Today we’re looking at a mini-amp. Mini-amps are great for portability but can sometimes disappoint in both build quality and output. So how does the Fly 3 measure up? Who is this amp suitable for? What’s the good, the bad and the ugly about it? In this Blackstar Fly 3 review we aim to find out.
Background to Blackstar
Formed by ex-Marshall employees in 2007, a relative newcomer. and based in the UK and US. Notable artists using Blackstar amps include Razorlight, The Cure and Richie Sambora of Bon Jovi. Amps incude the Artisan series, between 30 and 100 watts, providing “substantial power” according to one journal. Series one uses ISF technology in the fly 3 and reaches the dizzy heights of 200 watts of power. They even have the HT Metal amp series, specifically for metal enthusiasts.
Overview of The Fly 3
The Fly 3 is a mini-amp, delivering 3 watts of power from a 3 inch speaker. As you’d expect with the “mini-amp” tag it’s absolutely tiny, weighing only 900g. It’ll quite happily sit on a bookshelf.
The top panel has a 1/4 inch jack to plugin your guitar. The gain knob lets you play anything from clean to crunchy. A volume knob does what it says on the tin. The EQ doesn’t give you the option to adjust bass, middle and treble. Instead it uses Blackstar’s Infinite Shape Feature (ISF) technology to dial in digitally modeled preset tones.
There’s a button to switch the channel between clean and overdriven. The delay level knob allows you to adjust the amount of delay effect. You can alter the duration of the delay effect using the “Time” knob. With the exception of the delay level knob, all of the knobs are a simple 1 to 10 scale.
There’s an MP3 / Line in jack, which enables you to plug in an external player so that you can jam along with your favorite tracks, or to use the Fly 3 as a speaker. Finally there’s a headphone and EM out jack to allow for recording or for “silent” practice with headphones.
The Fly 3 is principally operated by 6 AA batteries, which are included with the amp. It’d be a good idea to invest in some rechargeable batteries for the future. Unless you’re playing for hours and hours per day the batteries should last a good while. The amp can also be powered by a mains adapter, which unfortunately is sold separately and will cost an additional $30.
How Does The Fly 3 Work?
The Fly 3 is super simple to operate, meaning you can pretty much just plug and play. Connect your guitar to the amp using a 1/4 jack lead. Hit the power button located above the Line In / Headphone jacks and you’re up an running. Hit the button labelled “OD” to switch between the clean and overdriven channels. Turn the gain knob clockwise to crank up the crunchiness or counter-clockwise for a cleaner sound. The volume controls the overall output.
The ISF knob controls the type of sound. It’s almost modelling amp types on a very basic level. Turn to the left for a tone similar to US made amps, with a tighter low end and aggressive middle. Twist the knob to the right for a tone similar to UK style amps, with a less aggressive tone. You may find that you prefer a tone somewhere in the middle. Use the ISF knob to adjust to according to your preferences.
Whilst that may seem restricting on the face of it, for a beginner it’s absolutely fine. It’s far better to be able to plug and play as a beginner than have to worry about adjusting bass, middle and treble then worrying about how that interacts with gain and the pickups on your guitar.
The in-built tape delay effect is a surprising feature. Mini-amps are usually just basic in every way, so to have delay in-built is a nice bonus. The delay is nice too. It definitely doesn’t sound cheap and nasty. Again it’s simple to operate, just twist the knobs to achieve the desired level and duration of the delay. You don’t have to worry about going in and setting a millisecond value for delay, just twist the knob and listen until you find the right settings.
The headphones jack doubles as an output to connect to a recording device. Connect out using a dual stereo lead for the best output. You can connect directly to a mixing desk if you desire to do so. When connected to a recording device or a set of headphones the Fly 3 emulates a speaker cabinet to give you a great output. When you’re connected to the headphones / EM out port the internal speaker will mute, great for “silent” practice.
The MP3 / Line In jack enables you to connect a device, such as your phone. That’ll allow you to jam over your favorite tracks or to use as a portable speaker. There’s no volume control on the amp for an external device, so you’ll need to adjust the level on your music player to match your guitar if you’re playing over your favorite tracks.
The amp comes with 6 AA batteries. The power LED on the amp will begin to fade when it’s time to change the batteries, but you should get a decent battery life before having to switch them for new ones. You can buy a separately sold power adapter for around $30, however it might be just as well to invest in some rechargeable batteries.
The Fly 3 will also connect to a separately sold power-cabinet, which will effectively double the power output. The cabinet connects via a port on the back of the Fly 3. You can buy the amp and the cabinet as a bundle for around $30 more than the price of the Fly 3 on it’s own.
It’s a real shame that a power adapter isn’t included and that the official supply costs almost two thirds of the price of the amp itself! That can be easily circumnavigated if you invest in a set of rechargeable batteries. The output is decent, but if you’re hoping to play high gain styles, such as metal, through the Fly 3 it probably won’t be suitable. You’d need something with more power output in that case.
It’s the same case for heavier rock styles using a lot of overdrive. It’s fine for individual notes in riffs and solos, but it seems to fall down a bit when producing the ooomph needed for power chords. In both cases you might want to look at something like the Boss Katana Mini, which has more control over EQ. You can read more about the Boss Katana Mini here.
Fly 3 Pros
The Fly 3 has some great features and the simplicity is one of the best things about it. Here are a few of the highlights:
- Extremely Compact – will fit onto a bookshelf
- Great Sound
- Digital Delay is Very Good
- Super Simple to Operate
Fly 3 Cons
There are one or two issues that potential purchasers should be aware of. They tend to orientate around the slight lack of punch for heavier music styles:
- Not powerful enough to bring out the best in power chords
- Not suitable if you want to play high gain styles such as metal
- Power adapter isn’t included
The Fly 3 is a great option if you live somewhere like an apartment where it doesn’t make sense to use an amp with a higher power output. Don’t be put off by the low power output, it’ll still provide more than enough power for home practice. It won’t suit heavier styles and I’d certainly be looking at a minimum of 10 watts of output if you want to play heavier styles.
The size is another thing that lends itself to smaller scale living. It’s absolutely tiny and will happily sit on a coffee table while you noodle away on your guitar. The in-built delay is a really nice addition without taking away from the simplicity of operation. It’s simplicity is what makes it suitable for it’s target market. If you’ve just started playing or just want a plug and play option then this is definitely one for you.
It’s worth investing in some rechargeable batteries unless you want to plump for the separately sold power adapter. It’s good that batteries are included to get you started and it should be a good while before you need to replace them.
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