Fans of groove boxes and drum machines were in for a treat at this year’s Winter NAMM, in the form of Arturia’s brand new Spark “beat production centre”. Continuing the software/hardware integration theme of their Analog Factory soft-synth/controller combinations, Spark comprises a generously equipped control surface with a bespoke piece of software that can be run either as a plug-in in your DAW, or in stand-alone mode.
No fewer than 34 rotary encoders, eight drum pads and a host of push buttons adorn the Spark controller’s surface. There’s also an X/Y pad for controlling effects, an LCD screen that displays parameters, and a large jog-dial for selecting sounds and stepping through patterns.
The Spark software, meanwhile, mimics the look of the hardware, and it is here that the sound generation and sequencing occurs. An impressive 480 instruments and 30 drum kits are supplied with Spark, and these include analogue-modelled drums (808- and 909-style kits, Simmons- and LinnDrum-inspired sounds, and so on), multi-sampled acoustic kits, physically modelled drum sounds, and a synthesis engine based on that of the Analog Experience. The extensive collection of supplied samples includes sounds from companies such as Sonic Reality, Ultimate Sound Bank, Ueberschall and Modern Beats — or you can import your own samples, set up envelopes, looping and velocity layers, and assign them to pads to create your own playable kits.
Along the top of both the controller and the main page of the software are 16 buttons for step sequencing. Up to 64 steps are available per sequence, and these can be input in real time, or punched into the software. You can also play drum sounds live and record your performance, using the eight velocity-sensitive pads. Above each of the pads are three knobs for tweaking each drum sound, and, again, you can tweak these in real time and record your actions. Sequences can be edited in greater depth via the software, which allows you to set controller data (pan, cut-off, velocity and so on) on a per-step basis.
The controller’s X/Y pad is accompanied by three buttons, labelled Filter, Slicer and Roller. With Filter mode selected, the pad’s two axes govern cut-off frequency and filter resonance. Slicer mode allows you to control a rhythmic, delay-like effect using the pad (where ‘slice’ duration and volume can be adjusted in real time), while Roller lets you play fast drum rolls accurately, much like the Note Repeat feature found on Akai’s MPC series samplers.
As you’d expect, the Spark hardware can also be used as a simple generic MIDI controller, with most of its knobs, pads and buttons outputting standard MIDI data. To do so, however, would be largely missing the point, and would negate the considerable benefits of using it with its dedicated piece of software. Such is the level of integration between the Spark software and controller, in fact, that during a lengthy demonstration at NAMM, the Arturia rep didn’t once need to resort to using the computer’s keyboard or mouse!
The release date was yet to be confirmed at the time of writing, unfortunately, but we do know its expected price — a highly reasonable €499. Videos of the Arturia Spark in action can be found at the Arturia web site.