It’s not uncommon for amp companies to add a feature or two to an existing product and rebrand it with a suffix like “mark 2,” “plus,” “XL” or the like. What is less common is when a “new and improved” amp gets significant upgrades and feature expansions without a similarly significant increase in price, and what is rarer than hen’s teeth is when a company bases most of those upgrades on feedback from owners of the previous version of the product.
Blackstar’s new HT Stage 100 MKII boasts so many improvements over the previous HT Stage 100 introduced eight years ago that they could have given the model an entirely new name. But it shares so many of its predecessor’s most beloved features—including a similar control panel, functionality and affordable price—that keeping the model name was a solid decision.
Like its predecessor, the Blackstar HT Stage 100 MKII is a 100-watt all-tube head powered by four EL34 output power amp tubes, but the preamp/effects loop/phase inverter section gets rid of one ECC82 tube while retaining the two ECC83 tubes. It also has the same basic three-channel (clean, overdrive 1, overdrive 2) design and control layout, although the clean channel has been significantly re-voiced and the overdrive channels have a few improvements as well.
Controls are basically the same: volume, treble and bass knobs and voice switch for the clean channel, individual volume, gain and voice switch controls for overdrive 1 and 2, shared treble, mid, bass and ISF EQ controls for overdrive 1 and 2, and master volume, presence, resonance and reverb level controls. The MKII’s rear panel also has the same effects loop with ¼-inch send and return jacks and +4/-10dBv input level switch, reverb dark/light switch, emulated output with ¼-inch jack and 1x12/4x12 voicing switch and five ¼-inch speaker outputs. Differences here include two ¼-inch footswitch jacks (two-way and five-way, replacing the previous ¼-inch and DIN jack configuration) and an XLR DI output for the speaker emulated output.
Some of the other significant upgrades include the addition of a 10-watt/100-watt switch, being able to access not only individual channels but also each channel’s voice switch for a total of six voicing options accessible via footswitch, a USB jack for recording applications and reduced weight and cabinet dimensions.
The shift from a “vintage”-style black Tolex faceplate to a salt-and-pepper woven “boutique” faceplate immediately hints where the HT Stage 100 MKII is coming from sonically. The clean channel delivers more clean headroom, bigger bass and more brilliant but full-bodied treble with its “American” Voice 1 setting, while the Voice 2 setting is more “British,” delivering chiming tones that are more easily overdriven at higher output levels.
Both overdrive channels offer significant tonal upgrades over the already stellar tones of the HT Stage 100 MKII’s predecessor, with higher gain settings delivering bigger, fatter textures without sizzling high-frequency fizz. The “classic” and “modern” voice settings for each overdrive channel provide exactly that, with the modern setting increasing gain. For the overdrive 2 channel, the modern setting also provides a midrange boost that hits the “front of the mix” sweet spot for soloing. The ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) still works like a charm for dialing in an incredible variety of tones useful for any style of distortion from classic to modern. I especially loved dialing in huge tones with massive, chunky, dynamic power output distortion and retaining that exact same personality at lower volume levels courtesy of the 10-watt switch.
And while I’m usually not a fan of reverb in amp heads, the reverb section here is quite impressive, particularly when used with the amp’s stellar clean tones.
LIST PRICE: $1,299.99
MANUFACTURER: Blackstar Amplification, blackstaramps.com
● The clean channel is significantly revoiced to provide bigger, fuller and more dynamic classic clean tones.
● A 10/100-watt switch allows guitarists to maintain the full tonality and dynamics of the power output section at lower volume levels for recording or practice.
● THE BOTTOM LINE
With outstanding clean, overdrive and distortion tones that rival the sound of amps costing up to four times as much and a versatile selection of professional features, the Blackstar HT Stage 100 MKII is one of today’s best amp values.