SparkLE is Arturia’s take on what a modern drum machine needs to be. This is a Hybrid solution – which means it’s a combination of Hardware + Software, giving you get the best of both worlds. Right at the outset, it’s probably important to highlight what SparkLE is and isn’t. It’s meant to be the ultimate ‘Drum Machine’ and that’s the key word here. Its designed to make beats, make them extremely well and extremely fast. Its not designed to replace your DAW or for complete song productions, which means it doesn’t act as a host for third party plugins or deep audio sampling (most of us already have our DAW for that). Now while this may seem like a negative at the start, its actually its biggest strength! Here’s why – simplicity. It focuses on making its core function of making beats, easy, enjoyable and fast. And let’s not forget the price, for which it does a whole lot very very well!
Lets take a tour of the hardware to see what’s on offer.
The 8 velocity and pressure sensitive pads have an excellent feel to them and are very responsive so playing in beats using them is very rewarding and enjoyable. These 8 pads control either the first eight sounds in your project or with the switch of a dedicated button, control pads 9-16, giving you instant access to a total of 16 sounds at any point in time. You can use these to select sounds and play them in real-time and also use them to mute/solo sounds.
Above these are the 16 buttons that you can use to program your sequences, change patterns, change banks or tune individual sounds. The function of these 16 steps are determined by the four buttons above it. In sequence mode these 16 steps turn into your classic drum machine style sequencing that allows you to program steps and you can visually see your pattern. In pattern change mode these 16 steps control which of the 16 pattern plays inside the selected bank which you can change by hitting the bank button and selecting any of the first four buttons which double as bank selectors. In tune mode these 16 steps turn into 16 pitches of notes separated by semitones which means you can play in simple melodies or tune your drum sounds to taste.
There are dedicated buttons that help you copy paste patterns or sounds into different locations allowing you to quickly build up a bank of patterns with variations which you can sequence in the dedicated song mode. Each of the patterns can be up-to 64 steps long and these can be shortened or increased with the dedicated buttons.
The Loop controls allows you to focus in on a particular section, you can change the loop size and move the loop position to find the area that you would like to work on.
The 3 Instrument controls allow you hands on control of any 3 parameters of the chosen instrument. You can change what each of these knobs control by using the select button and turning the knobs or by clicking on the drop down menu and selecting the parameter you would like to control.
The big clickable Jog Dial and the 3 buttons below it allow you to browse through the huge library of Projects, Kits and Instruments that come with the Spark 2 software. Using the select button and turning the dial allows you to filter your choices down to exactly what you are looking for.
The center live performance section is very exciting and hugely rewarding! The XY Touch Pad allows for some awesome functionality and real time control of various effects. You can apply these effects to either the entire song or individual instruments. For example: you can apply a cool filter sweep on the entire song just by touching and moving on the pad, and the moment you let go, the effect is taken off…very cool! Another cool option is the roller effect which is sort of a note repeat that plays instruments repeatedly but in perfect time and sync with your song, allowing for cool build ups and fills. In instrument mode, the touch pad can control things like Pan and Level for the selected instrument or Aux sends. So a lot of functionality is built into the touch pad making it a whole lot of fun.
Now that we have gone through the hardware, lets look at the other key component of this setup and that’s the software – SPARK 2.
The first page (Main View) mimics the controls on the hardware with two additional controls – Swing and Accent, swing is applied globally to your song giving it a nice feel and accents are applied per step in your sequence.
The second page is the Sequencer View which shows the pattern for all your 16 instruments in one page, this is great to get a visual representation of your pattern and its really easy to draw in or delete steps. The step sequencer in Spark2 is very powerful, the lane section here allows you to automate multiple parameters at once, per step! this means you can add automation per step for things like velocity, filter cutoff, aux sends, shift timing and many more. This allows for some very complex and organic beat programming. Another cool feature on the sequencer page is the drag and drop function – here you can drag and drop MIDI or Audio of your selected pattern directly into your DAW! this is a huge time saver when you want to integrate the patterns you’ve created into your project without having to export and then re-import.
The Song mode allows you to program and line up all your patterns together so they plan one after another to form an entire piece of music.
The Studio section gives you in-depth editing/layering of sounds and also allows you to add effects to each of them. There is a very healthy selection of effects on hand and in addition to all the usual suspects such as Compressors, EQ, Distortion, Reverb etc, there are some unique ones such as a sub generator which when used with say a kick drum adds that much needed sub presence that gives it that really big kick sound.
The Modular section allows you to really get deep into designing your own sounds. Arturia are known for their synth prowess and this section allows you to combine oscillators, filters, noise generators in your own way to create sound modules yourself. Another great tool if you want to create sounds that help you stand out from the crowd.
The Mixer section allows you to mix your sounds and apply send effects and more. One important feature here is that you can choose to route individual instruments to separate outputs which allows you to process and mix them in your DAW individually. And if you find yourself doing this often, they even have a quick preset that automatically routes all 16 instruments to separate outputs for external mixing… awesome!
And finally we have the Library page which allows you to browse the extensive factory library that comes with tons of project in various genres and each of these projects have hundreds of patterns, kits and instruments that you can use.
In summary, this product is absolutely fantastic for the price! It ticks all the essential features – massive library with thousands of great sounds, deep editing and programming features, excellent hands-on control and program-ability and in a compact form factor. We strongly urge you to check it out!
If you’d like to check out our in-depth review of the hardware & software, along with an unboxing, watch the video below!
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