$219.00 MSRP; $159.99 Street
A guitar is a multi-timbral instrument, capable of playing chords, riffs, melodic lines, percussive effects, and everything in between. You can create an entire symphony of layers using just your axe and a multi-track recorder. But if you know how to use a looper, you can do it live, on the fly, and in the moment. Loop recording is its own genre (there are even contests to promote it), and when you hear it done well, you are amazed not only by the final outcome, but also mesmerized by watching the process. Even if you never bring your loops public, a looper is an indispensable practice aid, allowing you to, say, lay down a rhythm part and solo over it. You can buy a gigantic floor-based looper for hundreds of dollars, but for many people, an inexpensive, small-footprint pedal with some decent features will fit the bill.
And that’s where the Vox Lil’ Looper steps in. For just over $150, you get not only a fully functioning dual-independent loop recorder, but one with effects built in. It’s also expandable via a two-button footswitch for even greater control. A scaled-down version of the Vox Dynamic Looper, the Lil’ Looper has all the best and essential ingredients for an entry-level looper: two pedals, a selectable input switch (guitar/mic), loop level control, effect shaping through two variable parameters, and tap tempo. But there are some nice additions, too, such as auto record, and a beat-division function that allows you to play rhythmic figures (like the dotted-eighth “cascade” effect) without doing the math. And the resultant sound, even after several layers, is terrific.
For a quick tour of the Lil Looper's features, check out this Quick Take video:
Physically, the Lil’ Looper is just large enough to accommodate two pedals comfortably, along with five illuminated buttons and two knobs (see Fig. 1). At the top edge of the unit are the two variable chicken-head-style knobs, and in the center is a peak LED indicating signal overload (which is easy to do when looping). The pedals control all looping functions: record, play, dub, stop, undo, and redo. They also work together in clever ways (more on that below). The illuminated Effect button displays three colors: red, orange, and green, depending on which of the three effect types (pedal, mod/delay, or simulation) is active. The other four buttons control auto-record, metronome, tap-tempo, and clear (or delete) loop. The pedal is nicely laid out and readable, but you can’t access any of the buttons with your feet if you’re wearing shoes. You could, in a pinch, move the two knobs with the toe of your shoe. But in bare feet, you can go to town!
Fig. 1. The front panel shows the two pedals that handle all the looping functions, along with the effects controls up top.
On the back panel are jacks for the Power Supply (available as an option; the unit is also battery powered via four AA’s, which are included), Footswitch, Input (1/4" TS), Headphones (stereo mini), and Output (1/4" TS). Additionally, there are two back-panel switches: on/off (which Vox nonsensically labels as “Standby/On”), and Mic/Guitar. If you’re going to hook up a mic (and I hope you do!), you’ll need an XLR-to-1/4" adapter (which you can get for as little as $6 online). Note that with just one input jack, you can’t run a mic and a guitar at the same time, at least not without some line-summing solution prior to hitting the Lil’ Looper.
Fig. 2. The back panel sports 1/4" input and output jacks, plus switches for power and Mic/Line selection.
The construction is rugged and appealing, and the pedals and buttons all have a satisfying and reassuring response to them—essential for the precisely defined in and out points in looping. The status lights readily reveal where you are in the effects spectrum (there are 12 types, each with three choices, for a total of 36 different effect variations), and the only time you need to consult the manual is when you want to fully exploit the looping functions. The trade-off between an inexpensive pedal with a simple layout and the relatively deep functionality that lies within is a learning curve. You’ll have to spend some time not only learning what the different looping approaches are, but getting the rhythm down in your feet. This is not a bad thing; by contrast, it means with a little time invested, you can be doing quite sophisticated loop-based functions with the Lil’ Looper.
It’s really quick and easy to get a good sound from the Lil’ Looper, and the default effects are voiced just perfectly and will hold their own with other more specialized versions in your effects chain. You also have two parameters per effect for further tweaking. Obviously, which two parameters are tweakable depends on the effect. For example, for Crunch, the knobs control level and gain; for Phaser and Chorus, they control speed and depth.
As to loop time, you have 90 seconds total to divide up between the two loop stages. That’s enough for working out an entire song arrangement at least one time through all the sections, and it’s more than enough time for most loops and standard song forms, like the 12-bar blues or 32 bars of “Rhythm changes.” And remember, overdubbing via the sound-on-sound method within a loop is virtually infinite, so that’s independent of the loop-time allocation. In practice, 90 seconds and a reasonable amount of SOS overdubbing is plenty for practicing and creative problem-solving. It might not be quite enough for an extended onstage piece; for that, you’ll need the Lil’ Looper’s big ol’ brother, the Dynamic Looper.
The Lil’ Looper offers two independent loops, but their operations are linked in that when you record on Loop1 and then activate Loop2, Loop1 automatically stops recording and goes into playback mode. This feature alone makes the Lil’ Looper a performance-worthy instrument as well as a really smooth practice aid. If you want to assemble different parts in non-real time, you can just hit Loop1 again after recording, and it shifts into playback mode. Hit Loop1 again for SOS-style overdubbing. This approach gives you time to collect your thoughts or even switch instruments before recording again (whether on Loop1 or Loop2). If you’re bringing more than one instrument to the party, using a small submixer enables you to record a whole band—playing all the parts yourself and assembling layers as you go. You can undo the last-recorded part w/out affecting previous parts, allowing you to “loop record” in the DAW sense—as in subsequent passes—until the current part is perfect before moving on. And the effects work nicely here because, while you can only access one effect at a time, the loop records the effect, allowing you to switch on subsequent passes.
The Lil’ Looper includes a few really nice extras. There’s a quantize function that easily enables you to end your loop recordings right on the beat, without your having to be super precise about when your foot comes down (which can be a distraction). With the optional VFS2 footswitch ($25.99, street) you can turn effects on or off, stop a selected loop, or even erase a phrase, all hands free. There’s a metronome feature that you can output through the headphones only—a great feature.
Though the Lil’ Looper does indeed offer multiple effect choices (four categories with three entries each), it is not a multi-effect in the sense that you can use any two simultaneously (like Crunch and Delay). You’re limited to just one effect at a time. Still, it’s better than no effects at all, and because you can toggle the effect on and off via a footswitch, it does increase your sonic palette.
One of the effects deserves special mention: The Stutter effect works in conjunction with Tap Tempo, giving you specific rhythmic subdivisions (eighth-note triplets, 32nd notes, etc.). By manipulating the two knobs (Effect for rhythm, Loop Level for the duty cycle that opens and closes the gate), you can achieve all sorts of delay-like and tremolo-like effects. Mix this in with the delay function (varying the delay time and levels to taste), and you’ve got some great progressive rock, trance, and techno loops in your future.
The Lil’ Looper is not only a great looper for those just getting into loop recording, it offers a host of more advanced features that you’ll appreciate after you’ve mastered the basic musical requirements and stagecraft for smooth loop performances. The excellent-sounding effects, tap tempo, and footswitch expandability means the Lil’ Looper can not only help you get your loop chops down out of the box, but serve you well as you become more loop-savvy and your needs grow.
Jon Chappell is a guitarist and the Senior Editor of Harmony Central. He has contributed numerous musical pieces to film and TV, including Northern Exposure, Walker, Texas Ranger, All My Children, and the feature film Bleeding Hearts, directed by actor-dancer Gregory Hines. He is the author of The Recording Guitarist: A Guide for Home and Studio (Hal Leonard), Essential Scales & Modes (Backbeat Books), and Build Your Own PC Recording Studio (McGraw-Hill), and has written six books in the popular Dummies series (Wiley Publishing).
Great review, John, thank you!!