Price paid: $ 79
Ease of Use — 9
Spark Mini Booster - a compact, more straightforward, slightly less powerful cousin of TC Electronic's Spark Booster - is incredibly easy to operate. A single, sturdy volume knob can be set for everything from a minimal boost all the way to a respectable 20dB boost. A single footswitch turns on the Spark Mini Booster and is indicated by a bright white LED light. The coolest aspect of using the Spark is PrimeTime, a feature that automatically detects whether you want latch switching in classic stompbox fashion, or momentary switching that lasts only as long as you hold down the footswitch. This latter mode is handy for boosting short passages, which is especially nice when singing - there is no need to keep an eye on the status light. And for passages when I wanted to boost in and out multiple times, PrimeTime's auto-engage sense was a godsend. It accurately "knew" when I wanted it to latch, or toggle momentarily. Wow!
Sound — 10
The Spark Mini delivered a delightfully transparent boost. It did not add the kind of widening found in some boosts and most overdrives, although the harder I pushed it through a tube amp, the more there was a slight low-end thickening and a welcome high-mid zing. Setting the Level knob at 9 or 10 o'clock was enough for the Spark Mini to lift a solo to the front of a band mix when I used a Fender Stratocaster coupled with a relatively clean sound on an amp with lots of headroom, such as a Fender Pro Reverb. Twelve o'clock was good for crunchier tones, and so on up the scale. The Spark's full 20dB boost turned a saturated amp tone into a scorcher. I also auditioned the Spark Mini Booster in conjunction with other gain pedals. Placing the Spark after a Blackstone Appliances Mosfet Overdrive added punch without sounding overwrought. Placing the Spark Mini before the Blackstone pushed its creamy overdrive into Jack White-approved snarling distortion. With a Godin Montreal Premiere or a Gibson ES-339 (both are semi-hollowbody guitars with dual humbuckers) and a Fender Super Champ, the Mini Booster pushed the little Champ into sparkling gain tones, making any additional overdrive pedal practically unnecessary. The Spark is a true bypass pedal; meaning when it's off it's completely out of the signal chain.
Reliability & Durability — 10
I used the Spark Mini for two months and had zero reliability or durability issues, even in some rather extreme circumstances. I brought it to the High Sierra Festival and used it in the camping area where temperatures reached over 100 degrees and heavy winds kicked sand all around. I took it to the Lake Tahoe area for the Guitarfish Music Festival where the altitude was nearly 8,000 feet. I toted it all around the San Francisco Bay area for gigs with the Police tribute band, Stung. The Spark Mini survived tons of tossing around and getting kicked on and off under full-force, high-energy rock and roll circumstances.
Overall Impression — 10
Boosters are typically as small and straightforward as pedals come, but the Spark Mini is especially compact. TC Electronic effectively crammed a quality booster into a sturdy metal box about the size of a salt shaker. It's about a third the size of a standard Boss pedal or two-thirds the size of the Lizard Leg Effects Flying Dragon booster I already had on my pedalboard (they sounded sweet together too). The Spark Mini Booster was obviously not big enough to house a 9-volt battery, especially considering the small chassis is packed with discrete analog circuitry. That would make it super convenient, but I didn't mind too much since I already had a 9V string going for my other pedals. Players searching for an affordable booster with a serious Napoleon complex need to audition the powerful little Spark Mini Booster. In fact, practically any player could surely find a use for such a utilitarian unit regardless of rig or pedalboard circumstances. Players who already own gain boosters might want to consider the Spark Mini for use in combination or as an affordable, incredibly portable backup.