It's amazing how Blackstar managed to pack this amp with so many features at such low price! This amp looks and feels a couple of 100 bucks more expensive than it really is.
- Features! A lot of them. First, the top control panel has a 3 band EQ (which is not that common in a valve amp at this price), plus the ISF which is really handy. Think of a Metallica tone on the American side and a AC-DC tone on the British side. The clean channel has just a tone knob, but you can live with that, since it has 2 voices. Reverb is good solid sounding, and it works for most situations, but don't expect something airy, ambient crazy big. The voice switches are really good as well, giving you a wide palette of tones.
- The power reduction switch is one of the best features. I play it in my bedroom, in an apartment, so I need something that is not loud, that delivers power at low volumes, and this amp really does the job. I use it most of the time at 0,5W mode, which is loud enough for my playing, but quiet enough to not disturb my family and neighbours. The 5W mode can be quite loud if you really want that saturated valve tone.
- The back panel has even more features. The effects loop works as a charm, and it's really handy for time based effects and for noise gate (the amp distortion is noisy). You also have emulated DI out, USB for recording and MP3 input.
- Now, one of the most important features for me is the emulated headphones out. It was the decision factor that made me buy this amp. I use headphones a lot, specially at night, and a good sounding headphones out was a non negotiable feature for me. Before this amp, I even bought a Joyo Bantamp Vivo to test it, and ended up returning it because its headphones out was really bad. I didn't test a lot of amps, but researching online made me get the conclusion that the Blackstar amps have the best emulated headphones out in the market for valve amps. It's awesome!
- Sound: I don't have many years of experience with amps, but for my ears, it sounds really good! Both in the headphones out, and in the speaker you can get really nice valve tones, beautiful cleans and heavy saturated overdriven tones. Very versatile. It could benefit from having a better speaker though, but it would increase its price.
- Not many to be honest. Being very picky: I play mostly metal styles, and I think this amp could have more gain on tap, or a specific modern metal voice built in. Even at the maximum power and gain, I still feel it could have more oompf! Works great for classic metal, but not so much for modern metal. Blackstar had a Metal version of this amp some years ago that was really good, unfortunately they discontinued it. You can stick an overdrive or a distortion pedal in front of it and solve this issue, but this amp is not a metal high gain amp. I would have bought a metal high gain amp if I could find any that has the features that this amp has. I couldn't find any.
- The foot switch that comes with it is made out of plastic (the previous versions were made out of metal) and it feels cheap to be honest. But since I use it only at home, it doesn't bother me that much.
Overall, a great amp for home use, probably the best. Sounds good on it's own and it's a great pedal platform. Needs some tweaks to achieve a modern metal tone, bot for all the rest, you will be set!
Edit: After the honeymoon period has passed, now I can offer a more accurate review. My opinion didn't change so much, this amp is really good! But playing it for a little longer made me realize that its sound and overall tone is lacking a little bit. Specially on the OD channel, which I think is very dark and muddy, even with the treble all the way up and the bass all the way down. I don't know, it lacks balls and character. Also the cabinet size being so small, it sounds boxy in most situations. Maybe changing the speaker would help on that.
Tone is subjective, and I realised this amp was not my cup of tea. Sold it and got a Marshall DSL40CR.