This little amp that could is another ground-breaking practice guitar amplifier from Positive Grid. The Spark MINI offers the same sonic versatility and smart features and backs it all up with surprisingly great sound and a rechargeable battery. It liberates the electric guitar in entirely new ways.
- Endless tones to explore
- Size-defying guitar sounds
- Ridiculously compact, cute design
- 8-hour battery life for on-the-go play
- Doubles up as Bluetooth speaker
- Not that much cheaper than the original
- Bluetooth speaker vibrates a lot
- Some may miss on-amp controls
- 10,000 unique and customisable guitar tones to exploreFeatures thousands of user-created tones
- Stupendously small design The Spark MINI’s proportions make it easy to carry on the go
- Portable Bluetooth speaker 8-hour battery life for on the go guitar play and music via the Bluetooth connection
The Positive Grid Spark guitar amp was an absolute revelation for countless hobbyist guitar players around the world. The practice amp changed how (and how often) I played the instrument I’d fallen in and out with for a couple of decades.
Pound-for-pound it sounds incredible (better than it has any right to), there are super smart mobile connectivity features to scratch the tech itch, including a remarkable range of iconic and fully customizable guitar tones akin to a having load of amps and full physical pedal board at your disposal. Simply put, it’s in my top five pieces of kit ever.
So, I was delighted to hear Positive Grid was expanding the range with a Spark MINI – a much smaller and more portable version that could run off a rechargeable battery for up to eight hours – allowing for off piste shredding.
Yet, Positive Grid also risks part of the original’s allure by going to much smaller speakers and a much less powerful amp. The full-size Spark punches above its weight, but tiny practice amps tend to sound bad and there’s never been much getting around that.
Are the trade-offs worth it for an even more accessible experience? Can the smaller Spark hit the high notes like its ground-breaking big brother?
- Smaller than its predecessor
- Can be used as a Bluetooth speaker
- Similar look as before
The Spark MINI (146.5 x 123 x 165mm) is considerably smaller than its predecessor (190 x 350 x 180mm). But the width is where you really feel it. The amp weighs just 3.3lbs (1.5kg) compared to the 11.46lbs (5.2kg) original Spark amp. It’s almost square and fits on a standard desk much more comfortably.
There are some tangible advantages to this. Firstly, you can keep it on display. Sometimes that visual cue is enough to remember to play the guitar today. Secondly, there’s a handy secondary usage as a Bluetooth speaker.
Of course, you’ll still need to plug your guitar in and there’s a standard ¼-inch jack input, as well as 3.5mm headphone port on the back. Charging the amp is handled by USB-C, meaning you don’t have to lug a power brick around with you, and offering far more flexibility for adding juice. You could easily charge it in the car with USB-A to USB-C cable. The USB-C out enables connectivity to a computer if you wish to lay down your jam sessions with recording software like GarageBand or the bundled in free download of PreSonus Studio One Prime.
Positive Grid has maintained the design integrity of the original. The vinyl coating with gold piping and speaker grille cloth remains. The amp also comes with a faux leather strap for carrying around.
Naturally, given the width constraints there are far fewer knobs for on-amp control. There are four programmable pre-sets and volume control for guitar and connected music.
Personally, the absence of the usual bass, treble, reverb, and delay knobs wasn’t really missed as I have them all zeroed out and handle those adjustments through the app-based tones that can be endlessly adjusted on the display.
On the rear is an AUX out as well as the power button (no longer a satisfying classic switch), and a pair button (doubling as the built-in guitar tuner activation) to make the amp discoverable to your mobile device.
While it would detract from the portability somewhat, Positive Grid does offer an excellent little foot switch for easily switching between two guitar channels. This is an extra £100/$100. It’s worthwhile though if you have some presets you prefer to jam out with and saves messing around within the app.
Sometimes altering the channels within the app isn’t convenient because you won’t want to interrupt your flow. So, if you’re looking to go from a clean sound to a distorted sound with loads of overdrive as you head into the chorus (think Smells Like Teen Spirit by Nirvana, for example), you’ll can just step on the foot switch to change between those pre-set channels. The buttons on the foot switch have a nice satisfying click too.
- Bluetooth 5.0 support
- 10W of power
- 90dB sound pressure level
Naturally, the speakers and amplifiers are smaller than the original. The Spark Mini has a pair of 2-inch speakers (compared to 2x 4-inch on the OG) for stereo sound. Amplification comes with 10W of oomph compared with 40W on the sibling.
There’s 90dB SPL @1m maximum sound level pressure, compared to 116dB SPL @1m on the original. I’ve never been able to fully flex the original’s muscle as I live in an apartment, so on the surface it, this is plenty loud enough for home players if the sound quality can hold up.
In testing, the sound doesn’t feel as massive or as rounded as the original Spark amp, which is to be expected given the scaled back innards, but it’s still more than room filling, and you won’t be able to go full whack without annoying the neighbours.
Bluetooth 5.0 connectivity is on board for connecting to your mobile device, which has proven solid during testing. There’s no Wi-Fi connection on either Spark Amp models.
- Big loud, sound
- Get sound raw at higher volumes
- Bassy performance with Bluetooth connection
So here is where I was expecting to have to heartily recommend the original full-size Spark Amp over the Mini and forgo the advantages in price, smaller footprint and on-the-go battery power.
The smaller guitar amp (and extension the Bluetooth speaker is), outperforms its size to ensure it’s still an great sounding practice amp that can get loud enough to annoy the neighbours.
The original Spark produced a wonderfully rounded, full bodied sound that very much defied its own diminutive size. While that isn’t wholly reproduced here, and sound can get a bit ragged, it smashes any practice amp of its size I’ve used before. They usually sound like you’ve plugged your guitar into a bees’ nest.
The sound gets rawer and a little garage-esque when you push the volume a little too far (depending on what you’re playing that can be a bonus), but in the main this amp won’t disappoint in the home setting or if you’re just jamming in the park.
So how do those two-inch drivers do it? More seasoned guitar pros than I seem to think it’s the downward-facing passive radiator doing the leg work at the low end to achieve an admirable amount of bass and sub-bass.
The Spark Mini has also replaced my Bluetooth speaker in recent weeks. It produces a pretty full soundscape with a surprisingly bassy performance. As it sits on the desk, the vibration at mid-volume was a little distracting despite the presence of rubber feet.
As I mentioned earlier, having it on the desk is a great reminder to pick the guitar up a little more often.
I briefly sampled recording with GarageBand on Mac and found that (after updating to the latest firmware) the amplifier interfaced neatly with the app, instantly recognising it as an input device. Recorded sounds were hissy to say the least, but I believe that to be an issue on my end, rather than the app.
- App features 10,000 tones to choose from
- Self-record feature
- Android and iOS support
The mobile experience is what transforms the Spark hardware from standard practice amp (and Bluetooth speaker) into the all-singing, all-dancing tonal sensations that will take a stab at replicating any and every iconic guitar sound you can imagine.
So, if you want to master Slash’s iconic reverb-laced Gibson Les Paul solos you can get a pretty decent approximation of his amp and pedal set up. Or if you want the beautifully clean tones of John Frusciante of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, the Spark amp will have a solution.
The full software suite is free to anyone who has purchased the app, instantly unlocking more than 10,000 tones (including user generated) and loads of other features like Smart Jam (which adds backing to your jam session), Auto Chords (which can help you figure out the chords to songs), and the ability to play along with real world tracks from your favourite artists.
There’s a guitar tuner built in and you can connect to Spotify or Apple Music for playing along with your tunes and there’s loads of interesting video content – including tabbed songs – to explore. There’s also a self record feature, which enables you to capture video recordings of and edit your jam sessions, with the option to include backing music.
We’ve found using the Spark app on a tablet is a much nicer experience than on the smartphone where things can feel really cramped and it’s fiddly when using the smartphone.
Unfortunately, and this was the case with the original Spark App, firmware updates for the amp cannot be transferred via the app. You need to do it by connecting to a computer via USB.
Spark MINI tones
- Community created tones
I don’t have the time or the expertise to play around with endless settings on the guitar and amp, I don’t have the room or desire to buy and muck about with loads of effects pedals (distortion, delay, noise gate, etc)
In my opinion the incredible array of downloadable and customisable tones that does most of this work for you is the main reason to buy a Spark amp.
A guitar tone is the unique sound it makes and many of the world’s most renowned guitarists have their own signature sounds and it comes via an abundance of factors. The guitar manufacturer and style, the physical pickups used, the on-guitar settings are some of them. The amp is no help here.
However, the amp model, the settings on the amp, and the effects pedals used are the other factors, and that’s what the Spark app’s tones attempt to replicate.
There are 33 amp models based on classic manufacturers and a total of 43 effects. The community has used these to create thousands of unique tones you can also add your own spin to.
There are plenty of pre-sets Positive Grid has created across genres (including bass and acoustic), but the jewels are the community created tones, which enable you to search the ToneCloud for your favourite songs and find a tone someone has created aiming to replicate that sound.
They can be downloaded to the app and saved as a pre-set tone on the amp hardware itself. This is great if you find one you love, you can save it to the rhythm, lead, solo or custom setting, and it’ll be ready for you without needing to configure through the app.
If you want to expand farther, you can buy a Jimi Hendrix pack for $20. It includes 12 amps and pedals, a new auto tone feature that switches as you play along to a Hendrix song.
- Smart Jam generates backing tracks that imitate your style
- Auto Chords allows import of music to learn guitar tracks
As well as all those tones, the Spark amp also includes a number of smart features to boost your playing and practicing experience. Smart Jam, for example, will generate backing full tracks based on a few seconds of your playing style. You can select from pre-set playing profiles like ‘Sharon’ who is “an excellent player with funky grooves that can make you move.”
Auto Chords is a feature claiming to transpose the chords from any song you feed it from a connected Apple Music or Spotify account. That enables guitarists to play along with any song and is especially handy when also using the app as a Bluetooth speaker. Some examples work better than others and the limited chords interface is only useful for beginners.
Should you buy it?
If you’re looking for quick access to a universe of different guitar tones in a practice amp with good sound. The built-in battery is a great option for guitarists looking to play anywhere and it works well as a Bluetooth speaker
If you’re a more seasoned tone tinkerer your money may be better spent on a straight up practice amp with more on-amp controls. If you don’t plan to play on the move, the battery may not be necessary, so opt for the original Spark Amp, which sounds better.
The Spark MINI adds to the experience rather than subtracts. It’s the ultimate piece of minimalist guitar tech that combines brilliant amp and pedal modelling software, great sound in a tiny package, and the freedom to play away anywhere.
If your priority is sound quality and bigger sound over size and freedom, get the original Spark amp, but the little brother’s added value is hard to ignore. You might end up with both.
How we test
We test every amplifier we review thoroughly over an extended period of time. We use industry standard tests to compare features properly. We’ll always tell you what we find. We never, ever, accept money to review a product.
Find out more about how we test in our ethics policy.
Used as a practice guitar amp and compared to the original, full size Spark amp
Used to play music as our main Bluetooth speaker during testing
Downloaded hundreds of tones to test the amp’s versatility with acoustic and electric guitars
You might like…
Yes there is! Positive Grid sells a foot switch that can allow you to easily switch between pre-set channels
The MINI is best used in the home or on the go. Sound gets a little ragged at the top of the volume range and probably wouldn’t be suitable for gigging at a venue.
The Spark MINI is most suited to beginner guitarists who aren’t as familiar with creating their own sound and want to replicate iconic guitar sounds
Absolutely, you can set the amp to play your preferred tones and plug the amp into your laptop and use your favourite recording software to lay down some tracks.
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