Tube power and impressive cab sims make up a versatile do-it-all drive that’s a sweet value, too.
A variety of great drive tones packed into a versatile and well-designed pedal.
No option to stack channels in series. No independent headphone level control.
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive
Though they can still seem like a novelty, tube-loaded drive pedals have been with us for decades. The B.K. Butler Tube Driver arrived in the late ’70s. The Mesa/Boogie V-Twin, the Electro-Harmonix English Muff’n, and others popped up in the decades that followed. Now, a new push toward tube-driven pedals is afoot—fueled largely by the modeling boom, pedal preamps with impulse response and speaker-simulation capabilities, and the urge to lend tube color to both modes of amplification.
Blackstar’s new Dept. 10 Dual Drive, which is built to work at the front and back ends of a signal chain, has the potential to thrive in these environments. It’s one of three sibling pedals in a new line that includes a booster and a distortion.
From Dual to Quad
Before looking at the Dual Drive, it’s important to note that a single dual-triode preamp tube can’t drive all the gain-stage and EQ functions in a pedal of this complexity. So solid-state components play a big part in the Dual Drive circuit.
- (PG Blackstar Dual Drive Ch1CL): Les Paul neck pickup
- (PG Blackstar Dual Drive Ch1CR): Les Paul middle position
- (PG Blackstar Dual Drive Ch2CR): Les Paul bridge pickup
- (PG Blackstar Dual Drive Ch2OD): Les Paul bridge pickup
The “Dept. 10” part of the product name comes from Blackstar’s R&D division, and it’s clear they weren’t content to make this tube-driven pedal a mere marketing exercise. Where other ostensibly tube-loaded pedals are let down by inadequate voltage, the single ECC83/12AX7 preamp tube in the Dual Drive is fed with more than 200 volts, ramped up internally from a traditional 9VDC external supply. And while the 2-channel design makes the Dual Drive impressively versatile, the interface is not cluttered or confusing.
Although the Dept. 10 Dual Drive is billed as a 2-channel overdrive pedal with independent footswitches for the two channels, it actually delivers four distinct boost-to-overdrive voices, thanks to the cl/cr switch on channel 1 and the cr/od switch on channel 2, which move between clean and crunch, and crunch and overdrive, respectively. (Yes, channel 1’s and channel 2’s crunch settings are subtly different.) Each channel has its own gain and level control, but they share an EQ stage with bass, middle, treble, and an ISF knob—a control that moves from American to British voicing as you twist it clockwise.
The two channels also share three speaker-and-cab emulation presets in the cab rig, which is selectable via a 3-way toggle. Blackstar tells us their IRs are generated via proprietary simulation technology, which facilitates deep editing of the cab rig sims via the company’s free downloadable Architect software. It’s easy to manage and connects via USB, enabling access to more than 250 virtual cabs and mics, variable mic positions, and room mic blends.
Connectivity options are streamlined but offer considerable utility. Using the input jack and standard output on the pedal effectively makes the Dual Drive an overdrive pedal and bypasses the cab rig, the XLR DI on the rear panel, and the TRS stereo cab rig output (which will also drive stereo headphones).The USB jack can be used for both editing and connecting to your DAW. There’s also a send and return for the effects loop so you can integrate reverb, delay, and modulation pedals into the rig. There are a few missed opportunities here. You can’t stack the channels, for instance. Still, the Dual Drive clearly offers a lot of fly-rig and pedalboard-based amplification options as is.
Rig simulations often outshined the conventional drive-pedal-into-amp sounds.
Drivin’ and Wailin’
I tested the Dept. 10 Dual Drive with a Les Paul and a Stratocaster—first using it as a traditional dirt pedal into the clean channel of a Tone King Sky King combo, and then working with its cab sims via studio monitors and the headphone output. Long story short: There are a lot of sounds to like here—most notably the amp rig simulations that often outshined the conventional drive’s pedal-into-amp sounds.
That doesn’t mean the Dual Drive falls short as an overdrive. On the contrary, the Dual Drive sounds righteous at many settings when driving the front of a clean tube amp. From subtle boost to easy crunch, to all-out high-gain strafing, the Dual Drive is instant access to many variations of chunky-to-sizzling dirt tones. And it’s easy to completely reshape these tones via the powerful 3-band EQ and ISF control. I was able to dial up plenty of bright, cutting voices that definitively put the “tubes are warm, transistors are bright” myth to rest. But it’s also easy to dial in rich, darker tones by staying in the first 30 percent of the treble control’s range.
Curiously, some of the Dual Drive’s most natural sounds came via the cab sims, headphones, and studio monitor. Admittedly, that might be because we’re all becoming more familiar and at ease with the playback-in-the-control-room sound generated by many cab-sim-loaded preamps and modelers. But the cab rig function sounded and felt great, which underscores its viability as a direct-to-PA solution for live use or direct-to-DAW recording.
Versatile, well-designed, and compact, the Dept. 10 Dual Drive brings a lot to the table for $299. It’s a powerful and flexible dual-channel overdrive. But it’s even more impressive as the centerpiece of a DI, pedalboard-based live rig, or a quick route to laying down solid studio tracks. The Dual Drive’s ability to excel in either application makes it a value worth playing and investigating.
Blackstar Dept. 10 Dual Drive Demo | First Look
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