Arturia SparkLE and Spark 2 Review. The SparkLE is the smaller brother to the Spark. It is a brilliant feature packed drum machine focused USB controller that offers a great deal of flexibility with the Spark 2 software.
Founded in 1999, Arturia specialises in music hardware that is accessible to both professional and amateur musicians. Focusing on innovation and boasting ‘True Analog Emulation’ that allows accurate modelling of the behaviour of analogue circuits at your finger tips, Arturia have made their mark in the industry.
Having already given us a wide range of modelled analogue synthesizers, such as Jupiter 8V and the Prophet V, adding a drum machine to the family made sense for Arturia. The original Spark was widely regarded as a successful venture into the realm of drum production in both software and hardware. The original Spark drum machine expanded on the purely software environment to bring a more tactile element to the purely software environment. For some, the size of the controller was just right and for others it was too big to be portable. With an irresistible collection of modelled and sample-
Seeking to trim off the edges to achieve that needed portability, Arturia have combined the same wide resource of beats and percussion with a cheaper, more petite controller. Enter the SparkLE.
Continuing on from the original Spark software, Spark 2 includes the same drums, one shots, synths, FX whilst greatly expanding on the original’s library, boasting a collection totalling up to more than 2,800 instruments that are flexible to most musical genres. The interface of the Spark 2 has evolved with a new uniform and professional look, making it more user friendly and easy to navigate. This is due to the release of the new SparkLE hardware, which the main page of the updated Spark software now mimics, making integration of the hardware seem very seamless. With the updated ‘Studio’ tab and the new ‘Modular’ section, the possibilities Spark 2 creates in regards to building sounds and hits from scratch are vast. Giving the user the ability to customise existing kits and sounds alongside the option to import your own, makes this beat creation software a powerhouse in its on right.
Spark 2 can be accessed as a stand alone piece of software or inside a DAW. With the ability to route each channel of the mixer in the software out to individual channels in the host sequencer, it makes processing and editing more flexible, meaning you can get the most out of the sounds created.
The SparkLE is the hardware interface that compliments the newly updated Spark software, which is why Spark 2 is included in the hardware purchase. It may seem small but the SparkLE has quite a bit of weight to it, with the build quality complimenting this. The device is also slim which, given its smaller size over its older brother, makes for transporting it much easier. It also comes with its own case supplied by Arturia which is a nice addition to the package. The pads feel very responsive, especially in regards to velocity. The knobs on the SparkLE feel great to use although on specific ones such as ‘tempo’ and ‘volume’ the incremental ‘clicks’ that are in the divide, move and the main selector knob are not present. This seems odd as in a live scenario it would be ideal to feel how much the respective parameter has been altered and to be precise about it, rather than having to look at the screen and visually see the change. For some people, the exclusion of a screen may seem odd, but given that the SparkLE is meant to be used in tandem with the Spark 2 software, it is understandable as to why one is not present on the device. Instead of a screen there is a track pad, which is one of the key elements of the hardware. It feels smooth and is very responsive to use with no latency issues encountered. This is the section where you can utilise the different modes such as filters, slicers and rollers. However, the main drawback to this feature is that you cannot quite tell which parameter you are using just by looking at the hardware; you need the software present to see what actual change is being made. That being said, with extensive use of the hardware, it could become the case that familiarity trumps this particular issue.
Overall, the SparkLE and inclusion of the Spark 2 software make for a great package, giving you the foundations to start implementing the beats into your song writing from the get go: it is simply the case of plug in and play when it comes to the SparkLE
Spark 2 supports both Mac OS X 10.7 or higher and Windows 7 or 8. The minimum system requirements are 4GB RAM; CPU 2GHz with multiple cores recommended and also 2GB of free hard disk space. In all Spark 2 is not a demanding piece of software and can be run on many different machines. It supports VST, AAX and AU plug-
The Spark 2 and SparkLE exemplify what Arturia set to out achieve: they both compliment each other with seamless integration with a view to becoming your new go to platform for composing beat, drum and percussion patterns. Whatever the need is, Spark 2 can get it done. Spark 2 is separated into 7 main ‘tabs’ which combined, make up the core of the beat creation tools. Upon starting, the ‘Main’ tab is selected which is effectively the SparkLE hardware. One of the goals Arturia have achieved with this update is to keep everything uniform and clear to navigate. The ‘Main’ tab does exactly that, by mimicking the hardware it makes plugging in and playing easy to achieve. The most noticeable difference between the software ‘Main’ page and hardware is that the SparkLE only holds 8 drum pads whereas the software contains 16. On the hardware it is easy to cycle between pads 1-
The ‘Sequencer’ tab is a familiar sight, it follows the same tradition with the pad list on the left, a controller lane at the bottom and the matrix taking up the bulk of the application screen. The sequencer is arguably where you will spend most of your time composing different patterns and it has a great deal to offer. In the matrix, you can see up to 32 steps at once with the ability to toggle to steps 33-
There is also something called ‘Tune’ which is present on both the software and hardware. This mode turns each of the smaller 16 numbered pads into a semi tone, giving you scope of just over an octave’s worth of notes for any one of the main 8 pads selected. One of the drawbacks of this mode is that even though you can play each of the main 8 pads on a separate MIDI keyboard if desired, there is no way to route MIDI note information individually to any given pad. The lack of this can be quite frustrating in some scenarios such as playing chords or generally just needing more notes to work with. One of the nice features about this mode is that you can automate in real time on the hardware by simply pressing record and adjusting the automation with the effect being shown in the controller lane. Overall this is not as elegant as it would seem. Some sort of a piano roll or the ability to expand a specific pad with a synth patch loaded in a kit to sequence a melody separately would have been a very welcome addition.
The ‘Song’ tab is a mode that seems to be specifically tailored for live performances. In this mode you can choose from all the patterns created in each of the 64 banks available and have them in the default orders, A1 to D16, or you can mix and match them up by dragging in certain banks, re-
However, Arturia did take the studio user into account and have expanded on their ‘Studio’ tab. This is where you can look into the inner workings of each pad and treat and tailor each of them to your own liking. On the sides of the window you can select one of the 16 pads with the centre of the page detailing the contents of each pad, including the different changeable parameters, what each pad is made of etc. All the parameters are also MIDI controllable, and can be changed from the SparkLE controller itself or from an external controller keyboard. There are three types of ‘instrument’ you can load into a pad, these include; Samples, REX Loops or Modular. When working with samples, you can load in up to 6 different samples to layer up on one pad and coupled with the ability to use existing samples or loading in your own samples, this feature is very flexible. These samples can be triggered in different modes, for example via velocity, stacked so that they all play at once (and in practice, this is the most ideal), random, circular and threshold. The option to reverse the samples is also present opening up further possibilities. You can also change the gain of each sample to ensure that when layered, the mix is even. A new edition to Spark 2 is the inclusion of REX support. This allows the use of REX Loops which are automatically sliced when loaded into one of the desired pads, with these slices being mappable to each of the 16 pads opening up many possibilities for users who use REX Loops in tandem with the new ‘Song’ mode. There is also the option to add two effects to each pad with these ranging from a bit crushers to adding EQ if so desired; these effects are surprisingly useable and you may find yourself tending towards processing each element within Spark 2 instead of using external effects. The ease with which kits can be built from the ground up in the ‘Studio’ tab is truly remarkable, whether it be from using the sounds already present in Spark 2 or by using your own samples and sound sets.
The ‘Modular’ tab is arguably the best addition to the upgraded Spark software with it being the most extensive section yet. Upon first visiting this tab with a preset already loaded it can seem quite overwhelming as there seems to be a lot going on in such a small window, and as a result confusion may ensue. The sounds created in the ‘Modular’ tab can also be used in the ‘Studio’ section of Spark 2 but, I can see quite a few users passing this new section altogether and solely using the ‘Studio’ tab for their kit creations. The main reason for this is because of the lack of any in-
Spark 2 also contains an in-
The last section of the Spark 2 software is the Library. This is where you can see all the different kits, the individual samples and your own saved kits and samples. It is also where you can view your own ‘projects’ saved from previous sessions on kit building and sequences previously saved. In all, everything is laid out in the same uniform manner shown throughout the software meaning navigation is quick and easy.
The more time spent with Arturia’s Spark 2, the more I see it being ‘app-