You may have seen the buzz about Spark, the new amp and app from Positive Grid that has launched with an incredibly successful campaign, intriguing guitarists worldwide enough to preorder without ever hearing a note.
Positive Grid has made a mark with its known and loved BIAS FX and BIAS AMP software, two products that give guitarists hands on control of their tone, enabling them to tweak every detail.
But what about Spark? With a low price point that has us wondering if this new product is worth a go, we reached out to find out the deal and get some insight from Robert McCullar, VP of Global Sales for Positive Grid.
What issues does Spark solve for players?
Spark is a unique, first of its kind integrated amp for electric, acoustic and bass guitarists. Spark provides a completely immersive experience that allows the player to choose virtually any tone and effect combination, match the tone of just about any song, jam with hundreds of multiple genre backing tracks (drum and bass), easily create your own unique backing tracks based on what the app hears you playing or create a unique palette of tones to suit their needs. Spark also makes learning new songs the easiest of any amplifier that we know of.
Was it challenging to develop a product that so fully integrates an app with hardware?
There are more points of interaction that you can count when you integrate hardware, software and mobile technology. It's an expensive and time-consuming process that we believe is worthwhile and will be a big part of the future for amplifier products.
How does the app expand the capabilities of Spark?
Before we talk about the expanded features with our Spark App, it's important to point out that Spark is an amazing, great sounding product right out of the box. The Spark amp features dozens of amp/effect tone combinations for electric, acoustic and bass guitar covering popular music genres, dozens of classic tones, customizable user presets, independent effect controls, a tuner and many other features.
The addition of the Spark App (free for iOS or Android mobile devices) adds the ability to stream music from YouTube, Apple Music or Spotify in real time using our Bluetooth audio connection (or you can connect with an audio cable); get real time chord diagrams for your favorite songs; Jam with hundreds of drum and bass tracks (by genre); let our Smart Jam feature listen as you play and return a drum and bass track to make jamming more fun; a virtual capo; tempo control to slow down tough passages you are trying to learn without changing the basic pitch (no need to retune your guitar); a virtual Looper and many other unique and first of its kind features. There is nothing else like Spark and the Spark app – they are truly in a class of their own.
Positive Grid has released the Spark amp and app in a non-conventional way – how is it going and why did you decide to do this?
Traditional product release models are tough for a start-up like Positive Grid because there are so many established brands in music stores and music retailer websites. A company can build a disruptive product that outperforms the rest of the marketplace, but there is no guarantee anyone will notice when that product is displayed in a typical setting. In addition, many retailers are cautious about offering products or brands that are not well known. So, to overcome the traditional obstacles of gaining acceptance for Spark, we chose to control our own destiny by launching arguably the most aggressive pre-launch / pre-sales campaign in the amplifier category.
The results speak for themselves – in a few short weeks we have sold thousands of Spark amps worldwide and the count goes up daily. It proves two things to us – 1) that guitar and bass players around the world like what we are developing and 2) that no one can tell our story the way we can tell it. We respect and hope to use traditional channels at some point in time, but for now we are thrilled with the way Spark is growing in our native channel at www.positivegrid.com/spark
How can recording guitarists benefit from Spark?
Spark is somewhat unique for an amplifier in that it includes USB Audio In/Out (2 channel). Physical microphones are always a great way to record but you need microphones, some type of stand/mount/holder, you need to know where to place your mic(s) to optimize the tone of your amp and you need some type of interface or mixer as well as a way to record. For many guitarists, simply using a USB cable to connect Spark to their computer is a much more convenient way to record than setting up mics. And to make our USB Audio In/Out more useful and provide realistic amp tones, we include BIAS Impulse Responses for different speaker cabinets.
We understand this is built from the BIAS FX 2 and BIAS Amp 2 platform. Is it a watered down version or can we expect the same excellence and versatility?
You can expect the same excellent tones because it's the same technology and tone matches. Nothing is watered down.
Can Spark integrate with a DAW? What are the benefits?
Spark partners easily with DAWs thru our 2 channel USB Audio In/Out interface. But to make Spark an even better value, we partnered with our friends at PreSonus to include Studio One Prime DAW software with each Spark amplifier. All a Spark owner needs to do is download Studio One Prime (free download), connect Spark to their computer with a USB cable and start recording with 2 channels of audio. Studio One Prime offers dozens of plug-ins for vocals and most other applications you might want with a DAW to produce a great recording. Just one more reason why Spark is an all-inclusive solution.
By its price point (well under $300), Spark doesn't seem to be a pro-level product. Why would advanced guitarists want Spark?
Spark is a great solution for any guitarist at any playing level. You asked about pro players so I will focus on that segment of the guitar playing world. Pros travel in everything from tour buses to airplanes and are constantly in different cities/countries. They stay in hotels and spend lots of time backstage preparing for concerts, or in the case of local artists, their gigs. Spark opens up an entire new world of interactive practice and creativity for the pro player. Spark is the perfect backstage, hotel or tour bus companion with built-in speakers or a great sounding headphone output that mutes the speakers. Plus, with a laptop and the included Studio One Prime DAW (or most any other), Spark becomes the perfect companion amp to create or use as a sketchpad. All of your favorite tone/effect combinations can be saved on the amp or in our ToneCloud so you can access any tone you want from anywhere you want. We believe Spark is the ultimate practice, song-writing, backstage and hotel amp available today. Spark is a great choice for any guitarist.
Spark seems to have some cool features for learning new music. How does it approach this idea in a new way?
There are several products available today where you can connect your mobile device to your amp with a cable and stream music. Those amps are ok if you know the song or if you download and buy the music and chords. Spark offers a much higher level of interaction with our chord recognition feature which provides real-time chord changes including diagrams that show how to play each chord. All of that interaction is available thru a hands-free Bluetooth connection that is unique to Spark.
Spark offers unique and useful features that allow you to get away from a cable connection and provides the actual chords, chord diagrams and a moving bar that shows when to change chords. But, we take it several steps further by also providing a virtual capo, the ability to slow a song down by up to 50% and a looper where you can easily pick any segment of a song from a single measure to a chorus to the entire song. Add our USB Audio In/Out with included Studio One Prime DAW as explained earlier and Spark takes learning new music to an entirely new level.
You feature the AI Jam component pretty heavily in your marketing. Can you explain this feature and how it works?
Smart Jam is product we created that listens to and analyses what you are playing in real time. Our ToneCloud analyzes what you are playing and returns a drum track with bass, that closely matches the style and tempo it heard you play. Since Spark uses the free Spark companion App (iOS or Android) to listen to what you're playing, our Smart Jam works great with electric guitar or bass as well as with acoustic guitar. Smart Jam is a great interactive feature that is only available on our Spark amp.
We've never heard of a guitar amp that has voice control. What can you control on Spark with voice command?
Voice Command is completely unique as far as we can tell and adds a brand-new experience to "hands free" interaction with your instrument and your gear. Simply touch the microphone icon on the Spark app, and Spark listens to what you want it to do. For instance, say "launch Smart Jam" and within a second or two our Smart Jam interface is showing on the Spark App. Or say "Play a blues backing track" and our accompaniment engine starts playing a blues drum and bass track. Voice Command adds an entirely new level of hands-free interaction with your gear.
You mention that there are 10,000 tones available for Spark. How does that work?
Our ToneCloud contains 10,000+ amp/effect tones created by BIAS users around the world, our artists and our own staff. There are literally thousands of tones available to audition and download for free to all Spark owners. And when you create your own dream tones, you can save those tones to our ToneCloud and allow others to use them or save them for yourself. And best of all, all tones are based on our BIAS FX2 and BIAS Amp2 tone engines. The tones available in Spark are incredible. Check out some of the Spark YouTube videos featuring high profile players we sent Spark samples to. We think discriminating musicians will agree that our tones are in a class of their own.
Where do you see development of this integrative technology going in the future?
While I would love to share our thoughts on future products, we obviously prefer to let the industry be surprised as has been the case with our Spark pre-launch. I can safely say that Spark is the first of many products to come that will take the experience of playing and interacting with gear to places never seen before. Our goal at Positive Grid is to be disruptive and to develop products that take musicians to new and exciting places instead of building products that are like what everyone else is offering. We love to innovate and we are very excited about our future.
Positive Grid is still accepting preorders on their site now.