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  • TWA Little Dipper 2.0

    By Phil O'Keefe |

    Envelope controlled vocal formant filter


    In the late 1970s Colorsound released a pedal called the Dipthonizer. This rather interesting pedal acted somewhat like an auto-wah and gave the guitar notes and chords a decidedly vocal quality, with a greater variety of vocalization sounds available than just "wah." Unfortunately Colorsound pedals have never been plentiful in the USA, and the original Dipthonizer is a very rare and hard to find pedal today.


    Totally Wycked Audio is located in the USA. Their American-built LD-01 Little Dipper is based on the original Dipthonizer and has been their flagship pedal for a while now. Over the past two years they've been revising and updating it and have recently released the Little Dipper MK II which adds some new features and other improvements. Let's take a look at what this updated star-themed pedal is all about. 




    What You Need To Know

    • The Totally Wycked Audio (TWA) LD-02 Little Dipper is a dual envelope controlled vocal formant filter. Like its predecessor the Little Dipper Mk I, it is based on the late 1970s era Colorsound Dipthonizer, but it has several new features that both the Mk I Little Dipper and Dipthonizer lacked.
    • The Little Dipper is a fairly complex pedal with significant interaction between controls, and thus a lot of different sounds are available to those willing to explore all the potential possibilities, including things that sound similar to a wah, cocked and locked wah, talk box, flanger, phaser and envelope filter.
    • The TWA Little Dipper 2.0 is built into a genuine Hammond 1590 enclosure and is beautifully finished in a sparkly midnight blue color that works really well with the pedal's starry night theme. 





    • There are more controls on the top of the pedal than you might see at first glance. The first thing you notice are two chrome knobs. The one on the left is labeled "Ascension"; it acts similar to a threshold control on a traditional envelope filter and sets the speed and amount of sweep of the Little Dipper's two filters. TWA recommend settings in the 7, 12 and 4 o'clock ranges for the most dramatic vowel and diphthong sounds, but the control is interactive with the Inclination control's setting and also responds differently depending on the nature of the input signal and the way you play, so experimentation is definitely recommended.
    • To the right of the Ascension knob is a slider switch labeled Inclination. This five-position slide switch replaces the four-position vowel / diphthong rotary selector switch on the earlier Little Dipper and adjusts the relative trigger timing of the two filters, providing different vocal formant effects; the timing variations allow the filters to create different vowel and diphthong sounds, again depending on the Ascension knob position and the player's pick attack. 
    • Also next to the Ascension knob and just under the Inclination slider is a new control labeled Occultation. This small 360 degree rotary switch has a built-in slot and pointer and really needs to be adjusted with a small screwdriver. It provides seven new timing and EQ variations for the dual filters. Clockwise from 12 noon they are Normal (same as the original Little Dipper), High Filter Off, Low Filter Off, High Filter delayed response (separates the low and high filter response times, and is most apparent with Inclination setting 2), Low Filter delayed response (the inverse of the previous setting), Shift of Low Frequency center frequency, More High Filter (glassier, higher filter sweeps) and More Low Filter, which gives the filter sweeps a more pronounced midrange edge.
    • The second chrome knob is labeled Diffraction, and controls the Little Dipper 2.0's onboard fuzz. This isn't a typical fuzz that overpowers everything; when it's turned down all the way the Little Dipper gives you totally clean filter effects, and as Diffraction is turned up it adds subtle fuzz and edge that emphasizes some frequencies, making the effect of the filter sweeps sound more dramatic.
    • Rounding out the top panel controls is a recessed Low Boost switch. Marked LB on the top panel and accessed though a small hole in the top of the pedal (located right next to the true bypass footswitch) this switch (like the Occultation rotary switch) can only be adjusted with a screwdriver or other small tool. When it's in the up position it adds a 6dB boost at 80Hz for fatter lows, which makes the Little Dipper Mk II much more suitable for use with bass than its predecessor.
    • Three more controls are found inside the pedal on the three square white trim pots. They include (from top to bottom) Dry Blend, Output Level and Noise Gate Release. Dry Blend allows you to go from effect-only at the minimum setting to equal amounts of dry and effected signals at the maximum setting. Output Level controls the overall output level when the effect is engaged, while the Noise Gate Release adjusts the threshold of the built-in noise gate, with no gating at the minimum setting and increasingly more as the trim pot is turned up.





    • Some improvements are not directly visible. The LD-02 Little Dipper sounds even better than its predecessor with a lower noise floor, improved tracking and wider frequency response. Tracking is generally quite good, although as with any level dependent pedal such as envelope filters the Little Dipper does respond differently depending on how hard you attack each note.
    • The Little Dipper 2.0 is powered by a user-supplied 2.1mm center-negative 9VDC 100mA (minimum) regulated power supply. No battery power option is provided. The power jack is mounted on the left side of the pedal.
    • The input and output jacks are both mounted on the right side of the Little Dipper 2.0.




    • The seven(!) bypass LEDs are laid out in the shape of Ursa Minor - the Little Dipper. Yes, it looks very cool, and although the LEDs remain dimly lit even when the pedal is bypassed they become much brighter when it is activated, so it's easy to tell when it's on or off.





    • Speaking of bypass, the Little Dipper Mk II uses TWA's proprietary S3 "Shortest Send Switching", which uses a relay based true bypass configuration that automatically switches to the bypassed state if power is lost. 
    • The new expression pedal jack is mounted on the left side of the pedal near the power jack, and is designed to work with expression pedals such as the Boss EV-5. The expression pedal allows for foot control of the Ascension setting, and lets you adjust the sweep of the filters with your foot.



    • With three controls mounted on trim pots inside the pedal, and two that can be accessed externally only with the assistance of a tool, it's tough to control everything on the Little Dipper 2.0 in a live situation. Fortunately the three internal trim pots control parameters that most users will "set and forget." However, the top panel Occultation control is really something that users may want to adjust more often, and it would be nice if it was easier to do so without requiring a small screwdriver.
    • While there's a long tradition of using creative names for effects pedal controls, on a pedal like this that some players may have a hard time understanding initially, more descriptive names might have been helpful. Still, it's not all THAT complicated, and users will get the hang of everything soon enough. Besides, the names used do add to the cool out of this world astronomical vibe of the pedal quite a bit.


    Like all envelope filters, this pedal isn't going to be for everyone, but for those seeking new and unusual tones, it can provide a wide range of them compared to many other pedals. In fact, it's capable of much more complex and vocal-like expressions compared to most filter pedals, in no small part due to the Little Dipper's dual filters and wide range of interactive controls. While not exactly inexpensive, it's considerably less expensive than a vintage Dipthonizer, and more capable too, offering features and sounds the original just wasn't capable of, and packaged in an unusually cool looking pedal that's sure to draw attention.   


    There's a lot of controls on the TWA LD-02 Little Dipper, and while some of them require taking off the back plate or tools to reach and adjust them, the degree of control offered to the user is definitely wide-ranging. It's great that TWA managed to add so many new features to the updated Little Dipper while reducing the size of the pedal and keeping it at the same price, but I wonder if it might have been better to keep the larger size while making the new controls more accessible. This will probably be more of an issue for those who use the Little Dipper 2.0 live than it will for those who use it primarily for recording. Regardless of where you use it, the Little Dipper Mk 2 is significantly improved from its predecessors and provides a wide range of vocal-like sounds to your guitar's sonic repertoire courtesy of its dual filters. Check it out if you have the opportunity.


    Totally Wycked Audio / TWA LD-02 Little Dipper ($299.00 "street", available direct from Godlyke Distributing)




    Pimpin' Pedals with Godlyke - TWA Little Dipper Mk II demo video



    Are you interested in effects pedals and discussing them with other musicians? Do you have questions about different effects types, or which pedal is best for generating certain types of sounds? If so, then be sure to check out Harmony Central's Effects Forum!






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