Blackstar Series One 200 Head
Blackstar Amplification, blackstaramps.co.uk
Originally published in Guitar World, October 2010
Blackstar's Series One 200 qualifies as a true mega-amp, not just for its whopping 200 watts of potential output power but also for its ability to deliver that power with as much finesse as brawn.
Blackstar Amplification was launched in 2007 by a handful of former Marshall engineers and employees that shared a vision of amp performance and design. In just three years, the company’s amps have earned approval from James Hetfield, Opeth’s Fredrik Åkesson, Billy Gibbons, Gus G. and many other artists for their ability to generate unique Brit- and American-style sounds. Blackstar’s latest amp is the Series One 200, an all-tube tone monster with a herculean 200-watt power plant. Aside from its mega power, the amp’s custom-designed tone-shaping circuitry and variable output power make it one of the most malleable, sensitive and useable superheads.
Blackstar's Series One 200 is one heavy amp, weighing in at roughly 60 pounds. Most of this sciatic-stressing heft is from the massive transformers that support the 200-watt power section. A quartet of bulbous KT88 bottles create all of that power, while imparting their special brand of smooth and complex midrange, round highs and deep bass extension.
Essentially, the Series One 200 is a four-channel amp with a two-channel preamp. The channels are Clean, Crunch, OD1 and OD2. The Clean and Crunch share one preamp, while the OD1 and OD2 share the other. The Clean and Crunch each have two switchable modes: Bright/Warm (Clean) and Crunch/Super Crunch (Crunch). Each channel has a dedicated gain and volume control, but Clean and Crunch share one set of bass, middle, treble and ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) controls, and OD1 and OD2 share another identical set of controls. This proprietary ISF dial alters the character of the tone stack from a warm, thumping American-style response to a wooly, lush and softer British personality.
Master controls include resonance, presence, volume and the ingenious DPR (Dynamic Power Reduction) circuit. Through a single, continuously variable knob, the DPR allows players to dial the amp’s output from a diminutive 20 watts up to the full, chest-caving 200 watts. More than just a basic wattage adjustment, the DPR’s setting largely determines the amp’s headroom ceiling, the feel of the amp and what volume levels will be necessary to overdrive the power section.
The supplied four-button footswitch connects to the Blackstar’s back panel and allows users to individually select each channel. The amp’s backside has five-pin MIDI In and Thru jacks; two speaker outputs with a four-, eight- and 16-ohm selector; and an effect loop with a dBV level switch. If you want to record directly from the amp or run into a P.A. system, you can tap the Blackstar’s speaker-emulating direct output via a quarter-inch jack or the balanced XLR jack.
Incredible volume and sound pressure levels are easily achieved by the Series One 200, thanks to its 200-watt engine. However, that power also reveals subtle tonal and texture details that you can’t detect as well with lower-wattage amps. These abilities were pleasantly conspicuous in the Clean channel, which was punchy and surprisingly multidimensional for a circuit-laden amplifier.
The Crunch channel is very capable of producing classic British and American overdriven tones, although the KT88 power tubes maintain a wide midrange response and linear highs. Engaging the Super Crunch switch boosts the gain and also overrides some of the KT88s natural tone with more aggressive mids and punchier treble spikes.
OD2 has somewhat more preamp gain available than OD1. Otherwise, these two lead channels are quite similar in their snappy and harmonically rich vintage-modern tonality. Reasonably high levels of saturation and sustain are available in either channel, but the gobs of clean power maintain distinct note definition.
The amp’s DPR was useful for adding more body to the overall sound, even at low volume levels. It’s like having a built-in Variac, allowing you to keep a rock-solid tone at all levels, no matter where you set the individual channel volume controls and master volume.
THE BOTTOM LINE
Blackstar's Series One 200 qualifies as a true mega-amp, not just for its whopping 200 watts of potential output power but also for its ability to deliver that power with as much finesse as brawn. Four footswitchable channels provide instant access to a range of sounds and gain levels, while the ISF and DPR circuits allow players to infinitely shape the tone, power level and saturation permutations.
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