Compact/Micro Looper Pedals

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Compact (micro) Loopers

Compact (micro) Loopers

The following is a comparison of DigiTech Express XT vs TC Ditto vs Boss RC-1 vs EHX Nano 360 vs Donner Looper vs Hotone Wally vs Nux Loop Core vs Mooer Micro Looper.

The invention of the compact, or micro, looper pedal is fairly recent. In March 2013, TC Electronic released the TC Ditto. This was the first fully simplified looper pedal to hit the market and by any measure it was highly successful. Catching on to that trend, other manufacturers have released their own version of compact looper and it has quickly become a new popular category. Some theorize that with the availability of improving looper applications on smartphones and tablets, the pedal manufacturers had to respond with a product that is affordable.  Interestingly, companies out of China are starting to release these simplified pedals, which is something that I expected to happen in this space sooner or later. By the way, that is just another sign of the growing popularity of looping.

The features are stripped down to bare-bones, but the idea is that you can use this type of looper with very little practice and research. That being said, each manufacturer had a different idea on what should be included in a minimum looper feature-set. In this article, I will summarize the differences and hopefully enable you to make the right decision on whether one of these is worth your hard-earned money.

So far, the following eight units are available on the market along with the manufacturer’s country (if you know of others, please let me know at the Facebook link above!):

  1. TC Ditto (Denmark)
  2. Boss RC-1 (Japan)
  3. DigiTech JamMan Express XT (US)
  4. EHX Nano 360 (US)
  5. Donner Looper (China)
  6. Hotone Wally (China)
  7. Nu-x Loop Core (China)
  8. Mooer Micro Looper (China)

For pricing, the non-China units are in the range of $90-$100 (sometimes less, when on sale). The China units are not much cheaper in the range of $65-$90. It can also be helpful to see the price history, along with the new/used price difference for each looper. All of that is available in the following types of charts at:

Compact (micro) Looper Price Tracker

Regarding warranty, the popular branded Boss and DigiTech units have the others beat by a long shot with 5 and 6 year warranties, respectively.

In terms of the targeted use for these compact loopers, I would only recommend that you use them for jamming and practice. I do not think they work well for song composition because there is no easy way to save a range of recordings (see exceptions below). I, furthermore, do not think they work for live performance due to the fact that they only allow for the most basic looping functionality. I believe that live performance should include verse-chorus-bridge compositions, which require multiple looping tracks at your disposal. Exceptions to these statements include:

  • The Express XT has JamSync, which means you can hook multiple pedals together and have them synced as if they are one looper. That would be good for live performance.
  • The Nu-x Loop Core has more features than the rest and you can actually save 6 hrs of recording on 99 tracks. Make sure to back them up frequently as I doubt the memory is tier 1. Therefore, it would work well for composition.
  • The same can sort-of be said about the EHX 360, as it can save 360 seconds of recording across 11 memory slots.

In terms of electronics, especially loop pedals, it’s generally a good idea to buy units that have been on the market for as long as possible. The trade-off is obviously that you could miss out on advancements. In the case of compact (micro) loopers, there have already been well-discussed instances of initial production cycles having quality problems. This is likely due to the mad rush that the competing companies had to match TC’s success with the Ditto. For example, Hotone Wally initially had an issue that caused a very loud sound to occur after some use. There have been a few firmware fixes employed with other pedals, as well. The problem is that many of the compact loopers are not enabled for a user-update of the firmware. With that said, here is the launch date for each looper, earliest to latest:

  • TC Ditto – March ’13
  • DigiTech Express XT – October ’13
  • NUX Loop Core – April ’14
  • Boss RC-1 – September ’14
  • EHX Nano 360 – September ’14
  • Mooer Micro Looper – January ’15
  • Hotone Wally – March ’15
  • Donner Looper – August ’15

compact/micro looper launch dates

Another important aspect of comparison is the loop time. Here there is a very wide dispersion across the compact loopers. However, for jamming/practice, I think that any of them are ok.

  • Nux – 6 hrs, stereo
  • Mooer Micro – 30 minutes, mono
  • Hotone Wally – 15 minutes, mono
  • Boss RC-1 – 12 minutes, stereo
  • Express XT – 10 minutes, stereo
  • Donner Looper – 10 minutes, mono
  • EHX 360 Nano – 6 minutes, mono
  • TC Ditto – 5 minutes, mono

Regarding permanent storing of your recording, most of the loop pedals will do that. However, there are few that do not- namely the Express XT (unless you have a battery in place) and the Donner Looper. Coupled with the topic of saving your loops, many of the larger pedals (not compacts) have removable storage in the form of SDHC cards. In the case of compact loopers, none of them have this. However, a few of them have a USB port so that you can upload your recording to your computer. The loopers that have USB are the TC Ditto, the Donner Looper, and the Nu-x Loop Core.

With a compact looper, you are purposefully trading functionality for footprint and price. However, if you then change you mind, it’s nice to know you can add a little more functionality back with an optional foot-switch accessory. The compacts that support this are the Boss RC-1 and the Nux Loop Core.

On the subject of footprint, the Hotone Wally is the smallest, at 74 x 44 x 44mm, and the Boss RC-1 is the largest, at 129 x 73 x 59mm. Regarding weight, all of them are under 1 lb (<500 grams), yet each is constructed with durable metal chassis. The following is a comparison chart that shows all eight pedals side by side with my approximation of their footprint and height for a quick comparison.

Compact (micro) Looper Size Comparison

Compact (micro) Looper Size Comparison

Many musicians like the idea of having a battery-powered looper, especially if coupled with a batt-powered amp for a street performance (known as “busking”). The compact pedals have an obvious advantage of being low power due to the minimum feature set and simple designs. However, not all of them have the battery-powered option. On a somewhat related note, seven out of eight of these compact loopers do not ship with a power supply (unless purchased in a specific bundle). The only one that does include a power supply is the EHX Nano 360. The others require that you purchase on separately.

Battery-power?

  • Express XT – Yes
  • TC Ditto – No battery option
  • Boss RC-1 – Yes
  • EHX Nano 360 – No battery option
  • Donner Looper – No battery option
  • Hotone Wally – No battery option
  • Nux Loop Core – Yes
  • Mooer Micro Looper – No battery option

When it comes down to features and functions, it’s obvious they are limited. Here is a quick run-down of which pedal has what:

  • Undo/redo – all eight units have this
  • Tempo adjustment – only Hotone Wally and Nux Loop Core have it
  • Metronome/rhythm – only Nux Loop Core
  • Auto-record – only Nux Loop Core
  • Stop modes (instant, end of loop, fade-out) – Boss RC-1 and Nux have this
  • One-shot playback – only Boss RC-1
  • Loop-to-loop queuing (changing memory slots on the fly) – only the Nux has it
  • True bypass – Express XT, TC Ditto, Donner Looper, and Mooer Micro Looper all have it
  • Sample frequency – all of them sample at 44.1 kHz, except for the Donner which samples at 48 kHz
  • MIDI – none of the loopers have it, but the DigiTech Express XT can be synchronized with other DigiTech loopers via JamSync
  • PC software – Donner looper includes it
  • Firmware update support – only TC Ditto and Nux Loop Core
  • Stereo sound – only Express XT, Boss RC1, and Nux have it
  • 1/8″ Aux input – only the Nux Loop Core has it
  • In terms of what you won’t find in a compact looper – reverse, multi-input, XLR inputs, headphone outputs, rhythm outputs, decay, stutter start, expression pedal options, effects, quantize, and multi-track for verse-chorus-bridge song composition.

In terms of which looper I would recommend, it depends on what you care about. Here are some reasons to buy each one, along with some complaints about the features or that were posted in online forums.

DigiTech Express XT

  • Good:
    • 6 yr warranty (if you register!)
    • JamSync allows you to link multiple single track loopers to create a multi-track looper setup
    • It has stereo, battery option, and true bypass
    • It’s been in production longer than any compact, except the Ditto
  • Bad:
    • The battery compartment exposes circuitry that could get easily damaged
    • The battery life is lower than others
    • It has one of the larger footprints

TC Ditto

  • Good:
    • Longest time in production, defined the category
    • Decent warranty from a trusted company (3 years with certain limitations)
    • Strong tech support, including firmware updates
    • Has one of the smaller footprints
    • Has true bypass (which means it doesn’t alter your sound when it’s not in use on your pedal board)
    • USB connection to PC
  • Bad:
    • Has the lowest amount of looping time at 5 minutes
    • No stereo sound
    • There have been issues with certain power supplies that were supposed to be in-spec. So, it’s now recommended to use an isolated supply like the Boss PSA 120.

Boss RC-1

  • Good:
    • 5 year warranty
    • Has the innovative circular LED indicator that shows you where you are in the loop and displays some other helpful information about settings and modes
    • Has stereo sound, optional footswitch enabled (so you can avoid the dread “double-tap” stop that a single pedal requires), has one-shot playback and multiple stop modes
    • Boss sells more loopers (loop stations) than any other company. This is my understanding based on search volume and user-interest.
  • Bad:
    • Largest footprint of all compact loopers

Electro-Harmonix (EHX) Nano 360

  • Good:
    • 11 memory slots instead of just one like most other compacts
    • Power supply included
    • Lower price than other US/Europe/Japan options
  • Bad:
    • Only six minutes of recording time, which is split between the 11 memory slots
    • No stereo sound
    • No battery option
    • One of the larger footprints

Donner Looper

  • Good:
    • Low price
    • One year warranty
    • Very small footprint
    • True bypass
    • USB connection with PC software to import/export recordings
    • Highest sample rate at 48 kHz, which is noticeably better and matches most professional gear. The other compacts sample at CD-quality 44.1 kHz.
  •  Bad:
    • In production for less than one year, with not many reviews
    • No stereo sound
    • No battery option
    • No saving of the loop when power is removed

Hotone Wally

  • Good:
    • Smallest footprint
    • Low price
    • Tempo control
    • Separate level control of input and output
  •  Bad:
    • In production for less than one year
    • No stereo sound
    • No battery option
    • No true bypass

Nu-x Loop Core

  • Good:
    • 6 hours of loop time with 99 memory slots (almost disqualified as a compact)
    • More features than any other compact (including auto-record, tempo adjust, loop-to-loop queuing for a potential verse-chorus song construct)
    • Includes metronome/rhythm
    • 1/8″ Auxiliary input
    • Stereo sound
    • Firmware updates
    • Battery powered
    • Optional footswitch
    • USB to PC connection
  •  Bad:
    • No warranty
    • Could be argued as overly complicated for an entry-level compact (micro) looper
    • No true bypass

Mooer Micro Looper

  • Good:
    • Very small footprint
    • Lowest price
    • Longer recording time than most at 30 minutes
    • True bypass
  • Bad:
    • No warranty
    • No battery option
    • No stereo sound

 

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