Guitarist

One More Time…

Blackstar’s third iteration of the HT Venue range features updated styling and powerful modern features, such CabRig speaker emulation and a brand-new digital reverb

- Words Nick Guppy Photograph­y Phil Barker

Introduced back in 2010 at that year’s winter NAMM Show, Blackstar’s HT Venue series of mid-priced combos and heads quickly establishe­d the company as the go-to brand for working players at all levels. Seven years later in 2017, we were among the first to glimpse the updated HT Venue Mk II. And today, almost another seven years on again, we’re looking at the upgrade to the upgrade, in the shape of the new HT Venue Mk III. Has Blackstar’s unceasing R&D program produced another winner? Let’s take a look at possibly the most popular combo in the range, the 1x12 Club 40.

Like its predecesso­rs, the new Mk III Club 40 is a good-looking amp, with pleasing proportion­s enhanced by Blackstar’s elegant revised styling. A smart new metal badge sits atop a black and silver sparkle grille cloth, which conceals a single 12-inch Celestion Seventy 80 loudspeake­r. Inside the chassis, most of the electronic­s sit on one large high-quality printed circuit board, with the familiar clean layout and minimal wiring we’ve come to expect on Blackstar products.

The Club 40 is a footswitch­able twochannel design with a choice of two very different voices on both channels. The straightfo­rward controls will be familiar to Blackstar users and newbies alike: the Clean channel has knobs for Volume, Treble and Bass, with a Voice select switch that toggles between American and British influences; while the Overdrive channel offers Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble and Blackstar’s patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature), which progressiv­ely changes the tone network from British to American configurat­ion, adding great tonal flexibilit­y. Another toggle switch changes the Overdrive channel between classic and modern voices.

As with the Clean channel, many circuit changes take place when these toggle switches are flipped, including EQ, gain, output stage negative feedback and speaker damping. Towards the far right of the front panel, there’s a Master Volume and Reverb Level knob, together with another small toggle switch that drops the Club 40’s output down to around four watts for home practice and recording.

One of the most important additions to the new Mk III amps is the addition of CabRig, Blackstar’s own dynamic microphone, cabinet and environmen­t simulation, accessed via USB using the Architect desktop app. On the rear panel, there’s a mono XLR and stereo headphones/line out for feeding the CabRig signal into a console, while the USB socket allows four-channel recording direct to your DAW, as well as loading up to three onboard CabRig presets.

Other rear-panel features include a series effects loop with Level control, a choice of Dark or Light voices for the HT’s digital reverb, and a pair of jack sockets for the supplied two-way unit and/or the optional FS-14 five-button controller, which access all channels and voices, together with a global boost option. There’s even a Kensington lock slot, making this combo ideal for semiperman­ent backline installati­ons in places such as rehearsal studios, schools and churches. Together with the new tweaked cosmetics, the HT Venue Mk III version of the Club 40 looks slick and ready to rock, with all the features you’d expect on a modern valve amp.

Feel & Sounds

We checked out the Club 40 with our regular Strat and Les Paul guitars, using a small pedalboard and a PC connection to check out the CabRig sounds. The Clean channel’s two voices will be familiar to most ears, with a tight bass, slightly scooped midrange and sweet treble in the USA setting compared with a warmer and more dynamic British tone that chimes at medium level settings and can be pushed hard into a mild overdrive if needed.

Likewise, the Overdrive channel swaps between a classic ‘hot-rod’ overdrive with medium speaker damping and a looser, more aggressive modern voice that benefits from a powerful pre-gain mid boost. This sounds great with single coils – but it’s magical with a good PAF-style humbucker. The EQs operate smoothly and using the overdrive channel’s ISF, dialling in any guitar for USA or UK tones (and any point in between), is an intuitive operation that takes just a few seconds.

The CabRig outputs lift the new Mk III into a different league, with the ability to send mono or stereo feeds to a console with the speaker switched on or off, making the Club 40 ideal for quiet stages

The CabRig outputs lift the Club 40 into a different league, making it ideal for quiet stages

in venues like theatres or churches. CabRig settings are accessed using the Club 40’s rear-panel USB socket and Blackstar’s Architect desktop app, which lets you edit, store and load virtual microphone­s, cabinets and environmen­ts, as well as edit the Club 40’s digital reverb to taste. As you might expect, the software is easy to use with clean no-frills rendering, while the simulation­s are eerily authentic, with no latency or phase issues.

When you want to rock, though, there’s plenty of level from the Celestion Seventy 80 loudspeake­r, which is one of our favourite combo drivers, enhanced with a smooth bass response from the slightly oversized cabinet.

Verdict

While valve technology remains frozen in time, digital advances continue to affect every area of music making. And there’s been a definite trend in the last couple of years toward integratin­g both approaches, with studio-quality digital reverbs increasing­ly replacing the venerable spring tank, and integrated digital cabinet simulation­s like CabRig with outputs for live and studio use.

It’s hard to level criticism when every aspect of the Mk III has been evaluated and polished by Blackstar’s R&D team. The only thing that some players may find difficulty with is the Club 40’s size and weight: as 1x12 40-watters go, it’s on the heavy side. There are no smaller alternativ­es in the new range as yet, although, of course, if you need compact and portable, Blackstar already has several tempting options to look at.

Aimed at serious amateurs and working pro players, Blackstar’s new improved HT Venue Mk III range continues to provide all you could want from a modern guitar amplifier, with affordable pricing that stands up well compared to the competitio­n. If you want to combine authentic valve tone with digital pizazz, it’s a great choice.

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 ?? ?? 3. A two-button footswitch comes supplied as standard, or you can upgrade to the optional five-button FS-14, which accesses all the channels and voices as well as reverb and a boost. You can use both footswitch­es together for even more flexibilit­y 3
3. A two-button footswitch comes supplied as standard, or you can upgrade to the optional five-button FS-14, which accesses all the channels and voices as well as reverb and a boost. You can use both footswitch­es together for even more flexibilit­y 3
 ?? ?? 1. The all-new Mk III HT Venue amps have a brand-new badge that underlines the classy styling, as well as hinting at the significan­t design upgrades inside the chassis
1
1. The all-new Mk III HT Venue amps have a brand-new badge that underlines the classy styling, as well as hinting at the significan­t design upgrades inside the chassis 1
 ?? ?? 2. Big news for the Mk III amps is the addition of CabRig, Blackstar’s in-house dynamic microphone, speaker cabinet and room simulation, which sidesteps the latency and phase issues often experience­d with multiple IRs 2
2. Big news for the Mk III amps is the addition of CabRig, Blackstar’s in-house dynamic microphone, speaker cabinet and room simulation, which sidesteps the latency and phase issues often experience­d with multiple IRs 2
 ?? ?? 4. Sitting on the front panel next to the master volume, this useful Power toggle switch drops the Club 40’s output down to a home‑friendly four watts. You can also use the rear-panel headphones/ CabRig outputs for silent practice and recording as they stay active in standby mode 4
4. Sitting on the front panel next to the master volume, this useful Power toggle switch drops the Club 40’s output down to a home‑friendly four watts. You can also use the rear-panel headphones/ CabRig outputs for silent practice and recording as they stay active in standby mode 4
 ?? ?? The Reverb Voice switch offers a choice of bright, slightly crashy vintage plate reverb or a warmer more ‘boutique’ room model. Both reverbs are very high quality and easily replace outboards or plug-ins
The Reverb Voice switch offers a choice of bright, slightly crashy vintage plate reverb or a warmer more ‘boutique’ room model. Both reverbs are very high quality and easily replace outboards or plug-ins

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