Guitarists are now quite spoiled for choice when it comes to high quality practice amps. The dank and limited days of the Gorilla combo are long gone, replaced with a feast of amp and effects choices in ever more compact dimensions.
PRICE: $199 / £182
TYPE: Digital modelling combo with internal rechargeable battery
OUTPUT: 10 watts
SPEAKERS: 2x2” active stereo with passive radiator
ONBOARD EFFECTS: 33 Amp Models (additional available to purchase via Jimi Hendrix add-on), 48 Effects
WEIGHT: 1.36 kg
However, Positive Grid’s proposition of features for the Spark Mini stands out: a very small 10-watt modelling amp running on an internal 3,000 mAh rechargeable lithium battery.
The company’s original Spark 40 was its first combo amp and made an almighty splash when it hit the market as a ‘smart amp’; taking the idea of an amp/app package to a new level. Not only did it sound great, but it could help you become a better player through a host of features in its Spark App.
This Mini is less than a third of the size, and while we’re not expecting a ‘less is more’ scenario we do wonder if this might suit some players better than its larger sibling, or if the overall Spark experience is compromised.
Like Neural DSP after it, Positive Grid’s expansion from a software into a hardware company has been impressive. The first 40-watt Spark showcased PG’s consideration of how a practice amp could become a hub for tones and practice, while still impressing as a plug-in-and-play experience. But can the Mini punch above its weight?
In terms of look, the Mini continues the Tolex and gold piping look of its big bro. It’s available in black or pearl (white) Tolex options, with a detachable handle that you’ll definitely want to use. It’s the kind of amp you take with you, rather than feel like you need to go to it – potentially encouraging you to play more, without as many limitations.
Compared to the mains-powered Spark 40, the onboard controls are massively streamlined here. Gone is everything but guitar and streamed audio volumes, plus four preset buttons.
The Bluetooth pairing button on the rear also doubles as the activation for a tuner. While this all might seem jarringly minimal at first, the idea is for you to tweak tones via the Spark app, then save to your presets slots as required.
Using the factory presets, one thing becomes immediately apparent: this little amp is surprisingly loud. Delivering 90 dB SPL at one metre away, it sounds bigger than we imagined it would, and with some impressive bottom end too. It really projects. And it’s got a hidden weapon to help...
The Spark Mini has 2 x 2” custom designed speakers for stereo sound, but underneath there’s a passive radiator too. Positive Grid has even designed the shape of the rubber feet to make the most of this feature and squeeze as much low end response as it can.
This also makes it an excellent mobile speaker for music streaming but the result for guitars is a punchy, bright response – noticeably so when A/B comparisons are made with the same models on a Spark 40. When reverb and delay come into the mix we honestly wonder how such a small amp sounds so wide.
And there’s plenty of reverb, delay and more to choose from with Noise Gate, Compressor, Distortion, Modulation/EQ, Delay and Reverb models. Because PG has refined these in its BIAS tone engine processing before launching the Spark line, players can now reap the benefits of lush and detailed tones.
But the guitar amp selection is even more impressive. Positive Grid has spent years honing its modelling technology and the results are a varied selection of classic clean, crunch and crushing high gain.
If you don’t mind the idea of using the Spark App to fine-tune your settings, a drawback we want to note is the headphone experience. Despite PG suggesting to us that the relatively quiet output through headphones would be addressed in a firmware update, we’ve downloaded the first one that’s been available and it hasn’t improved. So this remains an issue for some users.
The headphone volume with the Spark Mini is usable but currently not really loud enough. The better news is that output was more than sufficient at 50 per cent while sitting in front of the Spark Mini.
While the asking price may initially seem on the higher side for such a diddy amp, the Spark Mini is so big on features it is ahead of the competition when factoring in the quality, portability and value you get – plus the potential to record with this via USB. We think it would prove money well spent because it encourages you to play more and makes it easier to stay inspired when playing alone.
What does the Spark App offer?
As far as the app is concerned, the Spark Mini has everything the Spark 40 boasts. As well as being able to access and change amp and effects type and parameters to build signal chain combos you can save to one of the Spark Mini’s four presets.
The app gives you access to the ToneCloud where PG and other Spark users upload presets they’ve created. It’s easy to audition each one, save to favourites or download onto the amp’s memory.
Elsewhere, Smart Jam generates drum and bass backing tracks based on a riff or chord progression you play, learning your style and feel in real time as you play. Search for any song and the app will find it on YouTube if it’s there, then transcribe the chords for you to play along to. You won’t get bored!
- PRICE: $199 / £182
- TYPE: Digital modelling combo with internal rechargeable battery for guitar, bass and acoustic with BIAS Tone Engine and app integration
- OUTPUT: 10 watts
- SPEAKERS: 2x2” active stereo with passive radiator
- TOP CONTROLS: Guitar level, Music level, Preset selection
- ONBOARD EFFECTS: 33 Amp Models (additional available to purchase via Jimi Hendrix add-on), 48 Effects
- SOCKETS: 1/4” guitar input, 1/8” aux input, 1/8” headphone out, Bluetooth audio, USB-C connectivity for recording
- DIMENSIONS: 135mm [w] x 162mm [height including feet] 125mm [d]
- WEIGHT: 1.36 kg
- CONTACT/BUY: Positive Grid