What is it?
What is the Positive Grid Spark 40? Well, it's a 40-watt modelling guitar amplifier that is stacked with features, including some 30 amp models and 40 onboard effects, weighing a compact 5.2kg, with two four-inch speakers offering stereo performance.
And it might just be the future of digital guitar amplification. Certainly for practice, or for anything looking to hone their six-string craft at home. Those stats in the intro are pretty impressive, but the big number that really got our attention before taking receipt of this smart, next-gen combo is 25,000. Because that's how many people pre-ordered the Positive Grid Spark 40 before it was even released.
That 25,000 people were prepared to part with their hard-earned cash in lieu of the amp's release speaks to not only the Positive Grid marketing team's game plan, but its features and the tech that's behind it. And, of course, the price.
Those who are familiar with Positive Grids BIAS modelling tech – either in its software form or amp head – can testify to its power. Here it seamlessly integrates with the accompanying app to give you some serious control over your tone. With its size, it is comfortably in the desktop category, ideal for home use.
The Spark 40's abundance of features is accessed via an intuitively laid-out control panel. There's nothing intimidating about it.
Bluetooth, USB and AUX inputs offer all the connectivity options you need from your contemporary desktop digital.
Of course, we are living in an era where the market is awash with tech-forward digital amplifiers. Many have Bluetooth. But can they stream a song from Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music and then transpose those songs into chords so that you can play along? Can they create a backing track out for you to play over?
The Spark 40 can. With the latter, all you need do is pick a tempo, play some chords or a riff, and then choose a genre and the amp will generate an entire backing track for you to play along to. There's nothing that will get your chops up quicker than that.
Also, it looks pretty neat too. It looks like a guitar amplifier. The front panel is 100 per cent guitar amplifier. The piping and grille is a million miles away from the home audio styling of Yamaha's superlative THR series. Of course, all this would count for little if it didn't sound any good...
Performance and verdict
The Spark 40 has seven amp voices, which are effectively seven channels, including two for bass and acoustic guitars plus Clean, Glassy, Crunch, Hi-Gain and Metal. You've got a three-band EQ, gain, master volume and output. Reverb, delay and modulation each have their own dedicated controls so you can dial them in and out of your signal on the fly.
There's a real plug-in-and-play feel. You don't need the app to get started. The dual four-inch speakers and 40-watts of juice behind them are ideal for home use, with the headphones output a fail-safe for maintaining neighbourly relations, but there's also an impressive amount of volume on offer should you want to crank it. The modelling options have an impressive valve-like feel – always reassuring in an amp that is avowedly digital.
Accessing the app opens up the amp's full potential There you can access the 30 different amp models, five compressor pedal models, nine overdrives, 10 modulation pedals, six delays and nine reverbs. You can then tinker with your signal chain, save it down and assign it to one of the seven amp voices across four preset banks.
It's a cinch to get going but be warned, it is a rabbit hole, and you'll be inevitably find yourself getting lost chasing tones and experimenting. That, of course, is part of the fun of playing electric guitar, and the variety and quality of tones here is inspiring.
Besides being an intuitive and powerful tool for tone sculpting, the Spark app's Smart Jam and Auto Chord features are where things get outrageous. This is where you can stream audio from your preferred music service, get the chords to scroll along to on the screen, and learn songs in real time. And this is where you can play some chords, have your tablet or smartphone mic pick them up and the app generate a backing track for you to play over. It's incredible.
• Yamaha THR30II
The original THR introduced the concept of the ‘third’ amp in desktop-friendly dimensions. This MKII introduces refined modelling, optional battery power and bluetooth connectivity.
• Blackstar ID:Core Beam
Blackstar’s 2x10W desktop amp is an overlooked gem with dedicated channels for electric, acoustic and bass, as well as bluetooth playback.
• Boss Katana Air
A fully wireless 30-watt amp that includes a bluetooth transmitter for your guitar. Boss’s Tone Studio app offers 50 effects with COSM modelling and impressive amp voices.
Make no mistake: this is a paradigm shift in the functionality of digital desktop amplifiers, for the bedroom amp, the practice amp. Of the two, the Auto Chords feature is the one that is truly dizzying in its potential. It can occasionally miss a chord but it's impressive as another means to inspire solo players to… well, play!
There is already an online database of chords and songs for it to pull from, and if your chosen song is not on this it will nonetheless figure out the chords within minutes and have them ready for you to play along to.
Perhaps the best thing we can say about the Spark 40 is that it makes you want to play more, it makes you want to get better, and while offering a great-sounding and tweakable digital amplifier experience it has onboard tools that will accelerate your abilities as a player.
Once upon a time it was occasionally a little bleak being a solo bedroom guitarist, and it required discipline to stick at it. The Spark 40 has changed that with a tool that just goes to show that there is nothing more fun and addictive than making progress on your instrument in real-time.
MusicRadar verdict: A high-functioning digital modelling amp that looks and sounds great? Sure, but the Positive Grid Spark 40's Auto Chord and Smart Jam features make it, quite possibly, the ultimate bedroom amp right now.
Riffs, Beards & Gear
- TYPE: Digital modelling combo for guitar, bass and acoustic with BIAS Tone Engine and app integration for jamming
- OUTPUT: 40 watts
- SPEAKERS: 2x4” custom designed
- TOP CONTROLS: Amp Type, Gain, Bass, Mid, Treble, Master, Mod, Delay, Reverb, Output Volume, Music Volume, four programmable Preset buttons, Tap/Tuner button
- ONBOARD EFFECTS: 30 Amp Models, 40 Effects
- SOCKETS: 1/4” guitar input, 1/8” aux input, 1/8” headphone, Bluetooth audio, USB connectivity for recording 2 In x 2 Out
- DIMENSIONS: 350mm [w] x 180mm [w] 190mm [d]
- WEIGHT: 5.2 kg
- CONTACT: Positive Grid
- The Spark 40 is currently available for preorder direct from Positive Grid – please contact them for details on waiting times.