You are here

Blackstar Amped 2 & Amped 3

Amp Sim Pedals With Power Amps By Dave Lockwood
Published July 2023

Blackstar Amped 2 & Amped 3

These two stompbox amps may look superficially the same and do have quite a lot in common, but each one seems to have been optimised for a different type of user.

Just as I was finishing my review of Blackstar’s Amped 2, the Amped 3 arrived. Both are products of their Dept. 10 division, and are digital guitar‑amp simulation floor units, with integrated 100W Class‑D power amps. The primary differentiation between them is that Amped 2 (the red one) includes a number of effects, but has no preset save/recall facility, whilst Amped 3 has no effects apart from reverb, but will allow you to store a favourite setup of clean, crunch and lead channels on board. Both, however, can access Blackstar’s free Mac OS/Windows Architect software, and this allows you to select and fine‑tune a whole range of CabRig speaker and mic simulations that can be output instead of, or as well as, the real‑speaker signal from the power amp. You can also take the speaker‑sim output directly from the onboard USB‑C connection.

Both units therefore span a whole range of uses, from feeding a real speaker on stage, either miked up or sending a speaker‑emulated DI signal to front‑of house, through to silent recording in the studio using just the USB‑C digital output straight into your DAW without even needing an audio interface.

Whilst the tone creation is all DSP, the Class‑D power amp is a current‑feedback design with a low speaker‑damping factor, rather like a real valve/tube output stage, giving it some of the resonance and character of the latter when connected to a real guitar cab. It certainly works: it feels very responsive whilst delivering its full 100W into either an 8Ω or 16Ω load, and with a choice of power scaling down to 20W or even just 1W. If I’ve learned anything from these devices, it’s that Class‑D power amps don’t have to be the noisy, hissy beasts that they so often are, and that just 1W into an efficient speaker can be very loud; I’ve done gigs where using any amount of gain with the 1W setting would have had FOH asking me to turn down! The amps are fan‑cooled, and the fan runs all the time, but it is decently quiet and not really too intrusive, even when used on a desktop for direct recording.

In addition to the power scaling, both units offer a choice of simulated output tube responses: the 6L6 used by Fender and many USA makers, the EL34 most readily associated with Marshall, and the EL84 historically associated with Vox in the UK, but it’s also favoured now by many boutique makers in the USA. These certainly provide audible differences, with the 6L6 sounding wide‑band and balanced, the EL34 having plenty of rich midrange, and the EL84 offering chime when clean and getting some chewy‑edged compression when driven harder.

Amped 2

Although it is the model with the effects on board, the Amped 2 is conceptually the simpler of the two models: whatever you dial up with the top‑panel controls and switches is what you are going to hear. The Amplifier section has a switchable choice of basic amp type: ‘USA’ or clean Fender‑ish; ‘UK’, which is Vox‑ish; and ‘Classic’, which sounds rather like a hot‑rodded Marshall. A standard Gain and Master setup allows you to balance out sensitivity and output volume. On its own, I found the USA‑clean perhaps a little too clean, even at maximum gain, and found some warmer clean tones in the heavier drive channels with the gain backed off and the guitar volume turned down a little. A bit of drive and boost from a classic, old Fulldrive pedal into the clean channel, however, seemed to do exactly what I’ve always found it to do with clean Fender amps, so maybe that is just accurate modelling! Both Amped models seem to take pedals very well, even overdrive pedals that rely mainly on raising the input level. The Bass, Middle and Treble tone stage does what you’d expect, with plenty of range and a familiar degree of interactivity. The operation of the tone controls also seems to have been tweaked to work most effectively with each of the different amp voicings. I am not sure if that extends to circuit‑correct positioning of the tone stack earlier for the Fender‑type voicing and later for the more Marshall‑like voicing, but the EQ always seems to be able to do what you want.

The effects divide into Drive, Modulation, Delay and Reverb sections, with each having a dedicated footswitch. Drive gives you a pre‑selectable choice of Boost, Drive and Fuzz, with Drive, Tone and Level controls replicating what you’d find on most pedals. Similarly, the Modulation section offers a choice of Chorus/Flanger, Tremolo and Phaser, governed by Time, Depth and Level controls. No surprises in the Delay section: a choice of Linear, Analogue and Shimmer. Well, some surprise: will ‘Shimmer’ still be an effect everyone wants this time next year? I guess we’ll find out. Delay controls are Time, Feedback and Level, which brings us to the Reverb section, with just Time and Level controlling a choice of Room, Spring and Plate simulations. The Delay section also has a Tap Tempo footswitch, which doubles as a Shift function: press and hold and you can adjust the ‘hidden’ Presence control using the Treble knob, aided by a small numerical screen readout. Make a mental note of your Treble setting before you do so, however, as it’ll probably end up in a different place after you’ve used it to tweak the Presence. The little screen is also used as a display for the onboard chromatic tuner, activated by pressing the Reverb and Delay footswitches at the same time. Now, I have size 11 feet, but there is no way I can press both of these at once without contriving to come at them from the side, which is not a particularly elegant on‑stage look for something that you might be doing rather a lot — in the kind of gigs I do, at least, I’ll activate a tuner more often than any other single effect. Surely this would be better done with a simple press‑and‑hold on, say, the Reverb footswitch?

Of course, there’s a good reason why Blackstar haven’t done that: the Reverb, Delay and Modulation footswitches all already have secondary press‑and‑hold functions, activating a sort of Freeze or Emphasis effect that creates a greater effect intensity until you release the switch. It certainly works to give you a bit of extra expressive control, but I can’t say that I would use it often enough in a performance to not prefer the greater functionality of easier access to the tuner. The Drive footswitch doesn’t have a secondary function: how about putting it there with a firmware update?

The Architect software offers much more detailed control over your tone than you get from the hardware controls.The Architect software offers much more detailed control over your tone than you get from the hardware controls.

Architect Software

The Architect software gives you a number of tweaks that aren’t on the front panel: reverb tone can be adjusted to taste and saved to the unit, and delay can be set up to be before or after the amp stage. You can also use it to set up and store three different CabRig virtual cab and mic combinations within the unit itself, selectable from a hardware back‑panel switch. This can be used to give you options in a live sound setting: select a 4x12 if you are going to be using mainly the Classic amp, or 1x12 combo‑type speaker if you are going for a clean Fender type vibe, or perhaps three slight variations of the same cab and mic setup, to allow you to adapt to the environment.

In a studio setting, where it’s easy to access the Architect software permanently, you can dial up any cab you want from the wide range on offer at any time. Very nice they are, too, enhanced by a choice of several different types of room ambience, if you want, which helps make everything feel a bit more real. The CabRig speaker emulations are described as being “next‑generation DSP‑based”, rather than just impulse responses.

The ‘next‑generation’ DSP‑powered virtual speaker cabinets are a real selling point.The ‘next‑generation’ DSP‑powered virtual speaker cabinets are a real selling point.

The Amped 2 and 3 models both feature an effects loop, hardware switchable for +4dBu or ‑10dBV operation, allowing it to match pedal effects or ‘pro‑level’ rack gear. Using the Architect software, the loop can also be set to series mode, with the dry signal also passing through the loop, or parallel, with the external processor sending an ‘effect‑only’ signal back into the return, for mixing with the internal dry path. To further aid pedal usage with these, you also have a pair of 9V DC outputs with a total of 500mA current capacity shared across both outputs.

There’s also a MIDI input and thru connection on both models, courtesy of a pair of supplied mini‑TRS to female cable‑mount MIDI sockets. For a while, this had me looking for a way to save whole setups, for recall via an external MIDI Program Change message, even if you can’t do that from the unit itself, but that’s not how Amped 2 works. Instead, you can access more or less anything via MIDI Continuous Controller data. If you’ve got something in your rig that will allow you to send user‑set CC numbers from a pedal, for example, you could have real‑time control of your delay mix, or input gain. You can even access the channel voice setting and the ‘virtual tube type’ via MIDI. This level of deep controllability does seem slightly at odds with a product that otherwise seems like the perfect ‘grab and go’ all‑in‑one amp and effects unit. Especially one without preset recall and therefore probably aimed at the kind of player who is going to dial in their favourite virtual amp setting for the gig and work with it just as they would with a real tube amp. I know that’s how I’d use this rig, because I am that kind of player. Still, I’d hesitate to criticise any maker for offering too much facility, even if I can’t see it being used much!

The two devices have identical rear panels. Though necessary, the cooling fan is quiet enough that it’s not problematic even for desktop recording.The two devices have identical rear panels. Though necessary, the cooling fan is quiet enough that it’s not problematic even for desktop recording.

Amped 3

If you set Amped 3 to Manual mode you’ve got, more or less, an Amped 2 but with none of the effects except reverb. You’ve still got a footswitchable Boost facility, selectable to go before the amp stage, giving up to 12dB of extra drive, or after, allowing you to boost the actual output level by 6dB; and you’ve also got a physical (no shifted‑function access) Presence control. Bass, Middle and Treble controls here are augmented by Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature (ISF). This re‑voices the tone stack to be a bit more British, with a warmer, looser midrange emphasis; or a bit more American, so tighter, faster and with a bit more top and bottom, in very general terms. ISF actually works really well at allowing you to quickly get the basic character you are seeking, before fine‑tuning using the tone controls, or vice versa. A single Reverb control can be switched to Dark or Light from the hardware, but there are more parameters available in Architect.

It’s the same power amp in both models, so you’ve got the same 100W, 20W and 1W power scaling, and the same virtual 6L6, EL34 and EL84 voicings, but this one has a whole other mode of operation in the form of Patch mode. The three footswitches labelled Clean, Crunch and Overdrive probably tell you exactly what’s going on here, and operation in Patch mode couldn’t be simpler. Just choose a channel, dial up the settings for the sound you want and press and hold the footswitch until the LED blinks. Select the next channel and repeat. Commendably obvious and with no need to involve the software app, although of course you can if you want to access something beyond the hardware controls. Step on a different channel switch for instant recall of its stored sound. The controls won’t now represent the actual settings, but you can still find their stored values: rotate any of them and look for the little Recall Indicator LED in the top corner to briefly flash. That’s where the knob was set. Of course, if you are in the studio and connected to the app, you’ll see an accurate graphic depiction of the knob positions as used by the saved preset, and they’ll update on screen as you move them or change presets.

The EQ presets for different virtual mic types seem to have been very nicely judged.The EQ presets for different virtual mic types seem to have been very nicely judged.Clean has a choice of Warm or Bright; Crunch has... Crunch and Super Crunch; and Overdrive has OD1 and OD2 variants. Like the Amped 2 model, the Clean channel stays fairly clean at all settings, although you can push it into something a bit richer‑sounding with lots of pre‑boost, while Super Crunch gives you a lot of scope in the mid‑gain channel: certainly enough to be an alternate lead channel. But the Overdrive channel, especially in OD‑1 mode, now that’s a real star! Blackstar say this is one of the highest‑gain circuits they’ve ever developed and I daresay it is, but it is also much more than that. This is a channel that cleans up surprisingly well when you back off the guitar’s volume control, giving you a whole range of nuanced tones between warm semi‑clean, and searing, effortless lead tones, with everything in between, just from your pick/fingers and volume setting. Very articulate and one of the sweetest high‑gain sounds I’ve heard coming from something that some people might hesitate to call ‘a real amp’.

Of course, it is a real amp, as much as anything else these days, and I was using a real speaker, but the real surprise was finding I could match the sound, and perhaps even exceed it, using the virtual cab and mic combinations in the Architect software. These are seriously good, with a considerable amount of useful variety of choice available, and go a long way towards making these pedals the versatile, multi‑use all‑rounders they are — studio centrepiece, ‘fly‑rig’ lightweight amp, compact backup rig, and more. The XLR output is mono (usually preferred by FOH operators) whilst a stereo version is available via the TRS jack output, which allows to you retain the stereo element in the nice room simulations. Should you be unsure which virtual cab to commit to, there’s a virtual DI box option to use instead of a cab, and that would allow you to use third‑party IRs.

Whilst you are limited to saving three favourite virtual cab setups and three amp‑channel presets to the hardware, there’s no limit to how many of your own setups you can save in the Architect software. You’ll also find a useful collection of Blackstar’s own presets there that make great starting points while you get familiar with the software. And don’t overlook the EQ presets; somebody with a very good ear has tuned those to really get the best out of the different virtual mic types.

The amp modelling of the high‑gain sounds is as good as anything I’ve heard, and the power amp works better than any other Class‑D I’ve experienced.

The Last Word?

It’s not uncommon for products designed to cover a lot of bases at the same time to fail to be exceptional at any one of them, but that’s very much not the case here. The amp modelling of the high‑gain sounds is as good as anything I’ve heard, and the power amp works better than any other Class‑D I’ve experienced into a real speaker. It’s quite difficult to know exactly what qualities the actual power‑amp stage is bringing to the output when the modelled power‑amp response, so convincing both in sound and feel, that you hear when you are using the CabRig output is still in play when you are using a real speaker. In the final analysis it doesn’t matter: both real and virtual cabs work very well. Just don’t try to monitor them both at the same time, as they aren’t time‑aligned. A real cab behind you on stage with a CabRig feed to FOH won’t be a problem, but if you are recording both streams, make sure it is to separate tracks so you can align the waveforms. Not that I think you’d benefit much from using both. I quite often preferred the CabRig version to my own miking!

Whilst the amp modelling is generally very good, I found some of the effects slightly underwhelming. They are certainly adequate for live use, however, which is probably the only context in which they would be used, and there are always pedals and the effects loop for when you want something special or specific. Self‑noise (as opposed to noise picked up by the guitar) is remarkably low considering the amount of gain on offer, and latency, at around 2.5ms input to output, is imperceptible to me. With so much gain on tap in the Amped 3’s Overdrive channel, there is a fair bit of intermodulation distortion, but it is the sort you can ‘play with’ if you know how to use it — playing high‑string fourths will give you an octave below the upper note, for example — and mostly just adds to the impression of having a thunderously loud quad box behind you.

Blackstar don’t seem to have gone down the Universal Audio route of modelling every last quirk and detail of specific examples of amplifiers in their Amped range, but rather to have sought to create classic sounds and behaviours that any tube‑amp fan would recognise and be able to work with. Personally, I appreciate that both approaches exist, and whilst I love my UA pedals for what they do, there are also times when the Blackstar approach wins out. Blackstar’s Amped 2 and 3 models are sure to appeal to anyone looking for something equally at home on stage and in the studio, but the fact that they are still a serious contender for anyone looking to cover just one of those roles means the Blackstar team have done a great job here.

Multi‑channel USB audio

Another view of the Mac/Windows Architect control utility, revealing more of the parameters that can be tweaked and saved to the pedal as presets.Another view of the Mac/Windows Architect control utility, revealing more of the parameters that can be tweaked and saved to the pedal as presets.

The USB‑C connection offers four independent, simultaneous outputs and a stereo return, making it very easy to keep all your post‑production options in play by recording separate processed and clean (straight from the guitar) versions of your performance on their own channels. Output channels 1 and 2 carry the CabRig left and right channels with power‑amp, speaker cab and mic emulation, as well as any room simulation selected, with the signal taken post‑Master volume control. Channel 3 has the sound of the preamp voices and EQ, taken before the reverb and without any speaker emulation so it can be paired with power‑amp/cabinet emulation plug‑ins within your recording software/DAW. Channel 4 features the direct signal from the guitar, unaffected by any of the controls or processing, ready for reamping use. The two channels coming back from the computer carry the software’s left and right outputs for monitoring via the XLR (mono) or line out (stereo) CabRig outputs.


There aren’t that many similar amp sims with built‑in power amps that I can immediately call to mind: the BluGuitar Amp 1 variants have an analogue preamp and a nano‑tube power stage, the Victory pedals have a tube preamp, and the H&K AmpMan is all analogue, so maybe Blackstar have this particular niche all to themselves.

Audio Examples

One of the things I like about the amp modelling in Blackstar’s Amped 2 and 3 is their response to guitar volume-control settings. In this audio example, I’m using the super-gainy Overdrive channel of Amped 3 (set to OD1 mode), with gain at 75 percent, but can still get a cleaner, warm neck pickup sound for the octave phrases with the guitar volume under halfway. At about 48 seconds I flip to the bridge pickup and start to dig in a bit harder, and somewhere after about 1.20 I wind up the guitar volume to 10 to get maximum sustain for the long notes.

The guitar used is a stock Telecaster — you’d need a lower gain setting with humbuckers — and I’m using a direct recording, with the Architect software’s 4x12 Classic UK, ‘miked’ with a C414 on-axis and using the Condenser 414 EQ preset. The reverb is the Medium Room undamped, in mono, as I just used the XLR output.

Amped 3 is running in its EL84 mode here, which keeps it fairly ‘gnarly’ when I dig in. It would be smoother with the 6L6 setting and a little more mid-pushed with the EL34.

Amped 2 plays the backing chordal part, using the clean channel in 6L6 mode, with a little push from the clean boost and a hint of chorus. Again, direct and in mono, using a 2x12 virtual cab.


  • High‑quality amp modelling.
  • Very ruggedly built.
  • Built‑in power amp works well.
  • CabRig offers great DI recording tones or FOfeed.
  • Can be used as an audio interface.
  • An amp‑like response to drive pedals.


  • No smartphone version of Architect software.
  • Amped 3 lacks a tuner.
  • Amped 2’s onboard drive pedals are a little limited.


A choice of two great all‑rounders, whether you want a single amp with effects, or a channel switcher. Ideal for a compact lightweight stage amp, or a studio DI solution... or both.


Amped 2 £539, Amped 3 £499. Prices include VAT.

Amped 2 $649. Amped 3 $599.

Sweetwater Affiliate logo 14px