Is The Revamped Blackstar HT-Series MKIII The Ultimate Performer’s Swiss Knife Tube Amp?

Is The Revamped Blackstar HT-Series MKIII The Ultimate Performer’s Swiss Knife Tube Amp?

Last weekend we played a gig. I brought along my trusty 50-watt tube head to propel the noise. I knew in advance that the venue was quite small, but the sound engineer was dead-serious when he said, “That’s the loudest it gets in here”.

My tube amp sounded like a solid-state 15-watt Crate practice amp, and I had a very hard time hearing myself. Thus, I couldn’t fully enjoy the gig.

That got me thinking about modern tube amps with modern features that will please sound engineers and still sound great. That’s when I stumbled upon Blackstar’s new, and outrageously modern, take on tube technology.
Here’s to the future of valve-driven music.

Blackstar, Valve Amps for Working Musicians

The fact that Blackstar was born with four bandmates chatting at the pub makes complete sense. Moreover, the idea that Blackstar is a brand by musicians and for musicians has been evident since its first appearance in the market back in 2007.

But that’s only the tip of the iceberg because what’s underneath the water is that the founders, Bruce Keir, Ian Robinson, Paul Hayhoe, and Richard Frost were also workmates (well, in a way, still are). They were all amplifier specialists who shared the pride of working for one of the world’s biggest amp makers, Marshall Amplifiers.

They decided to leave Marshall and join forces and push the boundaries of what we think is possible. They came up with two key features still present today in the Blackstar line, the DPR (Dynamic Power Reduction), and the ISF (Infinite Shape Feature).

• The DPR allows you to “achieve cranked valve amp style overdrive and compression at bedroom levels”.

• The ISF is a blend knob that takes you to opposite sides of the Atlantic Ocean. You can use it to voice your amp as American or British.

That, together with their shared knowledge about what makes a good-sounding, reliable amp granted them the tone needed to endorse artists like Richie Sambora, Sammy Hagar, Uli Jon Roth, and Phil Collen, to name just a few.

But enough with the history lesson, let’s get to the amps!

What’s New with The HT MKIII?

The HT series by Blackstar is divided into two types of amps: the Venue and the Series.

To begin with, the name of the first series is self-explanatory; amps designed for live use. The main concept is to offer usable clean, overdriven, boosted, and distorted tones in one amp. That’s why they combined the clean channel of their Artisan Handwired series with their modern Series One high-gain range of amps.

That way, what you have is the best of both worlds.

The HT Series, on the other hand, is revolutionary in its size, features, and sounds, but it’s made for bedroom use and recording. They share much of the tonal structure, but the Venue series provides separate EQ controls for each channel.

This is, of course, a great feature live but not so needed at home or the studio.

Meet The Lineup

As I said before, the biggest difference between these amps is the audience they’re designed for.

The HT-Series lineup includes:

• HT-1R MKIII – The smallest of the series, capable of 1 watt of pure valve power and tone. In my opinion, it makes a wonderful bedroom amp and a great pedal platform (setting everything at noon).

• HT-5R MKIII – This 5-watt all-tube amplifier is great for finding THAT tone in your bedroom and taking it with you to the gig. With 5 valve-driven watts into a 1x12 and the XLR out (more on that later), you can play with a drummer.

• HT-20R MKIII – This is my favorite on this list. This amp can deliver 20 watts of full valve power as well as 2 watts when the volume reduction is on. Imagine cranking the amp in your bedroom AND on stage. That’s every guitarist’s dream.

But that’s half the story because the Venue Series takes off right where this series leaves it. Yes, they’re bigger amps ready to tackle bigger challenges and stages. We’ll divide them into two, first the heads, then the combos.

• HT Stage 100H MKIII – The Stage 100 is the biggest iteration of the line. It boasts 100 watts of valve power, enough to drive a crowd mad at a big venue. You can lower it to 10 watts. It features separate gain and volume per mode, and master resonance and presence controls.

• HT Club 50H MKIII – The 50-watt version is the perfect amp for a mid-sized venue. Pair it with a 2x12 and you’re in rock n roll heaven. You can also lower the volume to 5 watts if you like.

• HT Club 40 MKIII – This is the 40-watt combo version of the 50-watt Club 50 head. It comes equipped with a Celestion Seventy-80 12” speaker.

• HT Stage 60 112 MKIII – In its 1x12 and 2x12 versions, this amp is a copy of the 100-watt Stage head. Both versions feature Celestion Seventy-80 12” speakers.

Let’s Talk about the New MKIII Exclusive Features

Besides the tried-and-true ISF and DPR controls, what’s new with this new iteration of the HT Series?

• CabRig – This IR-based speaker simulator technology developed by Blackstar comes as a standard in every amplifier of the series. With it, you can choose from a plethora of mic and speaker options and store your favorite three. You can then toggle between them from the amp. This is activated when using the TRS or XLR out.

• USB-C Out – Newsflash! Your amp has just become your audio interface! Yes, plug the amp straight into the computer and start that night of creativity without disturbing any neighbors.

• The Architect (Free) Software – Every amp is accessible through this state-of-the-art free software. You can use it, for example, to fine-tune the amp’s reverb.

The Bottom End, A Clever Solution to Rip it Every Night (Regardless of the Venue and Sound Engineer)

Blackstar has created a new line that’s capable of creating great valve tones for smaller venues (or even bedrooms). Something that used to be kind of a chimera among guitarists.

If we go back to my initial anecdote, I would have simply put my amp to 5 watts and used the XLR out for the PA. My amp would have sounded full, round, and mean with all its proud valve power in full crunch mode.

The sound engineer and I would have been smiling all night long.

If you haven’t already, go play one and let me know what you think in the comments below!

Happy (valve power) playing!


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