Every guitarist knows that becoming a better player takes lots and lots of practice. Enter the Spark amplifier from Positive Grid, a Bluetooth-connected practice amp/speaker packed with features including tons of onboard effects, a nice assortment of I/O ports, dual speakers, and a wealth of panel controls and presets. It gets better: With the Spark’s free companion app, you can play along with tunes that you stream through the amp and have your mobile device display which chords to play as you go. Or, you can have the app lay down an accompanying drum and bass track for you to jam along to. Support for a few more music streaming services would be great, but that doesn’t prevent the Spark from earning an Editors’ Choice.
Design and Features
The Spark is a 40-watt amp that uses two 4-inch (4-ohm) speakers and a bass-reflex cabinet. At 7.4 by 13.7 by 7.0 inches (HWD) and 11.4 pounds, it’s a smallish amp that you can take along with you wherever you go using the removable black leather carry strap. The front of the cabinet sports a black and brown grill cloth with a red Positive Grid badge, and the rest of the cabinet is covered in black textured vinyl.
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The top of the cabinet contains the control panel with ten settings dials, a power switch and power indicator, a guitar input, headphone jack, music input volume knob, four backlit Bias FX (Positive Grid’s tone engine) preset buttons, and a Tap/tuner button. This button is used to reset the Spark to factory defaults and doubles as a tuner (when in tuner mode, the four preset buttons will illuminate to indicate the pitch being played).
The settings dials, from left to right, include an Amp Type dial that offers seven amplifier effects including Metal, High Gain, Crunch, Glassy, Clean, Acoustic, and Bass. There are also dials for the amp’s Gain, Bass, Midtone, and Treble settings, a Master volume dial, Modulation, Delay, and Reverb effects dials, and an Output dial for controlling the overall volume of your guitar. Around back are USB and power jacks, a Bluetooth indicator, and an auxiliary input. With the USB port you can connect a PC to the amp and record your sessions using the free copy of PreSonus Studio One Prime recording software, and the auxiliary input lets you plug in an external audio source. The embedded Bluetooth radio lets you connect the amp to a mobile device using the Spark mobile app.
The Spark mobile app (for Android and iOS) gives you access to a massive library of amp models and effects that let you emulate the sound you get from classic tube amps, acoustic amps, bass amps, and other types of amplifiers. You can create customized effects using virtual pedals forOverdrive, Noise Gate, Delay, Modulation, and Reverb, or you can access Positive Grid’s BIAS-powered tone library that contains more than 10,000 amp and effects presets that let you mimic the guitar sounds of your favorite players such as Jimi Hendrix,BB King, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and many others. Tone library genres include Pop, Rock, Blues, Metal, and Alternative. Simply pick a tone sample, download it to the app, select one of the four preset buttons, and long press the button to overwrite the existing preset with the new one. You can create your own samples and upload them to the library if you wish.
Beginners will love the app’s Auto Chords feature that displays the chords for whatever song you are currently streaming so you can play along with it. If you’re having trouble keeping up, you can slow down the song or loop specific segments to practice chord changes. Auto Chords works with songs streamed using Apple Music, YouTube, and Spotify, but lacks support for other popular streaming services such as Amazon Music, iHeartRadio, Deezer, and Pandora.
Smart Jam is another cool practice feature that supplies a backing track with drums and bass that plays along with you. To use it, tap the Smart Jam icon and choose Pop, Rock, Funk, or Blues to create a Quick Jam session where you can adjust the tempo to fit your style of playing. Or, you can create your own backing track by playing eight bars on the guitar. The app will analyze your playing and create a backing track based on your style and tempo.
The mobile app supports voice control for several features: You can ask it to play a backing track, play the drums (Smart Jam), or start a metronome. However, I found it easier and faster to just use the app for all of these functions. The app’s home screen displays a picture and the name of the type of amp you are modeling, along with virtual pedals for adjusting Gate, Compressor, Overdrive, Modulation, Reverb, and Delay effects. There are also virtual knobs for adjusting the amp’s volume and tone controls.
In the upper right corner is a cloud icon that takes you to a screen where you can select and download amp models and tones based on genre (Pop, Blues, Alternative, Rock, Metal, Bass, and Acoustic). In the left corner is a three-bar icon that opens a menu where you can access Apple Music and Spotify song libraries, view recently played songs, start a metronome, and view help files.
At the very bottom of the home screen are Home, Music, and Profile buttons. The Home button takes you back to the home screen, and the Music button takes you to the Smart Jam screen where you can create a virtual backing band or select one of the many backing tracks to play along with. The Profile button takes you to a screen that displays all of your recently played songs and backing tracks.
Setup and Performance
To get started, simply plug in the Spark amp, download the mobile app, add tap Connect to pair the amp to your mobile device via Bluetooth. You can then access your Apple, YouTube, and Spotify music libraries and control the amp using your phone.
Simply put, I love the way this little amp sounds. It delivers excellent tone with plenty of beefy volume, and the Amp Type dial provides a nice variety of amplifier sounds. I particularly like the Crunch setting for playing leads, but think the Bass setting could be fatter.
Playing along with a Smart Jam virtual band is fun and a great practice tool, and the Auto Chord feature does a remarkable job of displaying the correct chords from songs streamed from your library. I like that I can slow things down to practice the chord changes on parts of Jimi Hendix’s “Angel,” a song that I have always had trouble playing smoothly.
Most of the tone samples I downloaded from the cloud did a very good job of mimicking their intended artist’s sound, but there were one or two that sounded awful. That said, considering the sheer volume of submissions to the cloud library, there’s bound to be a few stinkers.
You’ll spend bit more for Positive Grid’s smart Spark amplifier than you will for a traditional entry level 40-watt amp, but the extra money gets you get a bunch of effects and features including access to a huge library of amp models and digital effects powered by Positive Grid’s BIAS tone engine. Moreover, the mobile app’s Smart Jam and Auto Chords features make it fun and easy to hone your skills and learn new songs. You can even record your practice sessions and save them to your computer. I’d like to see support for a few more popular streaming services, but this is a minor gripe and is certainly not a deal breaker. While there’s no guarantee that the Spark will have you playing like Eric Clapton, it does give you plenty of tools to help you become a better player and is a blast to use, and for that it earns an Editors’ Choice.
Positive Grid Spark
See It$269.00 at Positive Grid
Numerous presets and effects
Smart Jam and Auto Chord features
Limited streaming music support
The Bottom Line
The Positive Grid Spark is a feature-rich smart guitar amplifier that can jam along with you and even show you what chords to play.
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