Arturia are something of a legendary name in the studio world, with anyone who is anyone singing the praises of their soft-synths for the simple reason that they sound and perform absolutely fantastically. However, not too many people associate the Arturia name with hardware despite the awesome Minibrute, Analog Experience and Origin synthesisers that they released, and which also became hugely popular with those in the know, possibly because of the well-earned reputation built around their range of software-only sonic treats. Arturia’s Spark drum machine is a clever combination of hardware and software that anyone who creates beats should be taking a long hard look at, especially as it is one of the few products on the market that can give the all-conquering Maschine from Native Instruments a serious run for its money. But is it destined to be a Yohan Blake to Native Instruments’ Usain Bolt?
TEST OF TIME
First impressions of the Spark are very good indeed. It has a large footprint without being too big, and the styling has a new skool retro feel to it that is reminiscent of a Roland 909 without looking dated or trying too hard. There are a huge amount of buttons and knobs that are nicely spaced, logically placed and finished off with very nice knob caps that are held firmly in place and are not going to fly off and get lost. The construction and weight of the unit feel like this is a piece of equipment that will stand the test of time. The only letdown is the plastic legs, which are likely to be fine if the Spark is left in a studio environment, but are bound to snap if taken on the road and subjected to the usual abuses of life on tour.
Spark is a clever mix of hardware and software integration that combines the best of both worlds. Doing things this way means that not only is there very tight integration into DAWs like Logic and Cubase via a VST plug-in with all of the advantages that this brings, but there is also the ability to get new sound banks and upgrades via download. Spark also has stand-alone software for use without needing a DAW program; you can use it with sequencers that don’t allow the use of VST plug-ins. The sound banks that come as standard are nothing short of awesome and are exactly the sort of quality we have come to expect and now demand from Arturia.
The control surface is neatly separated into various sections that are very logical and easy to distinguish from each other, thanks to the stylish paint work and labelling on the front panel, and the buttons, all of which are backlit and rubberized, have a nice size, feel and pressing action. The top of the Spark has a row of buttons dedicated to the sequencer, with shuffle and master volume knobs to the far right. Below the sequencer buttons are sections for transport control as well as tempo and loop control sections. At the centre of the Spark’s control section is an LCD display, which is a little on the small side and displays text only, but this isn’t an issue, because all of the controls have dedicated buttons and knobs. To the left of the LCD display is an FX section with an X-Y style touch pad and three buttons to select from filter, slicer or roller effects. To the right of the LCD is the pattern and instrument control area: definitely one of the most striking and downright cool-looking features of the control panel. With a large knob surrounded by sixteen buttons laid out in a circular pattern, and a further five buttons on the left hand edge to take care of song selection duties, this area of the drum machine looks totally cool and uber stylish.
At the bottom of the control surface are eight large and luxuriously nice feeling drum pads that have three encoder knobs above them. Each can be assigned to control various parameters, but this does involve setting up using a computer screen and mouse. A further six knobs just below the LCD screen take care of cut-off, resonance, aux one and two, along with panning and volume. All in all, there are enough controls via knobs and buttons to mean that time staring at the computer screen with a mouse in hand is kept to a minimum and the hardware tweaking fun is where most of the action takes place.
If the Spark was a traditional standalone hardware drum machine, it would easily hold its own with the best of the best, and with the added flexibility of software integration, this is a drum machine to lust after. While Spark lacks some of the flexibility and the extra pads that Maschine offers, it also has a lot of features and tricks up its sleeve that Native’s box doesn’t. If beats are your thing, then the Spark is something that will bring a smile to your face and deadly drums to your productions for many years to come.
|Ease of use||8.0|
|Value for money||8.0|
It’s not quite as flexible and has less pads than Native’s Maschine, and the legs are fragile and likely to break if not treated with the upmost respect.