Arturia SparkLE Review – Elegant but Incomplete?

Arturia SparkLEWelcome to my Arturia SparkLE review. So here we have an interesting hardware and software combination, which I don’t think I’ve ever seen before in a drum machine. I have to admit, it does look really good, and I do like the idea of a hardware and software combo.

However, it does bother me slightly that this only does drum sounds. When I create music, I want more than just drum sounds. That being said, it can be used as a plug-in with other software, meaning you can use it alongside other sounds.


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Contents

 


PROS & CONS

Pros:

  • Solid build.
  • Great velocity sensitive drum pads.
  • Very intuitive to use.
  • Wide range of drum sounds.
  • Software layout is great.
  • Controller works well with Ableton Live.
  • Great value for money.
  • Quick and easy to get ideas down.

Cons:

  • XY pad feels cheap.
  • No dedicated shuffle knob.
  • Hardware/software integration can be unreliable.
  • Can be unstable at times.
  • Software protection is a hassle.
  • Poor technical support.
  • No MIDI in/out.

Rating:  (50%)
Recommended? No


Video Review


Who is the Arturia SparkLE Designed For?

It is designed for people who want to create sequenced beats really easily. It could work well in a live situation where you want to do some live beat sequencing and playing around with sounds.

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FEATURES

Arturia SparkLE Drum Pads64 Step Sequencer

Unlike many step sequencer style drum machines that only have 16 steps, this one has 64 steps. They are arranged into four zones of 16 steps each, and you can use the arrow buttons to switch the display between the four zones. You can also add accents to individual steps, just as you can with classic drum machines.

Velocity-Sensitive Pads

As well as being able to program beats in step-by-step, you can perform them into the sequencer. If you want your beats to have a looser, more realistic feel, you can play them back exactly as you performed them. Alternatively, if you prefer the spot-on sound of a precisely sequenced beat, you can quantize your performance to make sure each hit fits exactly in the rhythm.

Arturia SparkLE XY PadJog Dial

This is an easy way to navigate through sounds and settings.

XY Pad

This enables you to have intuitive real-time control over your sounds. If you want to use it to sweep the filter, you can choose from several different filter types, such as TAE Oberheim SEM, low-pass, high-pass, and band-pass.

You can also use the XY Pad to slice up beats, reverse them, tape-drop effects, bit crusher, and more.

Instrument Knobs

Each sound on the SparkLE drum machine can be manipulated in real-time using the instrument knobs. These knobs are already assigned to set parameters, but can be changed to parameters of your own choosing.

Have a listen to some examples of how the sounds can be altered using these knobs:

Arturia SparkLE LooperLooper

This function allows you to mess with beats in real-time. At the press of a button, you can repeat sections of a beat. You can alter the size and position of the loop within your beat and shift these in real-time. This means you can really liven up a beat on-the-fly to make it more interesting for the listeners.

Mixer & Effects

Being able to properly mix your tracks makes all the difference. It can take your sound from good to professional. So it’s great that Spark replicates 16 tracks of a professional mixing desk. You have full control over volume, pan, mute/solo, and effects. There are 14 different effects that that each of your drum sounds can be processed through, such as reverb, compression, bit crusher, chorus, delay, phaser and more.

Automation

All the sound parameters on the SparkLE can be automated. That means you can record yourself turning the knobs and it will record these actions into the sequencer and play them back when you next play it. It can give a live feel to a performance even if you are not actually adjusting the parameters live.

Song Mode

Being able to structure patterns together into whole songs can come in very useful. You can then easily recall your songs by pressing the Song button.

Analog Synthesis

Spark uses special TAE technology, which is able to recreate the classic analog synth sounds of synthesizers such as the Oberheim SEM, Roland Jupiter 8, and the Yamaha CS-80.

Physical Modeling

This allows the Spark to recreate acoustic sounds very well, but it can also be used to create some very unusual sounds too.

Arturia SparkLE Digital SamplingDigital Sampling

In addition to the wonderful analog synthesis and physical modeling that the Spark is capable of, it also has digital sampling. You can layer up multiple samples to create rich sounds, and can add filters and frequency shifters to change the sounds. There are many acoustic drum kit sounds available, along with more electronic drum sounds and effects. You can also use your own samples, which makes it limitless really.

Vintage Drum Machines & Modern Electronic Kits

If you are looking for some classic drum machine sounds, look no further. The Spark software contains te following drum machine emulations: Roland TR-808, TR-909, TR-707, TR-606, EMU Drumulator, LinnDrum, Oberheim DMX, Korg KPR 77, DDM-110, DDM-220, Sequential Circuits Drumtraks, Simmons SDS-V, Roland CR78 / Acetone Rythm Ace, Yamaha RX5, Casio RZ1, Linn 9000.

So, there’s no need to go out and buy those old classic drum machines, or even try to find individual software emulations of them. You’ve got them all within Spark.

You also have a whole bunch of modern electronic drum kits to choose from, covering styles such as trance, techno, hip hop, EDM, dubstep, deep house, and more.

Acoustic Drum Sets

For those wanting a more traditional drum sound, there are plenty of acoustic drum kits available in spark, such as rock, funk, pop, R&B, and latin percussion.

Arturia SparkLE Hardware and SoftwarePlug-in and Standalone

The Spark software can be used on its own, or you can use it as a plug-in with many DAWs such as Pro Tools, Cubase, Ableton Live, Logic Pro X, Cakewalk Sonar, and more. You can route the 16 audio outputs directly into your DAW’s audio tracks.

Import & Export

Being able to exchange files with other software is important, and so is being able to save your beats as sound files. You can import AIF, MIDI, Wave, and REX2 files, and you can explore as either Wave or MIDI files.

MIDI Controller

Although the SparkLE hardware is designed to work seamlessly with the Spark software, it can also be used as a MIDI controller with other equipment or software. You are able to remap any of the controls to any parameter or sound in your software or hardware. Supported DAWs include Reason and Ableton Live.

Hardware Specifications

  • Dimensions : 284mm x 171mm x 17 mm – Net weight : 1 Kg – Gross weight : 1,5 Kg
  • 8 velocity- and pressure-sensitive pads
  • 3 user-assignable, high-precision rotary encoders
  • Touch-sensitive XY pad
  • User-mappable MIDI controller mode
  • USB bus-powered
  • Aluminum enclosure
  • Neoprene slipcase
  • Kensington security port

Software Specifications

  • Pristine quality sound engines including TAE® analog synthesis, physical modeling, and multi-layered samples provided by our top-tier development partners
  • 1900+ instruments / 180+ kits:
    • Vintage drum machines: analog emulations of the TR-808, TR-909, TR-606, Simmons SDS-V, and Eprom-based Linn Drum, Drumtraks, DMX, Drumulator and more
    • 10 emulations from Spark Vintage Drum Machines: CR-78, Mini Pops 7, Ace Tone FR-2L, Yamaha MR 10, Maestro Rhythm King MRK2, Boss DR-55, E-mu SP-12, Roland TR-727, Roland R-8, Casio VL-Tone and SK-1
    • Electronic kits covering the most popular modern music styles: EDM, Dubstep, Hip Hop, RnB, and Pop, etc., as well as experimental kits developed with our physical modeling engine
    • Acoustic drum kits mixing physical modeling and samples for highly realistic sound
  • 64-step sequencer
  • Shuffle and shift modes to humanize grooves
  • Advanced loop mode with Divide and Move functions
  • Choke groups to mute instruments naturally
  • 16-tuning mode available from pads and Step buttons
  • Modular Drum synth editor:
    • Create your own patches
    • Edit existing patches
  • Create custom instrument macro control modules including:
    • Oscillators
    • Multimode filters and Karplus-Strong filter
    • ADR envelopes
    • LFOs
    • Mixers
    • Ring Modulator
    • Bode Frequency Shifter
    • Spring mass
    • CV processor
  • Song mode:
    • 16 song segments
    • Song segment triggering from hardware
  • XY pad features: repeat, tape, reverse, strobe, pan, mix, bit crusher, 8-mode filter and Roller
  • Oberheim filter model included
  • 16-track mixer with 14 high-quality effects: multiband compressor, bit crusher, multiband EQ, chorus, delay, reverb, distortion, phaser, plate reverb, destroyer, flanger, space pan, limiter, sub generator
  • REX support:
    • REX file playback per pad
    • Manipulation of REX file segments
  • Real-time automation on all parameters
  • Easy MIDI and automation drag & drop export to your DAW
  • MIDI clock output to synchronize your hardware instruments
  • Works as a universal MIDI controller for any third-party software or MIDI-controllable instrument

 


Conclusion

It bothers me that this is only a drum machine. There, I’ve said it. Arturia has obviously put a lot of thought into the design of SparkLE, with it being a marriage of hardware and software. It bothers me that this is not a full music creation setup, it’s just designed for drum sounds. I suppose that’s why you might want to use it as a plugin with a DAW, along with other software instruments.

It also concerns me to read about the problems people have had with stability, and the difficulty they have had getting help from Arturia’s technical support team. I mean, if you want to be able to do some live beat sequencing, but want to more than just beats, the Novation Launchkey might be a better option.

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I hope you found my Arturia SparkLE review helpful, but if you have any questions or comments, feel free to leave them in the comments section below and I will reply as soon as I can.

All the best,
Marcus.

12 Comments

  1. George

    Hi and thank you for a very informative review on Arturia SparkLE. It sports some great features. I like the fact that you can exchange files with other software. It saves quite the hassle there.

    I will bookmark your site and revisit this information when I am ready to make a purchase.

    Thanks!

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Thank, George. I’m glad you found it helpful.

      Reply
  2. Sam

    Hey Marcus, quite an enjoyable and enlightening journey. Um, yes, I travelled your website. Anyway, your review was good and to the point. I have not used this drum machine, but would enjoy trying it out. Though I record my music alone most of the time, I like instruments that cater to individual outlooks and preferences. My electronic musical dream is a group of people deep in astroland using quality instruments tht can synch, becoming a collective entity.

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Thank you for your comment, Sam.

      Reply
  3. Roope

    Yes, it definitely looks elegant. Looks like something that could cost more than $199 but as I have learned something about the musical instruments and stuff the looks is not the most important factor. It looks that this “drum machine” is not worth buying as you give it only 50% and despite of the many features there are many cons in the product.

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Yes, personally I would want more than just drum sounds. Maybe it’s just me, I don’t know? But this is why I love Propellerhead Reason. It not only has all the drum sounds you need, but has lots of great synth sounds too. It pretty much has everything you need for making electronic music, and other types of music too.

      Reply
  4. Mason

    Hi Marcus,

    Nice review here mate. Been looking for some new hardware recently and this one looks interesting. I’ve just starting getting more and more into drum and bass so this might go well with our production!

    Have you personally tried this one out? Going to look into this one a bit more

    Cheers
    Mason

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Hi Mason,

      No, I have not personally tried this one out yet. i don’t really need it because I already use the sequencer in Propellerhead Reason.

      Reply
  5. raze

    Hey thanks for the review you’ve done here – very well-researched and the many features are very clearly explained.

    Personally though, for acoustic drum samples, I’d prefer using BFD3 because the sounds are really realistic so I’m looking for a hardware pad controller to pair with it.

    Any idea whether the arturia hardware could be paired with BFD3?

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      I’d actually never heard of BFD3 before, but it looks like it would work at Arturia SparkLE. BFD3 has the ability to map MIDI controls, so you should be able to map the pads, knobs, and sliders on the SparkLE hardware to the controls in BFD3.

      Reply
  6. Good work

    Great website. I need to buy some speakers for my vehicle. Something that beats so loud that it knocks pictures off the walls.

    I like my music loud. Very loud. Loll. I will definitely be looking on your website for some speakers and amplifiers. Looks like some good prices for some decent speakers.

    Reply
    1. Marcus (Post author)

      Thanks. Well, I hope you don’t annoy the neighbours too much with your loud music 😉

      Reply

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