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This article was originally published in issue #16
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Blackstar's HT-5R isn't just an HT-5 'now with added reverb'. In fact the company has taken the opportunity to tweak quite a lot with this newcomer. Michael Casswell takes a look.
Two of Blackstar's biggest sellers for the past few years have been the company's little five Watt HT-5 heads and combos - and with good reason: they offer professional tone and features for a very reasonable outlay. In fact some retailers say they have been their biggest selling small combos of all, so clearly the Blackstar team got a lot right with the original 5HT design. In fact, I reviewed an HT-5 combo for Guitar Interactive a year ago, and the HT-5R we have here to look at is the new and improved version. This latest offering comes with a 'push pull' power amp, a dedicated tone control on the clean channel, a 12 inch Blackbird 50 speaker mounted in an open back cab, a stereo mp3 line in input and a digital reverb, hence the 'R' on HT-5R. These are just the new and tweaked parts of the amp. Other features include a speaker emulated out for direct recording and monitoring, which is switchable between a 1x12 or 4x12 voicing, a headphone out which is also speaker emulated, a footswitchable (included) two channels, a series effects loop and a single ECC83 producing five Watts of power. I am not sure I can think of another amp that has all these features and actually has a great usable tone. There probably is one out there somewhere, but I bet it can't match the HT-5R in terms of its value for money.
The word 'value' attached to a product can sometimes imply sub-standard build quality and reliability problems, but I haven't heard any bad things about this particular range from Blackstar, and we have had the original HT-5 at the Guitar Interactive studios, for anyone to use, for a long while now and it has been as good as gold.
You get footswitchable clean and dirty channels, which are both well voiced (what's particularly good is that the footswitch is included in the already reasonable price). The clean channel just has a single tone control, which is fine because it does the job well, making things lighter or darker sounding to taste. The dirty channel really shines for me. It delivers bags of big fat gain that still keeps its definition when full up, and also sounds great backed off a bit, so that you can push the front of the amp with any overdrive pedal you may have in the cupboard. If fact this would be great for getting your sound together with any effects pedals you might have, because it's easier to refine your tone with a five Watt amp at home than it is with the 50 or 100 Watt amp you have for your gigs. So you could sort your volume pedal, reverbs, delays, compressors, overdrives and chorus on this amp, knowing that it won't be completely different at stage volumes on your bigger tube amp. Or you could simply plug in and play because this amp does sound great straight out of the box!
Other obvious applications would be home recording set ups and simply having a great sounding practice amp down by your favourite comfy practice chair. Five watts will be more than loud enough at home, and if it is too loud, it does have a master volume pot so you could simply just turn it down. I know Blackstar does a one Watt amp, which also sounds great, but I personally would buy the 5 Watt for the bigger stadium gigs in your living room.
The onboard reverb sounds OK - I wouldn't say more than that. It doesn't rock my world, but adjusting it so that you feel it rather than hear it is always a good way to go when it comes to onboard amp verbs. All Blackstars have the Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) which is a pot on the amp that changes the overall voicing from British to American sounding and everywhere in between. It's a big claim, but it does give the possibility of refining your basic bass, mid, treble eq, and certainly adds something to the overall sound. I also really like the fact that the 12" speaker is in an open back cab. All my cabs. and even my 4x12, are open back, which makes the sound at volume less directional and generally bigger. Whether or not that transfers to a five Watt combo, I don't know, but in theory it's a nice touch. The amp only weighs 27 Ibs, making it great for giving it to your girlfriend to carry on her back when you need it moving.
Overall this is a great product from Blackstar. If you need portable, comprehensive and good, then this is it. I quite fancy one myself.