18 months after the acquisition of my Blackstar ID:30, I think it is worth the effort to look back on whether my initial impressions have held up, or if it might even have been surpassed by other gear. Since it is a digital amplifier, continuous updates to the firmware and the Insider software can bring about major changes. Let’s address them and see where that leaves us:
First of all, one of the major reservations of my initial review was that it was not particularly Fender-friendly. I take that back. It turned out that I did not check my facts properly before delivering that particular judgement. The noise gate might not be infinitely configurable, but it has three settings: off, low and max. “Low” works fine with my Stratocaster.
Next, firmware updates have got rid of some of the minor nuisances. Originally, I remarked that the ID:30 “out-Fenders Fender”, in that they’ve managed to make a 30-watt 1 x 12 combo sound like a big, fat 100-watt 2 x 12 Twin Reverb (when you select the 6L6 output stage and the US EQ). This was pretty much a sword that cut both ways, since when playing distorted, the American EQ would sound obscenely boomy in the room, and completely obliterate the input stage of my sound card and recording software. This was fixed in a firmware update, and I’m pleased to report that the machine now produces US and British tones with equal aplomb.
The very same firmware update also fixed a nagging ergonomic problem: the lack of a midrange knob on the control panel. Now, the tap tempo button doubles as a shift button for the bass, treble and ISF controls, meaning ID:15 and ID:30 not only have access to the midrange, but also to the resonance and presence controls that were previously only found on the 60- and 100-watt models. This has never been a dealbreaker, since it is no big deal hooking the amp up to my computer via USB, and it’s just too much fun horsing around with the Insider software, which lets you save your sounds for later access, or for assignment to any of the 12 patches accessible via the buttons on the amp chassis. I now not only have a duplicate of my HT-20 sound, I think I’ve also managed to nail Hetfield’s tone on Master of Puppets.
The reverbs and delays are good enough for living-room noodling; when recording, I prefer adding them in post, so the patches I have earmarked for recording projects are fairly dry. The effects are off and on: the flanger is not very good and the phaser is all right so long as you use it on clean sounds. The chorus is very nice, however, and the tremolo – well, it’s a tremolo. This brings up one of the surprising things for a solid-state amplifier: that it takes pedals really, really well. I can put my pedalboard in front of it with no hesitation whatsoever and get perfectly fine tones for recording.
Lastly, the best review you could ever hope to give a piece of gear is the spontaneous outbursts of bandmates, colleagues, producers and general listeners. I’ve had to endure a few barbs about the amount of blinking lights (“Mission Control!”), but generally, the verdict has been just about unanimous: this is a damn fine-sounding amp! My singer/bass player was convinced that I had used the big tube rig on our EP, but it was just a little digital combo straight into a sound card. We guitar players are truly blessed to be living in times like these. There just aren’t any excuses left for having bad tone.