Emulated outputs are common on valve amps these days and in theory are a good idea. The main reason I bought the Blackstar HD5 R MKII was so that I could get the distinctive sound of a valve amp at volumes I could use in my little Home Studio. The second reason was that it had some incredibly useful features. The first of those being an effects loop, the second being an emulated line out for silent recording. So after two weeks of ownership, how has that panned out?

Well, the amplifier itself is fantastic, but I knew that already having heard one in use before. The effects loop has proven to be invaluable. I use it with my boss GT 100 which allows me to use the FX send and return for delay and modulation effects and direct input for distortion and compression. it was a while before I actually tried the emulated outputs I did that last week for a YouTube video which you can watch here.

Still image from video test of emulated outputs and microphones for recording. LInks to actual video on Youtube

To cut a long story short these, as I kind of expected, are not great. My Marshall DSL 122 valve amp also has an emulated output which is also not great. Whether it’s the XLR out, the USB (more on that later) output or the stereo headphone output, the sounds are thin and fizzy sounding. In a pinch, you might get away with the clean sounds, but definitely not the distorted sounds in my opinion. You could use the headphone output for some home practice just don’t expect it to sound particularly realistic in either It’s 1×12 or 4 x 12 speaker emulations.

USB Emulated Outputs

But as I said my main motivation to buy this app was to record it with a microphone or microphones and I’ve had great results doing that so far. I’ve used an SM 57 in the traditional, touching cloth close to the speaker edge method and will be adding a condenser mic to the picture shortly. As I say in the video, despite being only five watts switchable to 0.5 watts these are still loud little amps. I’ve had to use long cables from another room to be able to hear myself recording through headphones. 

I mentioned the USB direct out earlier on and wanted to talk a little more about that. I’ve recently updated both my M1 MacBook Pro and my iPhone to their latest incarnations. This has caused a couple of little problems and may be in part why I’ve found that USB output so tricky. When I’m using Logic Pro for example it continually asks me if I want to use my iPhone as a microphone. I don’t. So when trying to set up the Black star via USB I had some problems. When I did manage to get a sound coming in via USB. It was again a tinny, brittle sound not to my liking. This is a pity because this would have been a really useful function.

Back To The Mics

Image of the Blackstar HT5R MKII with two microphones set up to record it to test against the amps emulated outputs

To be fair, I’ve also been unhappy with the USB output from my boss GT 100 processor, but if I’m doing silent recording, I’ll still be using that rather than the Blackstar’s emulated outputs. The little five watter will be strictly for microphone, recording and practice. In those roles it’s pretty superb. I would also be happy to use this amp live if it could be miked with some fold back. I’ve used my much smaller and much quieter Roland cube for live gigs in some surprisingly large venues. I’m sure the HT5 would be great. 


Yesterday I set up my SE Electronics 2200a condenser directly in front of the amp 8 inches away in addition to the 57. The results were very encouraging. With each mic recording on a separate track I was able to add a delay to the 57 track and a flanger to the SE track. This suited the song we are working on and produced a nice big sound.  I was actually able to play and record in the same room as the amp. So far so good! 


I'm Dave Menzies a digital entrepreneur, photographer and guitarist. I live on the Argyll coast of Scotland. My partner and I write, record and produce our own music and videos in our home studio. I love to help individuals discover the lifestyle freedom offered by the digital world and guitarists to develop their own style.