Blackstar amps are famously versatile and user-friendly, but there’s always room for any company to innovate. And innovate they have, with their ID:Series amps and now the ID:Core line. The thing that’s so revolutionary about the ID:Core line (and there are stereo combos available in 10 watt, 20 watt and 40 watt configurations) is that on the surface they’re as easily controllable as any other Blackstar amp, especially due to the handy ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control which gives you a range of tones from UK to US and any point in between. But the free Insider software lets you fully unlock the potential of the amp by plugging it into your computer and taking your preset-editing to a whole other level.
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On the actual amp the only controls are very minimal – basically only Gain, Volume and ISF, plus a mode switch to dial in your tone itself, then a basic effect section – but the software lets you tap into all sorts of extra parameters like Bass, Middle and Treble, different power valve models (EL84, 6V6, EL34, KT66, 6L6 and KT88), and greater flexibility over control of your effects beyond the simple Modulation, Delay and Reverb type and level controls that . The software also lets you share patches with other ID:Core owners or download artist-created sounds. The amp includes six different voices accessible via a selector knob: Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1 and OD 2.
There are four modes each of studio-quality delay, reverb and modulation effects, and there’s a USB Audio jack so you can use the amp for recording, along with a Stereo MP3/Line In for playing along with tunes, and a speaker-emulated line out/headphone jack. There are two 20 watt speakers pumping out the rather theatrically-named Super Wide Stereo, designed to give you an immersive playing experience when rocking out along with your tracks or when messing about with the stereo ambient effects.
I plugged in with my Gibson Les Paul Traditional with Seymour Duncan Seth Lover humbuckers for testing, starting with the Clean Warm mode and working my way up. It immediately became apparent that Blackstar had put a lot of work into nailing the stock factory settings of each channel to be musically useful. This is refreshing because a lot of the time you’ll find that stock settings on digital gear are pretty extreme. Here there’s plenty of subtlety and detail. The two clean channels sound nice and three-dimensional (even before you engage the excellent reverb), and the crunch channels have just enough grit and growl. I was able to coax some positively Jimmy Page-esque tones out of the Crunch mode with the gain at about halfway and some subtle reverb. Super Crunch is great for heavier hard rock, while OD 1 excels at modern metal rhythm tones, and OD 2 is great for Satriani-like leads, especially with clever use of the delay and ISF controls and a little editing in the Insider editing program.
More than ever before, Blackstar has really nailed the idea of putting the power at your fingertips. This amp can be as complicated as you make it or as simple as you want it to be. Some players will be perfectly content with the incredibly usable stock sounds. Others will want to get in there and tweak each model just a little bit, while others will want to go nuts with custom-created amp/effect combinations. Whatever you want this amp to be, that’s what it is, from practice buddy to studio tool to live tonal mothership.