Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion: What are they?
Gear design tends to go one of two ways, either tunnelling back through history for inspiration or barrelling on into the future, harnessing the disruptive power of digital technology in search of new sounds and functionality. Blackstar’s Dept. 10 range of boost, overdrive and distortion pedals does both.
There are three in the Dept 10 lineup, all with valve-driven preamp sections. By the power invested in that ECC83 triode and an internal voltage convertor that takes your 9V DC power supply and beefs it up to 200V, the pedal works much like a real tube amp does under the hood, and thus supplying your electric guitar tone with the sort of dynamic and harmonic response that have kept this rather antiquated technology at the forefront of guitar player’s affections since time immemorial.
The Dual Drive and Dual Distortion we have here both have two channels and two switchable voices per channel. The controls are reassuringly familiar, much like a guitar amp, with a three-band EQ, individual Gain and Level controls, switchable clean and crunch modes on Channel 1 and switchable drive modes on Channel 2.
There is also a dial for Blackstar’s ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) which at one extreme offers a US-style EQ response, British at the other, and a Transatlantic mix in between. And, most intriguingly, a switch for the Cab Rig feature.
Here is where old-school valve tech links arms with our digital future. Cab Rig is Blackstar’s proprietary cab sim tech. Editable via the Architect software, it offers players state-of-the-art IRs and comprehensive control over them.
The pedal itself can store three onboard Cab Rig settings, which you can swap in and out via the app, controlling mic position, resonance, presence, room size and all-sorts. It is a feature that positions the Dual Drive and Distortion as more than just high-end pedalboard candy.
Indeed, with low-latency USB and XLR connectivity, you can send this direct to a DAW or desk. No need for a guitar amp at all. There is even an effects loop. It all goes to show how a little imagination and a lot of know-how can present new options on age-old technologies. For the guitar player – a demographic often caught between both modernity and the lure of vintage – this is an extremely attractive proposition.
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion: Performance and verdict
Blackstar has been performing this valves-in-pedals trick since the very beginning, when the ECC83-equipped series of HT drives pedals was among the company’s first wave of designs. The quality of the drive sounds from the likes of the supremely versatile HT Dual DS-2 was never in question.
• Victory V4 The Copper preamp pedal
From beautifully compressed cleans through hot molten crunch, the Copper V4 excels in AC30-inspired valve tones, and its 'amp through' operation is an excellent way of expanding your rig.
• Orange Terror Stamp
Not a like-for-like comparison, but in terms of sheer functionality and quality of tone the Terror Stamp is well worth checking out as a compact 20-watt floor-based amp.
• Strymon Iridium
Awesome cab sims allied to great tones from three amp classics make the Iridium a hugely versatile and compact all-in-one digital rig for the stage or the studio.
• Vox Valvenergy pedals
Presenting a superlative Vox-in-a-box, Marshall-in-a-box and a very tweakable and subtle US low-gain drive, the Valvenergy series is convincing enough on tone alone. But with the various output modes and the cab sim, it shows how the amp-in-a-box format can be modded for the 21st century.
It is then something of a mystery why valve-equipped pedals in that vein did not go on to commandeer pedalboard real estate and lead the market. Maybe things will change now.
In recent years, with the likes of Victory’s V4 series and and tech-forward digital options such as the Strymon Iridium, more and more of our amplification duties are being sequestered to the pedalboard. And the Dept. 10 series is designed to meet that moment.
From a pedalboard power supply point of view they can be more practical than their HT series forebears, which required a 22V outlet. These are happy with 9V and for the internal voltage convertor to do the rest, but do note you need a decent power supply capable of drawing 500mA of current should you want to use your brick to power it.
The Dept. 10 pedals certainly feel and look of a piece with Blackstar’s amp design. The controls are easy to decipher. The build is solid, with a very sturdy kick-bar to assuage anyone’s fear of the valve being damaged during a set. The ISF knob is another Blackstar calling card, and as we hook these pedals up it comes into its own, reacting in kind with your Bass, Middle and Treble controls.
Both pedals perform similarly and there is some overlap as to their uses. The Dual Distortion has more gain on tap but the low-gain crunch on Channel 1 is exceptional. Similarly, the Dual Overdrive can be a fire-breather if you hold your nerve with the controls and dime Channel 2.
That said, the metal guitar player would be recommended to audition the Dual Distortion first and see how that integrates with their rig first. It performs like those early case studies for the ISF knob promised, offering scooped late-‘80s high-gain chug as practised by Metallica and their US counterparts, or warmer NWOBHM and Iron Maiden sounds with the ISF dial turned clockwise.
The Dual Overdrive, meanwhile, behaves similarly, in that you can dial in a sound that is all scratchy heat a la Keith Richards and then with a turn of the ISF control and a twist of the Middle dial you give your sound an aggressive early Zeppelin sound. There are sweet spots abound as you move through the gears.
But no matter where you like to park that gain dial, what marks the Dept. 10 pedals out as tone monsters is the range of dynamics and and musicality they add to your sound. They make the guitar tone feel different, as though the instrument is somehow more malleable, more cooperative. That feel and response is really where valve’s retain that sense of magic. Roll back the tone control on your guitar, and they clean up nicely.
This alone would present a convincing case for the Dept. 10 series and yet of course there is more. You can use these as a fly-rig, going direct to the sound desk via the XLR output and using the Cab Rig to dial in a sense of three-dimensionality and space to your direct sound.
Playing around and experimenting with the different IRs, controlling mic placement and other parameters and effectively engineering your direct sound on your laptop is easier than it might sound. That means less time tweaking and more spent playing, just so long as you don't fall down the rabbit hole.
MusicRadar verdict: Whether you go for the Dual Overdrive and its seemingly infinite uses as an drive and tone-sweetener par excellence, or for the more gnarly gain of the the Dual Distortion, Blackstar has delivered two exceptionally practical and inspiring pedals.
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion: The web says
“The sheer range of gain and dynamic response here may put your existing drive pedals on notice – it's a great showcase of Blackstar to newcomers and a highly usable gain station for players. Both pedals are a timely reminder that there is something special about quality valve-driven gain when it comes to clarity and definition for our guitar sounds.”
“As well as offering a remarkable amount of flexibility for the price point, the virtual playing experience here is very convincing – not only do these pedals offer an organic valve sound but they also respond to your touch and dynamics in ways that many plugins just can’t.”
“Curiously, some of the Dual Drive’s most natural sounds came via the cab sims, headphones, and studio monitor. Admittedly, that might be because we’re all becoming more familiar and at ease with the playback-in-the-control-room sound generated by many cab-sim-loaded preamps and modelers. But the cab rig function sounded and felt great, which underscores its viability as a direct-to-PA solution for live use or direct-to-DAW recording.”
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion: Hands-on demos
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive and Dual Distortion: Specifications
- TYPE: Valve-equipped preamp / overdrive pedals
- CONTROLS: Gain 1, Gain 2, Level 1, Level 2, Clean / Crunch, Crunch / Overdrive (Overdrive 1 and Overdrive 2 on Dual Distortion), Bass, Middle Treble, ISF, Cab Rig presets 1/2/3, Channel 1 and Channel 2 footswitches
- FEATURES: 1/4-inch Output and Cab Rig output, 1/4-inch Input, 1/4-inch Send and Return effects loop, USB Audio
- POWER SUPPLY: 9-volt power supply (minimum 500MA) included
- DIMENSIONS (HxWxD): 46 x 147 x 112mm
- CONTACT: Blackstar Amplification