I’ve been using solid state amplifiers since I started playing a couple of years ago. I’ve been curious about tube amps since that is what more experienced players prefer despite the inconvenience of weight and somewhat archaic technology. So I finally took the plunge and bought this DSL 5c. My recent amps have been the Marshall CODE 50 and Line 6 Spider V 60. Both are current generation modeling amps that simulate a plethora of classic amps, cabs and guitar effects pedals at anywhere from bedroom level to light gigging volumes.
So how does the DSL5c compare?
The DSL5c comes in standard black and gold plus a couple of limited edition models which have basically identical specifications but with different styling on the outside. The one I have is the DSL5 CCW Limited Edition Country and Blues version.
The DSL5c comes in a very plain sturdy brown cardboard box. Included with the amp is a single switch footswitch, a brief user guide, warranty information and AC power cable.
The DSL5 CCW is a small, open back combo amp with a 10 inch speaker. It has a tooled brown leather vinyl tolex and wheat biscuit color basket weave grill cloth. Other than the styling though, it’s identical to the regular version. It’s a 5 watt amp with a low power 1w switch. Marshall mentioned online that it is actually closer to ½ watt in low power mode. It’s the smallest and most affordable all tube combo amp Marshall currently has on the market. Specifications are simple with two channels: a classic Gain and Ultra Gain channel which you can switch between with the included footpedal.
It has no fancy effects like the built-in reverb found in more expensive models but it does have an effects loop with send and return jacks in the back. This allows you to add effects up front or in the middle of the FX loop in between the Pre Amp and Power Amp stages. This, in turn, gives you a lot of flexibility and is ideal for time-based effects like reverb and delay and basically any effects you want added after break up and distortion passes through the preamp.
Classic Gain Channel
The Classic Gain channel has a single volume knob, no separate gain knob. This makes it a bit old fashioned and works the same way as a classic Marshall Plexi from the 60’s where you rely on the volume to push the tube into distorted tones. So if you want it to break your clean up into a crunch sound at low volumes an Overdrive pedal might be handy. This is the channel you want for your clean tones. It amplifies your guitar’s natural sound for classic and traditional types of music.
Ultra Gain Channel
The Ultra Gain channel has both Volume and Gain knobs and is designed to give you a distorted overdriven sound. Think 70’s rock through Heavy Metal lead and rhythm tones.
There are three equalization knobs, Treble, Middle and Bass which are shared between both the Classic Gain and Ultra Gain channels and are used to shape your tone.
The front panel has a few extra push/push buttons.
A channel select button that switches between classic and ultra gain just like the footswitch.
A Tone shift which tones down the mids for a less boomy rhythm suitable for rock music.
A deep switch which works like loudness on a stereo to make the relatively small amplifier sound bigger at low volumes.
There is also a large red illuminated power switch for turning the amp on and off. There is no standby switch like you would find on larger tube amps. Other than that, the only other thing on the front panel is the ½ inch mono guitar input jack.
Here you have a few basic inputs and outputs.
FX Loop with ¼ inch send and return jacks
A short speaker cable with angled plug that is plugged into the 16 Ohm speaker output jack.
A push/push, low/high power switch that switches between 5 watt and 1 watt modes.
The ½ inch line out jack has dual functions depending on the setting of the 5/1 watt power switch. In 1w mode it’s an emulated headphone jack while in 5w mode it’s an emulated Line Level output. Emulated means that the output is processed to sound natural as though it is coming out of a speaker. This is great for headphones or direct recording.
There is also a 1/8 inch (3.5mm) mp3 input socket for backing tracks. You can only hear the music through headphones. It doesn’t sound through the speaker.
And lastly you have the footswitch jack where you plug in the included footswitch.
Using the DSL5c is straight forward. I have had it for a little over a month now. New out of the box the DSL5 sounded a little harsh and shrill. But after a few hours, the speaker started breaking in with the tone smoothing out, warming up with a fuller range and developing over the first few days. The sound is excellent especially with the deep (loudness button) in 1w mode which sounds rich, full and vibrant. Since it has no built in effects it does sound a little flat. I purchased a reverb pedal to put in the FX loop. That really opened up the sound making it sound bigger and more lively. The other pedal I bought was a Tube Screamer type overdrive.
Since I play at home, I primarily use the 1 watt mode. I’ve always been told that tube amps are too loud for quiet practice. It’s one of the things that put me off getting one sooner. The DSL5c begs to differ. I was surprised at how quiet it can be in 1 watt mode. It still sounds good while playing more quietly than my Marshall CODE modeling amp. It sounds good at a volume low enough that it doesn’t wake someone sleeping in the next room. I can easily play at conversation level that you can talk over.
The Classic Gain channel is like an old school tube amp in that you control the tone with the volume. You have to turn up the volume till it starts to break up for distortion. At low volumes it is clean and chimey and sounds great for any traditional guitar genre. The 1 watt is still loud when you turn it up which is where my overdrive pedal comes in. If you want crunch and distortion at lower volume on the clean channel, you can push the preamp section harder with the overdrive pedal to get some classic hard rock tones from the 60’s and 70’s through to early 80’s with no problems.
The Ultra Gain channel offers you ACDC crunch at the lower gain settings and soon distorts through 80’s and 90’s metal rhythm. When you add the overdrive you get a very nice solo lead tone. The ultra gain has slightly less bass than the classic channel and can sound a bit fizzy when the gain is turned too far up. The overdrive pedal can help to push the Ultra Gain for a sweet modern lead sound.
I can vouch for the tube amps having superior sound compared to the cheaper modeling solutions. And by cheaper, I mean under $500. The DSL5c costs twice as much as my CODE 50 and close to double of the Spider V. It’s very articulate and organic feeling to play compared to both the modeling amps. They can sound similar but the interaction is different. The tube amp has some organic push pull sensation with how it reacts to the guitar. I also noticed that the volume and tone knobs have a lot more interaction with the amp. You can roll back from distorted to clean a lot better with the tube and the tone rolls back without getting muffled and losing as much definition. Picking dynamics are also noticeably improved with your pick attack changing both the volume and detail of the notes being played. The modeling amps sound more two dimensional and hifi where the tube amp sounds more full and alive. Conclusion
This is a great amp. You can do a lot with it on its own but a reverb pedal really opens up and broadens the soundstage. You don’t need to have an overdrive pedal but it does provide you with a lot more versatility, especially at low volume where it can drive the preamp harder for nice lead and rhythm tones even at speaking volume.
I’m delighted with the amp and wish I had gotten it sooner. Modeling amps have thousands of combinations of tones and complicated menus and a lot of memory slots for storing presets. But honestly, most of the time I use less than 5 presets to cover all bases. The tube amp has two channels but with a careful setup you can get the most common tones just by switching between channels, pickups and modulating the knobs on the guitar. It’s not as convenient as an all in one solid state solution with built in effects, especially if you’re just starting out and not sure you will persevere. But if you’re dedicated and looking for a great sounding tube amp the DSL line is hard to beat. This is the smallest model with the 15 watt available for an extra $100. I chose this one because it has an FX loop while the 15 has a weak built in reverb making it somewhat limited and less versatile.
A great amp at a reasonable price.
A great reasonably priced all tube amplifier
Product Name: Marshall DSL 5c
Product Description: 2 Channel vacuum tube combo amp with Fx loop. Built in 10" Celestion speaker, Switichable 1 watt or 5 watt power modes. Speaker emulated line out and headphone our. 16 ohm speaker out.