Review: Arturia SparkLE

We finally got the chance to check out Arturia’s “SparkLE”, Sparks little brother. This piece of hardware is the newest hybrid instrument from Arturia that will take your beat creation to new levels. That’s what they say. Check out what we have to say about the SparkLE in the review below!


Unboxing

Rip that box open. Throw the wrapping all around the room. Get out the SparkLE and hold it up as high as you can. Tadaaaa.

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The Arturia SparkLE feels pretty solid because of it’s weight and material (metal & thick plastic). It’s a little smaller than piece of A4 paper and is powered by a simple USB cable, making it a great piece equipment for shows or to simply put in your backpack (portable studio ;)). A very nice thing is the extra sleeve that comes with it. Definitely something other companies can learn from.

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Setting it up

Before you can actually play with the SparkLE, you will need to register your product so you can use the Spark software (VST) with it.
After you’ve done so, it’s time to get amazed with how many features this little piece of equipment has. Even though it’s hardware, to me it felt like I was having Fruity Loops right in front of me. This since I’m not really used to working with drum machines and don’t have a similair (digital) sequence in Ableton.

There’s 4 banks. Each bank has 16 patterns. You can easily switch within these banks with the A/B/C/D button on the left side of the controller.
When holding the SELECT button and simply touching one of the pads, you will switch to the pattern for that particular sound.

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If you’ve been in to using drum machines you’ll easily find your way. If not, don’t expect too much from the manual. Normally I’m used to having very detailed manuals from Arturia’s hardware. The SparkLE, however, only comes 33 pages of information. Mainly helping you to install the software and making your first steps while using this drum machine. So for real tips and tricks of course the Interweb is your friend. There’s tons of good stuff you can find on Youtube. And don’t worry, Arturia has a VERY detailed Online Manual which you can check out here:

Official Arturia SparkLE Manual

YouTube Tutorial:





Recording in Ableton Live

After spending hours figuring this Drum Machine out and randomly trying out different patterns I suddenly felt the need to record some sounds to create a little track. This turned out to be quite a challange though. As noted before, I work in Ableton Live (8) and as soon as I hit the play button in my DAW I obviously hear my sequence playing. But when trying to record this MIDI-track, nothing happened. Not strange at all, as I’m not pressing any buttons while the sequence is playing on my SparkLE. This got me quite frustrated and it’s pretty tricky to fix this, so here’s my trick to get it right:

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First of all go to Live –> Preferences.
Click on the MIDI Sync tab and check off the “TRACK” button for the SparkLE.

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Now go to your Spark Midi Track and open the Spark window. First of all, make sure HOST and TEMPO are checked ON. Now click on the circle with the arrows and then click on Preferences (which should be somewhere on the right). Scroll down and check ON “Send MIDI from Sequencer” and “Send MIDI from Pads”.

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Copy the settings for both Midi tracks as shown above and start recording!

When finished simple drag your recorded MIDI sequence (Track: 2. Midi) in to the Spark (3. Spark) line. Voila.

Finally, to avoid hearing things twice after recording you might want to check off “HOST” in your Spark VST window.


Presets and your own samples

Apart from this DAW problem I had tons of fun with the SparkLE. It comes with tons presets with pretty sweet samples. Practically all styles are there, from Electronic to Techno, Hiphop and Trap. The cool thing is you can also load your own samples in to the drum machine. Not via a SD-card, but you can simply do this by dragging a sample on a particular pad in your VST. Finally, when you save your preset, you can choose to save the custom samples with it. This makes this drummachine so much better.

And I’m addicted to the little touch screen which can create awesome buildups for your sequences.

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Conclusion

Arturia did a good job on this piece of hardware: it feels solid, matches my Macbook, comes with a sexy sleeve, has tons of great samples, blue lights flashing all day long and it’s easy to use. This is perfect for those of you who want a small and low-priced drum machine. I’m not sure if the SparkLE is the best machine to use with Ableton Live, but as explained above, there’s a way to get it working properly which will only take you 5 minutes to set up.

Currently, the SparkLE is priced €250,- in most shops.

FYI: It’s hard to compare the Spark with the SparkLE as I haven’t actually used the “Spark”, which has way more knobs and a display. But I think the SparkLE forces you to use both software and hardware, while the Spark requires less lurking at your computer screen.