Tuesday, March 2, 2021




by Mark King


Marshall DSL1 Head and Combo Amplifiers 

Marshall has been producing their DSL (Dual Super Lead) amplifiers for a number of years. The DSL designation refers to there being two preamp channels, one which is basically clean and one which offers extreme high gain.

A single set of bass, middle and treble tone controls are shared by both input channels. A tone shift button switches the sound of the EQ to an alternate mode. A single knob controls the in-built digital reverb processing while a send-return effects loop on the rear provides an access point before the power amplifier stage for inserting more signal processing.

The DSL1 is available in a head and a combo version, they are only compatible with 16Ω speaker loads. Both models are electronically the same, the only difference is that the combo version includes an onboard Celestion 8” speaker. These are honest to goodness vacuum tube amplfiers with a pair of ECC83 (12ax7) preamp tubes and a single ECC82 (12au7) in the push-pull power amplifier stage. 

At only 12 pounds this is a Marshall head that won’t break your back or your wallet. This little amp is the definitive “lunchbox”, it is tiny yet packed with Marshall tonal goodness. At only $349 for the combo and $299 for the head these are real Marshall vacuum tube powered guitar amplifiers priced like boutique stompboxes, the value is exceptional.


The first input channel consists of a single volume control, this is the clean channel. You can twist it wide open and it does not get fuzzy sounding. The clean channel supports overdrive and fuzz stompbox effects with classic Marshall tone as the starting point. 

The second input channel consists of two knobs, an input level gain control and a master volume to control the overall output from channel two. If you like the high gain distortion sound of Marshall amps this one won’t disappoint.  Using an instrument with humbucking or single coil pickups, you’ve got plenty of drive on tap in these one-watt marvels to take your lead over the top.

Footswitch included with Marshall DSL1 models

Marshall provides a single pushbutton footswitch to remotely select channel 1 or channel 2. There is also a little pushbutton on the front of the amp to select which preamp is active if you don’t feel like using the footswitch. The effects loop is not switchable but it’s a great loop that supports a wide variety of signal levels. 

Footswitch input on left, Audio input and Softube Emulated output

Marshall has a partnership with the highly respected UK software designer, Softube. They have implemented a direct output with speaker emulation which is available as a mini-TRS headphone output on the rear of the amp. Using your own adaptors and direct box you can connect the Softube emulated output directly to a mixer for recording, the sound is quite good. Compared to pricey load boxes by Suhr and Universal Audio the Softube emulation sounds expensive but it’s included for no extra charge.

Low Power button cuts output power to 1/10-watt

As if only 1-watt of power was not low enough Marshall has kindly included a power-reduced mode which drops the output power even more, all the way down to 0.1 watts.


I love the way these little amps roar, classic clean and rip roaring DSL tube overdrive are here for the asking. Set one of these little heads on a Marshall 4x12 speaker and get ready to blow your mind at what a single-watt of tube amp goodness is capable of churning out. Over 100 dB is available from a Celestion-loaded 4x12 when you push it with this smallest Marshall, it’s not going to endear you with the neighbors. These little tone monsters continually amaze me with the amount of rich rock grind they can conjure up from such a small package.

1-watt DSL on 4x12 Marshall 1960 cabinet

A pair of these amplifier heads driving stereo 4x12 cabinets produces a massive big sound when driven with the right pedals. For rock guitar players the 1-watt Marshall-platform serves up authentic tube amp goodness. Over the years Marshall has produced many “cute” Marshall-branded products that take advantage of the iconic look, these little amps have the look and deliver the goods too. These are real vacuum tube amplifiers with classic rock tone.


From the Marshall DSL-1 manual

You can run this little 1-watt amp without a speaker connected. What? I can hear tube guys gasping and thinking “no load means a blown output transformer”. I discovered this option by reading the thin little owners manual provided by Marshall. It’s not worded very well so I wrote to Marshall in the UK and asked for clarity. Their service department in the USA responded and told me it is safe to operate the amp without a speaker connected provided you follow the instructions.

I have not seen the internal-load feature mentioned in the marketing but it is immensely useful, though it has some caveats. You MUST decide if you want to use a speaker before you turn the amp ON. The amp senses whether a speaker is connected when you power it up. If you decide to switch from using a speaker to no-speaker connected you must power the amp OFF before disconnecting the speaker load. 

With no speaker connected you can plug a set of headphones into the Softube emulated output and rock to your hearts content without disturbing anyone. 

Another feature that is not often discussed is the external-input jack on the rear of the chassis. This little TRS jack lets you input signal from an iPod, phone or tablet and jam along with the backing track using the Marshall amplifier sound for your guitar. You need to control the volume of the backing track using controls on the player you’re using because none of the level controls on the Marshall affect the headphone output. 


8" 15-watt speaker in Marshall DSL-1 Combo

Stepping up to the combo version of the little Marshall adds an extra 10 pounds of weight due to the speaker and larger enclosure. Electronically the combo is exactly the same as the head except for the larger vinyl-covered wooden enclosure. 

Rear of Marshall DSL-1 combo amplifier

A 16Ω Celestion 8” speaker delivers the sound from the 1-watt amp section. The speaker is rated for 15-watts of power handling and it does a good job completing the Marshall tone. The speaker has surprisingly smooth mid-to-high reproduction and the low end will surprise you, mic’d correctly for a recording you’d never know it was this tiny amp and speaker combination supplying the rocking guitar tone. Think of this as the Marshall version of “A Champ” but with channel switching and JCM tone. 

If you want to use the amplifier with an alternate speaker you can unplug the internal 8” and connect to any 16-Ω load or operate with no speaker connected (so long as you follow the directions and connect or disconnect the speaker with the amp powered OFF).


Can you tell I like these amplifiers? I own six of the little heads and one of the combo model. The tiniest tube Marshall series delivers real, honest to goodness crunch-rock’n tone, a mountain of musician-friendly features and all at an amazingly affordable and competitive price. 

Rear panel of DSL-1 combo

As you’re reading reviews and hype about boutique distortion pedals to give you that elusive Plexi tone, you might want to think of the tiny 1-watt Marshall as a pedal effect (you can wire it in as an effect pedal). Not only is it a great little amp it’s a complete jamming system that can help you be a better player. 


Please note, both amplifiers are identical except for speaker, weight and cabinet size

Type: Tube

Number of channels: 2

Power: 1W, optional 0.1 setting

Speaker Size (combo model): Celestion Eight 15 @ 16Ω

Output Impedance: 16Ω only

Preamp Tubes: 2 x ECC83 (aka 12ax7)

Power Amp Tube: 1 x ECC82 (aka 12au7)

Reverb: yes, digital

EQ: 3-band with tone shift

Inputs: 1 x 1/4” instrument, 1 x1/8” aux input

Outputs: 1 x 1/8” headphone/Softube emulated output

Effects Loop: Yes

Footswitch I.O.: yes, 1/4” jack, switches preamps

Footswitch included: yes

Marshall DSL-1 head

Head Dimensions




Weight: 12.3 lbs.

Marshall DSL-1 combo

Combo Dimensions

Height: 13.3” 

Width: 14.1”

Depth: 8.4”

Weight: 22.7 lbs.

Thanks for reading High on Technology, Good Music to You!

It’s not ok to copy or quote without written permission. This article is ©March 2021 by Mark King.