Powered amps for electric guitars have gotten some neat tricks powered by modern mobile tech over the years, but the new Positive Grid Spark ($299) might be the one that packs the most intelligence and versatility into a single package. From a companion app, to voice commands, to tunable modelling and home recording – on top of doubling as a standalone Bluetooth speaker – the Spark offers features for beginners and pros alike.The basics
The Positive Grid Spark looks physically like your average, portable practice amp. It’s just over a foot long and about half-a-foot wide and tall, and it weighs just under 12 lbs. There’s a removable leather carrying strap attached for moving it around, and it includes a 1/4″ guitar input, a 1/8″ auxiliary input, and a 1/8″ headphone jack for connecting your audio gear, as well as a USB port for recording and acting as a USB audio interface for connecting to your computer.
The Spark has a host of integrated controls, including a dial for choosing from a number of preset amp types, as well as individual dials for adjusting gain, bass, mid, treble, master, mod, delay and reverb on the fly. There’s a physical control for output volume, and for music volume, as well as four user-programmable buttons for calling up represents, and a tap/tuner button for accessing the onboard tuner and other features.
Built-in to the amp are 30 different potential amp models, as well as 40 effects to allow you to customize sound, including a noise gate, a compressor, distortion, modulation, delay and reverb. The Spark also features Bluetooth connectivity for streaming audio. Inside, there are two 4-inch speakers for true stereo sound, and it’s rated at 40 watts.Features and design
The Spark’s design on the outside isn’t very far off from most standard practice amps out there – but it feels high quality, and the grill is done in a nice, retro finish that looks really good even when it’s not in use and just sitting on a side table. The leather is synthetic, making it more durable and more ethical, and the knobs have excellent Color-matched brass-tone detailing that completes the look. The metal flip switch for power on and red LED leave no confusion as to whether you’re ready to jam, and the touch buttons have similar bright backlighting.
Spark’s integrated handle, which you can remove when you’re not using, is comfortable and does its job well. The amp also features rubber feet to keep it elevated off surfaces and provide stability while it’s in operation.
In terms of basic performance and features, the Spark is already an excellent amp. Even if you never download the Positive Grid app (which you should) and instead just plug in your guitar, bass, ukulele or electric-acoustic, you can use the physical control to set up a sound you like and go to town. But when you download the app, you get a whole bunch more functionality that really extends the value of the Spark to elevate it above just about every other amp in its price range (and beyond).
The app has a number of features, including Positive Grid’s ‘Smart Jam,’ which effectively learns your style as you play and can then create autogenerated bass and drum tracks to accompany you. It’s a very cool feature that takes all the work out of trying to find generic backing or accompanying tracks for when you’re just looking to jam and come up with some interesting compositions.
There’s also an auto chords feature for when you’re not looking to come up with your own stuff, but are rather looking to master your favorite existing song. This integrates with Spotify, Apple Music and YouTube, meaning you should be covered no matter what music service you subscribe to, and will automatically display the guitar chords for a song on your device as you play along. You can even slow down the track, or loop specific sections, if you’re stuck on one bit or just starting out.
The Spark app also provides access to over 10,000 guitar and bass amp presets, extending the versatility of the amp hardware. Plus, it’s voice controlled, so you can just ask it to provide you with a virtual band, for instance, and it’ll do that on demand.Bottom line
The Positive Grid Spark is a unique offering in the field of amps, offering a lot of extensible smarts via the companion app – or a great, highly-customizable but more barebones experience if you’d rather leave your phone out of it and just get to playing. At $299, it’s hard to argue with it as a top pick, given how much more you get for your money once you factor in the advanced software features, and its versatility as a pretty great Bluetooth speaker, too.