Modeling amps have effectively given the average musician the opportunity to own literally thousands of different (virtual) pedals and amplifiers, for the price of one solid state practice amp. Boss have cemented their reputation as one of the top manufacturers of modeling amps with their Katana line, but competitors pop up frequently to take their shots at the top spot – including competitors like Positive Grid.
In this KillerGuitarRigs review, we’ll be comparing the Boss Katana to the Positive Grid Spark. We’ll learn about the features and functions, and which of the two is most worthy of your consideration.
Models & Prices
The most apparent difference between the Boss Katana and the Positive Grid Spark is the difference in model variety. Boss offers a much more complete range, while Positive Grid offers the same amp in 2 colors.
As briefly mentioned above, the entry point to the Boss Katana range is the Katana Mini, a 7 watt, portable micro amp that usually retails around $100.
Also available in the Katana line up is the ever popular Katana 50 MKII (full review here), a 50 watt combo that can normally be purchased for around $260. There is also the Katana 100 in 1×12” (around $380) or 2×12” (around $500).
At the top of the Boss Katana range is the Artist Series MKII 100 watt combo, which is typically available from around $600.
The Positive Grid Spark range is a lot more straight forward. There are two versions of what is essentially the same model available. The standard Spark, which has an MSRP of $299, but is frequently on sale for closer to $270, and the Spark Pearl, with limited edition white Tolex can be found for around $290.
The Boss Katana and the Positive Grid Spark are both quality modeling amps, and as such have some similar features. There are, however, some pretty major differences between the two – keep reading as we learn what separates these amps and how those features benefit the user.
The Katana has a good variety of amplifier voicings (5 presets total), including clean, crunch, lead, acoustic, and brown. The Brown voicing is based upon the Boss Waza amp, but the others are all generic models. Despite the fact that they’re generic, the tones they produce are really quite exceptional. We found them to be punchy and clear, with an exceptional mid range. The crunch and brown voicings gave us some great high gain growl, and the clean setting gave us bell like clarity.
The Positive Grid Spark offers a good collection of classic and modern amp models with 30 built in to the system out of the box. The amps are mostly inspired by famous models from most of the big name brands, including Fender, Marshall, and Orange. We really loved the clean tones from the ‘Plexiglas’ model, and for high gain sounds, we thought that the Treadplate was the best model.
Both the Katana and the Spark can load additional amp models, and both options have a healthy community of enthusiasts creating new models, so while the pre loaded options are limited, there are tens of thousands of other voicings to download.
The Katana may have significantly fewer built in amp voicings, but the selection of on board FX beats the Positive Grid Spark handily. The Katana 50 comes pre loaded with 60 digital recreations of Boss’ most famous pedals. One of the few weak points of this amp is that in order to properly manipulate the FX, you have to make changes in the Boss Tone Studio software. Tone Studio is a great app that actually lets you make signal chains similar to using a pedal board, but it’s not something you can adjust on the fly.
The Spark gets 40 pre loaded effects, which just like the amps, are inspired by some of the world’s best known and loved pedals, including compressors, overdrive pedals, modulation effects, and some reverb options. Like the Katana, the Spark allows for the creation of signal chains, which can be saved to any of the four banks.
In all, the FX on the Boss were in our opinion superior. The Spark’s effects were fine, but were vaguely reminiscent of a ’90s Zoom multi FX processor – not bad, just lacking any real character. Again, for both amps, there are thousands of other FX that can be downloaded, but our experience out of the box has the Katana as the clear winner.
The Boss Katana 50 MKII is a very traditional looking combo amplifier. It’s equipped with a single 12” Katana branded speaker. Despite only being paired to a 50 watt amp, this speaker can really move some air, and is more than sufficient for everything from bedroom practice, to small and maybe even medium sized gigs. The speaker is very well made, and even at high gain levels, it never gets “quacky”. Tones are consistently tight no matter which voicings you use, or which FX are loaded.
The Positive Grid Spark is a very different animal. As can be seen by looking at it, it clearly can’t house a 12” speaker, and nor can it fit an 8” speaker. In fact, the Spark is fitted with 2 4” speakers and a bass reflex cabinet. It’s built much more like a speaker than a guitar amp, and truthfully, that’s how we found the sound to be. It was very bass heavy, similar in fact to a Bose stereo speaker. The use cases for the Spark, despite the fact that it has 40 watts of power, are really limited to bedroom or garage practice. It begins to break up in an unpleasant way at high volume, but to its credit, it was never really designed for gigging.
The Katana plays very much like a standard Solid State amp. The modeling features are mostly controlled through the Tone Studio software before you play, and loaded into the amp to enjoy without the computer running. The control layout is good, however, and although it doesn’t have any bells and whistles like LED screens, it’s still easy enough to navigate. Having the available foot controller (sold separately) does make the Katana even easier to use.
The Spark might just be the ultimate modeling amp for beginners. It’s great for players of all levels, but the built in backing tracks, chord recognition and riff training are incredible features. The amp pairs to the spark app, letting you interact in ways that no other amp can. The app really is the Spark’s party piece, though, but without it, there’s nothing particularly special about it besides the compact desktop size.
Final Thoughts on the Boss Katana vs. the Positive Grid Spark
Once again, the Boss Katana proves that simple features done well will fend off competition from alternatives. The Spark is a great little amp, but the small speakers and uninspired FX result in a real lack of versatility. The Spark app is truly a breakthrough, but it shows up the amp for what it is, a one trick pony. If you’re choosing between these two, we’d recommend the Boss Katana every time.