Last week, Scott over at Naigon’s Electronic Creations (NEC) announced some serious changes to his popular Spark 2 and Spark Color 2 soundboards for illuminated sabers. In addition to these improvements, he also revealed a new Neopixel-style blade, called the Intelliblade. Intended to bring the NEC lineup to parity with Plecter Labs’ most recent releases, the refinements make the Spark boards far more intriguing and (if you don’t mind doing some tweaking) perhaps better values than their rivals. Let’s look at the full change log:
Spark 2 R3 New Features
- Full RGB LED support and per-font color settings (the C3 pad is now active to allow for three separate channels)
- Saber Tracks now supports blade ignition, but clash effects are not present
Spark Color 2 R3 New Features
- Saber Tracks not only supports blade ignition, but also allows for color changing during playback
Spark 2 R3 and Spark Color 2 R3 Shared Additions
- Full Neopixel support, including localized blaster deflection effects
- Alternating Clash – a more varied, realistic clash effect that was previously only available on the Igniter 2
- Linear hum and effects – allows the saber to be set to use the effect sounds in numbered order, rather than random order
- Smoother LED effects for better ignition visuals
The most notable addition to the Spark line is, unsurprisingly, Neopixel support. Plecter Labs’ newest versions of the Nano Biscotte and Prizm soundboards both work with pixel LED, which for those who aren’t familiar with the technology, allow each LED in the string/strip to be individually addressed by an on-board LED controller. The end result is that seamless, smooth scrolling effects for activation and deactivation can be achieved. Even more interesting effects, like localized blaster deflection can also be accomplished using pixel blades. While they use quite a lot more power than standard in-hilt LEDs, Neopixels and the like are the future of illuminated sabers.
The remaining changes are less significant, but a few deserve attention. Alternating Clash is a huge improvement over previous Spark clash effects. With the R2 and earlier boards, the clash effect was unremarkable as it was simply a brief flash of the secondary LED. With Alternating Clash, the effect is more lightning-like and produces more a sparking effect that is truer to what is seen in the films.
When I first saw the linear hum, I had no clue what NEC meant. After watching Scott’s video, it makes sense. Let’s say you have four distinct clash sounds, labeled clash01.wav through clash04.wav (you’ll probably have more, but this is just an example). Usually, the Spark will randomly select a clash effect from that group each time the saber impacts something. Linear hum and effects forces the board to playback those clash sounds in numerical order. This is great for scripted or choreographed duels where certain effects need to be played at specific times.
On top of the new board features, NEC has significantly reduced pricing for both the Spark 2 and the Spark Color 2. The Spark 2 is now a $68 board, as opposed to the old $79 price tag and the Spark Color 2 now sells for $100, down from $116.
NEC’s Intelliblade is nearly as exciting as the new Spark releases. The Intelliblade is essentially three Neopixel strips on a single, foldable PCB. By folding the flexible board twice longitudinally, it is possible to shape it in a triangular prism – a Toblerone box if you will. This is superior to the back-to-back dual-strip pixel blades many builders use as the extra strip helps to better distribute light on all sides of the blade. Traditional designs usually feature some shadowing on each side of the blade, parallel with the strips’ mating edge.
The only potential downside for the Intelliblade is that it is going to use a LOT of current. If you figure that each strip uses 2-3A for full-power red, green, or blue and even more juice for mixes, batteries simply aren’t going to last very long with this thing. For that reason, a chassis that supports removable batteries might be the way to go if you plan to install an Intelliblade.
Included with the Intelliblade are the following bits:
- The custom pixel string
- One small pixel for blade tip lighting
- Wrapping tape
- 1/8″ foam sheet for diffusion and internal padding
- Choice of a 1/4″, GX-12, or 1/8″ jack
- 3D-printed holders to fit the above connectors to the blade/saber
As intriguing as the custom pixel strips are, the 3D-printer connector inserts are another exciting detail. As of now, there aren’t any great, cheap options for GX-12 holders or any of the other plug types for that matter. If Scott sells these separately, I think a lot of folks who build their own pixel blades will buy them.
On the whole, this announcement marks a fantastic upgrade to NEC’s boards that should help to keep them competitive with the newest offerings from Plecter Labs. I’ll likely incorporate a Spark 2 in one of my upcoming builds and look forward to sharing my thoughts.