Feature-packed practice amps are all the rage. Though not a new concept, these portable desktop devices—or, ‘coffee table-top,’ ‘sofa-top,’ you name it—started to incorporate tech beyond what we’ve seen in standard practice amps of yesteryear (like in the long-running Line 6 Spider series). Today’s popular mini jam amplifiers usually contain some form of amp/effect modeling, as well as Bluetooth connectivity for loading up your favorite songs and jamming along. In this review, we’ll take a look at the Spark amp by Positive Grid.
Spark Amp Review
It’s important to stress further how practice amps have come a really, really long way. Line 6 ends up being the butt of lots of guitar jokes, but the Spider series was one of the first of its kind: switchable digital presets and effects in an affordable solid-state combo amplifier were never the norm until now.
Even in the latest Spider offering, features start to fall short of what we see in today’s dedicated practice amplifiers. Take the original Yamaha THR line as an example of the boundary-pushing going on in the niche desktop/practice amp market as a great example of what is now considered standard.
Positive Grid’s Spark amp takes this concept to new heights. Its long list of features make it a truly integrated piece of kit for your guitar-centric life at home or on-the-go, from noodling around, to recording, jamming to tracks you love, and writing riffs.
At a glance, Spark is a 40-watt desktop combo that includes modeled amps and effects from Positive Grid’s award-winning BIAS FX software/plugins. Plus, it’s compatible with electric guitar, bass, and even acoustic guitar. Whether you play any or all of those, the Spark can handle it.
From there, it’s a bevy of modern technology. You can play music through it via Bluetooth or from sources running into the aux input and USB I/O. The Spark can even work as an interface for your DAW.
Spark Amp Features
The quickest way to review the Spark amp and see whether it’s right for you is to run down the features and specs. Here’s what they look like:
Top Panel Controls
- Amp Type
- Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Mod, Delay, Reverb
- Output Volume
- Music Volume
- Four Programmable Preset Buttons
- Tap/Tuner Button
- 30 Amp Models
- 40 Effects
- Noise Gate, Compressor, Distortion, Modulation, Delay, Reverb
- 1/4″ Guitar Input
- 1/8″ Aux Input
- 1/8″ Headphone
- USB Interface for Recording
- 1 In x 2 Out
- Bluetooth Audio
As an amplifier, the Spark couldn’t be any easier to use. It’s simply plug and play. Choose one of the 5 modeled amps on the rotary switch, or the bass or acoustic guitar setting; set the EQ; dial in some modulation, reverb, and/or delay from the top panel knobs, and you’re good to go.
Where things get really detailed and impressive, however, is inside the Spark app. Download the app for iOS and Android, and it comes with 30 additional presets modeled after famous amps we all know. You can further refine those sounds, add effects, and more. The app is also the connection to the Positive Grid ToneCloud, which is an expanding library of over 10,000 presets created by professional guitarists, session players, engineers, and producers. From there, the possibilities are truly endless.
Auto Chord Recognition, Jamming, and More
Spark’s Auto Chord Recognition feature is also done through the app. It connects to platforms like YouTube or Spotify to analyze and display chords for songs in real time. When you choose a song to play, the app will start streaming it and displaying chord blocks. If it’s an unfamiliar song to the AI inside, it may ask you to wait 15 seconds before it starts transcribing. Either way, it’s impressive technology despite the fact that it’s still in its infancy—this means you may run into some hiccups, as the transcription is not always 100% accurate.
The Positive Grid Spark amp app can slow down and loop sections of the song to help players work their way through learning a brand new song. Think about it: it’s a practice amp, after all!
Spark’s jam capabilities are really cool as well. The app comes with preset jams in four genres (pop, rock, funk and blues), including thousands of different drum/bass combos in traditional song format. It also displays chord blocks and allows you to set the desired tempo. These are great for noodling around and improvising.
If you want to get into songwriting with the Spark, the Smart Jam feature can actually learn an 8-bar piece of original music and back you up with a virtual drummer and bass player. You simply select a ‘drummer’ modeled after the genre you’re writing and start to play.
Conclusion: Spark Amp Review
Positive Grid’s Spark practice amp for guitar, bass, and acoustic is an impressive piece of equipment. As a standalone desktop amp, it has plenty of features to keep any player satisfied for a bit of evening noodling, or on the couch jamming during a lazy weekend afternoon.
To really tap into the potential of the device you’ll need to download the accompanying app for Android or iOS. It’s here where you can unlock the full set of features, like automatic song transcription, jam tracks, backup drums and bass, and further amp/effects modeling.
For the price, the Spark is extremely competitive against something like the Yamaha THR series.