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This article was originally published in issue #2
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Review of Blackstar HT-1R Combo Amp -
The Blackstar HT-1R is aimed largely at practice or home recording. It's a one Watt tube amp that comes in head or combo form, with or without an onboard reverb, sharing the bloodline with the hugely successful HT-5. Like most of Blackstar's products, it looks damn cool, which isn't a high priority for some, I know, but it is nice fact. It makes you want to plug-in and check out if the beauty is just skin deep.
As it turns out, you'll be glad to know the beauty goes very deep, because this twin channel Blackstar sounds very tasty indeed. The first thing you notice is how respectably loud it is. I've played through 15 Watt tranny amps that aren't as loud as this! It gives a nice touch sensitive depth of sound too, both on the clean channel, and the dirty channel. I tend to look for how an amp reacts when I work the guitar's volume pot and pick up selector, and this thing does indeed tick all the boxes.
The layout is simplicity itself. You have a single input, then just three controls for Gain, Volume and EQ - this latter being the HT-1's 'secret weapon' - Blackstar's cool 'infinite shape feature' which gives you a lot of variation to the overall voicing and EQ. Though the amp actually uses one ECC83 an one ECC82 valves in a push-pull amp design, turning this pot takes changes the sound from a sort-of American 6L6 tube sound, to a more British EL34 sound. That's what they Blackstar say anyway, but I'd say just treat it as a fine-tune to the tone you are after, depending on pick ups, guitar, wind direction etc.
The model we were sent came with onboard reverb, which lends a certain something behind your sound, although if you overdo it, you do end-up sounding like you're playing in your luxury tiled bathroom.
Obviously, what guitar you play, what pick ups you use, how you hit the strings, are all factors on how this amp, or any amp is going to sound. But I would gladly turn-up at a recording session with this little Blackstar and a few core effects pedals, knowing I could cover most of the tones needed. Although there is no effects loop, there is the option to come out of the speaker emulated line out, into your modulation, delay and reverb pedals, which could split your signal left and right, then go straight into the desk. For added tone, you could then stick a mike on the 8 inch speaker, and blend a mono track into the centre of your left-right wet signal. Instant huge tone, everybody is happy, you get paid, and booked by the studio to come back next week for the metal-funk-reggae-jazz-pop boy/girl flavour of the week signing that will be in recording their new timeless hit song that will inspire generations to come! And all because you had your one Watt Blackstar!
This amp retails for about the same price as a boutique stomp box and is great value for money. The guitar I'm using in our video, is my 1989 Valley Arts custom pro, which is loaded with its original EMG pick ups. But I know I could take any of my guitars, play through the HT-1 and it would deliver great guitar sounds that inspire and, therefore, make you play better. Because it's valve, it would also react nicely to pushing the front end (although you don't need to) with your favourite compressors and overdrives - which teaches you how to manipulate tone at bedroom volumes, before you hit the stage with your 100 Watt amp of doom!
It's a great amp at a great price and it's great fun!