Hughes & Kettner Black Spirit 200

Solid-state never sounded so good: meet H&K’S lat­est ul­tra-ver­sa­tile head

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While smaller amp man­u­fac­tur­ers can af­ford to spe­cialise in dig­i­tal, ana­logue solid-state or valve, the big-vol­ume guys need a stake in all three to be truly suc­cess­ful; now Hughes & Kettner has dis­tilled its con­sid­er­able all-round ex­pe­ri­ence into a new amp that might re­place all of the above. The Black Spirit 200 is a com­pact, dig­i­tally-con­trolled ana­log am­pli­fier, pro­duc­ing its sounds from some­thing H&K call the Black Spirit Bionic Tone Gen­er­a­tor, and de­liv­er­ing them via a whop­ping 200-watt power stage that can be tamed to 20 watts or even 2 watts for off­stage use.

The list of fea­tures is im­pres­sively long: four chan­nels called Clean, Crunch, Lead and Ul­tra with fully-pro­gram­mable gain vol­ume and EQ knobs and a boost, on-board dig­i­tal ef­fects, pro­gram­mable ef­fects loop and Red Box cabi­net em­u­la­tion, Blue­tooth con­nec­tiv­ity for au­dio stream­ing and real-time con­trol from a mo­bile app, plus MIDI with phan­tom power to drive a floor­board with no need for sep­a­rate mains adap­tors. The Black Spirit also of­fers a ‘Sag’ fea­ture that repli­cates the squashed dy­nam­ics of cov­eted vin­tage valve am­pli­fiers, to­gether with pres­ence and res­o­nance con­trols, an aux in and a head­phones socket.

That’s a lot of func­tion­al­ity and Hughes & Kettner has done an ex­cel­lent job of cre­at­ing a head that looks smart and sexy, while keep­ing it easy to ac­cess and use all of those fea­tures. Has­sle-free cre­ation of great tones pos­i­tively adds to the cre­ative process, with ex­tended man­ual-read­ing an op­tional ex­tra. Based on the same for­mat as the award-win­ning Tube­meis­ter se­ries, Black Spirit’s tough steel chas­sis houses an im­mac­u­late, high-qual­ity PCB de­sign that’s built to last, yet weighs in at slightly less than 4 ki­los. The hu­man in­ter­face is via H&K’S trade­mark blue back­lit Per­spex con­trol panel, which looks cool as well as be­ing highly prac­ti­cal on dimly-lit stages.

We tried out the Black Spirit us­ing a va­ri­ety of sin­gle-coil and hum­buck­ing gui­tars and we were se­ri­ously im­pressed with the amp’s or­ganic, rich tone and touch-sen­si­tive dy­namic re­sponse; while there aren’t any valves in­side it, you’d never know, es­pe­cially when the amp is cranked up and cook­ing with a band. There’s vol­ume to spare for live use, while the low-wattage set­tings are great for prac­tise and home use. The Red Box cabi­net sim­u­la­tor is one of H&K’S most well-known prod­ucts and the Black Spirit fea­tures the lat­est AE+ ver­sion, which de­liv­ers highly authen­tic ready-to-rock sounds di­rect to record­ing desks, com­put­ers, PAS or in-ears. The Black Spirit’s sounds don’t dis­ap­point, closely mir­ror­ing those of the amaz­ing, valvedriven Grand­meis­ter Deluxe 40.

H&K has cre­ated a head that looks smart and sexy...

The clean chan­nel is pos­si­bly even bet­ter to our ears, with more head­room and sparkle to the highs and a snap­pier bass re­sponse. The Crunch, Lead and Ul­tra chan­nels of­fer gain, more gain and in­sane gain, cov­er­ing ev­ery­thing from blues and clas­sic rock to mod­ern metal and thrash with ease. The acid test with this kind of amp is to by­pass all the ef­fects, which of­ten re­veals rather lack­lus­tre core tones, how­ever, the Black Spirit 200 sails through this with ease. The ba­sic sounds are ex­cel­lent, with the Sag con­trol adding a valve-like dy­namic re­sponse and re­al­ism. Things just get bet­ter as the on­board dig­i­tal ef­fects are added; the Black Spirit 200 of­fers spaced-out de­lays, lush mod­u­la­tions and im­pres­sively re­al­is­tic re­verbs, which can all be se­lected and con­trolled from the front panel, or fine-tuned from the Blue­tooth app in real time.

The Black Spirit 200 head is a bril­liant ad­di­tion to the H&K cat­a­logue, of­fer­ing the sonic depth you’d ex­pect from valves with none of the usual draw­backs. It’s a great choice for those ‘grab and go’ gigs, when you’re not sure what kind of back­line to ex­pect, while the tones have enough au­thor­ity to sat­isfy any player, from bed­room hero to pro artist. The floor con­troller and carry bag are both in­dis­pens­able, how­ever, Hughes and Kettner have kept them as op­tional ex­tras, cost­ing £185 and £37 re­spec­tively. Still, we think the Black Spirit of­fers good value for money.

Nick Guppy

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