Test Drive: Spark from TC Works

Spark-Logoby Steve Cunningham

Multitrack DAW software keeps getting, well, bigger. Sixteen tracks! Sixty-four tracks! Two-hundred-eighty-two-and-a-half tracks! This is all well and good, but most of us spend our time working with good old two-track products. As a Macintosh computer user, I think it’s high time that somebody gave me a competent two-track product that takes advantage of the latest technologies. Evidently the folks at TC Works agree as they have developed Spark, a digital audio editor for the Mac OS.

Spark is a two-track application for digital audio recording, editing, processing, and mastering. It features a very simple interface, yet it’s able to take advantage of the latest plug-ins, and will handle sampling rates up to 96kHz and resolution up to 24 bits. Yes folks, it does that 24/96 thing that all the workstation companies are touting this year.

Although Spark is their first stand-alone application, TC Works GmbH is no newcomer to the digital audio arena. They have several other software products in their stable, including Plug-Ins for Digidesign Pro Tools, Windows DirectX and VST for the PC, and VST for the Mac. The point is that these folks know their Digital Signal Processing algorithms quite well, and it shows in Spark.

PLAYING WELL WITH OTHERS

Spark supports Steinberg’s ASIO and Digidesign’s Direct I/O sound card drivers. This means you can use a number of audio cards with Spark, including cards from Sonorus, Korg, Lexicon, MOTU, and others. You can also use the Mac’s own Sound Manager and its built-in audio I/O, so you can actually run Spark without any card at all! However, the audio converters in the Mac are not first-rate, and you’ll always get better results with a dedicated sound card. I tested Spark with a Korg 1212 I/O card and, using the card’s ADAT interface, routed audio to and from a Yamaha 02R console.

Spark also supports VST plug-ins, which is a significant advantage. VST has become one of the standard formats for plug-ins, and at this writing there are over a dozen applications for both Macs and PCs that support VST. Chances are you can find a VST plug-in to emulate any piece of outboard gear you can name. You can also find VST plug-ins that do things to audio that perhaps shouldn’t be done, but that’s another story.

The product comes with eleven plug-ins. Since they’re VST plug-ins, you can use them with any other VST-compliant software package. Likewise, other VST plug-ins can be used directly within Spark.

The included plug-ins are: TC Native CL, a full featured compressor/limiter; Expander, which attenuates sounds below an adjustable threshold; Reverb; Delay, which works in stereo; CutFilter, which features two filters that can be either high-cut or low-cut; BandPass, another filter; OneBandEQ, which is fully parametric; 3 Band EQ, also fully parametric; ResFilter, a resonant filter that can be low-pass or high-pass; FuzzSat, a distortion generator; and Grainalizer, a wacky effect which can only be described as a very strange downsampler/ring modulator com-bination that you’ll just have to hear for yourself. As a bonus, TC Works includes a copy of Adaptec Toast software for burning audio CDs.

You can specify up to four different folders for plug-ins in Spark’s Preferences, so if you have another VST program with its own plug-in folder, you don’t have to move the plugs to Spark’s folder in order to use them. Just tell Spark where to look for plug-ins, and it finds them all on startup.

Spark also supports several models of samplers from Akai, Emu, Kurzweil, Roland, and Yamaha, so you can exchange sounds between Spark and your sampler via either MIDI or SCSI.

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