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Positive Grid Spark MINI review: Sparking joy
A teeny-tiny tone machine.
The Spark MINI is a great-sounding portable amp that has plenty of tone potential thanks to its smart software. It also happens to double as a pretty reliable Bluetooth speaker, but could use a slightly longer battery and or faster charging.
At its best, technology can foster positive change. My Apple Watch has genuinely made me a healthier person, for example. While fitness trackers have their issues, they're fundamentally aspirational products designed to help you meet goals.
I wasn't expecting to have the same kind of experience from the Positive Grid Spark MINI, a teeny tiny battery-powered guitar amp Bluetooth speaker hybrid.
I've been playing guitar on and off for a little over ten years, but I've never really committed to it in the same way I've managed to with drums. I'd love to get better, I just haven't had the discipline. I'm definitely not at the level of someone who's technically been playing as long as I have.
But to my surprise, the Spark MINI has me wanting to practice more. Having a tiny guitar amp that just sits on my desk makes playing feel effortless. For me, it's an act that's removed a barrier to entry.
It also helps that the Spark MINI sounds far better than it should for the size, and matches this with a whole lot of clever smart functionality.
A smart amp
At its heart, the Spark MINI is a tiny tone-modelling guitar amp. You have three out-of-the-box tones on the amp and a fourth slot for a custom you can build using the companion app.
The companion app lets you chain up to five virtual pedals and an amp (and a noise gate) to create a whole plethora of tones. There are over 30 different virtual amp options to choose from and extras available as in-app purchases.
It can be a little overwhelming to start, but Positive Grid has shipped the app with a handful of preset tones. You've got a lot of flexibility in editing these, but are locked into a certain signal chain order and can't double up on pedal types. Your reverb pedal always sits at the end of the chain, for example, and you can't have two. This is hardly a deal breaker, however, given the sheer number of possibilities.
The app could also be a little more intuitive. It took me a while to work out how to actually swap amps and pedals in and out while building a sound (you need to double-tap the icon in the signal chain).
My favourite Spark MINI feature is being able to download community tones others have made. Searching for a song in the Spark app brings up community tones, and I've found rather convincing options for Lamb of God, Slayer, and Arctic Monkeys, to name a few. Naturally not every band or song will have a community-made tone, but it's a really simple way to bring up a sound you want to emulate if you're learning a song.
The Spark app can also give you a basic chord progression for songs as part of the search feature (and often offers a YouTube video to play along to), but this can be a little hit-and-miss.
What's more fun is the automatic backing tracks the Spark app can make. It asks you to play for eight bars at a BPM of your choice, and it will then generate a track for you to play over. It's a nifty way to make practising a bit more lively.
Of course, none of this would matter if the Spark MINI didn't sound great. You're not going to get the same experience as playing with a tube amp, but the amp modelling is nonetheless extremely convincing.
The amp can go loud enough to fill a room, but I doubt it could keep up with an acoustic drum kit. It's definitely more of a practice amp than something you'd use to jam with.
It would have been nice to have a little more in terms of physical controls on the amp itself - even the ability to have more than one custom tone saved to it at a time. For the most part, you'll be relying on the app for any tweaks you want to make to your sound.
The Spark MINI also has headphone output, and can be used as an audio interface for recording.
Note that while you can use the Spark MINI with bass guitars, you'll get a little less volume at lower-end frequencies.
...and a Bluetooth speaker
The other part of the Spark MINI equation is that it's billed as a Bluetooth speaker. You can pair your phone or tablet with it and use it as you would with any other Bluetooth speaker, and it genuinely sounds great.
The sound mix favours treble, but rarely to the detriment of other frequencies. In songs like Carly Rae Jepsen's "I Didn't Just Come Here To Dance" the heightened high-end adds a bit of sweetness, while it makes the wailing guitar crunchier in Deftones' Swerve City. I found it took away a little bit of clarity in Nina Simone's "Feeling Good", however, with the airy synths duking it out with the vocal track.
Importantly, the treble-favoured mix never sounds sibilant. There's also still a good amount of bass, and even sub-bass heavy tracks like Childish Gambino's "3005" pack a punch, even if the sound could be a little bit bigger.
The internal twin speakers mean you actually get some amount of stereo separation from the small form factor. It's naturally not on the same level as a proper stereo pair, but pretty good for the design.
The speaker element can be used at the same time as the amp, so you can always jam along to your tunes.
If you're primarily looking for a Bluetooth speaker, the Spark MINI makes a few trade-offs. While it's very light for a guitar amp, 1.5kg is on the heavier side for a Bluetooth speaker. There's no water resistance, and no smart features like voice assistant support or Spotify Connect.
Battery life is also quite short, at eight hours at moderate volumes, and you don't get fast charging to offset this. You're looking at about three hours for a full charge.
The Spark MINI does however charge off USB-C, which is always nice. There's also line-in, which isn't always a given these days and is nice to have if you want to connect legacy devices.
Is the Spark MINI worth buying?
Quite simply, the Spark MINI is a very fun product. The combination of convenience and endless tone customisation has had me practising guitar the most I have since the pandemic hit.
While I can't say this experience will be universal, the Spark MINI ticks the boxes that make it easy for me to just want to pick up and play. I can keep it on my desk without it barely taking up any space. I can get cool tones without needing to play around with physical pedals. And it doesn't feel like I'm compromising on sound.
The fact the Spark MINI also works as a Bluetooth speaker is a nice bonus. I wouldn't suggest buying it if you're not already a guitar player, but if you are, it's nice to have a device that can do double duty.
At $329, I wouldn't quite recommend the Spark MINI as a first amp, but otherwise, it's just a joyful gadget for practising or playing solo.