Blackstar have come to prominence over the past few years with a slew of great sounding amps and pedals that are being used by some big name players. The HT Series of amps sees the company incorporating their highly regarded HT tube preamp pedals into amp form.
To date Blackstar have primarily made mid- to high-powered British flavoured amps, but with the HT 5R we see them venturing into small-amp territory, bridging the gap between feature-laden digital or semi-digital amps and the stripped down micro-tube amps of recent years.
Anatomy of the Blackstar HT-5R Combo
Geared towards recording and home practise, the HT-5R is a two channel 1×12, 5 watt combo, powered by a single 12BH7 pre-amp valve and an ECCB84 output valve. The Clean channel has two controls -Volume and Tone, while the Overdrive channel has Volume, Gain, Treble, Middle and Bass as well as Blackstar’s unique ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) which takes you from American voiced tones to British tones, and everywhere in-between.
It also features a global reverb, an FX send/return, a channel-switching footswitch, a mono or stereo speaker emulated line out–(for direct recording or headphones) with switchable 1×12 or 4×12 speaker cab emulation, and a stereo line in/MP3 input and stereo speaker out.
I first began exploring the clean channel with an old strat. The tone is lovely and musical, and particularly warm with an authoritative punch. At higher volumes this channel breaks up nicely for a ‘dirty clean’ sound, particularly nice with humbuckers. The single tone knob affects the whole tone, rather than just the treble. While this control brings out some sparkle at higher volumes, its tonal reach is diminished at bedroom volumes, limiting its usefulness somewhat.
The range of sounds available on the Overdrive channels is impressive. Overall it has a very forgiving, vintage flavour and ‘cranked amp’ harmonics but with tons of sizzling gain and clarity.The ISF is a handy tone-shaping tool. I favoured the US settings as they have seriously thumping lows for an amp of this size as well as sweeter mids, while the British side yields boxier lows and brittle highs, more suited to my Les Paul than anything else. The global hall-sounding reverb (which is stereo through the DI) also fits the available tones nicely, although higher settings may only appeal to surf-rockers. Another plus is that it made great friends with my pedalboard, massaging every effect with its sweet tone. The inclusion of a +4dB/-10dB switch on the FX loop is also welcome as some pedals don’t like line-level (-cough- Line 6 -cough-).
The Speaker-Emulated Output sounds surprisingly good through headphones but, strangely, this connection does not bypass the speaker, which seems to defeat the purpose a bit.
As far as its recording application is concerned, The HT 5 is fantastic. Like the HT pedals, the amp peaks at around 3kHz (depending on exact settings), which is great when recording with good quality mics, but can prove problematic when using cheaper and more modern mics, as they have a similar bump in this frequency range. That said, very little processing seems to be required to get it to sit in a full mix, with the amp’s clarity shining through.
I have to admit that while writing this review I doubted whether the HT would have enough power for use outside of recording and bedroom practice. But the little thing actually saved my skin at a recent gig at a mid-sized Cape Town club. My amp cut out in the middle of sound check and I had no choice but to use the HT entrusted to me for review (I would never do this under normal circumstances).
Not only did I cut through the other guitar, bass, drums and vocals, it sounded huge! It may not have enough headroom for some but for those who need a thick, clear, rocking tone for recording and small gigs, you really can’t go wrong with the Blackstar HT 5R.
Supplied by: Rockit Distribution
Tel: 021 511-1800
Suggested retail price: R 6,695.00 incl. VAT