Marshall DSL1CR Review

Discussion in 'Amps & Cabs' started by Clifdawg, Apr 18, 2018.

  1. Clifdawg

    Clifdawg Well-Known Member

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    So, I got the chance to play one of these bad boys pretty extensively today at my local guitar store (Bailey Brothers in Birmingham, AL). They had almost the entire line of new DSLs there - The 1, 5, and 20-watt combos, as well as the older DSL15, were represented. Having seen the adorable 1-watter announced after NAMM, I knew I was going to have to play one of these. Spoiler alert - I want one.

    First, in case you haven't seen one:
    [​IMG]

    I compared this directly to the DSL5CR, and I had had the chance to demo a Fender Pro Jr IV and a Blackstar HT1RH+HT112 mini-stack earlier. I played both an Epiphone Les Paul Plus Top Pro and a Fender Thinline Tele Deluxe with P90s.

    Features: Hoo boy. For a 1x8" combo in an adorably tiny enclosure, there's a metric ton of features. It's a proper 2-channel amplifier in a 1-watt push-pull configuration, much like the Blackstar HT-1 or HT-5. It uses two 12AX7s in the pre-amp and a 12AU7 in the power-amp, and it outputs through a Celestion Eight-15 speaker. The classic gain has a volume knob; the ultra gain has both gain and volume knobs. There's a shared three-band EQ with a perfectly useless "Tone Shift" button (that takes away mids and cuts the highs; nothing you couldn't already do satisfactorily with the EQ anyway), and a reverb knob. On the back, things are more interesting: an included footswitch (!!!) plugs in here, and the speaker is connected to a output jack so a bigger extension cab can be used. A "Low Power" attenuation button takes things down to 0.1 watt to half the available volume. There's a 1/8" Auxilliary in, a 1/8" cab-simulated phones/recorded out (which I believe defeats the speaker in low-power mode; I didn't test this). And lo and behold - an effects loop! In a 1-watt amp! I imagine slaving my Katana's power amp section to the Marshall's preamp would be really fun. Dreams, dreams.

    Fit and Finish: It looks cute, but it seems to be built like a tank; the cabinet feels well-put-together, the tolexing looks good, and it's got that all-important Marshall mojo to the looks of the thing.

    Sounds: It's a 1x8" combo. Curb your expectations here. For any folks doing research on this amp who might stumble on this thread from Google, let me get the burning questions out of the way:
    • "Is it loud enough to annoy the spouse/kid?" Sure, it can be, if you want it to.
    • "Can I gig with it?" No. No you cannot.
    • "Does it sound like a JTM45/1959/JCM800/JCM900/JVM?" No. No it does not.
    • "Did you know you can buy a Katana/Mustang/Valvetronix/Crush/used HT5/used Bassbreaker/etc. for the same kind of money?" Yes, and if it's a first/only amp you're looking for, some of those are much better options.
    • "dis gud for middle skool metalcore band i play in??" About as good as any other low-power 1x8" combo. Which is to say, not very.

    Alright, with that out of the way, how does it sound? Surprisingly good, actually. It's definitely the sort of thing where you have to embrace it's smallness and appreciate it for what it is, rather than compare it to something it's emulating. The classic gain is shooting for Plexi, and the ultra gain is shooting for JCM, but let's face it - it sounds like a small amp. That said, this absolutely crushes any other small amp of it's size, so far as I've tried. Do yourself a favor and play this on a table or other object that brings it more to ear-level -the sound becomes much more pleasing when it's actually pointed towards you instead of your heels.

    On the classic gain channel, there's more headroom than I would have expected from an amp this size. With the mids down and the bass and treble up, it approaches a "blackface" clean, but with the mids pushed, it fattens up to a nice "tweed-to-bluesbreaker" vibe. It dirties up quickly past 9:00, which is about as far as you can push it if you want pristine cleans from humbuckers, but in it's full 1-watt mode, it would be much too loud to hold a conversation over without shouting. It actually dirties up at around the same volume as the Fender Pro Junior, which is a 15-watt 1X10, which is impressive. At noon, it's pleasingly crunchy, even on the 0.1watt setting, and this is about as loud as it will go before it gets well outside of what I would call "bedroom friendly" volume levels. The sweet spot seems to be noon-to-three on the dial here, if you want good old fashioned classic rock crunch - there's the "Marshall" sound. Classic gain definitely responds differently to pickups, accentuating the differences between the humbuckers and the P90s I tried it with. It's definitely not a "canned" Marshall sound like you'd get from the MG series or Code.

    The Ultra Gain channel REALLY dirties things up. It's a looser, more grizzly gain structure than something like the Blackstar HT1R, which has a tighter, more modern tonality. I'm sure the second pre-amp tube providing gain vs. the Blackstar's solid-state OD circuitry has a lot to do with the Marshall's more natural-sounding compression [thanks to Syskokid for correcting my earlier mistake about the circuitry]. Undoubtedly, the Blackstar is more suited to low-down brown-sound shredding shenanigans, but the Marshall is much more old-school rock and roll. The gain gets a little out of control when you take it past noon, and the more you crank the volume, the more preamp gain you'll want to dial out. Here, the EQ settings matter more - this is a honky little amp, with a lot of mids. It actually works best when you either embrace it's midrange punch or cut it out altogether. With the mids fully scooped, there's actually still quite a bit left in the mix - probably a result of the speaker. It tightens up higher-gain sounds significantly and makes drop-D riffage sound great. Then, turn the mids to the other end of the dial and trim the highs, and it's all blues-scale hard rock. Take the gain down to 0900 and it becomes easier to manage volume and saturation with the volume knob - Everything from blues to rock with a twist of the knob. In low-power mode, you can get some really throaty tones at levels you could easily hold a conversation over.

    I plugged into the DSL5CR thinking that it would be like the DSL1, but more. I was wrong - I actually preferred the 1-watter. The DSL5CR was bigger-sounding, but much harder to hit anything resembling a sweet-spot at low volumes, even with it's half-watt mode engaged. The gain knob on the classic gain channel was borderline useless; even at full tilt, the cleans were pristine until the volume came up pretty significantly. The ultra-gain channel on the 5 was punchier, probably because of the 10" speaker, but it wasn't appreciably better, at least not at living-room volumes. In lieu of the kinds of crunch that the DSL1CR's classic gain channel delivers, I don't think the 5 is worth the added cost - at least, for folks not looking for an amp that can travel from the living room to a small stage.

    The reverb? It's fine. At this size and price point, it's a very welcome feature. It adds a lot of richness to those wonderful almost-cleans, but it's nothing mind-blowing - it's clearly digital.

    Overall, I'm very impressed. This will definitely be my next purchase... Whenever I can talk the wife into it (Christmas, maybe?). It's a great amp for home use, and it nails that Marshall grind in a little package that can sit on a coffee table. It has almost all of the features of it's bigger brethren, it's versatile, it looks and sounds great (*coughforan8"combocough*), and is at a great price. What's not to love?

    TL;DR: Amp is good, I like, I buy when not broke. :dude:
     
    Last edited: Apr 19, 2018
    Epiphan, plankton, grausch and 4 others like this.
  2. SG standard

    SG standard Well-Known Member

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    Great write up - thanks for sharing that. A few years ago Marshall did a series of 1 watt amps to celebrate a 50th anniversary, and I grabbed a JVM 1C when I saw them on offer. I was pretty amazed by the sounds you could get from this with the power down to 0.1 watt - very useful living in a flat! One thing it did miss was a reverb, so I'm glad to see they've added one to these amps.
     
  3. syscokid

    syscokid Well-Known Member

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    Yes... very thoughtful and well constructed review, Clifdawg. I wish I could articulate and break info down like you just did. Good job... :yesway:.
    I just researched the tube specs for the DSL1C. That would be two 12AX7's (ECC83) in the preamp, and one 12AU7 (ECC82) for the power valve.
     
    Clifdawg likes this.
  4. Clifdawg

    Clifdawg Well-Known Member

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    Whoops, you're right - thanks. I always get my AT's and AY's and AU's mixed up. And that second preamp tube explains why the compression sounds more natural than the Blackstar, then. Haha. I'll fix.

    But now I had a vacation day from work and took my son to another store for the fun of it and played a 100-buck Monoprice 5-watt 1x8 that was equally as awesome as the Marshall DSL1CR, if a little less versatile, and I played with a single-pickup Hamer double-cut Junior clone and now I want both amps and that guitar and oh my gosh the GAS is out of control someone please send help :rofl:
     
  5. plankton

    plankton Well-Known Member

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    Great review Clifdawg. The low watt tube amp they're making these days are great. I've got a Laney Cub12R which is 15w, but it has a <1w input that I tend to use more often, especially around the house. You can dime the master volume and it sounds amazing with the power tubes working hard, and it's still pretty loud (enough to annoy the family).

    Also nice to see Marshall put out something good. When I was shopping around, before I ended up with the Laney, I tried some of the older DSL amps and didn't like what I heard. May need to give these new ones a go.
     

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