I bought one of these little boxes 6 weeks ago so thought I would share my thoughts.
They're widely available and £199 seems to be the 'take it or leave it' price Reason for Purchase?
I wanted a tiny valve-amp for use when visiting
the in-laws for extended periods. Over the years I've owned countless Pods, Boss's, Zooms
etc and, since getting a 'real' amp I've become something of an analogue snob on the
guitar front. I still use Guitar Rig for weirder stuff but I like a plain, simple valve
amp and the good things that such a beast will do.
When travelling, I wanted
something that would sound great and fit in the car with 3 other people and stuff for the
week. This little thing fits in just fine and so its main feature for me was 'size'. In
this respect it delivers exactly what is needed - it's tiny.... about a foot square and 7
inches deep is the grand total and it weighs next to nothing. I figured that it would
also be useful as A.N. Other flavour for home recording but really if it sounded half
decent at the size then I was sold. And sold I was Features
This amp has a gain and master volume and an
'overdrive select' button to crank things up a notch. I have the 'R' version and the
reverb control is a simple 'more or less' knob with no other tweaks possible. We then
have the EQ section, such as it is.... This is labled both EQ and ISF standing for
Blackstar's 'Infinite Shape Feature'. This is the knob that supposedly flavours the amp
in a British or US direction or anywhere in between depending upon its setting.
All of this plays through a built-in 8 inch speaker but you have a 'speaker out' which
claims to be happy driving anything from a 4 to a 16 ohm speaker cab. I've tried it with
my 8 ohm 1x12 and it does a fine job.
Finally, we have a 'headphone / emulated
output' for silent recording or practice and we have an MP3 input for jam tracks.Build Quality
Played at 2/3 volume and above, there was a fair bit of
rattle / distortion going on when I first got the amp. And not in a good way! I'd played
one in the shop and this brand new boxed one had a bit of vibration going on that
shouldn't have been present. The shop suspected microphonic valves and swapped them (this
improved matters, one was indeed a tad microphonic) but there was still a wee bit of
rattle going on....
I took the back off and discovered that all 4 speaker lugs
needed about another 3/4 turn to be tight - this cheered things up considerably.... It's
a tiny enclosure and the back of the cabinet is just a metal plate with the circuit board
mounted on it. The valves are actually mounted into sockets direct onto the PCB and are
not far away from the back of the speaker. Make of this what you will.....
After a couple of weeks, I actually replaced the stock speaker - a £10 clearance
bargain Celestion. Rattle gone at all but the craziest cranking and generally a much
nicer sounding amp IMO!Sounds
Considering its size, there
are some fantastic sounds to be had out of this little box. I actually prefer the clean
channel which is only really clean up to about 1/2 way. From noon onwards gain-wise, it
goes into a lovely breakup which will bring a smile to most people's faces. It really
does punch above its weight. Between the gain and master volume there are loads of 'sweet
spots' to be found and you'll be kept very busy finding all the fun sounds here.
The ISF knob does make an impressive difference BUT I do miss having a traditional 3 way
tone stack here.... Yes, you can get some fabulous sounds using what you have plus of
course your guitar volume / tone knob but there are many situations where you just know
you could do a little better if you had those dials. My favourite guitar is a Godin LGX
where I've fitted some Bulldog scatterwound pickups. These are very bright, clear pickups
that sound blindingly good through my main amp but do need just a touch of tweaking with
the tonestack to dial them in. I can't quite get them to shine through the HT-1 in the
same way as the guitar tone control is not quite flexible enough to get me where I want to
be. Other guitars with rather cheaper pickups sound just fine throught it though!
The built in 8" speaker is never going to give you any serious 'thump' but overall
it's a loud little thing. A touch shrill when cranked all the way but what do you expect
from an 8" effort?
The emulated out gives a passable sound quality straight to disk.
I really wish this was just a 'line out' as their are plenty of high-quality cabinet
impulses out there these days. Blackstar should consider a switch on their amps to turn
the cabinet emulation on or off - I accept that it's a great idea for live sound but in a
studio you can do better if you use impulses - being robbed of the opportunity to do so is
rather a shame.
Squirted into my 1x12, this little thing is a lot more fun -
you can get some fabulous sounds out of it and some of the toppy nature tails off so the
lack of a traditional tonestack becomes less of an issue. Conclusion
For the job it's paid to do by me (a travel amp) it is absolutely perfect - it
sounds great for its size, it's perfectly loud enough without being too crazy and it has
Were this my only
amp for home studio use I would find it
lacking - there are some fabulous tones in there but the lack of a traditional tonestack
makes it too limiting to cope with all guitars and all situations. Don't get me wrong -
it's very good at what it does but if you need something to cover as many bases as
possible then this isn't it. Obviously Blackstar's HT-5 does a similar job to this but in
a bigger box with the missing tonestack I'm bemoaning, but for my purposes that box was
So if your needs match mine there's a good chance this little box
will make you happy - I love it. But be aware of what it doesn't do before you part with
your cash - spending more doesn't just get you a few extra watts, it gets you loads of
extra flexibility and once you get up to the £300 - £350 range there are loads of
different low-watt amps to look at these days.