Fight Club: DLS vs. Super Sport

About the only pedal type as ubiquitous as the Tube Screamer is the Marshall-in-a-box. Everybody loves ‘em, everybody likes to compare ‘em. Last week I got a chance to test two popular MIAB type pedals head–to-head: the Catalinbread DLS (version 2) and the Barber B-Custom Super Sport.

The Test Gear
I tested the pedals by running them in front of a Budda SD18. Test guitars included a Fender Stratocaster, Ibanez JS1000, and Ernie Ball MusicMan Silhouette.

Looks and Vibe
I don’t like the way Barber pedals look. Utilitarian and drab. Fortunately the Super Sport, with its sparkly blue finish and racing stripe, bucks that trend to a certain degree. The DLS is still more my style. The smaller footprint, distressed graphics, unique square status light, and RAWK switch evoke a nice design aesthetic.

The first and most obvious observation is that the Barber has more gain. WAY more. Even at its lowest settings there is still a decent amount of gain happening. The DLS, on the other hand, maxes out at what I would call heavy overdrive…maybe ½ of what the SS has on tap. This can be good or bad depending on your needs. If lower gain Marshall tones are what you’re after, the DLS offers a much wider range to sweep through. If you are after the higher gain Marshall mojo, SS all the way.

However, the more I played with the Super Sport the more I discovered that though there isn't a huge range of low OD available, what is there is very dynamic and clear. I found that I preferred it as a low gainer over most of my Tube Screamer style overdrive pedals.....I just had to get used to turning the drive knob in teensy-weensy increments. 

The Knobs
Both the DLS and SS have the standard three knobs on the outside, and they all do what you would expect them to. It’s worth noting that the SS has perhaps the most useable tone knob I’ve ever encountered in a distortion pedal. It yields useable tones throughout its entire sweep. The DLS’ tone knob is more typical, with most of the useable stuff falling between 10 and 2.

Additionally, the SS has five internal adjustment knobs. No fluff here….all are valuable for altering the tonality. Thus the SS win hands-down in the flexibility department. Unfortunately, every internal knob is also…ummm…. internal. Booo. Massive points deducted for this. That said, spend some time with the Harmonics and Note Shape knobs. Cool stuff.

Tonally the DLS has a resonant peak in the upper mids that is impossible to dial out. The SS’s emphasis is centered more in the lower mids, and is equally impossible to dial out despite the internal adjustments. Beyond that, I would characterize the DLS as having a “harder”, dryer tone, while the SS is more “saturated”. The DLS wants to piss of the neighbors, and the SS wants to invite them over for a beer.

The Reveal
I kept the Barber and sent the DLS back. Lots of people love the DLS, and for lower gain AC-DC type tones it is fantastic. I got tired of the dry nasal quality of it, and opted instead for the warmer options the Barber offered.


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