We know an iPad can augment a music setup. But the question for many is, can it replace a computer?
Arturia’s iSpark isn’t shy about what it accomplishes. It really looks a whole lot like the company’s drum machine on desktop, only remade for iPad. And it even works with the dedicated SparkLE controller – meaning you now can go pad controller + iPad as you could controller + computer. It also comes with Ableton Link, for easy syncing and jamming with other apps, other iPads/iPhones, and Ableton Live (in any combination).
It also ticks a lot of other “serious” user boxes. You can drop in your own audio samples (AIFF/WAV). You can connect to other apps (Audiobus, IAA – hello, Elastic Drums and whatnot).
You can also exchange kits between the desktop and mobile versions, making this an effective satellite for the laptop version if you want to finish things there (in the studio, for instance).
iSpark isn’t exactly first in this territory. Native Instruments’ iMaschine was the first mobile version of a big desktop drum machine, and it also allows you to import samples and kits created on mobile. But iMaschine doesn’t do Ableton Link yet, and you can’t use NI’s drum machine hardware with the app.
Akai’s iMPC Pro is closer – enough so that I had to compare the feature specs for each just to remember if iSpark is doing anything iMPC Pro isn’t. Even the X/Y automation is something that’s in iMPC Pro. (Whether that’s ripping off Akai or not is up to you, though many developers have used this fairly natural feature of touch screens. Thank KORG and KAOSS Pads on some level, too.)
Akai even works with an MPC Element controller, a slim pad grid designed to fit the form factor of the iPad. So, when Arturia says “iSpark is the first iPad drum machine to benefit from a totally dedicated controller,” I guess… that depends on what “totally dedicated” and “benefit” mean. The advantage of the Element is that it fits alongside your iPad more easily. But the SparkLE has more controls and functionality, so it could be worth the extra space.
What ultimately makes this most interesting really is that Arturia has coupled their hardware and app so closely. The app looks like the SparkLE controller. Add the SparkLE controller, and you get physical pads. Take that same controller and plug it into your computer, and the workflow continues.
It’s simple, but it could be effective. And frankly, it’s what I wish for from Native Instruments, too – because it might also answer the marketing problem of the iMaschine app cannibalizing sales of the more lucrative desktop hardware/software combo.
The best way to see what iSpark is about, and whether it’s for you, is to watch the copious tutorial videos Arturia recently published. Since iMPC Pro and Intua Beatmaker cover some similar territory on the iPad, your choice probably comes down to how you feel about the interface and workflow decisions
iSpark Details [Arturia]