Review Blackstar HT-5R 5-Watt

Overview:

Blackstar’s all-tube HT-5R is the compact combo amp you need when you want to get killer guitar tones in the studio. This amazing little combo combines an all-tube 5-watt guitar amplifier with a custom-designed 12″ Blackbird 50 speaker, allowing you to get high-gain tone without frying your eardrums. The HT-5R also lets you dial in a range of great tones, thanks to Blackstar’s stellar ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) tone-shaping control, which takes you from glassy cleans to down-and-dirty crunch, and everything in between. A handy onboard effects loop (complete with an effects level switch) lets you add your own effects into the signal path. Plus, an onboard speaker-emulated output makes it easy to record killer amp tones straight from the Blackstar HT-5R.

Back in the mid-2000s, Marshall R&D employees Ian Robinson and Bruce Keir founded Blackstar Amplification as a vehicle for their own design notions. Since then, the company has enjoyed an admirable run of success. Thanks to a line that ranges from the HT stompbox series to Artisan series handwired amps and the thunderous Series One amps, Blackstar quickly found fans among everyday guitarists and marquee players like Ozzy Osbourne axeman Gus G., Neal Schon, and such Britpop and New Wave stalwarts as Echo and the Bunnymen’s Will Sergeant, Ocean Colour Scene, and Paul Weller sidekick Steve Craddock.

Though the company’s highest-profile amps to date have primarily been mid- to high-power amps with a distinctly British flavor, Blackstar has more recently ventured into small-amp territory to give low-watt-loving studio artists and bedroom players access to Blackstar tones. The HT-5R combo is among the newest of these smaller offerings. Featuring a very cool stereo digital reverb, the amp uses a single ECC83 tube to produce 5 watts of output power.

The HT-5R’s main controls are mounted on the top panel. Its two channels, which are selectable via the footswitch or the overdrive switch on the control panel, give you the ability to conjure everything from snappy cleans to churning growls. The Clean channel has just one Tone knob that gives you everything from mellow warm tones to a brighter sparkle when cranked in the clockwise direction.

The Overdrive channel has a Gain and Volume knob. The latter acts as a master volume, adjusting the overall output of the amplifier. The Gain knob increases the crunch of the overdrive, which is capable of everything from near-breakup to a wild, hairy distortion. The Overdrive channel has an expanded EQ with Bass, Middle, and Treble knobs. There’s also Blackstar’s signature ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control, which is also found on select HT pedals and on most Blackstar amps. ISF lets you blend characteristics typical of American and English amplifiers. A counterclockwise turn emphasizes American-flavored rock tones—bass-heavy with exaggerated mids. A clockwise turn summons a more Brit-hued jangle. The reverb, meanwhile, ranges from the subtlest color to dramatic washes.

The rear panel of the HT-5R is home to some unexpected surprises. Aside from an Effects Loop, Blackstar includes a Cabinet Select feature, which can toggle between the 12″ Blackbird 50 speaker in the amp’s open-back cabinet, or an emulattion of a 4×12 closed-back cabinet. Engaging the 4×12 gives a tighter response to the output, which does sound remarkably close to the character of a larger cabinet, albeit on a much smaller scale.

You’ll also find a 1/4″ MP3/Line Input that allows you to hook up a portable audio 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.


Blackstar HT-5R Tube Amplifier Head Features:

5-watt tube head
1 x ECC83 and 1 x 12BH7 tubes
12″ Blackbird 50 custom-designed speaker
Unique push-pull power amp design
HT Pedal preamp
2 footswitchable channels
Stereo digital reverb
Enhanced tone controls
Patent-pending Infinite Shape Feature (ISF)
Fully equipped for studio or practice
Speaker-emulated output with 1 x 12″ or 4 x 12″ voicing
Effects loop with effects level switch
Footswitch included

Pros:
– AWWWWWWW WOW!!!!!!!!!! i almost find myself playing this more than the gain channel. and i’m a hard rocker!!! sorry for my enthusiasm, but i really love this channel. i just sit around for hours playing little blues licks and bouncing chords around. brilliant channel.
-breaks up around 6-7 on the dial, gets a nice tube clip (depending on pickups)
– HUGELY touch responsive. if you dime the vol (like me), you can really “dig in” to notes as they say. or back off the attack and get a nice, sweet, rounded sound.
– 3D sound: this amp doesn’t have ‘verb, but you could almost swear it does with this channel. i was showing a very good friend of mine (who is one of the leading guitarists in the area), and he couldn’t believe the 3D feel of the sound. He’s played for 20 yrs etc etc billion amps etc etc and he is not easily impressed.
– shares eq with gain channel, but it really doens’t feel like you miss out. this channel has such a natural, back-to-basics sound
– NOTE: this channel will bring out sloppy chops very very quickly.
– i can’t say enough good things about this channel.

Cons:
– not quite loud enough for practice with a drummer (which is what i wanted it for; easy transport to practice)
– the knobs are really really shiny which really does make it hard to see your settings (i thought people on HC were being picky, but it really is difficult with stage lights around)
– included footswitch has a lead only about 3 ft long, rendering it nearly useless :tard: once you plug it into the backand put it in front of the amp, you have very very VERY little room to move. i stretched it to it’s max and only had about 2feet between the amp and the pedal. USELESS. i connect an extension to it using a female-female 1/4″ coupler and a 10ft normal lead, works fine. also doesn’t have an LED. con for me, might not be for you. i like to know which channel it’s on, which can be hard as i run it at the same time as another amp (H&K switchblade).
– outputs, fx loop, ac cord, footswitch ports are all located under and AROUND the back chassis. makes it painful to set up in a rush; nearly have to turn the amp upside down to see what i’m plugging into. its kinda annoying when you’re used to everything just being on the backplate of the amp…
– still pretty damn loud when dimed, however you can get a good tube-driving sound at low volumes, as advertised. so i guess this isnt really a con.
– can feedback/gets a little noisey at high gain at high volumes. not any more than a normal tube amp though. some people may be pissed off, as it’s supposed to be a “recording” amp. doesn’t worry me, i have it set to a britishy-heavy crunch sound rather than uber distorted. my H&K is at a higher gain level, so the blackstar doesnt need to be.

Conclusion:

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 recording 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.

Ayan Ayan
 

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