Back in SOS October 2023 we ran a review of Blackstar’s St James Plugin, which included both EL34 and 6L6 variants of the amp along with a library of virtual stompbox effects and alternative cabinet/miking options based on Blackstar’s CabRig technology. As a quick refresher, these amp models are not slavish recreations of their St James amplifiers but, rather, have been optimised to perform at their best in a plug‑in environment — that said, they do capture the essential character of those amplifiers. Similarly CabRig is not an IR snapshot‑based cabinet emulation, but rather a modelled solution that reacts dynamically.
These new releases, which are available separately, are essentially stripped-back versions of the original Blackstar St James Plugin. They incorporate the exact same amp models, but offer no stomp effects and your cabinet and miking options are much more limited, the only options being to switch the mics on‑ or off‑axis and adjust levels and pans. Each amplifier, which also includes reverb and essentially three voicings, can feed two cabinets. Tabs allow the amp and cabinet sections to be bypassed individually, which means you can use the amp with third‑party cab simulation plug‑ins or you can use its cab simulation with other amp plug‑ins. The noise gate of the original plug‑in is retained, as is the tuner.
As I observed in my review of the original, the sound, sense of low‑end weight and touch responsiveness of these amplifiers is impressive, between them covering a lot of tonal ground, from clean, via a mildly driven bluesy sound, right up to fairly aggressive rock. The EL34 version is particularly satisfying if blues and classic rock are your go‑to genres, whereas the 6L6 has a more focused edge that works well with super‑clean sounds or, at the other extreme in conjunction with your favourite dirt pedal, metal and heavy rock. Both amps pair well with drive pedals, and as most of us have access to delay, reverb and modulation effects, adding further treatments shouldn’t be a problem.
Despite the more limited miking options, I didn’t feel the urge to seek out alternative cabinet arrangements — the curated options (1x12 and 2x12 for the EL34, 2x12 and 4x12 for the 6L6) seem well chosen, with one cab delivering the weight and the other the bite, so there’s a lot of tonal scope simply by adjusting the balance of the two. If that isn’t enough, you can always add some parametric equalisation from one of your existing EQ plug‑ins.
The sense of low‑end weight combined with biting but never‑too‑gritty highs really impressed.
As with the ‘full fat’ version, these two plug‑ins had me really enjoying the playing experience and also the immediacy with which I could dial in the sounds I wanted. In particular, the sense of low‑end weight combined with biting but never‑too‑gritty highs really impressed. The two power‑tube variants cover the ground that you might expect Marshall and Fender to occupy and, as I commented in the original review, I found more to like here than in many of the competing products that offer you dozens of amplifiers and a whole store full of pedals.
If you have a clear preference for one of the amp types and you feel you have your effects bases well enough covered already, then this option to purchase the amps individually is very attractive. However, if you want both, then the full St James suite is the way to go — you get all those extra cabs and a set of pedals for around the same price as buying both amps separately.