New Folk Music for 2021

Image Credit: Zekeriya Sen

From classic UK folk music to bluegrass, we’ve found nine new folk artists to get excited about in 2021.

Folk music thrives from collaboration, which has been something of a logistical challenge over the past year; but it’s also a genre built upon storytelling, and stories are something that can be told and heard anywhere.

Music festivals are optimistically announcing their lineups and debut albums are still being released. These nine musicians, well-established but innovative folk musicians and new emerging artists, need to be kept a watchful eye on in 2021.

Matilda Mann

Acoustic guitar-led indie folk heavily influenced by Laura Marling. Mann lends her pretty, sweet voice to uplifting folk-pop tunes with passionate lyrics that let listeners know they’re not alone.

Leyla McCalla

The brilliant singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, based in New Orleans, generated a hum of interest last year with the reissue of her 2014 debut album Vari-Colored Songs: a Tribute to Langston. The album mixes traditional Haitian folk songs with Hughes’ jazz poems, while exposing the relevance of Hughes’ work to today’s attitudes around Black culture. On the album McCalla seems to also reappraise her own career, looking back whilst heading in a fresh new direction. With a new project in the works, it’ll be a thrill to see what form that direction takes.


Alternative folk group Lyre are singer-songwriter Bryony Lewis and producer Joe Boon, who had known each other for six years before they joined forces. Debut EP I Wasn’t Scared, I Was Just Somebody Else came out in 2020, with another EP on the horizon. The duo specialise in intimate harmonies and contemplative melodies. It’s music to walk through misty fields to.

Jake Blount

The US banjoist, singer and fiddle player centres the experiences of queer people and people of colour in his music. Taking sharp aim at the commercialisation of Black music by the American Roots music industry, Blount undertook massive research into African American and Indigenous mountain music, and the tracks that make up his debut album Spider Tales are the result. It’s a deep dive into the brushed-aside origins of Black and Indigenous folk songwriting and the hardship ingrained within, but offered in an open and accessible way – the remarkable music is often foot-stomping and always inspiring.


A Scottish trio who blend effortlessly together to make invigorating, exhilarating folk music. After spending 2020 performing virtually, this year will hopefully see their rightful return to the stage. Featuring Hayley Keenan’s fiddle playing, Graeme Armstrong on guitar, and concertina player Mohsen Amini who was the youngest ever winner of the BBC Radio 2 Folk Musician of the year award in 2019.

Brìghde Chaimbeul

A young master of the Scottish smallpipes from the Isle of Skye, and one of the few women in the male-dominated world of piping. Her 2018 debut album The Reeling is full of enriching and haunting songs, and the native Gaelic speaker has kept playing through lockdown, releasing recordings and content via Patreon.

Lizzie Reid

Emerging Dubin talent Reid shows shades of Laura Marling in her swooping melodies and guitar playing that is delicate one moment and lively the next. Newly signed to label Seven Four Seven Six, her debut EP ‘Cubicle’ arrives in February. But she’s offered a glimpse at her indie-folk sound already on Spotify with songs that range from the acoustic ‘Tribute’ and ‘Always Lovely’ to ‘Seamless’ and the newly released ‘Been Thinking About You’, which showcase a heavier, electric sound that’s no less beautiful.

Christian Lee Hutson

Hutson has lapped himself – starting out in a country duo, going solo, becoming known for collaborating with Phoebe Bridgers, and now releasing a neo-folk solo record. Where will he go next? Deft finger-picking and sensitive songwriting are showcased on the album, Beginners.

Niamh Regan

Galway-based effortlessly talented musician Regan’s long-awaited debut album was released in September last year, critically acclaimed and nominated for best folk album the RTE Radio Folk Awards. Hemet gets its name from the Californian town her husband hails from, a title that sets the personal tone for the collection of beautiful songs with revealing, honest lyrics. Its success should act as a springboard for future projects.

Are you a folk musician yourself, feeling inspired for 2021? RouteNote can get your own songs out into the world, for free.

Kygo’s top-end afforable ANC headphones – A11/800 review

Kygo’s A11/800 active noise cancelling over-ear headphones provide a good all-round package at an affordable price, without going over-the-top on branding.

Kygo Life A11/800 are a nice set of headphones with great Scandinavian design and subtle branding suitable for Kygo fans and non-fans alike. This is not the producer’s first tech venture, with headphones, earphones, speakers and even a smartwatch for sale on the X by Kygo site. The A11/800 are the brand’s high-end headphones and come in at an afforable price on Amazon. The headline features are:

  • Hybrid ANC Technology
  • Touch Panel for controlling tracks, volume and calls
  • HD-voice for better sound quality during calls
  • Great fit and memory foam ear cushions for comfort during long flights
  • Proximity sensor for automatic Play and Pause
  • Up to 40 hours in playback
  • Cancel surrounding sounds or enhance voices with Ambient and Awareness Modes
  • Voice Command for calls, music and more
  • Adjust the sound image and ANC settings in the Kygo Sound App
  • Easy NFC pairing & Travel case included
Kygo Headphones White

Proximity sensors on the headphones will detect when the headphones have been taken off and automatically pause the music. Put the headphones back on and you’ll resume where you left off. This is a great feature, much like that seen on the AirPods, but does not pause music when hanging the headphones around the neck. The headphones will auto-power down after 15 minutes of inactivity to save battery. The built-in microphone makes them ideal for phone calls. The right ear cup houses physical buttons for power, ANC and ambient sound mode, as well as touch sensitive music controls. As usual, the touch controls are a bit fiddly and slow.

Audio quality is good, but does not compete with top end ANC headphones such as the Sony’s or Bose. The 40mm drivers give out an enjoyable sound with plenty of volume and bass. Complex music can lack in detail, but generally they provide a well rounded sound. Turning ANC on will reduce the sound quality. Again, ANC is good at blocking out the outside world, but don’t quite stack up against the greats in this category.

Build and design is good, with a plastic exterior, faux leather over the memory foam ear cushions and soft padded headband. The headphones fold down to a compact package to fit in the provided case. There is an occasionally creaking when flexing the headphones. The minimalist design is very nice and branding is subtle enough to appeal to non-Kygo fans. The tight hold over the head and heavy weight can get uncomfortable after long listening sessions and aren’t great for the gym.

Kygo Case

The headphones can pair quickly using NFC and connect wirelessly via Bluetooth 5.0 with support for aptX, aptX LL (low latency, great for gaming) and AAC codecs. Connection remains solid around a room. The Kygo Sound app is available for iOS and Android, allowing you to control ANC, switch between Awareness (tunes out 50% of ambient noise and enhances voices) and Ambient modes, tweak EQ settings, and update firmware. The app’s EQ settings are unlike what you might expect, showing four cities New York, Ibiza, Los Angeles, and Bergen each with different sound characteristics, letting you drag the dot between the cities to enhance the sound. It seems mostly gimmicky and you’ll probably not use it after the first time. Battery life is solid at 40-hours without ANC and 19-hours with ANC. USB-C will fully charge the headphones in two hours. The 3.5mm headphone jack will continue playback when out of battery.

Kygo Sounds App

The headphones are currently on sale on Amazon, with the black varient at just $129.01 and in white for $165.58. At this price they are around the best value headphones on the market.

If your budget can stretch further, here are some other pairs to consider:

New Microsoft Surface Headphones 2 Review

Microsoft drop the successor to their high end, noise cancellation Surface Headphones, with improved internals and a new low price.

Competing with some of the greatest everyday consumer ANC headphones from the likes of Sony, Bose, Sennheiser and Marshall, the updated Surface Headphones hope to offer a comparable experience at a cheaper price.

The headphones design is similar to the preview generation’s. Now coming in two colours, Light Gray and Matte Black, with circular earcups holding soft and comfortable padding. There’s a new mute microphone button, while the two rings surrounding the cups dial volume on the right and give you 13 levels of ANC control on the left. This allows you to quickly let in or block out ambient noise. Tapping the cups will play/pause your music, while a swipe forwards or backwards will skip. These methods of adjustments and controlling music are intuitive and well implemented. The Active Noise Cancellation on this pair are close to the competitors, perhaps just falling short.

Sound quality is similarly up there with the greats in this category, again just shy of Sony and Bose. Microsoft provide a loud and well balanced sound, with EQ adjustments accessible in the Surface app.

The wireless bluetooth headphones also feature improved battery life up to 20 hours, USB-C with fast charging, a headphone jack for wired audio, a microphone for phone calls, built-in Cortana improvements (including battery life announcements when turning on), and multiple device support for quick and easy switching between phone and laptop.

The Surface Headphones are available today on Amazon for $249.99. This is a fantastic starting price and $100 cheaper than the previous generation and most other similar headphones’ RRP. With the fantastic design and controls, this makes Surface one of the best value pairs we’ve seen.

That being said, the Sony’s have been around for a couple of years now, so can be found around the same $250 price. Definitely worth checking out at that price:

Don’t forget to check out the new Surface Earbuds too. These have just been released for $199.99. Worth considering if you’re after something more compact and discreet.

New 13″ MacBook Pro 2020 – the ideal MacBook for music production

Faster performance, double the storage and the Magic Keyboard. An overview of the specs and features of the new MacBook Pro 13-inch. Which should you buy for music production?

After dropping their updated 16″ MacBook Pro late last year and MacBook Air earlier this year, the updated 13″ MacBook Pro has been given a much needed boost. Again, no special event or even promo video, just a quiet update.

Price remains the same as last year, starting at $1299 or $1199 with educational pricing.

The update brings the new Magic Keyboard with scissor switches over from the 16-inch Pro and Air models, meaning the death of the much hated butterfly keyboard.

Unfortunately, the screen remains the size with the same bezels at 13-inch. We would have preferred to see a 14-inch in the same body, similar to the 16-inch last year.

  • 1.4GHz quad-core 8th gen i5 – up to 2.3GHz quad-core 10th gen i7
  • 8GB – 32GB memory
  • 256GB – 4TB SSD – all doubled
  • Intel Iris Plus Graphics
  • 13-inch Retina display
  • Two or four Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • Touch Bar and Touch ID
  • Magic Keyboard

Note, the baseline specs include an 8th generation processor that is over two years old. This will be fine for most users, but for intensive applications and to better future proof your computer, we recommend upgrading to the 10th gen processors. These start at $1799, which is a significant $500 bump, but worth it if you can afford it. The $1799 model hit a nice balance in performance with 2.0GHz 10th gen i5, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD, 4 Thunderbolt ports and faster graphics (with support for 6K displays).

You’ll find the same battery, same 720p camera and no WiFi 6 across the board this year, which is a shame.

MacBook Line-Up:

The updated 13-inch MacBook Pro cleans up the MacBook line-up nicely.

  • MacBook Air – $999 – Ideal for web browsing and word processing
  • MacBook Pro 13-inch – $1299 – Ideal for media creation (audio production, photography, video editing)
  • MacBook Pro 16-inch – $2399 – Bigger and more powerful

More info, full pricing and buy now at

Top 5 waterproof portable bluetooth speakers under $50

Whether it’s for the shower or pool, these five speakers will produce a significant boost over your smartphone speakers for under $50.

1. JBL Clip 3 – $49.95
JBL Clip 3

The most expensive on the list, but for a very good reason. The JBL nails everything it sets out to. Proving a fantastic sound, portable design and great connectivity. If you can pick only one, this is it.

  • Portable, integrated carabiner
  • 10-hour battery life
  • IPX7
  • Three physical buttons for play/pause and volume
  • Stylish design
  • Available in many different colours and styles

For a cheaper JBL alternative, check out the GO2. It provides all the essentials, with 5-hour battery life at just $29.95

2. Sony SRS-XB12 – $31.08
Sony SRS-XB12

The Sony packs a surprisingly heavy punch for such a small design. King of battery life. Got a mate with the same one? Pair them up for stereo sound.

  • Bass heavy
  • Portable
  • Pairable
  • Detachable carry strap
  • Dust-proof
  • IP67
  • Stylish design
  • Available in black, red, grey, blue or green
3. AOMAIS Sport II – $32.99

We now steer towards the lesser-known brands, so take their claims with a pinch of salt. The AOMAIS is a slightly larger design, providing a rugged exterior and powerful sound.

  • 20W
  • Bass heavy
  • 15-hour battery life
  • IPX7
  • Pairable
  • Durable, rubber exterior
  • Dust-proof, mud-proof, snow-proof, drop-proof
  • 100ft range
  • Build-in mic
  • Available in orange, green, blue, deep orange or purple
4. iFox iF012 – $29.99
iFox iF012

The iFox is the go to for a shower speaker, with a suction cup suitable for titled or glass walls.

  • Suction cup
  • Five physical buttons
  • 33ft range
  • 10-hour battery life
  • 5W
  • IP67
  • Build-in mic
5. Altec Lansing IMW257 – $14.57
Altec Lansing IMW257

The Altec Lansing is the cheapest on the list. At $14, this speaker provides excellent value for money.

  • Floating
  • IP67
  • 6-hour battery life
  • 30ft range
  • Clip
  • Build-in mic
  • Dust-proof, shock-proof
  • Available in aqua, black, blue, mint or red
Checkout our pick for the top 5 headphones under $50 here.

OWOW’s controllers make playing MIDI more fun than ever (Review)

These MIDI controllers will leave you saying ‘O WOW’ by re-inventing the way you play with digital music.

The awesome team over at OWOW, based in the Netherlands sent us a selection of the MIDI controllers to take for a test drive to see what our thoughts were.

As an avid Ableton Live user, I regularly use a variety of MIDI keyboards and drum pads to input MIDI data, so it was interesting to see OWOWs take on exploring the world of gestures and movement by implementing various sensors and turning these signals into a usable performance tool.

Wob – Wave Motion Midi Controller

The Wob has an infra-red distance tracking sensor that tracks your hands distance from the sensor and turns this gesture into MIDI data.

This ‘hands-free’ approach to inputting information into your DAW is fun to play around with as you can move your hand up and down above the sensor or remove your hand from above the sensor and replace it at a smaller or larger distance to obtain different results.

Wiggle – Three dimensional MIDI controller

The Wiggle is a handheld device operated by, twisting, tilting and turning it around its X, Y & Z axis and turns these gestures into MIDI data. These axis can be switched on and off using the devices axis on-off switches.

This device was interesting to experiment with as the 3 different axis will detect your movement and allows you to explore all ranges of physical motion.

Drum – Airdrum MIDI controller

The Drum is a handheld device that can trigger four different velocity-sensitive MIDI notes by flicking the instrument up, down, left and right. You can press the left or right button to select the next or previous note and turn the Z axis on or off at the touch of a button. It also has an extra mappable button that could be used for starting a recording or triggering a loop.

The Drum controllers were perfect for playing percussion and the velocity sensitivity is a great way of getting that ‘human’ feel into the percussion performance.

Scan – Sketch scanning MIDI controller

The Scan works by moving the device over visual information, such as images, lines and dots drawn on paper and turns this visual information into MIDI data. It also has up and down buttons to move between octaves or bend the pitch of your sound.

This seemed to be the most experimental of the devices and allows for a great amount of creativity to flourish as it allows you to draw series of patterns, sequences and shapes to get some really unexpected results.

These controllers are a fun and exciting way to make music without the need to play a traditional instrument. One of the things I really took away from experimenting with these devices is the ability to really get that ‘human element’ into an electronic music performance.

This can make music performance and production accessible to people of all ages and backgrounds, with no prior musical training.

They are relatively small form factor makes them great for portability and are comfortable in the hand. The software on macOS was simple and easy to use and the depth of customisation for each of the parameters allows for great personalisation of the performance experience and allows the performer to allocate the boundaries in which they’d like to work in. This makes these instruments extremely versatile with a large scope for experimentation.

In a world where we see laptop DJs, producers and performers turning knobs and hitting pads, it’s great to get other forms of movement into a performance. Not only is the process enjoyable for the person making the music, but it’s interesting to watch a performer exploring and incorporating these movements into their music production and performance.

Check out OWOW and see how to nab yourself some of these incredible little controllers yourself at:

Written by Sam Wearne

Adam Black’s new 0-2TE electro-acoustic guitar (Review)

Adam Black have created an affordable electro-acoustic guitar that may be perfect if you’re starting out, on the road or small-time gigging.

When you first pull Adam Black’s new electro-acoustic guitar out of the happily included guitar case that comes with it, the fine grain wooden finish resembles a beautiful, rustic guitar that wouldn’t look out of place on the shoulders of a nomadic folk singer.

Upon whipping it out your audience might be in silent awe at the gorgeous sapele finish and mahogany neck and for the general ear, what you play may be enjoyable on the fitted steel D’addario strings that come with it.

The 3/4 size makes it easy to transport and its lightweight build makes pulling it out to play simple wherever you might be. The body lends itself to player of smaller build along with the very streamlined v-neck that is easy to hold first position chords particularly. The nut on this guitar is just a bit smaller than the Vintage V-300 of which we compared it to, this may be a hindrance for some more experienced players but for those with smaller hands i.e. children, it is a lot easier to make those beginner’s stretches – I am talking G major in first position, we have all been there!

Unfortunately the action on this guitar is a bit high and this may make it harder to fret bar chords for a beginner however if a beginner can get used to this strengthening exercise, they may take to a bigger guitar with heavier strings easier in the future.

Its power is certainly improved when plugged in but the quality of the guitar’s tone isn’t as bright as you might expect from the compact acoustic. The controls and Fishman pickup for the guitar are hidden just inside the sound hole so you can’t see any wiring when you look at it. In fact apart from the input and battery slot on the bottom, you wouldn’t be able to tell it’s not a native acoustic. To adjust it’s volume and tone you simply reach your finger in above the strings and roll the dials.

To someone more experienced with guitars and tone, I was a little disappointed in how Adam Black’s new electro-acoustic guitar sounds acoustically. It lacks sustain for an acoustic and the low end is not amplified as well as it could be – even for a guitar of this size. I think this guitar prefers a lighter gauge which again would suit the beginner players, it may be improved by experimenting with string gauges.

To conclude, this guitar lends itself to someone who is thinking of getting a first steel-string acoustic with simple plug & play-ability. I rather like the fact that there are no controls for the EQ of this guitar because it makes the player use their fingers as the primary source of tone control. In the same way that we learn on a 3/4 size nylon string classical guitar and crave an electric, until we are good enough to play the nylon and hone our skill to match, only then will that Squire Stratocaster be presented on the foot of our beds on the morning of our 13th birthday! The 0-2TE is for the more practised beginner who’ll be eventually suited to the more advanced acoustic guitars In the Adam Black range. For example, the O7-CE solid top electro-acoustic.

This guitar is good for the price, at a reasonable £179 with strings and gigbag included. However it may need a bit of setting up to reach its true potential. Lighter strings are advised. This guitar could make for a perfect beginners guitar as for the budding bedroom producer.

Over all, not bad Adam Black.

If you’re looking to get your hands on your own head here.

Eclipse by Rosetti guitar strings (Review)

We recently got our hands on some of Rosetti’s Eclipse strings to see how these slinky strings measure up. Spoiler alert: They’re pretty good.

The nice people at Rosetti were kind enough to send us a set of their Eclipse strings for electric and acoustic guitars. We tested them out to see how they feel and what they sound like.

I tried their 9-42 thickness, nickel roundwound electric guitar strings. The strings are incredibly slick to the touch with a slinkiness that makes playing on them feel incredibly smooth. They’re solid strings with a gorgeous tone that are flexible enough for serious bending. They are great for rhythm guitar with an even tone when playing chords whilst providing a formidable treble sound for playing lead parts.

I’ve found the Eclipse 9-42 strings perfect for playing funk stylings. If you’re looking for a chunkier tone for rock or metal the strings still perform but you’d want to look at some thicker strings – which I can’t speak of the quality of for Eclipse though I imagine they’re of the same good standard.

For acoustic guitars we played a set of the Eclipse 12-53 strings made up of 80/20 bronze. Thanks to their 80/20 bronze make up the strings ring out incredibly bright and sit at their best on a full-bodied, dreadnought guitar. They sound powerful with a good volume that doesn’t infringe on clarity at all.

They feel great whether you’re a 3 chord singer songwriter or you’re speedily playing up the neck. These are great for a full-bodied sound though lighter strings may suit you if you’re more into playing complex acoustic guitar parts.

Overall I was impressed by Rosetti’s Eclipse strings. They feel great, they sound great and they’re flexible enough to suit most guitar players. At £4.99 for the electric guitar strings and £5.49 for the acoustic strings they are incredibly reasonably priced for a really nice set of strings.

Check them out at:

KMA ‘Tyler’ pedal – Finally, a frequency splitter made for musicians (Review)

KMA Machines offer a sexy solution to frequency splitting in their pedal – ‘Tyler’.  Lewis from the wonderful post-hardcore/math-rock band Hypophora gives the low-down after taking the pedal on the road for their latest tour.

Crossovers used to split the high and low frequencies of an audio signal have long been commonplace in the Hi-Fi, PA, and Pro Audio worlds and offer many advantages by allowing precise control of specific frequency bands, but unfortunately few crossover units have been designed with musicians in mind. The KMA Machines address this issue in the form of the ‘Tyler the Frequency Splitter’ crossover pedal.

The ‘Tyler’ is roughly about as wide as two standard boss-size pedals and is powered by a standard 9v adaptor. This relatively compact size and standard power requirements allow for easy integration into a pedalboard – a must for the gigging musician. It features two independent circuits that each have their own effect send and return loops – a ‘Wood’ side (handling the low frequencies) and the ‘Steel’ side (handling the high frequencies). The two sides are able to be independently turned on or off via their own dedicated footswitches (as well as a separate master footswitch for the unit).

The premise and operation of the pedal is simple: both the ‘Wood’ and ‘Steel’ sides contains separate filters sweepable from 3Khz down to 20hz (a low pass for wood and a high pass for steel) that allow you to designate the frequencies you want your independent loops to contain. These loops are then combined together and this is controlled by a ‘Mix’ knob which allows you to choose whether your signal contains more of the wood side (Mix knob fully left), steel side (Mix knob fully right) or a 50-50 blend of the two. Of important note is a ‘Phase’ switch which allows you to correctly set the phase for the blend of the two signals – incorrect phase can often lead to ‘thin’ sounds.

KMA Tyler pedal frequency splitter bass instrument guitar FQ

As a bass player that uses a moderate amount of pedal-based distortion, I found that by putting my distortion pedal in the ‘Steel’ loop, with the HPF set to around 800hz and a compressor set to a high ratio and compression amount in the ‘Wood’ loop with the LPF set to around 200hz, I was able to achieve a crisp, defined distortion with a clean, powerful low end – something that can easily be lost with most bass distortion pedals.

For my relatively simple, bass-distortion focused needs, the ‘Tyler’ allowed me to choose my distortion character via my pedal of choice and retain the thick, clean low-end I was looking for, which it did perfectly. My only real issue is I did find myself wishing for independent volume controls for each frequency band rather than a master mix knob, but this is picking at straws. For someone who is more creative and liberal with pedals, I believe many interesting combinations of split frequencies running through all sorts of effects could certainly lead to interesting and unique possibilities, and the compactness of the ‘Tyler’ allows players to do this with an ease and portability that hasn’t been available before.

This review was written by Lewis Pilcher. Check out his awesome band Hypophora below:



Find Hypophora’s debut album on all streaming services.

Blackstar HT Dual and HT Metal are 2 of the beefiest distortion pedals around

The Blackstar HT Dual and HT Metal blow us away with a big sound worthy of Rock n Roll Kings.

As a musician starting out in today’s musical climate, we see a lot of our idols and even peers using some of the most high-end gear imaginable. When starting out we know this will be a long journey before we ourselves can afford this. Therefore, for the purpose of this review, we decided to use a simple Marshall MG30 amplifier to really test the versatility of these pedals.

Blackstar dual pedal distortion gain heavy valve effects fxWhen looking at the HT Dual, it offers both a crunch and overdriven mode, ranging from crisp bite-y distortions typically associated with artists such as John Mayer and Stevie Ray Vaughan, ranging all the way to rich overdriven tones that you could find in any rock/metal sub-genre.

As a guitarist, a good overdriven tone seems relatively easy to come by. With a wide range of guitar companies offering solid-state amplifiers with everything to offer. When starting out we typically only consider what amps and guitars to get that would best suit our needs, ignoring the wide range of pedals we have at our disposal, but these two pedals are nothing to ignore.

The HT-Dual transforms our simple practice amps into something much more monumental. With BlackStar’s signature ISF (Infinite Shape Feature) included, it separates BlackStar’s distortion from many other distortion companies giving consumers the chance to either model American amplifiers turned to 0 or model British amplifiers, when the dial is turned all the way to 10. This feature is also included in the HT-Metal.

Blackstar Metal pedal distortion gain heavy valve effects fxThe HT-Metal does what it says on the tin and ultimately provides one of the widest range of metal distortions imaginable. With the HT-METAL there are two channels available, Channel One offers a Clean/OD switch that enables you to use the pedal as a boost in Clean mode and add more gain as you turn the dial clockwise. Offering a more gritty and harsh clean/crunch tone.

There is an interesting notable difference between the HT-Metal’s distortion tone to the Dual in the way it responds to the style of playing. The Metal’s Bass response is very tight and sounds almost compressed in a good way. This allows for that big ‘woof’ in the low end that you would normally only achieve with a 4×12 cab but you can get the same effect with a smaller 1×12! The Bass response for the Dual is still very tight but with the added control of the ISF dial, you can really hone it in to get more of a Marshall tone on the right and American Hi-Gain on the left.

I compared the distortion tone to an orange rockerverb which is not so much a metal amp but it is full valve pre-amp and power. I only had the gain of the heavy distortion channel at about 3 o’clock to get as much gain as the rockerverb could produce but you could get a similar kind of gain with this pedal as well as pushing it right up to a MESA Boogie Rectifier kind of scooped tone.

Blackstar Metal pedal distortion gain heavy valve effects fx dual

Another attribute to note with this comparison is the way the Mid is controlled for the HT-Metal. It is a nice mid frequency that lends its self to the style much more than the Dual but what is good about both these pedals is the control over the amount you can boost and scoop the mids for the desired tone. The earlier LT-Metal, which is not valve driven does not have this kind of control over the mids but you can still get that kind of scoop with the HT-Metal pedal.

The beautiful thing about both of these pedals is if your guitar amplifier has an FX-return channel at the back, you can plug the Dual or the Metal straight into this and effectively use both channels as the new voicing for your amp. Two well constructed valve pre-amps for your desired metal or rock tone!

The emulated out on both pedals is great for bedroom recording and allows you to use the pedal in a more limited situation for space and volume. These pedals are both extremely versatile – I personally find that the HT-Dual offers a much wider range of crunch/overdriven tones and is a more usable pedal for the every day guitarist whereas the HT-Metal would be more suited to a smaller group of guitarist’s.

Blackstar Metal Dual pedals distortion gain crunch guitar bass instrument fx effects

The price could be considered quite high for both these pedals with the HT-Metal at around £180 and the HT-Dual coming in at around £150 but for the quality of these pedals, that’s a very reasonable price to pay.

In summary, I would very much suggest both these pedals to anyone looking to try out valve distortion and highly recommend them to any rock or metal guitarist.