Nobody argues whether tube amplifiers are good enough or not. Everybody concurs to the idea that they can create the most distinctive and ear-pleasing sounds out there. But they come with a cost: tube amplifiers are expensive as hell. While you could easily find a decent solid-state combo under 50 bucks, you would not get that lucky with valve amplifiers. Fortunately, there are more affordable variations that do not require from you to sell your kidneys. Blackstar HT Club 50 falls exactly into the same category. Even though it is cheaper in price, it still maintains high bar when it comes to the overall quality of the unit. Let’s continue our journey and find out together, how good an affordable tube amplifier can actually be.
Blackstar HT Club 50 is a tiny amp head that packs quite a punch. At first glance, it seems too small to be able to produce any sound, but, in reality, it is loud enough to handle even a club-sized venue. We have to thank its 50 watts of power for that. It is comprised with two ECC83 and two EL34 valves which are located in the preamp and power sections. Blackstar HT Club 50 has two channels: Clean and Overdrive, with their own voicings. The one on the clean channel moves from boutique to modern, while the other on overdrive channel changes the character of the channel. This tube head also comes with the ISF – Infinite Shape Feature – changes the response of all three bands of the frequency and moves it from US to UK and vice versa. This gives you more flexibility when it comes to the tone shaping. Additionally, Blackstar HT Club 50 has an on-board reverb, which promises to be natural and organic. It is compatible with a foot controller (comes with the package) which allows you to choose the channels on the fly. In-built effects loop enables you to set up a signal chain with your pedals. This amp head has a single input for your instrument, a single input for the footswitch, effects loop send and return, a Speaker Emulated Output for connecting recording device or a mixing desk, and three outputs (with different impedances) for the external speakers.
Blackstar HT Club 50 features a classic design when it comes to the control panel. Black knobs are mounted on the black surface, with their names written in white. All the controls are sorted in one row according to their function. This way you will have clusters of knobs in your head and when you reach out to tweak, you will not have to search for the names. Even though Blackstar HT Club 50 is easily configurable, there is quite a lot to discuss.
The Clean channel section features two main knobs and a small switch. Volume sets the level of the channel, Tone balances out bass and treble in your sound, while Voice allows you to choose between boutique (Class A damping) and modern (Class AB damping) modes. Then we have the Overdrive channel section. There is a small selector, which activates this channel and lights up the LED. Gain modifies the amount of overdrive or distortion added to your sound, Volume sets the output level of the channel, while Voice allows you to choose between ‘classic’ tight overdrive and smoother overdrive with looser response. Next we have the EQ section. Apart from standard Bass, Middle and Treble controls here we have the ISF. It moves from American tonal characteristics with tight bottom-end and aggressive middle to British, woody characteristics. All the controls in the EQ section interact with each other and create an even tone. Towards the end of the panel we have Reverb and Master knobs. The former modifies the amount of the effect, while the latter sets the level of the overall output. There is one more switch for the reverb on the rare panel. This tiny button allows you to choose between Dark (warmer reverb) and Light (brighter reverb) modes. And finally, we have Power and Standby toggles.
Blackstar HT Club 50 is more than just a tube head. Not only is its sound warm and beautiful, but it also has a lot to brag about. What I mean is that this amplifier offers a wide range of sounds to choose from and experiment with. The clean channel produces rich clear tones that can be shaped to perfection. The clean voice and its ability to go from Class A to Class B creates a scrupulous sonic product. Boutique mode emphasizes the mid-range and high-end and can be cranked up to a subtle overdrive with a little crunch (by turning the volume knob to its maximum settings), while Modern mode has greater bass response and a tighter sound with maximum clarity (the sound will remain clean no matter what). The overdrive channel offers an extensive set of tones, but always remains natural and organic. You can easily go from tight, crunchy and textured to a full-bodied, smooth overdrive. You can adjust the amount of this effect with the guitar volume knob, which increases the flexibility. The ISF is also a great addition to the versatility of Blackstar HT Club 50. This way you can tailor your sound to your taste without having to constantly fuss with the knobs. And let’s not forget the reverb, which is also quite transparent and improves your sound without overpowering its features.
It goes without saying that Blackstar HT Club 50 is one of the best tube amplifiers out there. It is relatively affordable, yet its quality is not compromised in any way. The set of features and sonic options it offers is truly mind-blowing. I have completed my quest, now it is your turn to let your ears make the final judgement. Good luck!