Despite saying I'd had enough of gigging, selling my Mesa and getting a pipe and slippers, I seem to be playing out again and need something that can compete with the drums. I'm playing in a variety of bands, from country and folk rock in pubs and small halls to wedding standards in marquees and larger halls, so I need something versatile. And light. My Mesa 2x12 broke my back.
So I went for the ID60TVP combo. I read Paul's review of the ID30, tried one in the shop and took a punt.
For details on the technology read Paul's review here. Briefly, the ID series are digital guitar amps with a twist - rather than provide sampled or DSP amp models, they gives you 6 preamp voicings from clean to heavy overdrive, then a choice of power stage valve emulations. The preamp stage has input gain and output volume controls, and there is a master volume control after the power valve stage. It doesn't quite work exactly like a valve amp - for example if you choose an overdriven preamp voicing the gain control has no effect, but it's pretty intuitive and you soon get used to it.
For tone shaping you have a three band EQ (as opposed to the two band on the ID30 front panel) plus the Infinite Shape Feature' that claims to morph the tone from 'American' to 'British', rounded off by a Resonance control for cabinet thump, and Presence for bite.
The effects section contains individually switchable modulation, delay and reverb. Each has four modes (for example reverb modes include room, hall, spring and plate) and two parameters that can be changed (for Reverb this would be 'size' and level).
Most of the above can be configured and stored in patch locations accessed either from the front panel or from the optional foot controller. There is a limit of 12 patches via the front panel, and 128 using the foot controller.
The overall volume is set with a Master level control.
The ID60 has a single 12 inch speaker, and a 2x12 version is also available.
Blackstar also provides an optional 4 button foot controller which connects to the amp with a standard guitar lead. It feels pretty solid and looks like it will be up to live use.
Ins and Outs
On the front panel there is the guitar input jack and a mini-USB socket for connecting to a computer. This allows you to use the downloadable software to edit patches, configure the amp and update firmware.
The USB connection can be configured as an output for direct digital recording at 48K using standard Windows or Mac drivers, and additionally can be used to receive guitar signal from the computer for re-amping. The recording works fine but I haven't tried re-amping yet.
Round the back there are a number of plastic quarter inch TRS sockets (unlike the ID30 which has minijacks). These are for 'emulated out' (configurable either as stereo out or dual mono, left being the unprocessed input guitar signal and right being the 'amplified' signal), stereo line in for playing mp3s for practice, and the footswitch jack socket. There is also a MIDI connection - sorry can't tell you much about that! Note that the processed signal on the emulated output has speaker emulation applied.
The line in/emulated out connections can also be configured to act as a standard effects loop so you can use your favourite effects.
Finally there is speaker output jack for external cabinets, minimum 4 ohm.
The amp has two main modes - manual and patch. In manual mode it behaves pretty much like a normal amp, the positions of the front panel knobs reflect the amp settings. In patch mode this is not the case, and changing knob position does not necessarily change the setting. In this mode to find out what (say) the mid EQ setting is you have to rotate the appropriate knob until an LED flashes to indicate that that is the current setting, and then from that point on the knob is ‘active’ and can be used to control the amp. Sounds more complicated than it is in practice. Saving and recalling patches from the front panel is obvious and intuitive.
The effects can be individually switched on or off, or selected for editing. Once an effect is in edit mode the ‘type’ knob controls which flavour of the effect you are using (e.g. room, hall, spring, plate) plus the first parameter (e.g. ‘size’ for reverb), then the ‘level’ knob controls the wet/dry mix. Quite simplistic with few options for tweakability but in practice this has hasn’t been a problem so far.
The optional 4 button foot controller has three modes, Patch, Effect and Nav. Patch mode allows switching between channels one to four in the current Bank. Effect mode either allows switching on or off of the effects, or switching into Tap mode for tap-tempoing delay and modulation effects. Nav mode allows switching between Banks and recalling and storing patches. All of the buttons have different functions when you hold them down, e.g. holding down button 4 in Patch mode switches on the tuner.
What does it sound like? Well I tried it in the shop and I bought there and then it so it can’t be bad. I can get pretty close to my Mesa tones or my son’s Hot Rod Deluxe without too much effort. There is plenty of tonal variation and the effects are good enough for the kind of gigging I’m doing. With the right settings you can get decent clean volume, which dirties up nicely as you wind up the guitar volume. I like playing through it and unlike some other amps I’ve used I don’t spend a lot of time looking for a good sound. The emulated output sounds like all line out recording does to me – a bit ‘hard’. But it’s good enough for demos and if you have to record silently it’s not the worst option out there.
The only slight niggle I have is there seems to a slight delay in switching channels. I haven’t checked to see if it’s just on certain sounds, but definitely there if you switch from clean to overdriven.
I initially had problems installing the Insider software on Windows 7, very quickly diagnosed and sorted by Blackstar. Once it’s running, there’s not much to say, all pretty straightforward and obvious.
Plus points - sound quality and versatility, weight, volume, ease of use, Insider software, audio routing, support.
Minus points - plastic jack sockets, delay in patch switching, limited to 48K recording, a bag for the foot controller would have been nice!
Anyone want to buy a Blackstar HT-5C? ;)
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Blackstar ID60TVP guitar combo
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