Review – Blackstar Silverline Deluxe Head and 2×12 Cab

Overview

I have a long history with Blackstar amps. In the early days of Set For The Fall, after going through years of swapping tube heads and carrying around a massive pedalboard, I was in search of a product that would make my life as a musician easier, while retaining much of the feel and tone of a tube amp. After some searching, I came across a teaser on YouTube about a “revolutionary” new ID series and was completely blown away by it. Blackstar described the product as their “biggest product launch,” and I couldn’t agree more.

I love the approach Blackstar took not to model popular amps, but instead to model the components of a tube amp to combine with the six voices, allowing one to find “the sound in your head.” After trying one in the store, I purchased the 100W head and 4×12 cab and replaced most of my pedalboard with the built-in effects controlled by the IDFS-10 footswitch.

Enter the Silverline series! Released on October 10th, 2019, this series replaces the TVP line providing an all-new design aesthetic, and thanks to an upgrade to the SHARC processor, an even closer representation of the dynamic feel and authentic tone you’d expect from an all-valve amplifier. All the signature features of the TVP are still present:

  1. Six preamp voicings (Clean Warm, Clean Bright, Crunch, Super Crunch, OD 1, OD 2)
  2. Six tube power sections (KT88, 6L6, KT66, EL34, 6V6, EL84)
  3. Patented ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) control
  4. Studio-grade effects (modulation, delay, and reverb)
  5. Deep editing with INSIDER software

I’m excited to have the Silverline Deluxe Head and 2×12 Cab as my first full product review. I’ll cover these high-level areas in order: 

  1. Design
  2. Tone
  3. Software
  4. Final Verdict

Design

Design is entirely subjective, and the beauty or lack thereof is in the eye of the beholder. Personally, I love the new aesthetic that the designers at Blackstar have created for the Silverline series. It’s an entirely new high-end, boutique design for the company that I find incredibly attractive.

It’s clear that there was great attention to detail in every aspect of the design. The new logo plate does a great job of incorporating the design of the series with the Blackstar brand. It’s a nice touch that adds to the high-end look. Even the handle is well designed to match. All these details add up to a very cohesive product.

In terms of accessibility, the front panel is silver with black knobs and text, which for me, makes it very easy to see when I’m creating patches. Again, this will be different for everyone, but I find this change to be easier to read than the original TVP where the panel was black with black knobs and white text. Lights adorn the front panel to indicate the selected voice, response, and effects. It’s just enough to be useful without being distracting.

Tone

Now, let’s talk about tone. If you like the sound of previous ID TVP amps, know that these amps sound and feel even more tube-like! There are plenty of videos on YouTube that demonstrate the many tones you can achieve, and I’d recommend you watch several if playing one in a store isn’t an option for you, but keep in mind that there are subtle differences between the voices combined with the tube selection that will not translate over YouTube.

I love the built-in effects and just how easy it is to dial in just the right amount without the need to connect to a PC/Mac. If I could add anything to the amp, it would be a built-in wah. It seems like the Silverline series would have been the perfect opportunity to release a new optional footswitch that includes a built-in expression pedal to control wah or volume. Maybe this will come in a software update, but I’ve heard no plans on the subject.

Note that all of my testing has been through the Silverline 2×12, which is equipped with Celestion V-Type G12 speakers. They sound rich and do a great job of handling the different combination of preamp and tube options available.

Software

Unfortunately, it’s the INSIDER software that raises some concerns. The first issue I have is that there appears to be no link to the INSIDER site from the Silverline page, yet they have a dedicated section mentioning the software and its benefits. The only place I could find on the site that links to the INSIDER site was via the navigation menu: Support > Support > INSIDER Software under Support Links. What? Why? What’s strange is the nested Support link is actually at the bottom of the Support drop-down menu. Strange design decisions all over.

The next problem is one that software engineers will certainly understand; this application still uses Microsoft Silverlight. Silverlight has been irrelevant for years, along with the death of Flash. Unfortunately, Microsoft made it possible for developers to writing out-of-browser software with Silverlight, and thus here we are years later.

What does this mean for customers? They will need to download Silverlight because, let’s face it, no computer should ever have this installed by default. On macOS, you’ll also need the Mono framework to support Silverlight. It’s a mess, and as much as I love Blackstar, I have to say they’ve delayed a rewrite to this app for long enough. We need a modern app written to be cross-compatible. There are many examples of this being done well, like the Line 6 Spider Remote app that’s available for iOS/Android, PC, and macOS. Speaking of mobile, add that to the wishlist as well because I want to control the amp from my iPhone and iPad!

Final Verdict

As a long time fan of the ID TVP series, I’m thrilled to say that the Silverline series does not disappoint when it comes to design, and authentic tube-like tone and feel. It’s everything I love about the original, taken to the next level.

Blackstar states that this is “a boutique, digital amp without compromise,” and I can’t think of a better way to describe it myself. I believe the right place for digital gear is when we remove the “digital” aspect of our interaction, and what’s left is the pure essence of why we buy amps, amazing tone, and feel. I definitely recommend this setup.

As for negatives, the INSIDER software desperately needs to be rewritten, and while they’re at it, I think it should be available for iOS/Android with wireless control. As far as the amp itself goes, I think wah should be built-in and accessible via a new footswitch that includes an expression pedal.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my first guitar product review! Please leave any feedback you have, and I look forward to seeing you in the next video.

Take care. Stay awesome.