Positive Grid Spark 40
So I got one of these things. I ordered it back in March 2020 when they first started advertising them as it looked quite good and I thought it would be useful as a portable practice amp. I didn’t actually get it delivered until mid September.
It’s OK, but I’m not overly impressed. The sounds you can get from it are pretty good quality, and it supports bass and acoustic guitar as well, which is a bonus. I think it’s a bit bass heavy on the guitar sounds but, conversely, when you use it with bass guitar the small speakers seem to struggle quite a bit. Acoustic guitar through it sounds very good to my ears.
The amp models are pretty good, but there’s limited options on the effects and no ability to alter the chain which is stuck at:
noise gate → drive → amp → modulation → delay → reverb
That’s a good thing in some respects, as there’s less to have to mess with, but it does feel a bit limiting compared with other options. There’s no specific speaker cab emulation that is selectable/tweakable.
Mains hum is a BIG issue for some people because the power supply they ship it with is ungrounded. Replacing it with a grounded PSU fixes it, but they should have shipped it with one to start with. I have a bit of hum, especially when connected to a laptop via USB. Unplugging the laptop PSU helps a bit. I’ve been meaning to dig a grounded PSU out of my garage to try it.
The big hype around this amp seems to be the software. I should point out this is all app based and actually nothing to do with the amp itself (other than that it only works with the Spark).
The software basically allows you to stream backing tracks from YouTube, Apple Music or Spotify to the amp and play along with them. I can do that with any bluetooth enabled amp (or, in fact, a non BT enabled amp and a nearby Bluetooth speaker or a £20 Bluetooth audio streamer like the Blackstar Tone Link). Even the metronome is basically part of the app, streamed to the speaker via bluetooth.
Where the Spark software is different is that the app has the ability to analyse songs from Youtube, Apple Music, or Spotify, and put up a chord chart for it. That’s fairly clever. Personally I don’t find it that useful (especially as many Youtube backing tracks already print up chord charts) and it’s not particularly accurate with more complex chords.
The other thing it does is the “Smart Jam” which lets you pick a drummer and play along. The clever(ish) part is that the app will listen to a chord sequence you strum and will then build a simple backing track for it. In that respect it’s similar to the Digitech Trio. However, the Trio has more drum options, variations, more control over the resulting track and is generally much better in every respect.
Personally I found it a bit limited and uninspiring… Hopefully they will update the app to improve on this. But, as I said, it’s all app based so I could forsee other vendors launching their own app which did something similar.
You can download tones that other people have created from a cloud based service. But the interface for this is dreadful, and there are hundreds of the same patch polluting the catalog, where new users have accidentally uploaded the factory patches to the cloud. There’s also lots of similarly named patches. I hope they can improve on this substantially.
You can use it as a USB recording interface. It is supposed to be stereo, but this only seems to work on Windows computers with their special drivers. For me it just come out as mono. That’s not really an issue for me as if I was recording I would apply stereo panning in my DAW. And I don’t think there are any onboard effects which are specifically stereo anyway. The biggest issue I have with USB recording is the mains hum, which might be the ropey power supply.
Physically it’s pretty small, but quite heavy even though the power supply is separate. The carrying strap is quite nicely arranged but, at the same time it seems a bit basic. The construction is OK, but not as good as something like the Katana or Yamaha THRs.
I got the package with the case. The case arrived 6 months after the amp.
I do use this a fair bit at the moment because it’s a novelty, and I’m trying to get to know it. I mostly use it on bass as I can run it at a manageable volume, unlike my Markbass amp. I’ve used it with my electrics and my acoustic a bit as well, although I’m tending back towards my other amps for electric. The main reason I’m using is, frankly, convenience because it’s currently located where I play guitar the most, and because it supports Bluetooth, so I can stream music or audio from other apps (like Loopz, JG Time Trainer, Music Speed Changer, Youtube, etc.) to it.
At this point I’m really not using most of the app based facilities. I have better music players including the Youtube app itself.
Would I recommend it? Yes and no. For the price it’s a fairly good deal as a practice amp and the quality of the tones and the versatility are pretty good for a package that size. I think they have messed up on the power supply, although I have heard reports they have fixed that in later shipments.
Some users, who don’t have other tools, might find the app facilities to be useful. I found them to be gimmicky and poorly implemented, and I found the user interface to be clunky in some places and dreadful in others. Things like the app not working in Landscape mode on an Android tablet (now fixed) were annoying.
Does it live up to the hype on Youtube: absolutely not!
Are there better options for the price? Hell, yes. For most people, a Katana 50 is a much better amp in almost every way: it sounds better, it has more effects and more flexibility in how you can use them and, unlike the Spark, you can use it as a low-volume practice amp at home, and also for band rehearsals or even gigging
I’ll probably hang onto this amp for now, as I am using it and it does suit me as a bass practice amp, and it doesn’t take up much space.
By the way, since originally posting this, the Spark has had a couple of updates.
One of them was to add some more amp models and effects, one being an EQ. The Spark is famous for being too bassy, and not necessarily in a good way. Now that it has an EQ option, it is possible to correct that a bit.
A lot of people online are saying “it’s got an EQ now so that’s not a problem any more”.
Well, i disagree. The EQ takes up the MOD pedal slot, which means you can’t have any other MOD pedal, like tremolo, or chorus, at the same time as fixing the problems with how it sounds. It’s not a great solution. Compare this with something like the Katana which has s a powerful global EQ which doesn’t use up an effect slot.
The other upgrade is the Jimi Hendrix pack which includes a bunch of additional amp and effects models based on well-known Hendrix tones. This is a paid upgrade, but it’s actually a very good one IMO, and there’s some great sounding stuff in there. There’s also a bunch of additional Hendrix-oriented fluff in the app if you are into that sort of thing (I’m not), and some links to some Hendrix Youtube videos, backing tracks and predefined patches for specific songs (which they, grandiosely, refer to as “Auto Tone”.
They’ve also just bought out a Bluetooth pedal controller which can be used to select patches and control individual effects amongst other things (like starting and stopping Youtube backing track videos). It looks interesting and it’s not too expensive, so I might get it at some point.