Accessory Review: Black Cat DBAL A2 (IR Version)

For so many years it’s been widely held that G&P’s DBAL is the undisputed champ, certainly when it comes to the lacklustre field of Airsoft IR lasers. So when an otherwise unremarkable accessories and parts manufacturer starts marketing a D-BAL that is supposedly better on all fronts than the G&P, it’s something I consider worth looking into.

This review will sometimes reflect upon the similarities and differences to the G&P version, anyone looking to buy a performance driven and night-vision compatible laser will probably be looking at both units and will want to know why one is better than the other.

To see the standalone G&P D-BAL review click here.

Back to the subject of our review… The Black Cat D-BAL. Designed to mimic the Steiner A2 D-BAL (Dual-Beam Aiming Laser), this being a popular alternative for many years to the ATPIAL AN/PEQ15 manufactured by L3/Insight Technology.

The real D-BAL A2 has both visible (Red or Green options available) and IR lasers that are co-aligned, with an independent diffused laser which forms the basis of the Illuminator. The Black Cat D-BAL mimics the original Steiner in that it has the aforementioned Red and IR lasers, but in place of an IR Illuminator as per the original, it has a white LED light.

Upon first impressions the Black Cat D-BAL feels incredibly rugged, even compared directly to the G&P it has a certain feel of genuine toughness. It certainly doesn’t feel like the toy it actually is, there are standards to which this product has supposedly been certified to, but I’d suggest that these standards be taken with a large pinch of salt.

The case itself is very similar in its build to the G&P, although modelled on a different model of the D-BAL A2 than the G&P version. It’s incredibly difficult for me to tell apart the genuine Steiner from the Black Cat without having one to put next to it, but I’d go as far as saying it’s well replicated based upon what little information I have.

The D-BAL is a metal box, a little smaller than a PEQ15 box and rather square. A Picatinny type mount is incorporated into the bottom of the unit, there is also the option to add a tape switch if you should want to control the unit remotely.

The D-BAL runs off of a single CR123A cell, this is accessed simply by unscrewing the cap to the front of the unit. A single cell should power the unit for quite some time, although I’d suggest taking them out after each game to prevent the unit turning itself on (we’ll get into that can of worms later).

The controls are very intuitive, you can literally hand this to someone without telling them how it works and they’ll be able to switch it between functions and operate it thanks to the detailed markings on the unit itself.

Two rotary switches on the back of the unit control function and power, there is a “Fire” button on top of the unit that can also used to activate the D-BAL. The switches are incredibly solid and click into position very firmly, with no discernible creep or wobble. More then can be said for the G&P, which does sometimes suffer with its switches.

The left switch controls the output power and switch functions, going from left to right the switch positions are as follows: On Low Power- Momentary Low Power – Off – Momentary High Power – On High Power. The right switch being responsible for controlling the D-BAL’s output functions, from left to right: Visible Pointer – IR Illumination – IR Pointer & Illumination – IR Pointer.

Actual functionality is where I feel the Black Cat unit differs most from the G&P D-BAL, with certain attributes of the Black Cat being somewhat questionable. Whilst the G&P unit actually mimics the Steiner rather well in its core functions such as the IR laser and IR Illuminator, the Black Cat D-BAL has its own way of doing things.

Starting with the right hand switch, let’s look at the functions.

First up, the Visible Pointer. The red laser offers a point of aim which is designed to allow quick acquisition of targets in low lit or indoor areas, it’s not something I would generally use but I can see it being of benefit in certain situations. In real world usage this would be used for sighting in the IR laser, them being co-alligned it makes the job a lot easier.

The actual laser itself isn’t the best beam I’ve seen on an Airsoft replica… It’s actually on the pretty shit end of what I’ve seen, with a very irregular and broken beam. The laser is also designed and marketed as being co-aligned with the IR laser for ease of zeroing, possibly one of its biggest selling points to those using it in conjunction with NODs (more on this later).

Next up is the “IR Illuminator”, as previously mentioned this isn’t an actual IR Illuminator but simply a white LED light. Absolutely not needed in my personal opinion, a D-BAL is a specialised piece of equipment and not a jack of all trades. Adding a function that the real one doesn’t have is almost worse than not having a function at all, this will make more sense when we look at the switches further on in the review.

The next turn on the switch “IR Pointer/Illuminator” will activate both the red laser and white light, probably the most useless function imaginable on a unit designed to be used in conjunction with night vision. It wouldn’t be such an issue if for one major inbuilt flaw that will become apparent later in the review (is it just me, or are you getting the feeling there’s something ominous on the horizon?).

The final clockwise turn on the right switch will access the IR laser, arguably the main reason to buy a D-BAL. The IR laser is on a par with the G&P in terms of beam and strength, performance wise it’s the only function that’s comparable to the G&P.

Turning the left switch to the two leftmost positions will cause the unit to be switched on in Low On Continuous and Low On Momentary modes, the laser unit is phased in a similar fashion to the G&P’s low mode.

The centre acts as a neutral off position for the switch, just to the side of this is a bright blue safety lock-out bolt which prevents the unit accessing its high powered modes… Well it should do, if not for one vital oversight (lol, seriously… I’ll get to it in a minute).

Removing the lock-out bolt does prevent you from having anywhere to store it, unlike the G&P where the lockout is stored within the underside of the unit, I haven’t found anywhere suitable to store the bolt when not being used… A bit annoying but not a game changer.

The button on the top of the unit will operate the selected mode when held down, I’m surprised that there is no press for constant/hold for momentary type programming for the switch, it feels awkward and almost makes the button itself redundant.

I like the design of the button better than that of the G&P design, it feels better made and is easy to locate in the dark whilst wearing gloves. However, the main issue I have with this unit isn’t with the buttons or controls themselves, rather the way in which they are programmed (I promise we’re close… bear with me).

The tape switch is similar to that of the G&P in that it uses a 2.5mm jack, unfortunately it’s not compatible though. I have no idea why, I’m not blessed with massive amounts of electrical knowledge… I guess it’s just wired up differently.

The tape switch itself is a long “Surefire-esque” switch that you should be able to find space for in a position that suits you, however I have had issues with this switch not working well in wetter weather, at Longmoor in particular I had to disconnect it as it wouldn’t allow control and kept switching itself on at random.

Remember all those little things we were going to refer back to? Well here it is. There is a massive issue at the heart of the Black Cat D-BAL, one that you should be well aware of before purchasing it.

Whilst some D-BALs and PEQs have a clever switch programming that allows a double tap for continuous on (or a five minute continuous on), the Black Cat has a ridiculous feature that when the tape switch or button is double tapped it automatically puts out 5 minutes of White Light and Red Laser on High intensity until it’s switched back off.

If that doesn’t seem bad, let me be very clear about this… A double tap of the button or switch will activate white light and the red laser no matter the mode selected on the switches. Want to keep the unit on IR? Tough… double tapping the switch when in IR Pointer mode will still switch it to White Light and Red Laser… Still not bad enough for you? How about having it switched to off and then double tapping that tape switch?

Yup, it’s a fucking disaster. Frankly it’s a massive turn off for most people, having to be incredibly careful to keep light discipline is bad enough without sticking a D-BAL into the equation that can quite frankly end up compromising you.

Let’s move away from this for a while… What do I like about the Black Cat D-BAL?

Well, I do like the sighting adjustment. The turrets are incredibly tough and almost puts to shame the G&P’s adjustable turrets, but having said that I do feel the G&P has the edge when it comes to consistency in the actual adjustment.

The rubber covers are stiff, stuffer than the G&P and they feel incredibly durable. They do seal in the light effectively and prevent light leakage almost entirely, a massive plus when you consider that sometimes you can’t actually turn the damn thing off.

I also really like the replica Railscales LEAF iron sight that comes with the unit (a real one costing nearly $70), making this a nice addition as well as adding value to the whole package.

It’s perfectly aligned in height with a standard M4 iron sight making it well suited alongside other brands of irons such as KAC or Magpul. It also works very well as an index point for your Red Dot Sight, a technique that aids in a consistent cheek weld and fast sight picture.

The mounting bracket is virtually identical to the G&P, an over-centre lock that is also features a hexagonal tension nut that is adjustable for rails that may be slightly off spec.

A green light on the rear of the unit let’s you know when the light is on, handy for those using it’s IR function. The light is rather bright though, I’d probably suggest a spot of black nasty over it to prevent unwanted light giving your position away… It’s significantly brighter than the G&P.

The last point I’ll make before summarising is regarding the units promise of a co-aligned laser, this being practically the only reason I bought this over another G&P D-BAL.

It’s not co-aligned, it’s actually less aligned than the G&P unit I already have. Using both laser units bolted to a rail I was able to see a point of impact shift of about 3 metres over 50 metres of range, far too much to be accurate. A massive shame and quite frankly an issue that is without defence and totally inexcusable.

Ok, so overall opinion, Is it a game changer? No.

I’m incredibly disappointed overall by the flaws in the Black Cat D-BAL, a product that had a massive amount of potential that’s been let down by some poorly decided inclusions and omissions.

The unit itself does have a few things going for it, the attention to the switches is phenomenal and the general ruggedness of the body is superb. Unfortunately the two main issues I keep running into are key features I’d expected this unit to have delivered upon.

It’s actually really boiled my piss that this unit is so far off what was promised, if I’d bought from a UK retailer I’d have seriously considered sending it back. As it stands, for the moment I’m happy enough to have this unit for purely its IR laser and aesthetics.

In a purely practical sense though, the G&P D-BAL still remains the top dog. The one saving grace of the Black Cat is that I only paid the same amount for this as my G&P, don’t make the mistake of paying more than £150 for this unit if despite my review you still really want one.

Certain UK retailers are selling this either knowingly or unknowingly claiming it’s a superior product where in actual fact it falls far short of what’s already on the market.

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