Updated: Jan 20
Here's a video running through the main points of the Spark 40 if you don't feel like reading right now:)
Positive Grid have been releasing pretty amazing plugins for quite a while and have also had their share of amp heads that then build on these technologies and bring them into some kind of tangible reality.
However, I think this offering really is what they’ve been working towards in many ways with the combination of the physical form factor of the Spark 40, the integral sounds and the integrated app control. It really does seem like the best of all things in one lovely box.
Positive Grid Background
Starting out in 2013, Positive Grid had a clear aim – ‘…combining mobile technologies and innovative sound and interface designs..’
This they did by producing apps that could be used on mobile devices that allowed the creative musician to achieve a pretty good sound without the use of any physical guitar amp or pedals. Quite an achievement!
Riding high on this success they then started producing actual guitar head and pedals such as the Bias Head https://www.positivegrid.com/bias-head and the Bias Delay, Distortion and Modulation pedals for example: https://www.positivegrid.com/bias-distortion/.
The Bias Heads build on the concept of the original apps in many ways as they are massively tweakable and use state of the art digital technology as well as utilising Positive Grid’s Bias Amp software suite. This is so minutely adjustable it really needs an incredibly deep dive, which I won’t go into here. But let’s just say that the idea behind it is to be able to make the amp sound and feel like any other amp out there, or even simply design your own.
You can even go as far as swapping out pre and power am circuits, changing tubes and rectifiers and so on. The sound design here is pretty much endless.
Their pedal offerings work in much the same way with the it connecting to an app which opens up a plethora of sound design options. Do you want a germanium or silicone diode? How about using two different clipping stages? Well you can do this and much, much more.
And this kind of brings us onto the Spark 40 which is a very similar beast.
The Spark 40
One of the main features of this amp is that it also connects to an app of the same name and it’s through this that you’ll be doing most of your tweaking. The two really are integral to each other, so if you’re not really into using your tablet to control parameters on your amps, this may not be for you. Personally, I prefer to tweak the old fashioned way using physical control dials and my ears, however I wouldn’t write off the Spark just yet.
This Video Shows a Few Great Clean Tones
The amp itself feels solidly built with a nice weight to it and quality finish. I quite like the black textured vinyl covering, the grille cloth and leather handle, which all combine to give it a pretty high class look and a nice tactile finish.
The dials on top of the amp offer the following controls:
The different amp types are:
There are also four programmable preset buttons and a tap tempo button that doubles up as the tuner if held down for a few seconds. There is also a headphone jack on the top just above the input jack.
The main dials feel good quality with the dials having a nice rewarding resistance when turned. Maybe the preset buttons feel slightly cheap but they do their job and I’ve had no issues with them at all.
The back panel has the DC in, Aux in, USB in and the handy Bluetooth light which shows you when you’re connected.
The box contains everything you need to get going including the power adapter and the USB cable. You also get a free Studio One Prime from Presonus.
The sound comes in stereo from a 40 watt class D amplifier, two custom designed speakers with a range of 20 – 20,000Hz at a maximum sound pressure level of 116dB SPL@1. Basically, this just means that it can get pretty damn loud for home use.
And this one is all about the Crunchy Blues / Rock Sounds
Ok, let’s get into the meat and veg of this thing, the sounds.
There are 30 amp models on board ranging from bass to acoustic to clean, crunch and just insane. Are the sounds amazing and would they convince someone that you’ve actually got a number of different high quality tube amps stashed away in your room? No, not in my opinion.
Are they all serviceable sounds, very useable in a mix, very easy to swap between, tweak and then use? Certainly!
My basic take on the sounds are this: if you’ve tried other offerings from Positive Grid, then you’ll know what you’re getting. The same is true with companies such as Line 6. They all seem to have a ‘sound’ especially with the overdriven and high gain sounds. It’s up to you whether you like this sound or not and want to buy into the company.
The Best Bits:
The Spark 40 is designed as a practise amp and as such it really does shine. There are enough amp sounds on board to find one that you gel with and enough effects to tweak textures with drives, modulations, delays and reverbs.
The integrated app is just brilliant as although you can tweak your sound easily with it, it’s the other elements to the app that really make it come alive. The Smart Jam feature is pretty cool as it will generate bass and drum parts to accompany you. You can also easily stream any number of songs / backing tracks and have Auto Chords display the chords as you jam along. A brilliant tool if you’re working on nailing those chord tones in your playing.
If these practical practice tools aren’t enough, then how about the fact that you can use the Spark as an interface and plug it directly into your computer via USB to record? Now that’s pretty cool!
And of course you can use the amp for electric guitar, bass or acoustic, so it’s pretty versatile here too.
I also enjoy the ToneCloud where you can search for tones based on artists, sounds, genres etc. Once you’ve found a bunch you can demo them and then store them if you wish.
The app can also be controlled by voice command, which is a nice little gimmick but doesn’t really add to the overall package.
Not many to be honest. As mentioned earlier I’m not bowled over by the tones. However, I’ve never thought the BIAS FX stuff has quite captured the sound of a good tube amp despite their claims otherwise. I’d also say the same for Line 6 and the Helix models. They are really good, but just not for me.
As mentioned, there is a great selection of pedal based effects in the Spark, but there are some that I’d like to see in there like an octave up or down, and some type of wah. Although this would have to be an auto wah as at the moment there is no foot controller either, which I think is a mistake. It’d be great to swap presets on the fly while playing.
The only other negative for me was not being able to record a jam while having the app streaming music. This can’t be done at the moment by just connecting via the USB cable, although there are some YouTube vids out there making this work with more creative cabling, I think it’s a miss from Positive Grid. It can be very useful to record jams and then listen back, find the nuggets in there and then build on those.
Would I recommend the Spark 40? Absolutely. As an all-round practice amp it’s very good and the integrated app really does make it a very useable and attractive package. I’ve even bought one myself and use it predominantly for jamming and practising to backing tracks. I also use it to lay down ideas quickly and easily in Pro Logic X and it’s great for these uses.
Line 6 Spider
There are others too of course, but to be honest, none of these pack the punch of the Spark once you take into consideration the functionality and features the app adds.