AS THE LARGEST MODEL IN THE ID: Core series (10-watt and 20-watt version are also available), the Core 40 walks the line between practice and performance, while offering a level of features that makes it hip for home recording too. When I first saw a demo of the Core Stereo 40 at NAMM last January, what got me about the amp were its unbelievably huge stereo field (I swear it was even throwing sound behind it) and the warmth and realism of its modeled amp tones. Okay, the show floor at NAMM is hardly the best place to judge tone, but based on the model on review here, it’s clear that Blackstar put a lot of R&D into this amp, and it pays off in tones that work well for a lot of different needs. From Fender-like cleans to Britstyle rage and beyond, the Core Stereo 40 has plenty of options for players who need something small, portable, and affordable, but don’t want to skimp on sonic quality.
The Core Stereo 40 is loaded with features that include a Tap button, a speaker-emulated line out (doubles as a headphone jack), and an input jack for mp3 players. There’s also USB port so that you can record directly into a computer, perform deep editing of the sounds, and store custom presets via the included INSIDER software. You can also share and download patches via the online community, which can be a very useful thing for some players.
The front end of the Stereo 40 is where you find knobs for Voice, Gain, Volume, EQ, Effects, and Level. The Voice knob puts six amp models at your fingertips: Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD1, and OD2. For use with external effects, I liked the clean settings best—especially Clean Bright, which provides good headroom when using delay and modulation boxes, yet can still be pushed a bit for some extra amp grind.
Of course, the Core Stereo 40 has it own delay, modulation, and reverb effects that are engaged via dedicated pushbuttons. Select the effect you want and from there you can use the Effects knob to scroll through four different versions of it. The Stereo 40 holds the setting you choose, allowing you to add another effect—like modulation and/or delay. In all, three effects can be active simultaneously, and the adjacent Level knob provides control over the effects mix. There are enough options among the delays (analog, tape, multi-tap, linear), modulations (chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo) and ’verbs (plate, hall, spring, room) to get the job done for most situations, and the wide stereo presentation on many of them is way cool. Modulation rates and delay times can be altered using the Tap button, which is convenient, although it would be nice if there was a way to put this function on a footswitch.
The high-gain amp models work nicely with the longer delays and ’verbs, and you can get soaring lead tones with near infinite sustain in the OD1 and OD2 realms. Tested with a Buzz Feiten T-Pro, a Gibson ES-330 reissue, and a PRS Modern Eagle II, the Core Stereo 40 produced what I felt were its best sounding distortion tones on the Crunch and Super Crunch settings, which delivered very realistic tube-like tone and dynamic feel. Slap on some juicy tape delay and a little flanging or phasing, and it’s easy to get into the mind space of playing a Marshall JCM800 with effects running in the front end—just at a much lower volume. That said, the Core Stereo 40 does get quite loud when turned up, and jamming with a band on smaller stages is definitely doable with this amp.
The ISF (EQ) control is a patented circuit that changes the character of the tones in useful ways. For example, swinging it to the left provides a tighter, “American”-style response that is appropriate for clean tones, while dialing to the right yields a creamier “British”-style response that pairs well with the higher gain tones. Somewhere between these extremes is where I tended to put the ISF control, and once you’ve voiced the amp to your liking, it’s basically a matter of set it and forget it. In Manual mode (Manual button lit), the Core Stereo 40 responds to knob settings just like any amplifier. In Patch mode (Manual button light out), you can store up to six presets and then use either the Voice control or the optional FS-11 footswitch to recall those presets. The Core Stereo 40 even has a built-in tuner that activates when you press the Manual and Tap buttons together.
A slam-dunk for players who want a flexible combo amp that’s easy to schlep (it even has a strap for shoulder carry), the ID:Core Stereo 40 scores highly for sound, size, and features. The fact that it costs under two bills makes it hard to beat in this class, and that’s why it earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
ID:CORE STEREO 40
PRICE $199 street
CONTROLS Voice, Gain, Volume, EQ, Effects, Level
POWER 40 watts
EXTRAS Six amps, 12 effects (4 x modulation, 4 x delay, 4 x reverb), tap-tempo button, speaker emulated line-out/headphone jack, mp3/Line in jack. Optional FS-11 footswitch.
SPEAKERS Two 6.5"
WEIGHT 11.5 lbs
KUDOS Great tonal variety. Well-implemented effects. Wide stereo sound.
CONCERNS Wish it had a standard IEC connector for AC power instead of the in-line power supply.