Velcro cable holder
device (CD player, iPod, etc.) to jam along
with. The Emulated Output & Headphone
jack is another blessing for bedroom enthusiasts. This output will give you the sonic
qualities of a guitar cabinet at noiseless
levels—perfect for recording or practice
without rousing the neighbors.
With its handsome black vinyl and
chrome knobs, the Blackstar HT-5R will
be comfortable at both black-tie events
and roadhouse saloons. Weighing in at 27
pounds and burnished with some hefty corner brackets, this little beast looks and feels
rugged. But the sturdiness is more than skin
deep—the ECC83 and 12BH7 tubes, as well
as the rear panel controls, are all well recessed
and secure from jostling onstage or in transit.
You get the feeling that a lot of experienced
players had a hand in designing this amp.
I gave the Blackstar HT-5R a workout with
my Fender Stratocaster, and started out on
the more aggressive end of the amp’s tonal
spectrum. After dialing up some medium-high gain, adding a slight boost to the
Treble and ISF controls, and engaging the
4x12 cabinet emulation, I was treated to
a whiplash tone with a nasty bite that was
more than a little reminiscent of an early
Marshall. The meaty tube crunch remained
true and intact, even at lower volume levels,
thanks in no small part to the push-pull
design Blackstar implemented for the power
section. And even the quietest levels, my
Strat’s single-coils breathed with life I sometimes don’t hear from much larger heads.
Turning off the 4x12 cabinet emulation
guided the tone into a rich and darker
zone. A counterclockwise tweak of the
ISF knob and drop in the gain yielded the
smoky sounds of Americana and Chess-style electric blues. There’s real weight to
the low end that doesn’t suffer from the
amp’s small size, and the very responsive
EQ knobs are more than capable of adding midrange heft and genuinely cutting
trebles when you need them.
With a Les Paul in hand, the Overdrive
channel off, and the Volume knob cranked
to maximum, the channel exhibited a sweet
combination of break-up and bark. The
darker humbuckers sounded a bit loose and
rubbery with the amp’s Tone knob set lower,
but higher settings brought out the Gibson’s
capacity for beautiful and crisp harmonics.
The Blackstar’s reverb is responsive and
lends a lot of flexibility to this amp. It has a
wide arc and a basic character that is brighter than, say, a classic Fender reverb. But it’s
not at all harsh or “digital.” At the highest
settings, there’s a slightly aggressive slapback
quality in the echo that may be too much
for anyone other than experimentalists or
surf and psychobilly pickers. But in general,
the reverb is perfectly suited to the entire
range of the amp’s voices.
The Blackstar HT-5R is a uniquely crafted
amplifier that’s at home onstage, in studios
of every type and—provided you don’t
work with an aspiring Led Zeppelin rhythm
section—the practice space, as well. With
a responsive EQ, a wide range of clean-to-
high-gain voices, and a booming reverb,
this little black box is well suited for record-
ing artists and bedroom pickers who are
looking for more refinement and warmth
than you get from a budget practice amp.
At about $450, this little guy may be more
than the average picker can justify for an
amp that probably isn’t powerful enough
for many gigging situations. But for home
pickers who consider tone paramount, this
little Blackstar does a lot for the price.
you’re looking for genuine valve
tone in a small package.
you need super-sharp cleans
at higher volume or the horsepower
to gig with a rock combo.
or use a mobile device to download
audio clips of the amp at