Review: Arturia Spark 2
Version one of Spark was packed full of sounds, now with version two, you can get under the hood and build your own.
A few issues ago I had the pleasure of auditioning Arturia’s Spark software and SparkLE hardware hybrid drum machine and sound design system. A number of points impressed me about the package, most notably the compact control surface and the awesome collection of sounds supplied with the system. More recently, Arturia has revamped the software end of things with Spark V2. This next iteration includes a remodelled user interface, utilising tabs to organise the various modules of the system into an easier to follow workflow. With the functionality to be your last stop in beats production, Spark is quite a complex beast and so this interface upgrade alone justifies the update. Equally as important is how the revised design will allow future add-ons to be made by the Arturia designers.
Cost for version one owners of Spark is zilch — it’s a standard, gratis upgrade. If you’re diving in for the first time the cost is a mere US$169 — a remarkable price for such rhythmic potential (remember the package including either the Spark or SparkLE controller is more). You can also choose between Spark or SparkLE control surface GUIs, so the plug-in will match whichever unit you’re toting.
UNDER THE HOOD
Possibly one of the more exciting additions is the modular ‘Virtual Analog’ drum synth. Spark has always been built upon Arturia’s modular Virtual Analog sound engine, but in previous versions only developers had access to the building blocks. Now it’s possible to add and subtract modules, create your own patch routings, and assign up to six macro controls. You’ve got complete control over the inner workings of Spark with V2. This architecture is based on the synthesis engine developed for the Origin keyboard and is comprehensive even for a normal synth, let alone a percussion unit. Bear in mind Spark also delivers sample playback and physical modelling engines, so there’s a lot of power at your disposal.
Just some of the modules available include up to nine variable shape VA oscillators, up to four filters (with eight different modes), six envelopes, two LFOs, two CV modulators and two ring modulators, along with two Karplus Strong-based filters (the Karplus Strong filters are derived from one of the first physical modelling algorithms from way back in the 1980s). There’s a bucketload of options here, to the point where Spark isn’t solely a percussion module — you’ll find yourself building basses and pads with this puppy too. Incidentally, macros can be set up and assigned to alter multiple parameters of each module via six virtual pots. These could be assigned to the six assignable hardware pots on the Spark controller, or you could do some remapping and control these via other controllers.
There’s also a huge cross section of provided effects — up to 14 per individual instrument including compression, reverb, a bit-crusher, EQ, chorus, delay, distortion, phasing, plate reverb, destroyer(!), flanger, space pan, limiter, and a sub generator.
NEED TO KNOW
Given the extra interface real estate of the new tabbed system, there’s a swathe of additional features squeezed into Spark V2. Obviously bespoke patch creation is also now possible, and a revamped library management window makes curation of the supplied library and your own creations easier. Where would you save your modular patches otherwise? Thankfully the factory patches are now also editable. REX file import is now a ‘system-wide’ feature, allowing REX files to be played back via pads (should you own the Spark control surface), along with the ability to manipulate individual REX slices. There’s also a better mixer, an expanded pattern editing screen, and get this; triggering song segments from hardware — either the Spark and SparkLE controllers or third party outboard triggering devices. Personally I prefer the SparkLE GUI, it’s simply cleaner and more concise, but I’m using the instrument without an outboard controller. If you do have either of the controllers you can turn off the controller auto detection and choose between GUIs also.
Spec-wise, Spark V2 is qualified to run on all the popular platforms including VST, AU, RTAS, and AAX. It is, of course, 64-bit.
The question is; would I own it? Well, to be honest, I already owned it, having been very impressed with the sound library available in version one. These sounds are remarkably solid and exude real drum machine goodness — a rare feat for software-based percussion stations. Following my last review of Spark with the SparkLE controller I had a number of people call and ask for my ‘honest’ opinion of the Spark library (hey, I don’t make this stuff up!). After sending a few sounds around the interwebs, most enquiries resulted in those guys jumping on the Spark bandwagon — I know those guys are going to pleased with this upgrade — just like I have been. Very cool sounds with a superbly versatile interface. Top shelf!