NOW THAT DIGITAL MODELING HAS BECOME mainstream for many pro players—a significant number of whom have adopted high-end systems from Fractal and Kemper—the technology has definitely passed the sniff test for some serious tube snobs, who can now simply enjoy the flexibility that modeling has always promised. But you don’t necessarily have to throw down for a costly rig to reap the rewards of tube and effects modeling. Case in point is Blackstar’s very affordable new ID:260TVP stereo combo (along with the non-stereo ID:60TVP and ID:100TVP heads), which pumps 60 watts a side into two 12" speakers (housed in a semi closed-back cabinet), and features six amp “channels” (Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD1, OD2), four flavors each of delay, modulation, and reverb, and an all-new TVP (True Valve Power) section that when activated via front-panel button, lets you choose between six different output tube types and make your own custom presets based around any of them.
You could, for instance, dial up a crisp rhythm tone by pairing either the Clean Warm or Clean Bright channels with, say, 6L6 or KT66 tube models. For a grungier sound, you could use the Crunch or Super Crunch channels combined with EL84s, and then choose channels OD1 or OD2 mated with EL34s or KT88s for a ragingly overdriven rock/metal mode. Adjust the Gain and EQ to taste, add the appropriate effects for each preset, and then easily store the three sounds using any of the four front-panel Channel buttons, each of which illuminates in green, orange, or red to indicate the three banks you can select for storage. Unfortunately, a footswitch was not included with our review amp, but an optional FS-10 three-button switcher is available for $89 street.
The ID:260TVP’s USB port also lets you connect to a computer (Mac OS X 10.5.8 or later/Windows 7, 8, XP, Vista) to store presets, perform deeper editing on the effects, use the phrase trainer, import MP3s to jam to, activate a tuner, and connect to the ID Series online community to share presets, etc.
Switching the amp to Manual (via the front-panel button) puts the amp in realtime mode where the sounds immediately reflect the settings of the controls. Though the factory presets ably demonstrate the ID:260TVP’s range of sounds, getting your own mitts on the controls is the best way to get acquainted with the amp’s sonic abilities, which are quite impressive. Whether dialing up clean, mid-grind, or heavily overdriven tones, the response is very tube-like in terms of dynamics, touch sensitivity, and tonal weight. Worth noting too is Blackstar’s proprietary ISF control, which changes the EQ to sound more “American” when turned to the left of center and more “British” when dialed to the right of center. This feature works well in tandem with the TVP section, as you can, say, dial in more U.S. character when using the 6V6 or 6L6 emulations, or more U.K. flavor for the EL34 or EL84 models.
The signatures of the various tube types are well represented—i.e., the chiming shimmer of EL84s and the brawny punch and high headroom of KT88s—and the muscular power section gives little hint of being anything other than tube powered with its presence and blistering volume capability. Even in highly gained-up modes using the OD channels, the amp tracks guitar volume changes extremely well, making it possible to go from scorching lead tones to cleaner rhythm textures without having to switch channels.
The clean and distorted tones also benefit from the smooth sounding and very quiet effects, The reverbs range from springy to expansive, the delays (in analog and digital flavors) are clear and open with nice decay characteristics, and the modulations—which include chorus, phaser, tremolo, and flanging— sound deep, chewy, and dimensional— especially in stereo.
Combined with the six channels and six tube choices, suffice to say there’s plenty on tap here for just about any style—from jazz to country, blues to hard rock, and right up into metal territory. There seems to be little the ID:260TVP can’t do, in fact, which makes it a superior choice for anyone who appreciates the vast range of sounds that modeling offers but doesn’t want to compromise the warmth, dynamics, and shimmering presence that tubes deliver. All in all, it’s an enticing and affordable package that earns an Editors’ Pick Award.
PRICE $699 street
CONTROLS 6-position Voice switch (Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD1, OD2), Gain, Volume, Bass, Middle, Treble, ISF, 6-position TVP switch (EL84, 6V6, EL34, 6L6, KT66, KT88), Effects selector, Effects Level, Resonance, Presence, Volume; pushbuttons for Manual Mode, Bank, Channels 1-4, TVP on/off, Tap Tempo
POWER 60 watts (x2)
EXTRAS USB port facilitates deep editing, storing of presets, and more via Blackstar’s free Insider software. MIDI in, 1/4” MP3, 1/4" footswitch jack, and 1/4" speaker emulated out jacks
SPEAKER Two Blackstar-designed 4Ω/70-watt 12s
WEIGHT 53 lbs
KUDOS Impressive tube-like response. Excellent range of tones. TVP section with six different output-tube models. Well implemented effects.
CONCERNS No effects loop or provision for connecting to external speakers.