Little interest in a product by TC Electronic

In the summer of 2013, when I was still making music, I’ve bought a guitar pedal – a cute little looper from TC Electronic – Ditto Looper, the first version. I liked the build, the simplicity and 5 minutes of loop. You could add to the loop over and over again, but you could also undo the last layer by pressing and holding the only button on the unit for around 2 seconds.

Now after some time of occasional usage I noticed a strange case when pressing the button for 2 seconds removed not only the last layer (undo), but also, rather randomly, the whole loop made before. After some time I figured it all out.

To undo the last layer, normally you would first stop recording, that is adding to the previously recorded loop, by a single tap. Then, with the loop still playing, you’d press and hold the button to undo. But there was a neat trick available – not that I tried to go against the manual, it just felt natural. Instead of tap first and press and hold you could press and hold without stopping the recording. It performed the undo straight away. But sometimes it deleted everything.

And that hurt, obviously… but why and when?

I decided to dig deeper, tried it over and over to find the pattern – and it was pretty simple pattern after all. If I did this “undo shortcut” without ever stopping the loop, it worked just fine. It didn’t work like this when I stopped the playback before – or when I started with some old loop that Ditto remembered for me (this was actually a killer feature, I’d say). In that case it wiped the loop completely. For those who know the Ditto Looper, I’m not talking about stop/clear function. I’m talking about holding the button while the loop is playing. It definitely shouldn’t clear the loop while it was playing it.

I reported this to TC Electronic in February 2014 and based on my pretty specific report they confirmed they can reproduce it and they understand the problem. They made no promises, I give them that… but that’s about it. They kept their no promises. There was no hearing from them after that.

While I don’t know what Ditto Looper could possibly do with proper firmware upgrade, users got none after the first 1.1 version that came in April 2013 which was roughly three months after its introduction. There was a USB port on the device to upgrade the firmware, while it had so much more potential! Why couldn’t it also download/upload the loop using USB mass storage is beyond me.

Originally, I bought it for 122 Eur, now it’s much less (around 80) and there are more variants available. Currently there are four other Ditto pedals. What is bugging me though is how little interest the pedal and its firmware quality got in spite of a very specific report. Their feedback experience is pretty awful too – especially if you’re used to transparent bug reporting typical for many (mainly open source) software products.

TC Electronic is a music company in the first place – but also a software company to a degree, there is no way of dodging it. They seem to be enthusiastic about quality when you watch their release videos and I’d love that to be true. But if you browse for Ditto Looper problems you’ll find plenty. It doesn’t matter that it typically has 4+ stars overall, read those 1 or 2 star reviews. On some people the unit bricked (got stuck, unusable), there are plenty of other problems I’d guess being caused by the firmware.

I’m writing this post a year after I tried to contact them again in December 2018 – partially out of principle, but it really bugged me and I encountered the issue again while playing with my Ditto Looper. And trust me, reporting issues to corporations is no fun. The support/feedback experience changed – for worse really. Now, TC Electronic is backed by Music Tribe, so it was new registration and new feedback experience.

They wrote back to me quickly – that they “are currently experiencing a high case volume which means it is taking longer than normal to respond to customer queries”. It crossed my mind they should have cared more for quality before.

It probably isn’t just a current trend, but it gets worse as the typical time until the device is deemed “morally obsolete” is getting shorter. A company releases something and it’s rather an exception when it’s not in a “fire and forget” manner. If it’s still on sale (and Ditto Looper still is) it shouldn’t have the last firmware upgrade from April 2013. Unless it’s totally firm – which it isn’t.

As you can guess I had this story on my mind for some time. It’s a story of one looper in particular, but it’s also a story of many mobile phones or cameras. As a software developer I’m also sad it’s a management/business issue that relates to software. More often than not the issues are with software, not hardware. I also believe that engineers would be willing to fix those problems, so it’s not merely a technical issue – it really is a business model. And that makes me sad.

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