Review: Punch by Rob Papen

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Punch is a drum synthesizer from Rob Papen. For some, that will be enough information to warrant to putting it in their shopping cart. If you’re not in that group, you may be interested in finding out more.

by A. Arsov, Mar. 2014

To say in a Biblical manner: “Rob Papen is sound, and sound is Rob Papen.” Years ago, I had Access Virus B. That was the first time that I had heard about Rob Papen. His sounds are all over Virus B. It was a very popular synth at that time – whenever I would turn my radio on, I heard those sounds. At least fifteen songs from the U.K 40 were buffed with those recognizable Rob Papen presets. A few years after that, we’ve got Albino, then Blue, and now Punch. I have to admit that I was a bit curious about what Mr. Sound can offer us in the drum field.

In a previous issue, we said that every drum machine has his own character, that FXpansion Tremor sounds like Sly Dumber in action (if that makes any sense). So, this one is more on the Stewart Copeland side – versatile; after all it is a drum synthesizer and sampler at the same time. It has its own sequencer, which is used in a pretty innovative way. It sounds very modern, with very well-defined sounds, and many of them. Finally we have a drum machine containing a really great number of presets (drum kits) along with a big array of separate drum sounds. All those sounds and presets can be manipulated with a carefully chosen set of controllers which can all be linked to any MIDI controller. With all those qualities and additions, Punch proves to be a highly recommended addition to any modern production. Sound-wise, Punch is a very “up-to-date” drum machine, achieving a nice balance between a top-sounding workhorse collection of various basic drum elements and a more exotic, effected one.

What and Where

Punch provides a nicely designed, clear graphical interface, being big enough so that you can work comfortably without gluing yourself to the monitor. The interface is divided into four parts, where the smallest one – sound browser – is always visible, being centered in the upper part of the graphical interface. There you will find two drop-down menus, allowing you to search through all the kits and hits. If this is a bit uncomfortable for you, then you can press the tiny green button near the Manager menu item under the upper “browser” part, bringing a much bigger browser window to the central, main window. Nice and clear. The only problem is that after I have spent some quality time, how to leave that window? (A little hint – small green dot on a right side.)

I’m talking so much about presets simply because they are one of the best parts of the whole story. Don’t get me wrong – not that I miss anything in the controller section – but all those included samples and MIDI loops are more than inspiring, and the fact that they have such a good range of different sounds and kits is a blessing. I simply can’t imagine myself starting every song by programming drum sounds from scratch ever again. With Punch you can start producing in a minute, as all presets are named and ranked by genre, so finding the right one is just a matter of asking yourself: “What shall I do today?”

Middle Until the End

The middle part of the graphical interface is buffed out with all sorts of controllers. They are arranged under the upper menu, the one that is under the upper browser. The first menu button, the default “Easy” one, offers just a few essential controlling faders that allow you to tweak the various drum modules on-the-fly: Pitch, Decay, Q and similar “sample, filter, LFO” essentials, along with four additional Mix faders for controlling the level ratio between the four essential parts of a full loop of the internal sequencer. (More about that later.)

The next one is the Pad menu, opening a whole heaven of parameters that you can tweak. At the left is the Quick Edit control panel with just four knobs for the main parameters of the chosen pad, while all the other space is occupied with a bunch of other controllers. All parameters and controllers are set for the selected pad in the pad section that is at the bottom part of the graphical interface, below the central window.

Before you go mad with all that tweaking, it is recommended to choose the “model” first. Actually this is a basic sound that will be the base for your editing. You can find it in a small window below the rank of controllers (actually it is a drop-down menu with an array of sub-menus). There is a bunch of various drum sounds, so even at this raw stage – before starting any further tweaking – you get a great number of variations for all the basic elements of a kit. After choosing a base sound, you can go mad tweaking and tuning, changing some parameters in the amp section, selecting the velocity, or changing anything in the very well-represented filter section. There are two basic models of controllers: 1) Default or “user” model and 2) “Tom model” for shaping Toms. In the middle part of the window we have a small “choke” section where we can select which sound will cut the other (usually a combination of open and closed hat), along with adding distortion and shaping volume and velocity.

At the right corner is the effects section, where you can add up to four different effects. The effects section shares one similarity with the preset section: There are too many effects to name them all. Maybe I just should stress the excellent reverb, containing the same model of reverb that is present in Rob Papen’s other synthesizers. The truth is that even most of the DAWs don’t have such a big array of effects included: Mono Delay, Stereo Delay, widener and so on and on.

Next is the Mixer menu, offering volume and pan knobs for every pad, ditto for all four effects. Nothing fancy really, but very useful for taming the balance between all drums in the selected preset.

The Mod / Fx menu is also filled with solid numbers of modulation options, very similar to what can be seen on many virtual synthesizers, so all sounds can be linked / modulated with a standard set of parameters and – as an additional bonus – can even be linked to one of the MIDI CC controllers.

The last one is the Manager window, the browser that we have talked about at the beginning of this article.

Further Up the Road

The bottom part is divided into the pad section on the left and the sequencer window on the right. Those parts are visible all the time (except in a Manager submenu – as this one covers the whole window).

The first two columns, containing sixteen pads, are occupied with synthesized drums that can be triggered with the keyboard, starting from C1. The third column, with an additional eight pads, is for sampled drums. Punch comes with a nice number of pre-installed samples, but you can also add your own sounds.

To the right of this three-column set of pads is another vertical column of eight pads that are a bit wider, belonging to the sequencer to the very right of this column. Every preset contains a set of eight preprogrammed drum patterns made specially for this internal sequencer. The eight patterns are Groove1 through Groove4 and Break1 through Break4, the latter containing breaks and some variations. Each of these eight patterns are divided out into four tracks, T1 through T4. For any particular groove or break, the first track is usually a kick pattern, the second a snare, the third a hi-hat and the fourth is for percussion. By holding down one or more keys on a MIDI keyboard, you can trigger one or more of the grooves and breaks to be played at the same time, providing many different full loops which use the same preset.

All the sequencer patterns are also available in a MIDI clip form that you can get from your registered profile on the Rob Papen site, and you are free to use them in your sequencer. The reason why you simply can’t drag them directly into the sequencer is the fact that Punch’s internal sequencer offers some unique options that cannot be emulated in a DAW’s MIDI editor. Every note in this step sequencer can be pitched and panned, and you can also set envelope speed, flam, velocity and disable the exact time.

Some of those functions are unique, but I would like to see a drag-and-drop option anyway, even if the exported file wouldn’t be exactly the same as the one in the sequencer. Anyway, the truth should be told that there are also some additional options that can make every desired part that is edited in those sequencer windows pretty unique: Flam, humanize, swing, or even changing the speed by multiplying or dividing it by the host BPM.

This Is the End

All in all, Rob Papen Punch is almost a must-have tool if you are doing any sort of modern production. There are plenty of good points (presets) for starting to build your tracks for almost every contemporary genre, even for cinematic music. A great set of modern sounds and samples, made by sound gurus, along with wide array of included controllers, make this one a life-saver in many production situations.

The sequencer is a bit different from the ones that you are used to, but the included patterns will make you forget that you can’t add more than one sound at a time on the pads connected to the sequencer. So, enjoy Punch. And how does it sound? Punchy!

For 147 EUR ($179 USD) you get a drum machine that could cover all your contemporary drum needs. Not bad at all.  

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