Blackstar’s rise since its formation a decade ago has been remarkable to behold. Now one of the world’s biggest amp brands, just as there’s a Stratocaster at every price point, you can buy into the Blackstar sound whether you’re a beginner or a pro. And happily there’s more chance of encountering a turkey at Paul McCartney’s house at Christmas than there is of buying one with a Blackstar logo on it.
2014’s Fly 3 was a case in point: a battery-powered, three-watt micro-amp that doesn’t sound like a wasp playing a kazoo and with musical on board tape-style delay? Surely not. Fast-forward to 2017 and the new Fly 3 Bluetooth retains all the functionality of the original but also allows you to stream music to it wirelessly. This means you can use the unit as a portable speaker for music playback or jamming along, without your music-playing device being physically tethered to it.
Alongside the Fly 3 we have another compact, new amp: the LT-Echo 10. A mains-powered product, this pushes 10-watts through a pair of three-inch drivers and also features two channels, a tape delay-style effect and the company’s now familiar ISF tone-shaping EQ control. There’s not much around the back other than space to stow the mains cable and a handy Velcro cable tidy.
In the history of the electric guitar, ‘student’ amps have had a slightly odd trajectory. The five-watt wonders of the 1950s still sound glorious today and yet by the 1990s, most amplifiers aimed at beginners were dispiriting affairs short on both tone and fun. Today the choice is somewhat better, to say the least.
If you haven’t plugged into a Fly 3 for a while, it’s still surprising how grown up it sounds for its size. Alongside decent cleans and drive sounds, with the gain and volume controls riding high and the OD switch disengaged there’s some raunchy crunch available that’s good for 60s power-pop, Stones-y R&B and many other classic styles. Throw in a little slapback from the onboard delay and it’s pretty infectious stuff.
Audio streaming is trouble-free – use your mobile device’s volume control to set the level of the backing track for practice sessions. If you are simply listening to music there’s a level of depth and detail that compares favourably to more costly mono DAB radios and dedicated Bluetooth speakers. For home office or kitchen use, or for background sounds at a party, the Fly 3 is up to the task.
As expected, the LT-Echo 10’s additional speaker, chunkier cabinet and extra wattage translate into a bigger voice. There are no individual controls for gain and volume – see the LT-Echo 15 (£84.99) for that – so it’s a binary choice between preset amounts of clean or dirty.
Clean tones are rather basic – the delay does liven things up but you only get control over delay time, whereas the Fly has delay level too. The star of the show is the OD channel, with a heavy alt-rock drive tone that’s much more credible than we’d expect from a 60 quid practice amp.
Blackstar LT-Echo 10
• PRICE £59.99
• DESCRIPTION 2-channel, mains-powered analogue guitar amplifier with delay. Made in China
• POWER RATING 10W
• CONTROL PANEL Instrument input, volume, OD channel on/off, ISF, delay on/off, delay time, mp3/line in mini jack, speaker emulated/headphone out
• SPEAKER 2x 3”
• DIMENSIONS 216(w) x 252(h) x 142mm (d)
• WEIGHT 3kg/6.6lbs
Blackstar Fly 3 Bluetooth
• PRICE £79.99
• DESCRIPTION 2-channel analogue guitar amplifier with Bluetooth and delay. Powered by 6x AA batteries or PSU-1 mains adaptor. Made in China
• POWER RATING 3W
• CONTROL PANEL Instrument input, Bluetooth, gain, OD channel on/off, volume, ISF, delay level, delay time, mp3/line in mini jack, speaker emulated/headphone out
• SPEAKER 1x 3” (for stereo operation the Fly 103 extension cabinet is £19.99)
• DIMENSIONS 170 (w) x 126 (h) x 102mm (d)
• WEIGHT,/b> 0.9kg/1.9lbs
• CONTACT Blackstar 01604 817817, www.blackstaramps.com