The idea of having a valve guitar amp on your pedalboard is becoming less of a niche concept and more like a desirable reality, and Blackstar's new Dept.10 pedals might be the launch that pushes players to convert. Because it sounds like the Brits have come up with something special here.
There's three Dept. 10 pedals; Dual Drive, Dual Distortion, and and the more compact Boost. All use an ECC83 triode valve, running at more than 200V internally. That's proper valve amp level voltage at your feet to help deliver the tonal juice we all want; breakup, harmonics, dynamic sensitivity… the good stuff.
And each of the three is powered by 9V, so you can use your pedal power supply without the need for an extra bespoke one. The best of both worlds?
The Dual Distortion and Dual Overdrive could become your best gear friends home and away. Use them with your existing amp, a powered cab; record with them as valve interfaces using Blackstar's Cab Rig D.I. technology… that last bit is a big deal too and we'll get to that shortly.
But what's with the name? "Dept. 10 is the Blackstar R&D team responsible for blue sky innovation and design, explains the company. "This team of engineers are all musicians and are constantly researching new ideas to help create your perfect tone."
Nice! So how are we going to choose between these pedals?!
Dual Drive and Dual Distortion
Blackstar are talking big here; "the best valve drive or distortion pedal you will ever own and a world-class valve recording preamp," but it's coming from a company who know their onions (and amps) so we're taking the team seriously here.
On each of the Dept.10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion pedals you get crunch/overdrive voices alongside the clean channel. So no reason either can't be your main source into a powered cab. As you might expect, the Distortion is for your higher gain needs but the Drive sounds like it gets nicely spicy for harder rock!
There's a switch on the first channel of each Dual pedal to choose between Clean or Crunch, with two Overdrive / Distortion modes on the second channel.
Along with Blackstar's familiar ISF tone-shaping control (allowing you to move between extremes of US and UK tone flavours) and a three-band EQ for a simple layout for tweaking, the Dept.10 overdrive and distortion offer low latency USB and XLR out – and this is crucial to widening their usability and potential appeal.
While the XLR DI and effects loop here have potential for live use on your pedalboard, the USB interface side is your gateway to really intriguing realms. We're talking Blackstar's Cab Rig simulator technology . And once again the company is making bold claims that have our tonehound snouts switching in anticipation.
"Cab Rig overcomes the shortcomings of IR ‘snapshots’ and uses state-of-the-art digital processing to reproduce the sound and feel of a mic’d up guitar cab in incredible detail."
The included Architect software offers full control over the Cab Rig simulator. What's especially interesting to us is Architect can save three Cab Rig patches onto the pedal – accessed via the three-way toggle switch in the middle of each of the pedals.
Over 250 mic and cab combinations can be saved into one of these three onboard slots with a choice of mic type and axis, alongside room mics and master EQ for each virtual cab.
There's also a stereo 1/4 jack Cab Rig output on side of the Deal Distortion and Dual Drive pedals for using with a recording interface or your headphones.
The Brits have come out swinging here and we think it's a hugely promising move from a company who have an impressive history with valve-driven pedals. The software demoed in the detailed video above certainly looks comprehensive, seeming to offer a huge level of control over the virtual cab experience, and we're looking forward to finding out more.
Let's not overlook the little fella. The Dept.10 Boost doesn't offer Cab Ring integration but Blackstar calls this "the ultimate high voltage valve boost pedal".
The Boost combines a Class A gain stage and "natural sounding passive" James-Baxandall EQ and Blackstar summarises that it's "like adding two extra hot valve stages to your amp."
The Dept.10 Boost also includes a built-in buffer / line driver for preserving your signal quality through a network of guitar and patch cables.
The Dept.10 Boost is £159 and the Dual Drive and Dual Distortion are £249 each. More news on stockists over at Blackstar Amps.