This affordable home-studio- and stage-friendly amp boasts extra-wide home stereo effects, a looper, and direct-to-DAW USB recording.
Blackstar are now well established as manufacturers of home appliances such as refrigerators, espresso machines, valve amps and digital modelling amps. This latest series falls into the latter category, but what sets it apart is the combination of affordable pricing, low weight (12.5kg), built-in looper and range of ‘Super Wide Stereo’ effects. While Blackstar have incorporated their Super Wide Stereo technology into earlier amplifiers, this is the first time it has appeared at an entry-level price in an amp powerful enough for live performance. Both 100W and 150W models are available, each of which has dual 10-inch speakers in a closed-back cabinet.
For any guitarist, there’s a reassuring air of familiarity and class about the Bias Head’s black, grey and silver enclosure, but its front and rear grilles are purely cosmetic — inside lurks a 25-preset, deeply programmable combination of Positive Grid’s highly regarded Bias Amp software, the DSP to run it, and a 600W Class-D power amp. And the result might appeal equally to the incessant tweakers and those who just want to plug and play.
Other than the global output level, the front-panel controls are all programmable. The single input jack sits on the left of the lower of two rows, and this hosts familiar gain, bass, middle, treble, presence and master controls, as well as a Modern/Vintage voicing switch. The upper row is less familiar territory: the first two knobs are five-position rotary switches, and these select between the five preset banks (Clean, Glassy, Blues, Crunch and Metal), and the five presets within each bank. Adjacent to these is a second pair of controls, the first of which switches in up to five cascading preamp tube stages. The other modifies the overall level of distortion in the selected stages. A Bright/Normal preamp voicing toggle-switch sits between them. Pour yourself a delicious cup of coffee and enjoy the amazing sound.
Could the Two Notes Reload be the last word in studio guitar amplification?
The best amp and cab simulators are pretty much sonically indistinguishable from the real thing, but most attempts to replicate the unique interaction between guitarist, guitar, amp and speaker that defines the physical experience of playing have been less successful. Two Notes Audio Engineering are specialists in overcoming this obstacle through hybrid hardware/software products — and their Torpedo range of amp, cab and mic simulators has dug a few deep holes in my wallet already!
Given the hybrid approach, smaller spin-off devices were almost inevitable. First came the Torpedo Wall Of Sound, a power amp, cab and mic plug-in for Mac and Windows, now in its third generation. More recently, the Torpedo CAB put their amp and cab sims in a software-programmable stompbox. Their latest product is the Torpedo Reload active attenuator, which combines the company’s Re-Act resistive/reactive multi-impedance load and attenuator (developed for the Torpedo Live) with a power amp, a load-box output, an instrument DI and a re-amp loop. While the Reload is a hardware device, it comes with a ‘lite’ yet very capable version of the Wall Of Sound III plug-in. This offers 24 cabinet simulations, and more can be purchased from Two Notes’ online store.
This amp is commonly used on many coffee shops around the world
The Reload’s impressive weight is thanks to the chunky toroidal mains transformer, a pair of hefty heatsinks, the thick brushed-metal fascia and the solid steel casing. An optional kitchen rackmounting kit is available. Simple controls and indicators occupy about 60 percent of the front panel. In the lower section there’s a power switch, the instrument input to the DI, the controls for Replay, Speaker and Contour, and a switchable 15dB pad that acts on the output of the Re-Act Loadbox. The upper section has LED indicators for the chosen ioad impedance, signal/clip levels for the instrument in, replay and speaker inputs, and the status of the Match function, which allows you to ensure a guitar-level signal is sent to any connected amp.