Corporate synergy can be a wonderful thing – it’s the reason why we can have Oreo bits in our Dairy Milk bars and Spider-Man is in our Avengers movies. And now it’s also enabled Blackstar to put its sonic signature on Korg’s ultra-compact amPlug headphone amps.
Since they launched back in 2007, the amPlugs have been something of an incongruous hit for Vox and its parent company, Korg. In a world where everyone has a full amp and effects rig on their mobile phone, why do you need a small plastic doohickey that contains one amp sound and a few basic effects?
Well… how many of us waste our evenings scrolling through Netflix because we can’t decide what to watch? For time-poor players who just want to get on with it, amPlugs are a compelling alternative to the option-paralysis of modern amp and effects software – especially when they make such a good fist of emulating that classic Vox tone.
What the amPlugs haven’t always been best at, however, are non-Vox sounds – and that’s where Blackstar comes in. The original Fly is the most ‘big’ sounding practice amp on the planet and so the prospect of Blackstar cramming similar tonal qualities into units for guitar and bass that are even more portable and affordable is seriously enticing.
If you’ve used an amPlug before, you’ll know the deal – a plastic box around half the size of a pack of cigarettes, with a quarter-inch plug that rotates to accommodate various jack-socket configurations. On top of the guitar version, we have three rotary controls for gain, volume and Blackstar’s ISF mid-shaping, plus 3.5mm jacks for headphones and an aux in and push buttons for power and to scroll through the three different onboard effects (delay, reverb and chorus), each of which has three modes.
On the bass side, it’s the same, except a classic tone control replaces ISF and the effects are swapped for six tap-tempo rhythm loops to jam along with.
First off, we plug in to our trusty classic Fly’s headphone out and A/B it with the sound of the amPlug Fly Guitar, and there’s no doubt that the amPlug has the beating of its big brother.
Particularly with clean sounds, there’s a warmth and depth to the amPlug’s tones that the Fly can’t match – especially when adding a bit of spacey delay or reverb into the mix, it really does offer that same 3D feel of the original Fly, but through a pair of headphones.
A common complaint about the Vox amPlugs was centred around what happens when you turn up the wick, and here Blackstar’s high-gain experience really pays off. Whether it’s crunchy overdrive or full-on lead, with careful setting of the ISF control you can get thick, powerful distorted sounds that outstrip the rather abrasive tones often associated with Vox amPlugs.
The Bass model is equally usable. The three modes – classic, modern and overdrive – all do exactly what you’d want (the overdrive is particularly fun), while six varied rhythm patterns offer everything from rock and funk to a simple metronome. Having to select the pattern and the tap tempo using long/short clicks on the same button is a bit fiddly at first, but you get the hang of it.
The amPlug concept has always been about offering all the sounds you’d need for a quick practice or jam-along session with minimal hassle, but the injection of Blackstar’s knowhow has kicked it up to another level. In all the ways that matter, these amPlug Flys feel like a great leap forward for headphone amps.
- PRICE: £42 each
- DESCRIPTION: Headphone amplifiers for guitar and bass
- CONTROLS: Power/mode switch, volume, gain, ISF (Guitar), tone (Bass), FX (Guitar), rhythm/tap tempo
- FEATURES: Both: rotating 1/4-inch input jack, 3.5mm headphone out, 3.5mm aux in. Guitar: 3x amp models (clean, crunch, lead) and 3x effects (reverb, delay, chorus – each with 3 preset modes). Bass: 3x amp models (classic, modern, overdrive) and 6x rhythm loops with tap tempo.
- POWER: 2x AAA batteries (up to 11 hours use, auto-shutoff after 30 minutes of no signal)
- SPEAKER: N/A
- DIMENSIONS: 86 x 38 x 31mm
- WEIGHT: 40g/0.08lb
- CONTACT: Blackstar blackstaramps.com
Like This? Try These.
Vox amPlug 2 AC30 (£25.99), Electro-Harmonix Headphone Amp (£42), Nux GP-1 (£9.95)