TWA Little Dipper 2.0 (Review)

Whether it’s emulating the squelchy quack of classic Bootsy Collins, the tubby dub of Bill Laswell, or the intricate attack and frequency dynamics of an analog synthesizer, envelope filters are among the most useful—and radical— stompboxes available.
By Jonathan Herrera ,

Whether it’s emulating the squelchy quack of classic Bootsy Collins, the tubby dub of Bill Laswell, or the intricate attack and frequency dynamics of an analog synthesizer, envelope filters are among the most useful—and radical— stompboxes available. To create the classic envelope filter sound, a lowpass filter (a filter that only allows low frequencies to pass) is paired with an envelope follower that sweeps the filter’s cutoff frequency to reflect the changes in your signal level. When this cutoff frequency is emphasized slightly, dramatic wah-wahs, scoops, and dwoops are the audible result. Envelope filter sounds can be dramatically expanded if the control voltage is applied to different types of filters; bandpass (filters that emphasize midrange frequencies) and highpass (high-frequency selective) filters can be paired with an envelope follower to produce a host of intriguing sounds. The TWA Little Dipper 2.0 is definitely a left-of-center filter in that it uses a pair of bandpass filters to produce “formant” effects, emulating the vowel-like sounds of the human voice.

When two bandpass filters are combined and made to sweep around the audible frequency spectrum, the resulting sound is quasi-vocal, in that it exhibits a shifting, lumpy frequency response like the human voice. This is the Little Dipper’s strength. Its ascension knob controls the depth of the sweep of the pedal’s two filters, a bit like the threshold or sensitivity control of a typical envelope filter. The 5-position inclination switch alters the trigger timing of the Little Dipper’s dual-filter circuit, and is the primary means of achieving a wide range of vowel sounds. Diffraction adds gentle fuzz to the sound, going a long way toward dramatizing the filtered tone’s impact. The occultation knob accesses a variety of timing and EQ options beyond the standard setting. Finally, the exp jack allows you to control the ascension parameter with an expression pedal, allowing for even more dramatic and dynamic effects.

The Little Dipper is certainly a gorgeous and clever-looking pedal. Its seven status LEDs are arranged like the pedal’s eponymous constellation, giving context to the parameter names. Placement of the input and output jacks is unusual, paired adjacently on the pedal’s right side. This could present some tricky routing obstacles on a pedalboard. The lb switch is welcome, adding a 6dB boost at 80Hz to better mate the Little Dipper with bass, but its deeply recessed set-it-and-forget location seems unnecessarily finicky. So, too, does the occultation rotary switch, which—unlike the pedal’s other main parameters—you tweak with a tiny trim-pot-style knob that is only adjustable with a flathead screwdriver (or a particularly rigid fingernail). While I can buy that the bass boost is a parameter that most bass players will just leave on, I don’t understand the logic behind making one of the pedal’s most useful parameters so difficult to adjust. Otherwise, construction is rugged, and I especially dug the relay-based “S3” true-bypass switching.

The Little Dipper 2.0 distinguished itself immediately when I started futzing around. Simply put, there’s no other pedal I can think of (I’m limiting this comparison to other analog pedals) that produces similar sounds. It’s difficult to grok the precise impact of the pedal’s innumerable settings, although I’m sure a particularly motivated player could learn its idiosyncrasies. Fortunately, it rewards even the ham-fisted tweaker with great sound no matter what. It’s capable of almost human-like vocalizations, P-Funk-esque bleeps and bloops, and a ton of eerie and hollow ever-shifting soundscapes. Since the filter’s intensity and sweep is proportional to playing amplitude, it’s an incredibly dynamic and expressive pedal. It’s not a do-it-all envelope filter, as it struggles to emulate a classic MuTron-style sound, but that’s not what it’s for. It’s for creating otherworldly effects, many of which are further enlivened when you pair the TWA with an octave pedal, overdrive, or both.

Being a cutting-edge bass player in today’s pop-music climate means quick access to a huge pool of sounds. The Little Dipper is no little dip in the water of weirdness—it’s a huge dive in.

SPECIFICATIONS

TWA

Little Dipper 2.0
Street
$300
Pros Unprecedented formant-filtering vocal sounds
Cons occultation knob annoyingly small; jack placement might present problems on a pedalboard
Bottom Line An intrepid explorer of bass’ outer space should head straight for the weird and wonderful Little Dipper.

SPECS

Input jack ¼"
Output jack ¼"
Expression pedal jack ¼" tip–sleeve
Power 9V tip-negative Boss-style power adapter

Made in USA
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