It’s no easy thing to take your best selling guitar amp range and completely revamp it, but that’s what Blackstar has recently done with its HT series of heads and combos.
Of course, the improved Mark 2 HT range has been a resounding success, and now there’s a new addition in the shape of the HT-20R combo. Promising power and portability, the HT-20R’s control panel is feature-rich despite its compact dimensions: the clean channel has a simple volume and tone arrangement, while the overdrive channel has conventional EQ and Blackstar’s patented ISF control, which shifts the amp from British to USA voicing, with all points in between.
Both clean and overdrive channels have two distinct sounds to switch between: the clean channel’s American and British modes go from sparkling treble with slightly scooped mids and a tight low-end, to a more responsive Class A jangle with a focused midrange.
Meanwhile, the Classic and High Gain overdrive voicings will take you from mild crunch to mega-gain rock. Along with master volume and reverb level controls, there’s also a useful power reduction switch that drops the output from 20 to just 2 watts.
Back panel features include a USB socket for audio and a balanced XLR output for direct to desk connections, as well as a stereo headphones socket that can be adapted to send a stereo output to a desk, a series effects loop with a level switch, and an MP3 line in.
The XLR and jack outputs benefit from Blackstar’s excellent speaker emulation, which has a choice of 4x12 or 1x12 cab EQs. In use, the HT-20R’s sounds are superb, with sparkling, highly nuanced cleans and mild overdrives from the clean channel that wouldn’t be out of place on some exotic boutique combos, while the overdrive sounds are jaw-droppingly excellent.
The big lead sounds in High Gain mode are instantly gratifying, while the tonal depth and range of the Classic voice is supremely versatile, going from ‘ready to blow up’ vintage tweed to Plexi thump, helped along by a revoiced digital reverb that’s better than many studio plugins.
There are many competitors in the ‘multi-purpose small combo’ market, however few if any combine sensibly thought-out features and core tones this good, even at three or four times the asking price.
Like the rest of the HT range, the new HT-20R has been tweaked, retweaked and tweaked again to bring it as close as possible to perfection. Consequently, we’ve found it difficult to put a finger on anything that’s less than great.