo, which I will discuss in the Sound section.
Sound — 9
I have never liked modeling amplifiers. They usually sound a bit funny to me. The Mustang series has some good amp models, but they just don't sound quite right to me. The Peavey Vypyr amps have some interesting sounds, but they do not sound like anything you would hear in real life. I did not go into Guitar Center looking for an amp. I went in looking to get a resonator guitar. I found myself walking out with this Blackstar ID:Core 10, having traded in a Vox VR30R amplifier that I rather liked. It just happened that the trade value of the amp perfectly covered the cost of the Blackstar.
Why did I do it? Because I have never heard a practice amp sound like this. Now I have to say: the amp channels themselves are not very special, to my ears. The higher distortion settings get a bit fizzy/buzzy if the gain knob is cranked too high. Also, the sounds can get a bit treble-heavy, particularly if the ISF knob is turned to the American sound profile. The sounds can get a bit harsh and brittle.
However, with a little thought and some careful tweaking, you can get a good amp sound. Again, if you are looking to get the perfect '65 Bassman sound, you will likely be disappointed. You can get something similar, but the amp maintains its own identity. It is not a Fender, it is not a Marshall. It is a Blackstar that just wants to be able to play with the big boys. It would be helpful to think of the different amp channels, not as individual amp models, but as different gain stages of the same amplifier. But that still doesn't answer the question of why I decided to make the trade.
What ultimately sold me was the stereo sound. I saw the "super-wide stereo" blurb on the box. I thought it was just a gimmick. The sales rep for Blackstar just happened to come in to the store at the time and said I should try it because the stereo effects are really top-notch. I figured that that's exactly what he's paid to say, but I wanted to try it nonetheless. It was impressive.
Set correctly, the amp effects sound truly huge. Standing in front of the amp, the sound at times seemed to come from the side and even from behind me. The delay seems to bounce off of invisible walls. The reverb goes from a slight shimmer to a cavernous echo, depending on the type chosen and the levels you set it at. You can set the delay to a sort of '50s slapback echo, throw on some plate reverb, and add tremolo or chorus. It sounds crazy. The slapback echo seems to be coming from everywhere.
If you set the reverb up really high on the Hall setting and then toss in some multi-tap delay at a healthy depth, it starts to sound like you're in a high-domed basilica or something. The echos from the multi delay keep repeating and seem to flow outward, like a river. Again, for such a small amplifier to be able to create such a large illusion was something that impressed me greatly.
It is my belief that Blackstar did a very smart thing by using the full range speakers instead of typical guitar speakers. While the full range speakers may be to blame for some of the "harshness" that sometimes comes with the high gain settings, I believe that they also are the reason for the brilliance of the spatial effects. Because the full range speakers are so efficient and provide greater clarity, the stereo effect is possibly heightened as a result. Also, they provide more volume that a 10 watt solid state amp should be able to give. Of course, I could also be completely wrong. So... there's that.
Bottom line: If you are looking for a modeling amp, this might practice amp might be a bit disappointing to you. The amp sounds it has are decent on their own merit, but they are not accurate models of sought-after amplifiers from the past and present; and I don't think they're meant to be. But you should still give it a try at the store just to hear the stereo effects. Maybe you won't be as impressed with them as I was, but man, I was really impressed. That's why I got it.
My score here takes into account my idea that this is not supposed to be a true modeling amplifier. That is to say: I am not deducting points because it doesn't sound like a late '60s Plexi and a 2010 Krankenstein, and a '59 Champ, and an '87 JCM, and a... etc.
Reliability & Durability — 6
This is a lightweight amp that is made mostly of plastic and some sort of cheap wood-like material. It wasn't made to be a road-warrior. However, you could gig with it if you used the right mic-ing techniques. Just don't play too roughly with it. My main concern is the durability of the digital/computer components. While digital amps are great for getting a lot of sound packed into tight real-estate, they are often not very reliable over the long haul. Here's hoping that Blackstar did their due diligence and made some components that won't burn out within 5 years.
I know I have to give a score here, but it seems weird to do so, especially since durability can only be measured in hindsight. So the score for this section is really just my best guess.
Overall Impression — 8
I play a lot of different styles of music, but mostly jazz-influenced blues/rock. I have been playing for nearly 20 years now. I'm 35. I play a Squier '51, modded with a Fender Vintage noiseless pickup in the neck position. I also play a First Act VW Garage Master with a Seymour Duncan '59 in the bridge and a DragonFire Rails humbucker in the neck. As you can probably tell from my gear, I am not a working musician. I'm just a hobbyist. But I have spent a lot of time with this hobby. I do know at least a little of what I'm talking about. Where practice amplifiers are concerned, I really haven't seen another amp that has impressed me like this tiny little Blackstar has. I have heard that the Yamaha THR is a really good amp, but I haven't even been able to see one in a store, much less play one.
The ID:Core 10 is fine for me, right now. It has some useful, but not amazing amp tones. It has some amazing stereo effects. If it were lost or stolen, I would probably try to get another. I can't think of a practice amp that has the same stereo capability of this box for $99. That's a good value. I would never have believed that such a small piece of gear could fill a room like this little guy does. If you like to record at home without getting the cops called on you, I would advise you to go to a music shop and try out one of these to see if it will work for you.