The Spark Mini Might Be the Perfect Guitar Practice Amp

Small, powerful, and totally cute

Key Takeaways

  • Positive Grid’s tiny coffee-table amp is battery-powered and smartphone-controlled.
  • It’s the little sibling of the original Spark.
  • The Spark Mini launches for pre-order on March 2.
Woman playing a guitar on bed while using the Spark Mini

Positive Grid

Imagine a tiny, purse-sized guitar amp that packs more features and flexibility than the fanciest amps of a few years ago. You just imagined the Spark Mini.

The Spark Mini is the follow-up to Positive Grid's Spark, a combo guitar amp, speaker, and USB audio interface for home recording rig. The mini takes advantage of marvelous modern technology that lets small speakers sound better than big speakers of the past. In terms of features, it gets almost everything right—so even professional guitarists are finding a reason to get one of these tiny powerhouses.

"I have the original Spark—it's really nice as a practice amp. Surprisingly loud as well, I've brought it along to jam with a friend (no drummer), and it was more than loud enough," guitarist and electronic musician Porkloin told Lifewire via forum post

"I'm going to probably get [the Spark Mini] because I already have a nice amp for actual performance, and the mini is much closer to what I need than the original Spark. I want something that is battery-powered, and I can just stuff away on a shelf when I'm not playing it."

Totally Amped

In the beginning, guitar amps were about making an electric guitar loud enough to hear on stage. Then guitar players discovered that cranking them to the limit made them start to distort, and they liked it. The sound of the electric guitar was exciting, dirty, and addictive, but getting those broken, gnarly tones meant volume levels that would violate your apartment lease agreement and turn your neighbors violent.

There have been many solutions to bringing distortion and override to the guitar at more ear- (and neighbor-) friendly volume levels, but the big one today is computer modeling. Even your phone can spit out a convincing replica of the most expressive vintage guitar amp, and that’s exactly how the Sparks work. 

The Spark and Spark Mini let you switch between many, many different amplifier models, and also use various virtual effect pedals to change the sound. This is all controlled through a combination of on-device knobs and a companion app. 

Bright Spark

For a guitarist, a good amp offers both tone and feel. "Tone" is the term used to mean the quality of the sound you're getting. It's pretty much indefinable, but you know when you've got good tone. And "feel" is when you think the amp is responding to all the intricacies of your touch. Again, it's hard to define but utterly essential. 

Once those are out of the way, everything else is just a bonus. 

I want something that is battery powered and I can just stuff away on a shelf when I’m not playing it.

The Spark Mini has a ten-watt, full-range speaker that can run for eight hours off its USB-charged li-ion battery—like a laptop. Its companion Spark app, for iOS and Android, offers detailed control of amp and pedal models but also lets you dial in backing tracks and can even use AI to come up with an accompaniment for what you’re playing. 

For me, the best part is the portability. If this sounds anywhere near as good as the bigger model, then the combination of size, power, and battery-powered independence is almost as easy as picking up an acoustic guitar for practice. 

Negative Grid

There's only one downside to all this, though. Take a look around the internet, and you'll see that Positive Grid has a reputation for abandoning its products surprisingly soon. Current software goes without updates while new versions are launched, for example. And with gear that's so heavily reliant on software, this could be a problem. 

"I dumped PG a while back when they said something like 'We can't fix the bugs in the current version because we focused 100% on the next version. Once that's done, we may look at the old version,'" says Audiobus forum member BigDawgsByte

Person taking the Spark Mini out of their backpack

Positive Grid

But the units themselves, and the apps (when they're still new), are top-notch. And with the full-sized Spark coming in at $299, it seems very likely that the Mini will be affordable enough for most guitar players to use for practice. 

There are lots of other options, too. Yamaha's THR-II series are excellent and widely loved. Another option is to opt for a plain battery-powered speaker like IK Multimedia's iLoud and pair it with a smartphone amp simulation app. It'll sound as good, if not better, but you'll have a lot more wires to contend with. The Spark Mini, then, ends up looking pretty great. 

"Don't expect the moon and the stars," says Porkloin, "but for the price and convenience, I think they're doing a great job. And it sure as [heck] beats what I had just starting out with my [terrible] practice amp and [an abysmal] Digitech multi-effects pedal!"

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