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TWA Little Dipper LD-01 Envelope-Controlled Formant Filter Pedal Review

The Little Dipper is game for out-of-this-world talk-box sounds -- if you are!

Download Example 1
2008 Fender American Strat. Settings on left channel Dipper are Ascension: 3 o’clock, Inclination: position #2, Diffraction: off.  Right channel settings are Ascension: 3 o’clock, Inclination: position #3, Diffraction: noon.
Download Example 2
1993 Ephiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes PAFs. Settings vary using each position on the Inclination positions to show variation of filters and dynamic filter range.
Download Example 3
1993 Ephiphone Sheraton with Tom Holmes PAFs. Settings vary using each position on the Inclination positions to show variation of filters on a single lick.
All clips were recorded through a Krank Rev Jr. Pro into Krank 1x12 cab with mid '70s Celestion Blackback 25
On many a clear night in Arizona it’s not hard to spot the Big Dipper. It’s big and bold and there for all to see just by looking up to the sky. Sure, the Little Dipper is there too but it rarely gets the same respect or the kind of press as its big brother…until now. The folks at Totally Wycked Audio (TWA) have immortalized the Little Dipper in a brilliant (more on that later) and uniquely packaged envelope-controlled formant filter, the LD-01 Little Dipper. According to TWA the LD-01 is based on a classic ‘70s dual filter circuit, but taken to a completely new level. By increasing the frequency response, adding filter options and reducing noise, TWA has breathed new life into this type of effect and built it so it will last until the next ice age.

Starry Night
The LD-01 comes in a rugged-but-beautifully designed deep sparkle blue case that resembles a clear and starry night sky. There are three heavy duty chrome controls, Ascension (threshold), Inclination (trigger timing) and Diffraction (fuzz) as well as a true bypass stomp switch, mono ¼” input and output and a 9V input for externally powering the pedal. An added artistic and useful input level indicator consisting of seven LEDs in the shape of the Little Dipper are situated between the control knobs and stop switch. There is no question that this pedal is built like a tank. The knobs feel heavy and have just the right amount of resistance to feel expensive and deliberate. The Inclination knob is actually a 4-way switch that selects between varying trigger timing of the two filters and works in conjunction with the Ascension control. Opening the pedal revealed a very clean and rugged looking set of circuit boards and high quality workmanship. Adding to the roadworthiness of the pedal, the jacks are mounted on a separate board away from the main circuit, which gave it a feeling of stability and thoughtfulness. Also inside on the main board are two small trim pots labeled “clean” and “release”. The Clean pot (listed as “blend” on the TWA site) controls the amount of clean instrument level against the effected signal. When set to zero there is only effected signal passing through while at full there is equal amounts of both the clean and effected signal. Finally the “release” control (labeled “gate” on the website) controls the noise gate threshold in case the effect gets a bit noisy from the extreme nature of the filters and fuzz.

When I first plugged into the LD-01 with a standard 9v battery I saw a flash of light on the Little Dipper LED’s but no effect was produced. Replacing the battery with a fresh one produced the same result, which made me think the pedal might be broken. A quick call to Kevin at Godlyke solved the problem. According to Kevin, the LD-01 has a voltage-doubling circuit that requires a somewhat high current draw to power up properly. It can power up off a 9-volt battery, but the battery must be “heavy duty” and have a full charge. Likewise, power supplies of less than 500 mA do not power the unit properly. Fair enough, I was using a cheap brand of 9Vs, so my bad. I switched over to a Godlyke Power-All and was off and running in no time.

Now, to get back to the brilliant comment earlier…when I kicked on the pedal this time I was nearly blinded by the insane light that burst out of the LEDs when I struck a power chord! Maybe being many millions of light years away from the real deal is easier on our eyes. Suffice it to say you’ll definitely know where this pedal is in a dark club. With my Strat plugged in directly between the pedal and my JCM800 I set the Inclination to position #1 and Ascension to off. In this setting the tone was similar to a parked wah and switching between the various Inclination positions opened the filter up much like rocking the wah to a different sweep point.

The similarities ended as I brought up the Ascension control, which began to reveal the true nature of the formant filters. The further clockwise the Ascension was set, the more it sounded like somebody opening their mouth and talking with wild filter sweeps that were controlled exclusively by my touch. With a little practice and the right settings I was able to get convincing Talk Box sounds that spanned from “Hair Of The Dog” tones to Frampton Comes Alive. It’s not exact but the effect is addictive.

The Diffraction control brings up a level of fuzz that adds presence and depth to the effect. If you push the Diffraction all the way up it gets pretty intense depending on the amp’s settings and can get a bit harsh, but in a good way. This is where the internal trimmer came in handy, as I wanted to cut out some of the noise. A few tweaks later I was able to pull out most of the noise and set the gate to not chatter too much as it clamped down. Very valuable and useful.

The Final Mojo
I tried several guitars out with the LD-01 including my Les Pauls and even my Epiphone Sheraton, all with great results. No matter how you set the pedal up, the effect is always obvious but cool. It can even mimic the sound of a phaser or flanger because of the way the filters interact with the dynamic input of your playing. If you dig ‘70s funk, this thing is a machine and could easily give the vintage units a run for their money. The tone has a thick and chewy feel to it, even on the most extreme settings, and I loved every minute of playing through it. It might not be for everyone, because formant filtering is certainly a unique sound, and a little goes a long way, but for my money I can’t think of another pedal that could do such a great job. The LD-01 is a fine pedal for those who dare cross over to the funky side.
Buy if...
you’re an adventurous soul and want to add vocal fx to your sound
Skip if...
thinking outside the box isn’t your bag

Street $300 - Totally Wyked Audio -