Blackstar is a relatively new British company, launching in 2007, that boasts an R&D and engineering team that cut its teeth with perhaps the biggest amp name of all time: Marshall. Breaking out on their own in this new venture, Blackstar has its own range of range of amps as well as various valve-driven pedals. They're all devoted to that most satisfying of pursuits: distortion and drive.
The pedals share various features. Each is loaded with a single Russian-made ECC83 dual-triode preamp valve, backlit to glow red. More interestingly, that valve runs off a full 300-volt circuit, (hence HT in the name: HT for 'high-tension' meaning high voltage). This is thought by many to offer better tone, gain and overload characteristics than low-voltage valve pedals. After that, all except the HT-Boost offer a speaker-emulated out alongside the regular output for a direct-to-desk recording option, and finally, three of the quintet are loaded with what's called an ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control. Unlike more familiar contour circuits, this enables you to move the entire EQ section voicing between what you'd expect of two classic amplifier tone circuits: Fender at one end and Marshall at the other.
"The ISF came about because we were looking for a way to voice testbed amplifiers for artists," explains Blackstar's technical director, Bruce Keir. "We needed a way to continuously vary the tone beyond what was available from existing amplifiers. This would enable the player to create their signature sound before we 'locked it off' in their preferred setting. The method we came up with gave the ability to not only get the standard reference tones, but also the 'in-between' never-before-attainable voicings as well. It worked so effectively and so simply that we decided to make it a feature available for all guitarists to use." Indeed, the ISF control broadly apes the tonal response of classic 6L6- or EL34-powered amps, plus many points in between. You'll find the other pedals reviewed on MusicRadar, but here we have the HT-Dist DS-1
This is the slightly more restrained of their two distortion pedals and offers a more traditional front panel layout than that offered by the HT-Dual. Like all the pedals on test, the bombproof casing, high quality pots screwed to the chassis, heavy duty switches and high quality jacks all inspire confidence. This is true on the inside too: decent quality components and custom PCB designs, all held in place securely, suggesting a long and happy life.
Like Blackstar's HT-Dual, this is one hot pedal. It takes a few moments to balance the EQ and ISF pots with your own set-up and as such these aren't instant plug-and-go stompers - experimentation yields best results. It's best described as 'in-your-face' and with gain set to just over halfway and erring towards the British side of the ISF, you're offered a full, aggressive and singing hard rock rhythm tone.
Turning the ISF the other way reigns in the bottom end meaning more mid punch (not what we'd normally associate with 'American' voicing, but hey) for a more cutting tone. Ideal settings depend very much on your own guitar and amp, but all up the HT-Dist is capable of a wide range of rock styles short of out-and-out metal.