Blackstar Amplification HT Club 40 Review
Closer to the (Black) Stars
British amp and stompbox manufacturer Blackstar is known among guitar players for its Artisan Series of hand-wired amps that crunch, and its One Series, a line of hi-gain models for metal freaks. The brand is back this year with a new range of tube amps called HT Venue which ought to be less expensive but still versatile. We focus on the 40 watt combo.
This Series includes not less than six amps ranging from 20 to 100 watts including combos, amp heads and speaker cabinets. The model we review today is the HT Club 40, an all-tube, 40-watt combo sold for about $700.
Let's start by unpacking the amp...
The connections include a guitar input and three speaker outputs on the rear panel: one 16-ohm output for the internal or an external speaker, plus two additional speaker outputs for a pair of 16-ohm speakers (internal+external or a pair of external speakers) or a single 8-ohm speaker cabinet. Besides these connectors, you'll also find an input for the included footswitch (nice detail!) for channel selection and reverb activation. It also features an output with speaker simulation for direct connection to a mixer or a sound card. The sound of the speaker simulation is not the best but it adds versatility and it will certainly come in handy at times. The integrated digital reverb has a selector to choose between a bright and a warm/dark effect sound. The effect won't replace your stompbox or dedicated rack processor but it is more than enough for rehearsals.
Last but not least, a mono FX loop with a +4dBu/-10dBV switch will allow you to connect external effect units to the amp.
Let's take a look at the preamp settings.
The amp's special features are the Voice switches on each channel and the famous Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) control inherited from the Blackstar One Series.
The ISF control is a feature on certain Blackstar amps (including the HT Club 40) that allows you to shape the response of the lead channel EQ. In practice, and according to the manufacturer, it allows you to go from a typical American sound with precise lows and aggressive mids to a less aggressive and woodier British sound. From a technical point of view, the ISF changes the frequencies affected by the EQ, especially the mids. The effect is clearly audible when you turn down the mid control, in which case it allows you to radically change the response of the amp. The advantage of the ISF being a rotary knob is that you can sweep across the whole spectrum, in other words you can get a hybrid sound somewhere between American and British.
So the amp provides you with six basic sounds plus all variations in between. In practice, the result is...
We tested the Blackstar with the internal speaker and with a Two Notes Torpedo in order to check the amp with different amps and mics. All three guitars used for the recordings have quite different sound characters, so we had the chance to hear how the amp reproduces the sound of each instrument. We used a Gibson Les Paul Studio, a Gretsch G5129 with TV Jones Magna'Tron pickups and a Squier Telecaster Custom from the Classic Vibe Series, which has also been reviewed on Audiofanzine. The output power is quite high, loud enough for rehearsals and even small gigs in bars and small clubs.
Unsurprisingly, some of the different voicings produce a Marshall-like sound on both channels (clean and lead). However, the ISF allows you to radically change the sound color of the amp, extending the sound range considerably. Voicing 1 on the clean channel sounds very vintage, while voicing 2 is much more modern and clearer. ISF changes the EQ frequencies and, thus, has a strong influence on the mid range, as you can hear on the sound sample recorded with the Les Paul.
Sound samples using the Les Paul:
The amp is very versatile and the only reproach we have is the small lack of personality, especially on the clean channel. We do miss a 3-band EQ on this channel and even an ISF control. Everything else is very good, especially considering the price (about $700) for a 40-watt, all-tube combo.