Hey, there's a modular inside my drum machine. Images courtesy Arturia.

Hey, there’s a modular inside my drum machine. Images courtesy Arturia.

For all the wonders of the hardware drum machine, there’s nothing quite like the flexibility of the software drum machine. More than mere groove-makers, beneath the conventional and familiar drum machine paradigm lies some real potential for sample manipulation and sound design. Native Instruments won over users by demonstrating the hybrid hardware/software workflow in Maschine, and various software instruments (FXpansion, anyone?) have put pressure on hardware with the sheer range of what they can do.

But somewhere in the shadow of Maschine and Akai’s MPC Renaissance, Arturia’s Spark has been a little-known, compact, inexpensive challenger.

And that’s why Spark 2 is interesting. By tuning the way it handles loops and patterns, and unleashing a whole modular environment beneath, Arturia is building a case to set Spark apart from other players.

Spark 2 is now available, with a stellar US$129 deal for May and June (or even better, $199 with the hardware), and a raft of new tutorial videos to check out (plus the intro video below).

New in Spark 2:

Improved UI. In its first outing, Spark lacked some UI organization, particularly for mixing. Now, the UI is tabbed, there’s better editing of patterns, and a new mixer, among other improvements.

Modular drum synthesis. “Oh, wait, I’m suddenly interested in this drum machine.” Yes, you can now patch together your own drum sounds with modules for envelopes, LFOs, mixers, effects (ring modulator, frequency shifter, spring mass), and the like. This seems worthy of another story on its own.

Construct songs. Song editing has been generally enhanced, in terms of UI and capabilities. There are now 16 song segments, and the ability to trigger from hardware, so you could use Spark for backing tracks or hardware-triggered live sets.

They want you to add your loops. So, these days, oddly, there are sample-focused tools (and DAWs) that handle big loops, and drum machines that tend … not to. Arturia has added lots of support for the REX loop format so you get both in one tool, with per-pad REX file playback and the ability to work with REX slices. If you’re someone with libraries of samples, this is, of course, relevant news. And generally speaking, Spark 2 seems set up so you can work with big loops – useful even if you don’t use REX, but do want to load audio content for live sets (particularly with that new song pattern business).

The competition is still intense. But at this price, even if you just use Spark as an extra drum synth, it could be worth it. Stay tuned for a review.

And if you are a Spark user, the update is free. In fact, if you are, we’d love to hear from you. Let us know what you like, what you don’t, what music you’re making (SoundCloud us, even), and what you’re doing with Spark 2.

Spark's UI tends to a faux-hardware look, with a compact layout that seems especially suited to running on smaller screens or as a plug-in.

Spark’s UI tends to a faux-hardware look, with a compact layout that seems especially suited to running on smaller screens or as a plug-in.

Song pattern editing is finally beefed up here, making it more usable for live sets.

Song pattern editing is finally beefed up here, making it more usable for live sets.

All the Spark 2 tutorials:

http://www.arturia.com/evolution/en/products/Spark2/intro.html

And the intro promotion:

http://www.arturia.com/evolution/en/buy/spark2introductorypromotion.html

US$129 / 129€ buys you just the Spark 2 software – so, if you have some other controller you want to use, or if you just want this as a plug-in.

More likely, the US$199 / 199€ SparkLE, though, is what you want. It includes the integrated hardware for only slightly more.

  • Krzysztof Cybulski

    The modular editor is a great option, although it unfortunately seems quite basic (just enough for drum sounds, I guess)… I was hoping for 30 seconds that this could be a modern-day Nord Modular/Micromodular equivalent… oh well

    • http://pkirn.com/ Peter Kirn

      Yeah, that’s actually maybe overkill for a drum machine.

      I share your dream, though. Let’s keep that dream alive… new micromodular hardware.

    • Modular Grey

      You can totally make synth sounds in the modular environment and sequence the pitch in the sequencer. It’s obvious that it’s based on the Origin system so there is a good chance of more modules being added.

    • coKe

      Navigating in the modular page looks like a real pita
      Modules are way too big , and then arturia wonders why they need a horizontal and a vertical scrollbar …:(

  • Séamus Bradd

    This looks genuinely like something I would be really interested in, but I just do not have the space or available USB slots for another hardware/software module like this one :( Kind of wish there was some clean way of integrating it with Maschine, Livid Base, or something else similar. Same goes for all these solutions. Deep integration is nice, but it would be cool if the developers of these things got together and tried to come up with some sort of semi-standardized spec.

  • Seymour Wyatt

    It looks like Arturia is making a lot of cheap toys. BeatStep and now Spark 2 at 99 and 199 respectively: do I hear aggressive pricing? Hope this one is of better quality than the beatstep and its faulty encoders…

    • Aaron

      Only the Spark LE is 199. “Spark 2″ is the software. The software is free if you own the h/w (free upgrade). Without the h/w its 129 for the software. The regular Spark controller is still 450+. I wouldn’t call the SparkLE cheap.. its just at the right price for a controller really and all their products are _extremely_ well built. Weighted, rugged, built to last.
      I own the SparkLE (stupid name, it doesn’t mean Light Edition, it litterly is “sparkle”) because the form factor and design as a step sequencer first rather than a beat/mpc style controller is way more inline with my usage.
      Anyways, been using Spark since the SparkLE came out and I’ve been beta testing all the versions.. this is a kick ass update.

    • Aaron

      For comparison reasons – the microbrute is 250$. None of these are toys. Arturia has some sick ass pricing, everyone wonders how they are doing it and still making profit. They went from a hardware emulation company that I loathed into a hardware company with solid software that I love. Hope they keep on that trajectory!

    • Lloyd Barrett

      “Hope this one is of better quality than the beatstep and its faulty encoders…” What is faulty about the encoders? I’ve a Beatstep and it seems to be working as advertised. Spark 2 is a €69 update for owners of SparkVDM or the VCollection – good value and the Beatstep works well for live triggering.

    • Frank

      You might wanna google that – it’s a very well known fact that the encoders do not work properly and even acknowledged by Arturia.

    • Lloyd Barrett

      Oh OK. The encoders are only running in slow mode. Well that actually suits me with my Nord Modular patches which is why I haven’t noticed a problem. And yes it is acknowledged so I guess a firmware upgrade will fix.

    • Bouboule

      Firmware update available

  • sin te

    Spark user here. This version 2 is awesome and the modular engine is both hugely powerful and easy to use.

  • SomeDude

    mmm.. To the person who created the promo video : Having a guy performing with the Spark in front of empty seats doesn’t really send the right message .. “Buy our Spark and no one will come to your concerts ” :-)
    Apart from that, looks like an interesting update.

  • Aaron

    very important note: 2.0 is free to current 1.x owners.

  • DudeisWrong

    SomeDude don’t be a troll the video was awesome. :-)