It's a very simple machine, and it is amazingly easy to take apart and clean.
The machine has a light bulb inside as a heating element, and a fan as a cooling element, with an exact temperature display that is always on when the machine is on. So on start-up, I can tell without looking when the chocolate is up to temp because I can hear the fan come on. No worries if I’m out of hearing range either, as it will hold that temp pretty much forever. Same with the cool-down process: I can tell without looking when it has cooled down to temp because I hear the fan turn off.
As with all the machines I’ve worked with to date, the fan and turning mechanism are a bit loud and it bothers me over time, but I just turn my music up louder. I am usually enrobing in my shop’s kitchen, so it doesn’t bother anyone but me.
The other nice feature of the Little Dipper over the smaller machines is the option to stop the bowl from turning, indefinitely. I can stop it during dipping and just turn it on every few minutes to keep the chocolate tempered – although I have to be careful, as the cooling fan never comes on when the bowl is not turning, so the chocolate can overheat if I don’t pay attention to it. I can also leave the unused chocolate in the bowl with the machine off and covered for a few days if I’m not enrobing, and then just turn it on, set the temperature and keep the bowl still while the hard chocolate is re-melted. Or just set the temp to the high setting with the bowl off for overnight, and then when I come in the next morning begin with the lowering of the temp for the tempering process – very time saving.
Other than the loudness, my only issue probably has more to do with living in a humid climate than with this machine. The chocolate does thicken over time, and I tend to need to re-temper about every 2-3 hours. It doesn’t end up being much of an issue, as I need to add more chocolate by then anyway.
Also, I don’t typically use molds. When I do, it’s a bit messy because I can’t invert the molds to empty them into the bowl without getting at least some chocolate outside the bowl.
One last thing. The machine is tall for a table-top machine. Meaning if I set it on my table it is way too tall for me to sit and dip – I would have to stand. To get around this, I have the machine sitting on a lower box next to my table. That way I can comfortably dip and release the enrobed chocolates onto the table without bending over for any part of it. I dip for many hours at a time, so that is important to me.
Oh, and regarding service, while I have never needed to service my Little Dipper, I have had to call Hilliard’s a few times with questions or issues, and their staff has always been very helpful. When I lost the manual, they e-mailed me a PDF version within minutes of my call. I can talk to one of their chocolatiers whenever I need to, and their service reps have been very knowledgeable and helpful.
I would recommend this machine for a start-up business without hesitation. I’m just now at the point where I’m considering moving up to an enrobing machine, and I’m getting that familiar tightening of the stomach regarding the cost. I hope that two years from now, I’m writing that I took the leap and didn’t look back, just like I did with the Little Dipper. Wish me luck!