New Blackstar heads and combo

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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

GCKelloch wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 8:15 am
ef37a wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 10:55 am
GCKelloch wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 5:31 am
ef37a wrote: Wed May 18, 2022 10:45 am I think it is obvious that much will be made of the lightness in terms of all your poor old backs (mine is 76.5 and painful) but making a product that will ship all over the world half the weight of almost all other valve* 50 watters has 'green' credentials as well. There is also surely some saving on Copper?

Also very important I think is the universal mains capability. The debate has raged forever whether amps should just be made for intended destination voltage or have traff taps. The latter adds a cost that is very rarely useful (you watch!) and often they get it a bit wrong 'over there'!

*I have heard, but not had it confirmed, that the amp uses an op amp to get the first stage gain. I do hop we will not go down that daft "not a valve amp" rabbit hole again?

Dave.

I remember reading that the phase inverter is the Op-amp. Would have been better if it was the first gain stage because that isn't driven hard enough to compress or generate distortion anyway, so it would hardly matter if it is a tube or not. I guess they wanted to have an extra tube stage for high gain sounds. I suppose they apply more high end filtering on the phase inverter op-amp so it's not harsh. Blackstar amps do tend to be a bit dark sounding.

Where, did you read that GC?
Since you need in excess of 130V peak to peak to drive a 25W OP valve into distortion I very much doubt that the PI is an op amp? It is true that the HT series uses a MOSFET LTP PI and that has been criticised, quite unfairly IMO.

The most common valve PI is the cathode coupled LTP and this has massive headroom since half of it is a cathode follower. Consequently it is hardly ever driven into distortion even when seriously hammering the OP valves. The MOSFET circuit is similarly very clean and transparent. (the Series Ones use the circuit but with additions I shall not reveal here).

An op amp front end though makes a deal of sense. Valves hum, hiss and are microphonic and I found it increasingly hard to select good ones for the first stages of the Artisan amps (out of 50 ECC83s I would get perhaps ten good ones). Op amps, even the venerable TL072 have less noise, zero hum (if you get the supply clean!) use far less power, cost SIGNIFICANTLY less (how important is that now?!) have zero microphony, and almost never fail.
They also have at least as high an input headroom as a triode and as said, the first valve stage in an amp cannot usually be driven into distortion by a guitar. There are now even better jfet op amps than the 72 and I bet Blackstar are using one!

What's not to like?

Dave.

I don't remember the details of where, but I think it was indeed about the HT series. I confused the MOSFET for an Op-Amp. I don't know that much about electronics, but I knew it was some type of SS component. I also read recently that MOSFET's have a smoother S-curve than ECC83's. I see no reason to think these new amps are an entirely different design. Perhaps all the preamp overdrive comes b4 the MOSFET, but I have also heard that most distortion in a Plexi comes from the PI tube. So couldn't the MOSFET be used as an overdrive stage as well?

I recently watched a YT video demo wherein the reviewer showed how cranking the Master vs pre Gain knob yields a substantially brighter sound -- opposite the case with most guitar amps. Perhaps the Master volume is situated post MOSFET PI, and the brightness is then coming from the less-driven preamp tube stages combined with the brightness of the overdriven 6L6GC's? The MOSFET may well generate lower harmonics when driven, yet not compress, and the overdriven preamp section then reduces the high end, yielding the final darker/fatter sound? Interesting approach. My only concern is if something breaks.

Some Blackstar owners report that they can not a find techs to fix them, but that's also true of other PCB amps. Is it really worth ~5x the price of a 60W Line 6 Catalyst considering how Line 6 recently eliminated the digital aliasing issue, and that there are multiple great sounding amps that include response tuning parameters? It may also break and can't be fixed, but you'll only be out ~$300. One could buy two and replace any broken ones to always have a backup. Might be ~$300 every ~5 years.

Replace the speaker if you want a personalized stage tone. The stock speaker does sound a bit midrangy to me. A Weber smooth cone Ceramic 'California' (w/paper dust cap), or a '1230-55' (100W version) might be a nice affordable upgrade. The California has more high end with a bit more 2.3kHz "clarity" than the 1230-55, but it also has a bit more ~3.2kHz "ice pick", so it's a trade off. The 1230-55 has that big warm low end and strong ~5kHz presence. Users say they can hear themselves well on stage and it's not harsh. The WGS WGS12L is a sweeter sounding EVM12L type if you don't mind the 18lbs. Again, the amp section response parameters also make the amp models customizable.

You say you don't kno much about electronics friend but then go on to make some unsupported assumptions about the sonic qualities of various circuits!

For example, there is nothing mystical about a "gain" control that changes the frequency response as it is moved. Usually they don't but a very simple arrangement of suitable capacitors and resistors can give you pretty much any 'rotation v response' characteristic you want. Many controls on amps and guitars have a "bleed cap". Just to note gain was put in " " because in valve pre amps they are not gain controls as an audio engineer would understand them but volume controls, often with a limited range.

MOSFET PI more linear than a triode? Don't know I would have to put them both on the old AP anny! However, both circuits have massive inherent negative feedback so there is likely little audible difference between them. For a given HT voltage the MOSFET will swing closer to ground (and it loses less HT because it uses a constant current 'tail') but the ECC83 version can easily drive either OP valve into cut off and so the matter is rather academic? (once the valve is off it's effin OFF see?)

I get a bit miffed when people on forums make judgements based on very limited technical knowledge. The audio market and especially the guitar gear market is rife with innuendo and misinformation. Products can be dammed by a few ill chosen words in a forum and jobs lost.

Repairability: Depends where you and who you know, same as cars!
Do any of the very large guitar amplifier companies have heavily subsidised service departments in every small town world? In UK this used to be the case for domestic electronics and, to a limited extent for the music shops (I did amp work for one of them for a time) but now, everyone wants cheap and do not want to pay for service so, yer pays yer money?
Blackstar are a relatively small company and so if the biggies can't/won't do it? I CAN tell you that their service is first class in UK. Even people that don't like the sound and design choices of their products will readily admit they give very good service.

Dave.
ef37a
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by GCKelloch »

ef37a wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 9:53 am
GCKelloch wrote: Sun May 22, 2022 8:15 am
ef37a wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 10:55 am
GCKelloch wrote: Sat May 21, 2022 5:31 am
ef37a wrote: Wed May 18, 2022 10:45 am I think it is obvious that much will be made of the lightness in terms of all your poor old backs (mine is 76.5 and painful) but making a product that will ship all over the world half the weight of almost all other valve* 50 watters has 'green' credentials as well. There is also surely some saving on Copper?

Also very important I think is the universal mains capability. The debate has raged forever whether amps should just be made for intended destination voltage or have traff taps. The latter adds a cost that is very rarely useful (you watch!) and often they get it a bit wrong 'over there'!

*I have heard, but not had it confirmed, that the amp uses an op amp to get the first stage gain. I do hop we will not go down that daft "not a valve amp" rabbit hole again?

Dave.

I remember reading that the phase inverter is the Op-amp. Would have been better if it was the first gain stage because that isn't driven hard enough to compress or generate distortion anyway, so it would hardly matter if it is a tube or not. I guess they wanted to have an extra tube stage for high gain sounds. I suppose they apply more high end filtering on the phase inverter op-amp so it's not harsh. Blackstar amps do tend to be a bit dark sounding.

Where, did you read that GC?
Since you need in excess of 130V peak to peak to drive a 25W OP valve into distortion I very much doubt that the PI is an op amp? It is true that the HT series uses a MOSFET LTP PI and that has been criticised, quite unfairly IMO.

The most common valve PI is the cathode coupled LTP and this has massive headroom since half of it is a cathode follower. Consequently it is hardly ever driven into distortion even when seriously hammering the OP valves. The MOSFET circuit is similarly very clean and transparent. (the Series Ones use the circuit but with additions I shall not reveal here).

An op amp front end though makes a deal of sense. Valves hum, hiss and are microphonic and I found it increasingly hard to select good ones for the first stages of the Artisan amps (out of 50 ECC83s I would get perhaps ten good ones). Op amps, even the venerable TL072 have less noise, zero hum (if you get the supply clean!) use far less power, cost SIGNIFICANTLY less (how important is that now?!) have zero microphony, and almost never fail.
They also have at least as high an input headroom as a triode and as said, the first valve stage in an amp cannot usually be driven into distortion by a guitar. There are now even better jfet op amps than the 72 and I bet Blackstar are using one!

What's not to like?

Dave.

I don't remember the details of where, but I think it was indeed about the HT series. I confused the MOSFET for an Op-Amp. I don't know that much about electronics, but I knew it was some type of SS component. I also read recently that MOSFET's have a smoother S-curve than ECC83's. I see no reason to think these new amps are an entirely different design. Perhaps all the preamp overdrive comes b4 the MOSFET, but I have also heard that most distortion in a Plexi comes from the PI tube. So couldn't the MOSFET be used as an overdrive stage as well?

I recently watched a YT video demo wherein the reviewer showed how cranking the Master vs pre Gain knob yields a substantially brighter sound -- opposite the case with most guitar amps. Perhaps the Master volume is situated post MOSFET PI, and the brightness is then coming from the less-driven preamp tube stages combined with the brightness of the overdriven 6L6GC's? The MOSFET may well generate lower harmonics when driven, yet not compress, and the overdriven preamp section then reduces the high end, yielding the final darker/fatter sound? Interesting approach. My only concern is if something breaks.

Some Blackstar owners report that they can not a find techs to fix them, but that's also true of other PCB amps. Is it really worth ~5x the price of a 60W Line 6 Catalyst considering how Line 6 recently eliminated the digital aliasing issue, and that there are multiple great sounding amps that include response tuning parameters? It may also break and can't be fixed, but you'll only be out ~$300. One could buy two and replace any broken ones to always have a backup. Might be ~$300 every ~5 years.

Replace the speaker if you want a personalized stage tone. The stock speaker does sound a bit midrangy to me. A Weber smooth cone Ceramic 'California' (w/paper dust cap), or a '1230-55' (100W version) might be a nice affordable upgrade. The California has more high end with a bit more 2.3kHz "clarity" than the 1230-55, but it also has a bit more ~3.2kHz "ice pick", so it's a trade off. The 1230-55 has that big warm low end and strong ~5kHz presence. Users say they can hear themselves well on stage and it's not harsh. The WGS WGS12L is a sweeter sounding EVM12L type if you don't mind the 18lbs. Again, the amp section response parameters also make the amp models customizable.

You say you don't kno much about electronics friend but then go on to make some unsupported assumptions about the sonic qualities of various circuits!

For example, there is nothing mystical about a "gain" control that changes the frequency response as it is moved. Usually they don't but a very simple arrangement of suitable capacitors and resistors can give you pretty much any 'rotation v response' characteristic you want. Many controls on amps and guitars have a "bleed cap". Just to note gain was put in " " because in valve pre amps they are not gain controls as an audio engineer would understand them but volume controls, often with a limited range.

MOSFET PI more linear than a triode? Don't know I would have to put them both on the old AP anny! However, both circuits have massive inherent negative feedback so there is likely little audible difference between them. For a given HT voltage the MOSFET will swing closer to ground (and it loses less HT because it uses a constant current 'tail') but the ECC83 version can easily drive either OP valve into cut off and so the matter is rather academic? (once the valve is off it's effin OFF see?)

I get a bit miffed when people on forums make judgements based on very limited technical knowledge. The audio market and especially the guitar gear market is rife with innuendo and misinformation. Products can be dammed by a few ill chosen words in a forum and jobs lost.

Repairability: Depends where you and who you know, same as cars!
Do any of the very large guitar amplifier companies have heavily subsidised service departments in every small town world? In UK this used to be the case for domestic electronics and, to a limited extent for the music shops (I did amp work for one of them for a time) but now, everyone wants cheap and do not want to pay for service so, yer pays yer money?
Blackstar are a relatively small company and so if the biggies can't/won't do it? I CAN tell you that their service is first class in UK. Even people that don't like the sound and design choices of their products will readily admit they give very good service.

Dave.

I think you are overreacting to my criticism. Is it not true that most guitar amps get fatter /darker when the Master V or the only channel V is cranked most of the way vs the preamp gain knob cranked (unless it's a bright channel) and the Master down?
I also can't prove that MOSFET's are more linear than ECC83's, and I did only say I read it somewhere. I'm not making any claims to that effect.

I'm also only repeating what some reviewers reported as their experience trying to fix Blackstar amps as a consumer warning. It's only fair to share the bad with the good. Perhaps Blackstar does offer very good service, but how many amp techs are willing to troubleshoot any PCB-based amps made with micro-components after after warranty?

Look "friend", I'm convinced you are a competent techy, but I'm not responsible for promoting any business, and I don't like how the industry feeds on the ignorance of young musicians who are still convinced tubes are "better" than digital models for some ill defined reason. FI, the "feel" can be finely tuned in the L6 and some other software. I'm not an L6 fanboy, but I believe 1/5th the price is something musicians should take into consideration b4 getting into debt.

I would offer the same advice to any young person considering a new car with a poor or unproven reliability rating. Musicians may get themselves so into debt buying the latest/greatest gear, when they could have spent a fraction for very similar results, and noone would notice or care if the music is good. Blackstar only has themselves to blame if they've chosen a bad time to put out a PCB-based tube amp. I fall more on the side of the consumer vs the company on this one.

In closing, I'd say be aware of the reliability vs cost of any product. Very few musicians actually make a living at their craft. Belief in oneself and/or actual musical competency alone are no guarantees.
GCKelloch
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

I don't KNOW that amps get 'darker' (wetf that means!) as the master volume is advanced. What I DO know is that 20 minutes into running a 50W valve amps anywhere near full chat, you and everyone within 20 mtrs is probably some 10dB deafer and that starts at the HF end. None of the cork sniffing YT demo vids ever tell you that.

I am being "over critical" because other people are critical and talk in a pseudo technical way that leads many on the Tube and forums to believe things that are simply ONE persons personal opinion. Not technical fact.

The cost of the amplifiers no doubt reflects the development costs of the SMPSU as much as anything else? Said supply has to generate around 400V, low voltage, my guess would be 12V at 2.5A, around 100V negative bias, + and - about 15V, 5V at maybe 1A and possibly other supplies. I don't know of any guitar amp maker that has done that?

All Blackstar amps are PCB built except the Artisans*
Price of the 50W conbo? Very competitive...
Orange RK50C £1700
PRS Archo £1750
Vox AC30 £1469 (not even nearly 50W! )
Blackstar St James £1099
That was just one quick look at one dealer. Nobody is FORCING the'kids' to go into a bag's worth of debt. Yes, there are many other guitar amps at far less cost that will do the job. Somebody said elsewhere that the amps were aimed at the well heeled oldies with bad backs (gonna get one Mr White?) !

Servicing is big concern of mine for all kinds of products. We WILL run out of valuable elements needed for advanced electronics, yer phone, unless we start 'mining' the millions of tons of waste E products scientists had told us.
Getting advanced technology fixed other than in its original country is an on going problem and I don't have a solution ready to hand.

*NOT the 'Artists'! They are a development of the HT-40 chassis and the St James amplifiers I am told are a totally new circuit.
BTW my postal area here in Northampton IS "St James" which sounds posh. I can assure it ain't!
Dave.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by Matt Houghton »

ef37a wrote: Tue May 17, 2022 1:35 pm GOTS to ask! Is anything in the review pipeline?

In the pipeline? Yes. Can't yet tell you which issue it will appear in, though.
Matt Houghton
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

Matt Houghton wrote: Mon May 23, 2022 6:38 am
ef37a wrote: Tue May 17, 2022 1:35 pm GOTS to ask! Is anything in the review pipeline?

In the pipeline? Yes. Can't yet tell you which issue it will appear in, though.

Thanks Matt..."Grokking will be when waiting is filled"

Dave.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by Wonks »

A review of the EL34 combo by the Studio Rats just appeared. https://youtu.be/20d6NryNyYU
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

Wonks wrote: Tue May 31, 2022 6:24 pm A review of the EL34 combo by the Studio Rats just appeared. https://youtu.be/20d6NryNyYU

Thanks Wonks, pretty straight talking sort of guy. Interesting that he is the only one I have heard so far to criticise the latency?

Dave.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by Wonks »

Some people are more sensitive to it than others. Plus he’s always using various other units with software emulations, so latency is high on his list of things to check. He is a proper studio/session musician, so anything that affects his performance he’ll notice.

Of course you can always record from the USB and play/monitor through the amp to avoid any latency.

And as he said, it probably just requires an updated driver to improve it.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

Wonks wrote: Tue May 31, 2022 7:42 pm Some people are more sensitive to it than others. Plus he’s always using various other units with software emulations, so latency is high on his list of things to check. He is a proper studio/session musician, so anything that affects his performance he’ll notice.

Of course you can always record from the USB and play/monitor through the amp to avoid any latency.

And as he said, it probably just requires an updated driver to improve it.

Hmm, 16 samples seems VERY sensitive to me! I suspect there are other delays in the 'system'?

Dave.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by Wonks »

That's his interface buffer setting, so minimal delay there. The extra latency will be in the Blackstar A/D conversion and emulation processing.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by ef37a »

Wonks wrote: Wed Jun 01, 2022 8:10 am That's his interface buffer setting, so minimal delay there. The extra latency will be in the Blackstar A/D conversion and emulation processing.

Was he going through an interface Sam? If so I missed that and assumed he had just plugged a USB cable from amp to laptop? That is after all what most players are likely to do.

Just to add...IF he is using an AI it is a bloody good'un if it runs at 16 samples? That's TB speed.
Dave.
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Re: New Blackstar heads and combo

Post by Wonks »

"I have a Mac Pro and thunderbolt interfaces, I can run 16 samples all day long without stability issues".

He says in comments that the XLR output has less latency than the USB one. I'm not au fait with Macs, so don't know how interface sample size affects anything streaming form a USB port, and whether the USB buffer sample size can be adjusted at all.

But it's certainly much more laggy than say the Boss GT-1000. Then again, the software emulation side is a secondary function of the Blackstar, whereas it's the GT-1000's primary function.
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