Spark XL is a stereo-sound file editor that lets you transfer audio files to and from popular samplers, and prepare audio files for burning to CD. It features an attractive user-interface with a Browser View containing the list of files you have opened into the project – a Playlist showing the order of the files selected for playback, and a waveform editor and overview.
A second window, the Master view, contains the Master faders and the FXmachine – which lets you route up to four parallel-audio streams, each through a chain of up to five Spark or VST plug-ins. Spark’s FXmachine can also be used as a plug-in itself, not only within Spark, but even within Logic Audio, Cubase VST or Digital Performer.
Spark XL has a couple of its own plug-ins to provide de-clicking and de-noising – ideal for cleaning up old vinyl or cassette recordings – and also comes with several VST plug-ins. These are really of the cheap-and-cheerful variety, so serious users will want to buy better-quality plug-ins from Steinberg and others. A Batch Processing feature is also provided – allowing you to convert batches of files to other formats, while simultaneously performing additional audio processing, or applying VST plug-in processing.
The good news is that Spark XL now features a second Master window which allows the use of Pro Tools TDM plug-ins as well. The bad news is that you’ll need plenty of DSP (Digital Signal Processor) power to run more than a couple of TDM plug-ins – so you’ll probably need to buy an extra MIX card, at great expense, for best results. Also, Spark XL crashed frequently on my G4/500 dual-processor – especially when I tried inserting more than a couple of TDM plug-ins – even with the TDM metering disabled to conserve DSP usage.
Adding to the buggy feel, is that a worrying message often appeared saying that the “Sampling frequency has changed”, even though I hadn’t.
One of the neatest things I was able to use Spark XL for was to import sampled drum kits from my Akai CD-ROMs as AIFF files to use in Pro Tools and Cubase VST. Normally, the Mac ejects Akai discs, but Spark will read these discs while its Import window is open. Spark XL also lets you open more than one TDM plug-in window at a time, which I found very useful when adjusting the compression settings, for example.
The review package came with additional software: including Mercury-1, a useful monophonic synthesizer; and Spark Modular, a modular analogue-synthesizer simulation – both of which worked well in Spark XL and Cubase VST. One problem I ran into here is that you have to download a special IODevice.DLL file from the TC|Works Web site to run Spark XL successfully with DAE 5.x. And, you need a different DLL file to work with versions 1.6 and 1.61 – which is installed by the Spark Modular CD-ROM.
Spark XL now provides fierce competition for BIAS Peak as the audio-editing software of choice to use with Pro Tools TDM systems. Overall, the package is excellent value for money and provides several unique features.