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Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

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  • Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

    I had been looking for a head to pair with my Marshall vertical 2x12 cab that I’ve loaded with V30s. I have a couple of Fender combo amps which give me great cleans but pretty ordinary drive sounds. So, I wanted something with...

    1. A great sounding/generous drive channel, but also a decent/usable clean.
    2. Good balance between channels so there are no issues when switching between them.
    3. Reverb on board.
    4. Smaller form factor to fit on my vertical cab.
    5. A good match with my cab, in both looks (Marshally) and performance (work well with V30s).
    6. Budget priced.

    Not asking too much, hey?

    I actually have an Orange TH30 head which sounds pretty damn good but misses on a couple of my check points – no reverb, too big and the ugliest amp I have ever seen.

    Blackstar Venue - Studio HT20 Head
    This amp ticks all my boxes and has turned out to be a real winner for me.

    Aesthetics:
    Man it is a big box for just a 20 watt amp. I appreciate that amps need cooling and ventilation but I don’t understand why so many manufacturers build such huge cabinets for their heads. This is taller than my huge Orange head and way deeper! Thankfully it is slightly narrower than my speaker cab, so doesn’t look too bad sitting on top of it. Surprisingly though, the rear opening/vent is actually very small. Wouldn’t it be cheaper in materials and packaging/shipping to make the whole thing smaller but with larger air vents? And, it would be more convenient for the end user as well. Beats me??

    The carry handle is a bit of blight on the otherwise elegant design. It looks a bit primitive and doesn’t lie flat! Well not unless you stick a screw driver in it and widen the metal loops inside the leather and then it still doesn’t lie properly.

    Apart from those issues I quite like the look. A little retro, a little modern but very professional looking, if not slightly derivative. I would have preferred white piping to match my Marshall cab but I appreciate that they didn’t want to make it too similar to a Marshall.

    Construction:
    From the outside this amp appears to be well constructed, with quality fittings and attention to detail and after looking inside, I am only more impressed. It looks like a plywood cabinet that is very neatly finished, although the preamp tubes are a little awkward to replace. It comes with TAD preamp tubes and Ruby power tubes.

    I like Blackstar’s philosophy of quality construction/design but from a Chinese supplier. Too many manufacturers go for the cheapest options when manufacturing in China. As a consumer I don’t really care where it is made as long as I can see good value for money. A cheap price and cheap quality does not always appeal to many.

    Usage:
    This amp is clearly well thought out and a pleasure to use. I like the way the knobs are labelled and grouped on the front panel – clear and logical. The functionality of the control panel is well thought out and makes many other amps look embarrassingly bad. There are few bells and whistles but the bare minimum to make it work extremely well.

    Some people have complained about the lack of standby switch but if you read the manual you discover that there actually is one – only invisible. I don’t have a problem with pulling out the guitar lead, and doing away with unnecessary features makes more room for necessary ones.

    I like that there is a boost knob on the send/return loop and the speaker connection options on the rear panel.

    Clean Channel:
    It makes so much sense to have a tone knob on the clean channel, which works very well, and sounds very nice too. I appreciate that on a small, budget model you can’t have full EQ on both channels but having no EQ on the clean channel, just does not work. So Blackstar have done well here. Usually, the drive channel requires very different EQ setting to the clean channel, so shared EQ amps are pretty much one-channel-at-a-time. You cannot switch channels during a song/performance because you have to adjust lots of settings. What’s the point of making it two channels?

    The HT 20 could do with a bit more clean volume but getting a good balance between the channels is no problem with the 3 volume controls – one for each channel and a master. The drive channel also has a gain control so you don’t have to compromise the level of gain you want to get the volumes balanced. Again, this should be standard fare on every two channel amp.

    Drive Channel:
    The drive channel sounds pretty good to me. I have a couple of Fender amps for my clean sounds, so I wanted something with a generous amount of gain. Some people think it is a bit excessive and moderate crunch sounds are hard to find, but with my single coil Strats it sounds great to me. In this sort of amp, having too much gain is probably preferable to having too little.

    The drive channel, not only has the usual 3 EQ controls but also has an ISF control. It’s kind of like a tone shaping knob. At first, I didn’t notice much effect but with some experimentation I did find it helpful in moulding the tones and ended up quite liking it. You need to keep the mids low for it to have the greatest effect.

    I also like that they include a foot switch, which makes sense as the channel switching is so usable and functional.

    As you might guess I am pretty wrapped with this amp and probably even more so, after buying a Peavey VK20 head that was very disappointing. Admittedly there is a $300 difference between them.

    Blackstar has restored my faith in budget amps, but maybe ‘budget’ starts a bit higher than I thought.

    Click image for larger version

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    Last edited by Esseff; 01-17-2018, 02:25 AM.

  • #2
    Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

    The HT20 is utterly awesome. There's nothing to criticize about it. 20w with EL34's sounds amazing. You'd have to try hard to get a bad sound out of that amp. I have heard only a few people criticize it, but the didn't know what they were talking about and I doubt have ever actually played one. It's the best value you can by at that price range. No other amp at that price sounds as good, is as flexible, and uses the bigger tubes at lower wattage. Big tubes, big iron always sound best, but require significantly more volume. Big tubes at lower volume usually requires something like what Mike Soldano did with the Hot Rod 25, so the sound is outstanding.

    Comment


    • #3
      Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

      Originally posted by Esseff View Post
      ...Drive Channel:
      The drive channel sounds pretty good to me. I have a couple of Fender amps for my clean sounds, so I wanted something with a generous amount of gain. Some people think it is a bit excessive and moderate crunch sounds are hard to find, but with my single coil Strats it sounds great to me. In this sort of amp, having too much gain is probably preferable to having too little......
      For those who feel there is too much gain on the 'drive channel' (as I did), a 5751 in V1 extends the range of the gain on the lower side enough that it satisfied me.
      Nothing wrong w/ this amp IMO, but I do favor Fenders and the Peavey Classic series.

      Comment


      • #4
        Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

        I too, have this amp. I love it.

        Comment


        • #5
          Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

          Originally posted by IM4Tone View Post
          For those who feel there is too much gain on the 'drive channel' (as I did), a 5751 in V1 extends the range of the gain on the lower side enough that it satisfied me.
          Nothing wrong w/ this amp IMO, but I do favor Fenders and the Peavey Classic series.
          I thought V1 was the clean channel on this amp??

          Comment


          • #6
            Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

            Originally posted by Esseff View Post
            I thought V1 was the clean channel on this amp??
            V1 has the greatest impact on drive/distortion.

            Comment


            • #7
              Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

              Originally posted by Esseff View Post
              I thought V1 was the clean channel on this amp??
              Originally posted by IM4Tone View Post
              V1 has the greatest impact on drive/distortion.
              In this amp there are 2 Preamp tubes...one for clean and one for dirty. The dirty channel uses diode clipping to achieve the levels of gain that it does.

              Comment


              • #8
                Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                Originally posted by Gtrjunior View Post
                In this amp there are 2 Preamp tubes...one for clean and one for dirty. The dirty channel uses diode clipping to achieve the levels of gain that it does.
                Yes it does. But trust me on this....changing V1 to a 5751 does give wider gain adjustment on the lower end. The gain is 'enhanced' by diode clipping a la tubescreamer. This is a feature that caused many people to bash B*HT's because they thought they were getting pure or total tube amp. Funny that many would turn around and employ a TS with no second thought.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                  Originally posted by IM4Tone View Post
                  Yes it does. But trust me on this....changing V1 to a 5751 does give wider gain adjustment on the lower end. The gain is 'enhanced' by diode clipping a la tubescreamer. This is a feature that caused many people to bash B*HT's because they thought they were getting pure or total tube amp. Funny that many would turn around and employ a TS with no second thought.
                  Oh yeah, I absolutely agree. Anytime you sub a 5751 for a 12ax7 you’ll see a change in the gain character.

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                    Originally posted by IM4Tone View Post
                    Yes it does. But trust me on this....changing V1 to a 5751 does give wider gain adjustment on the lower end. The gain is 'enhanced' by diode clipping a la tubescreamer. This is a feature that caused many people to bash B*HT's because they thought they were getting pure or total tube amp. Funny that many would turn around and employ a TS with no second thought.
                    Strange that everyone on the Blackstar forums say that V2 is the gain channel tube??
                    https://www.blackstaramps.com/forum/...pic.php?p=6570
                    https://www.blackstaramps.com/forum/...hp?f=28&t=6785
                    https://www.blackstaramps.com/forum/...php?f=2&t=2141
                    https://www.blackstaramps.com/forum/...pic.php?t=1916

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                      Yes, V2 is considered the gain channel preamp tube, but the signal also goes through V1, and as I stated, it has the greatest impact on 'taming the gain'. But hey, if you're a disbeliever, try the 5751 alternately in both. It only takes a few seconds. I have tried one in both (alternately).

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                        Hmmmm...

                        Anyway, every time I have tried 'taming' tubes they seem to degrade the quality of the tone. Ppl never seem to mention that. It's always, how 'wonderfully controlled the gain is now'...

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                          Originally posted by Esseff View Post
                          Aesthetics:
                          Man it is a big box for just a 20 watt amp. I appreciate that amps need cooling and ventilation but I don’t understand why so many manufacturers build such huge cabinets for their heads. This is taller than my huge Orange head and way deeper! Thankfully it is slightly narrower than my speaker cab, so doesn’t look too bad sitting on top of it. Surprisingly though, the rear opening/vent is actually very small. Wouldn’t it be cheaper in materials and packaging/shipping to make the whole thing smaller but with larger air vents? And, it would be more convenient for the end user as well. Beats me??
                          I concur. Most amp heads are housed in ridiculously big cabs. I can't understand why, do they fear audience doesn't notice the amp on stage otherwise?
                          "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
                          Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                            Originally posted by Esseff View Post
                            Hmmmm...

                            Anyway, every time I have tried 'taming' tubes they seem to degrade the quality of the tone. Ppl never seem to mention that. It's always, how 'wonderfully controlled the gain is now'...
                            Has not been the case with me, and I've done it in a number of amps. Except for a one time experiment, I never used lesser gain preamp tubes than the 5751.....didn't like the others.

                            Comment


                            • #15
                              Re: Blackstar Studio HT20 Head - My Take

                              Originally posted by IM4Tone View Post
                              Has not been the case with me, and I've done it in a number of amps. Except for a one time experiment, I never used lesser gain preamp tubes than the 5751.....didn't like the others.
                              Correct me if I'm wrong, but 5751 should work well, because it's just lower output 12AX7. Given that resulting lower output doesn't clash with the amp design. 12AY7 might too, I'm not sure how they differ.

                              However 12AU7 and 12AT7 require different biasing for optimal operation. And as far as I know, preamp bias is not usually adjustable, so to make it work well you might need to mod the amp.
                              "So understand/Don't waste your time always searching for those wasted years/Face up, make your stand/And realize you're living in the golden years"
                              Iron Maiden - Wasted Years

                              Comment

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