Two new mini products have emerged from the Arturia stable. Can they punch above their weight? Liam O’Mullane finds out.
Price MiniLab £99. SparkLE £229
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Although it’s hard to tell from the pictures, both SparkLE and MiniLab are incredibly small and compact. The build quality is what we expect from Arturia – they feel good to use and are robust enough to be eminently portable.
MiniLab is a dedicated compact keyboard and virtual analogue synth package, while SparkLE is a sample/modelling-based drum machine with dedicated hardware control. The rotary encoders on MiniLab don’t feel quite as sturdy as those on the SparkLE, but this isn’t a surprise when you take into account the difference in price. MiniLab is also quite a bit lighter due to its plastic construction; SparkLE is a mix of metal and plastic, which gives it more weight and makes it feel like a more serious piece of hardware.
What You Get
The software for both products isn’t tied to the hardware, so you can work with or without it depending on where you are. MiniLab has touch-based pitch and modulation strips, eight velocity-sensitive drum pads and 16 endless rotary encoders. An overlay card is included, making it easy to navigate the bundled Analog Lab instrument package. SparkLE has square velocity-sensitive pads, three parameter encoders for tweaking, plus various other controls to program and modify drum sounds.
The SparkLE software can run as a standalone or virtual instrument within your choice of DAW. You can program drums, tweak them, record in live takes and make use of the X/Y pad without needing to look at the computer screen, but a higher level of control is available through the added features of the software interface.
The X/Y pad is great for corrective or expressive work. For instance, clicking pan and level per drum sound is a simple way to balance your mix as you go. For some reason the auxiliary effects for reverb and delay are pre-fader, so you also have to re-balance your sends when changing their volume levels. Aux levels can also be set from the X/Y pad, but it’s a bit of a faff.
A filter is available on both the master output and each drum sound – great when used creatively to record or keep as a live performance element. The Slicer effect is another excellent tool, letting you stutter the master output and control the repeat rate as you move your finger around the pad.
As expected, the drum sounds bundled with SparkLE are excellent, and the three parameter encoders give you access to the most important aspects of them. A Soft Clip effect can be enabled on the output, which is very useful for creating a cohesive drum sound. Various drum sounds are included and they cover plenty of acoustic and electronic styles, but many kit names can be a bit too vague to understand without loading them in, which hinders workflow slightly.
The coupling of SparkLE and MiniLab make for sonic heaven if you want strong, rich analogue-esque tones in your productions. SparkLE can provide great drum sounds for most genres and the hand-on aspect of the hardware always opens up unique ideas.
MiniLab also hits the mark in terms of quality and variety. There’s a huge range of bass, pads, leads and SFX, and a decent level of access to parameters. Unless you’re after cutting-edge digital synth tones, either of these products represents a good investment.
+ Great variety of drum sounds
+ Includes parameter automation
+ Tune mode works on either the 16 steps or eight drum pads
– Hardware-mixing hindered by choice of pre-fader auxiliaries
– SparkLE software interface is a little clunky
Strong sounds and a good degree of control without you needing to touch your computer.
+ Excellent sound quality
+ Pads function as preset snapshot or chord triggers
+ Mappable footswitch input
+ Touch-sensitive pitch and modulation sensors
– Knobs not as solid as rest of unit
A huge range of sounds with a well-rounded range of hardware controls. Very good value for money.