Mini amp offers great tones and portability from tiny unit
Just as a few years ago there was a glut of ‘lunchbox’ style amps which flooded the market, there now seems to be a trend towards amps which are at home in your front room as they are in your studio. We’ve had so-called lounge amps from Fender, with the smaller models in its Mustang series; Line 6, with its Amplifi range which, let’s be honest, would look right at home in any trendy front room; Orange, with its also tiny Micro Terror and accompanying 1×8″ cabinet; and even Yamaha with its well respected THR series. So, safe to say, there has been a real land grab among amp manufacturers to grab that space next to the TV and the Playstation.
Blackstar, however, have lead the way with this craze. First the company released its ID:Core range of modelling amps, which packed a load of functionality from its ID range like multiple amp voicing and effects into a package small enough you could sling it over your shoulder and strut around your house. Now, there’s this, the Fly 3 mini amp. And let’s get one thing out of the way; it is tiny. It looks like a toy, albeit a very cool toy which means business. Let us elaborate in this Blackstar Fly 3 review…
What we’ve got is a matte black box, roughly the same width as a fairly standard double-pedal (something like the Blackstar HT-Reverb, for example), complete with black metal front grill. It fits in perfectly with the existing Blackstar range, no major deviations from type here. On the top of the unit are four knobs, controlling gain, volume, tone and delay (more on that later), along with a button to engage the overdrive and a smaller knob to control the delay length.
Delay is an interesting effect to include in a micro-amp. Blackstar has been quite canny and realised that while a fairly common feature on an amp is a reverb function, they understood that by opting for a delay they could effectively meet that need but also offer something a bit different too. You see, by turning the amount of time right down, the unit can create a more than passable reverb sound anyway, yet turn the dial up and there’s a fully fledged delay sound waiting to be played with.
In terms of tones, the Fly 3 offers a nicely voiced clean tone when you back off the gain, through to a respectable warm crunch sound. Engage the overdrive, dime the gain and the tones beefs up considerably, but only to a point; you won’t be living out your Bay Area thrash metal dreams through the Fly 3, at least not without a pedal or two to raunch up the gain. But let’s be honest, the Fly 3 isn’t built with death metallers in mind. Its remit is far broader than that. It’s made for you or I to grab a quick moment or two of playing in those moments when we have a spare bit of time but can’t justify firing up the 100-watter. And, in these situations, the Fly 3 excels.
Blackstar’s now-familiar ISF tone control makes an appearance, effectively combining your standard bass/middle/treble controls into one handy sweep of the EQ spectrum. To the far sides of the dial you have either thick, rich-voiced UK tones, right through to more American styled tones with the bass and treble accentuated and the mids tamed back a touch. It’s a system which works well and reduces the amount of controls needed on the amp.
There’s more though. The Fly 3 includes a now-standard 3.5m jack input, allowing you to play your smartphone or mp3 player through it. This is ace, because it not only enables you to play backing tracks through it and jam along with them, but you can also use it as a regular audio player so you can listen to Spotify or your iTunes library wherever you go. This adds further weight to it being not just a lounge amp, but a bona fide bookshelf amp. It’s sleek and unobtrusive enough to be left anywhere without looking out of place, and the ability to play your existing music out of it will ensure it causes no arguments with your significant other.
It should be said though that despite its obvious utility as an amp to leave in your front room, portability is a huge plus point with the Fly 3. With it being as small as it is, it lends itself perfectly to being slung in a backpack and taken with you on your travels. These credentials are furthered by the fact it can be powered by six regular AA batteries, or a 6.5V power supply. Add to that the fact it has a further 3.5m jack for the emulated out, meaning you could route the amp’s output into a mixer or bigger amp, and its versatility becomes even more apparent.
A cool add-on to the Fly 3 is the accompanying 1×3″ extension cab. The cab is built to exactly the same dimensions as the Fly 3, and can be used as a micro-stack, for added volume, or even as a stereo amp by placing them apart from each other. The extension cab is connected via an in-built cable (with what looks like an Ethernet connector) which is stored conveniently at the back of the unit when not in use.
In ye olde days, micro amp used to mean those shrunken versions of big amps, the micro Marshall stacks with a belt clip, or those tiny Fender Twin-alikes which looked so darn cool and were cheap as chips. The issue with those however was that the sound was bit bit pants. Let’s be honest, they looked great, but failed pretty miserably at being an amp, which is technically what they were. It’s hard to criticise; what do you realistically expect from a 3″ speaker and limited control over your tone. The issue now is that the Fly 3 has come along, and completely moved the goalposts in terms of what you can reasonably expect from a micro amp. It’s tiny, it sounds great, is highly portable and has a bunch of added features like in-built delay and audio-in functionality. And yep, the price is cheap as chips. So in that respect, the Fly 3 has completely changed the perception of what is realistic and possible from something so small. For the price, it’s a pretty tasty package.