Guitarists are now quite spoiled for choice when it comes to quality practice amps. The dank and limited days of the Gorilla combo are long gone, replaced by a feast of amp and effect choices in increasingly compact dimensions.
With a glance
PRICE: $199 / £182
TYPE: Digital modeling combination with internal rechargeable battery
OUTPUT: 10 watts
SPEAKERS: 2×2” active stereo with passive radiator
EFFECTS ON BOARD: 33 Amp models (additional available for purchase via Jimi Hendrix add-on), 48 effects
WEIGHT: 1.36 kg
Buy from Positive Grid (opens in a new tab)
However, Positive Grid’s feature proposal for the Spark Mini stands out: a very small 10-watt modeling amp that runs on an internal 3000mAh 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”; takes the idea of an amp/app bundle to a new level. Not only does it sound great, but it can help you become a better player through a variety of features in the Spark app.
This Mini is less than a third the size, and while we don’t expect a “less is more” scenario, we wonder if this might suit some players better than its larger sibling, or if the overall Spark experience is compromised.
Like Neural DSP after that, Positive Grid’s expansion from software to hardware company has been impressive. The first 40-watt Spark showcased PG’s assessment of how a practice amp can become a hub for tones and practice, while also impressing as a plug-in-and-play experience. But can the Mini punch above its weight?
In terms of looks, the Mini continues the Tolex and gold pipe look of its big brother. 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 bring with you, rather than feeling 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 volume, plus four preset buttons.
The Bluetooth pairing button on the back also acts as activation for a tuner. While all of this may seem scarily minimal at first, the idea is that you’ll tweak notes via the Spark app, then save to preset tracks as needed.
Using the factory presets, one thing becomes immediately apparent: this little amp is surprisingly loud. Delivering 90 dB SPL at one meter away, it sounds bigger than we imagined, and with an impressive bottom end. It’s really projects. And it has a hidden weapon to help…
The Spark Mini has 2 x 2″ specially designed speakers for stereo sound, but underneath there’s also a passive radiator. 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 possible.
This also makes it an excellent mobile speaker for music streaming, but the result for guitars is a powerful, clear response – noticeable when A/B comparisons are made with the same models on a Spark 40. When reverb and delay enter the mix, frankly on how such a small amplifier 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 prior to the launch of the Spark line, players can now reap the benefits of lush and detailed tones.
But the selection of guitar amplifiers is even more impressive. Positive Grid has spent years refining its modeling 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 tweak your settings, one downside we’d note is the headphone experience. Despite PG suggesting to us that the relatively quiet output through headphones will be addressed in a firmware update, we’ve downloaded the first one that’s been available and it hasn’t improved. So this is still a problem for some users.
The headphone volume with the Spark Mini is usable, but not really loud enough at the moment. The better news is that output was more than adequate at 50 percent 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 packed with features that it’s ahead of the competition when you factor in the quality, portability and value you get – plus the potential to record with this via USB. We think it will prove to be money well spent because it encourages you to play more and makes it easier to stay inspired when playing alone.
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What does the Spark app offer?
In terms of the app, the Spark Mini has everything the Spark 40 boasts. In addition to being able to access and change amp and effect type and parameters to build signal chain combinations, you can save to one of the Spark Mini’s four presets.
The app gives you access to ToneCloud where PG and other Spark users upload presets they’ve created. It’s easy to try each one, save to favorites or download to the amplifier’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 and transcribe the chords so you can play along. You won’t get bored!
- PRICE: $199 / £182
- TYPE: Digital modeling combo with internal rechargeable battery for guitar, bass and acoustic with BIAS Tone Engine and app integration
- PRODUCTION: 10 watts
- SPEAKERS: 2×2” active stereo with passive radiator
- TOP CONTROLS: Guitar level, Music level, Preset selection
- EFFECTS ON BOARD: 33 Amp models (additional available for purchase via the Jimi Hendrix add-on), 48 effects
- PLUG contacts: 1/4″ guitar input, 1/8″ aux input, 1/8″ headphone output, Bluetooth audio, USB-C connection for recording
- DIMENSIONS: 135 mm [w] x 162 mm [height including feet] 125 mm [d]
- WEIGHT: 1.36 kg
- CONTACT/BUY: Positive grid (opens in a new tab)