Blackstar launches St James series of lightweight tube amplifiers

Featuring on-board loadboxes, cab-simulation and more.

NAMM 2022: Blackstar has launched a new range of valve amplifiers, the St James range. The amplifiers leverage some interesting new technology to stay light, and provide some of the convenient quality-of-life features more often found in solid-state and digital modelling amplifiers.

The range includes two 1×12 combos, two heads and two 2×12 cabinets. All of the amplifiers output a maximum of 50 watts, with the 2×12 cabinets rated for a maximum of 140 watts. From these six products you can split the range into the EL34-loaded and the 6L6-loaded amps, finished in ‘Fawn’ tolex and black tolex respectively.

The two styles of amplifier are designed around their respective power tubes. Both have a similarly-voiced clean channel (Channel I), which is modelled on US-style clean sounds with high headroom. On Channel II, however, the two diverge, with the EL34 amplifier having a more raucous, old-school British amplifier voice to the distortion. The 6L6 amplifier is voiced for more punchy (yet still ultimately British-sounding) distortion, with a “voice” switch that tightens the low-end for modern metal chugging. Taking the place of the voice switch on the EL34 amplifier is a 10dB boost.

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Blackstar St James 6l6 head, cab and combo.
The Blackstar St James 6l6 head, cab and combo.

All of this is standard fare for a valve amplifier launch, and all good stuff. Things are about to get a little futuristic, though. Normally, “going direct” is a lot easier with digital modelling amplifiers, especially if you’re using an amplifier head. The reason being that valve power stages get very upset if they don’t have the impedance of a speaker or a loadbox to work against. Upset enough to explode. But not in the case of the St James amps. Here, if you’re using the direct outputs – XLR, stereo line outs and USB – the valve power stage hits an on-board loadbox before it hits Blackstar’s Cab Rig, which simulates the sound of a speaker cabinet, microphone and room. Essentially, this eliminates the need for an external reactive load, and allows you safely get direct tones from a real, tubes-all-the-way-down amplifier.

The Cab Rig tech is the same that’s in Blacksar’s Dept. 10 range of pedals. The digital speaker simulator has a huge library of virtual rigs available, with deep editing available via the software. Notably, it doesn’t use impulse responses, instead using proprietary algorithms to recreate the sound of a speaker in a room.

For more traditional attenuation, the amps also feature a 2-watt mode to let you saturate the power section without going deaf.

The amps and cabs all use candlenut wood for much lighter total weight, alongwith Blackstar’s lightweight power transformers. And to save on additional weight, Blackstar worked with Celestion to develop the new Zephyr speaker. This is voiced after the classic Celestion Vintage 30, but weighs “a fraction” of a normal V30. The speaker also doesn’t take the weight-saving route we’ve seen before for amps like Fender’s Tone Masters, which use neodymium magnets – the Zephyr uses a traditional ferrite magnet.

The amplifier heads list for £999, the combos for £1,099 and the speaker cabiniets for £499. Find out more over at blackstaramps.com.

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