Get in! It’s time to test out another piece of Rob Papen software! Punch now joins up with my other Rob Papen Audio Units to make a team of SubBoomBass, Blue, Albino and of course Punch itself. Pretty tasty, I’m sure you will agree! I now have one piece of Rob Papen software that is perfect for creating those extreme low-rumbles in my songs (SubBoomBass), one piece of software that does… well… pretty much everything else, from bass to leads and pads to effects (Blue), a piece of software that provides a little bit more dirt (Albino) and now, finally, a Rob Papen instrument that is dedicated to drum and groove creation!
Now, it comes from the Rob Papen camp, so I’m expecting big things. If it doesn’t live up to the standards of the other Rob Papen instruments that I own, then there is going to be trouble!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – GETTING STARTED
As with all Rob Papen software that I have used, installation was straightforward. The only thing that I should mention (which does occasionally catch people out), is that if Rob Papen have recently updated the software and you want to use this updated version, the activation code that you get on your box will not work as it is only valid for the older version of the software. If this is the case, you need to visit the Rob Papen website and log into your account, which is somewhat confusingly achieved (at the time of writing) by selecting the ‘Create Account’ button! From here you can register your software with the original activation code and then request an e-mail with an activation code for the update. It’s a tiny bit fiddly but well worth it!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – INTERFACE
Everything is installed so it’s time to load up this baby into Logic and see what it can do! Now, I have already mentioned that Punch is AU compatible, but in case you are working on a different system, you will be relieved to hear that it can also function as a VST or RTAS unit.
So, although I want to get right on with listening to the sounds, the first thing that I was presented with when Punch loaded up was the interface. In fact, it loaded up with the virtual ‘back’ of the unit facing me! This had a bit of writing on it, a few credits and a few minor control switches, but I didn’t stick around here too long as all the exciting things are located on the front panel! A simple click of the screen and the interface was flipped, revealing a rather tasty looking interface, complete with a virtual metallic texture, black trimmings and some stand-out turquoise virtual screens.
At the top of the interface was the preset screen, something that I am sure to be investigating very soon! Underneath this there were a number of tabs that I could click through, labelled ‘Easy’, ‘Pads’, ‘Mixer’, ‘Mod/FX’ and ‘Manager’, and to the right of this was an FX section with four numbered tabs. Finally, at the bottom of the screen were the 24 drum pads and the sequencer. I shall investigate each aspect of the interface in due course and let you know all the nitty gritty details as and when I discover them!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – PRESETS
Yep, it’s the place that everyone heads once they have their hands on a brand new synthesiser – the presets! So what does this thing sound like?
The good news is that Punch sounds excellent! Most presets are made up of a number of individually triggerable pads and a collection of 4 Grooves and 4 Breaks, which contain pre-programmed patterns. One thing that always impresses me about Rob Papen is how up to date with modern music their presets are. I still find that many of todays new synths are stuck in the olden days, including bank after bank of 80’s sounds, 90’s rave stabs and house pianos. Now, that’s all well and good… I do want those sounds, but this is 2011 and music has come a long way since then. It was therefore refreshing to see plenty of Dubstep, Drum and Bass, Gabba, Hardstyle, Hardcore, etc. presets included in here, along with your standard Hip Hop/RnB and House grooves. There was even a selection of Bollywood style drums as well as some awesome Techno presets, one of which was named after (and sounded like) something that would have been used by superstar progressive dance act, Underworld – I liked this one a lot! I think that this range of presets really says something about Punch as a product (and Rob Papen as a company). It says that they are up to date, ready to compete in the modern market and that Punch is versatile enough to make any type of percussive sound that you dream of.
Now, my favourite presets on the Punch were actually from the Film Effects bank. Why? Because they were just so different! I’m currently really into my experimental minimal Techno/Jungle/Acid House music (I’ve been listening to an album called ‘Black Secret Technology’ by Acid House/Jungle pioneer, A Guy Called Gerald, a lot recently – click here to view it on iTunes: Black Secret Technology - A Guy Called Gerald, I can highly recommend it!) and some of the supposed film sounds reminded me of the atmospherics created by albums such as this. For me, these presets in particular were a taste of the unexpected and were highly inspiring.
In terms of the other presets, I thought that they were generally very good. As with any instrument, there were some that I loved and found completely inspiring, some that I liked and would definitely use for templates to build a track around, etc. and others that I would steer well clear of! However, you are never going to find an instrument/synth where all the presets please everyone, so I’m sure that some of the presets I wasn’t so keen on will rock other people’s worlds!
Before I move on from the presets, I just wanted to mention the included Dubstep and Drum and Bass grooves, as these are types of music that I know well. So, let’s start with the Dubstep presets. I felt that these were good, without being inspirational (bar 2 or 3). They all had that classic reverbed, splashy snare and had a modern feel to them, so they will certainly appeal to the more commercial market. However, despite not being blown away (as there was nothing really that I hadn’t heard before), I found that the preset grooves were perfect for use as a template for building songs around. If I had the general idea for a bass-centred Dubstep song in my head, I could simply load up one of these generic loops on Punch and all of a sudden I was fitting in the missing parts of the puzzle very quickly. Once the song had taken more form, I could then go in and customise the drum loop to my taste, adjusting drum sounds, adding extra twiddly bits and removing anything from the original loop that I didn’t think sounded quite right in my song. I must stress that Punch made this all very simple – more on the exact details of how this was achieved shortly.
And the Drum and Bass presets? I was initially really disappointed with these. I thought that they had really nice, natural sounding grooves, but they were way too slow, making them sound more suitable for Hip Hop. However, my disappointment was soon turned to joy when I realised that the tempo of Punch was actually synced to the tempo of my host (120 BPM) and so I cranked it up to 175 BPM and suddenly the DnB vibes started hammering out of the Punch! For generic Drum and Bass loops, these were some of the best that I have heard; lovely punchy kicks with suitably bright, yet tight snares. Again, I would happily use these loops as templates to help kick-start a song, or alternatively I could use these loops pretty much as they come and layer them with other samples to customise them.
I also had lots of fun creating little live performances by triggering various preset Groove and Break patterns at strategic points to add variation to an overall pattern – again, I will go into this in more detail in a bit as well!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – DRUM SYNTHESIS
The virtual pads on the Punch can be assigned to a particular drum sound and can be triggered either by using your mouse to click them on-screen, or by using an attached MIDI controller. I tended to use the latter, although when triggering the sounds from my keyboard, I did find it a little confusing that the pads did not trigger in the order that they were displayed on screen. I guess it makes sense when you think about it though, as Punch has pad spaces for 2 bass drums, 2 snares, 4 hi-hats (2 closed, 2 open), 2 claps, 3 toms, 3 user choices and 8 samples. Similar pads are grouped together on screen, but I guess when you are triggering notes from a keyboard, you probably don’t want both your bass drums clumped together, etc. Luckily you can change this though. If you want all the pads to be triggerable in the order that they are displayed on-screen (which is probably more useful for creating a step sequence, etc.), you can switch to the back of the Rob Papen Punch again (click the logo) and change the GM Map to ‘Standard’.
Now, each pad sound in Rob Papen Punch is configurable and the controls that you get to sculpt each sound are dependent on the sound itself. For example, the synthesis controls that you get to alter a bass drum sound are fairly limited (model, oscillator, curve, oscillator frequency controls and oscillator amp controls) as you shouldn’t need more than that to make your perfect kick sound. By the way, messing around with the pitch curve on a bass drum was very fun and can yield some excellent results – try starting with a higher pitch and quickly sweeping it down for some real snap! However, compare this with the controls that Punch gives you to modify a snare sound (same as the bass drum controls with extended amp envelope controls, a noise generator with AD envelope and a noise filter with envelope) and you will appreciate the variations needed in the parameters between drum modules. Essentially, Punch picks out the important controls for every given purpose and presents you with an appropriate interface that will help both speed up and improve your drum synthesis results.
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – DRUM SAMPLES
Punch is not just an awesome drum synth, it’s also a sample player. You can either use the built-in sample module to play the included Punch samples, or you can use the main sample module, which allows you to load in any samples of your choice!
Punch then gives you a plethora of controls to refine your samples until you have them sounding exactly as you want them. You can, for example, adjust the start and end points of the sample, change the loop points, you can reverse the sample, adjust the pitch/tuning, add a filter, modulate it with an LFO, control the amplitude envelope and more!
As Rob Papen Punch equips you with both drum synthesis and sample playing/manipulation tools, you really should be able to create any percussive sound that you want. I guess you could even load non-percussive sounds into the sample player and create melodies in the sequencer as well! This really is a complete drum and groove production package.
So far I have nothing but praise for this piece of software, although there are some things that I think its competitors do better. In the past I have always used Native Instruments’ Battery, which is a complex, yet thorough drum sample player. I have to say that Punch is far easier to get up and running with, even with samples, but I do prefer the visual representation of the sample that Battery gives you and I also really like how it displays a semi-transparent image of the amplitude envelope over the waveform. I also like how Battery allows you to apply a number of different playing style characteristics to a drum sound (e.g. flam, buzz, mute, roll, etc.) – a much more extensive list of options compared to Punch. That said, I found that Rob Papen Punch was more fun to play with as it just allowed me to get on with creating sounds and loops due to its simplicity! Plus, it features a number of drum synth modules and a sequencer – something which Battery does not… and I also found the effects in Punch a lot easier to work with as well as loving the vast range of distortion algorithms that it gave you. Oh yeah, and the fact that it provides loads of high-quality, pre-programmed grooves was excellent for gaining inspiration. Because they both have strengths in different areas, it’s hard to say which I think is ‘better’. I’m just glad that I have both!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – QUICK EDIT
As well as the various modules mentioned so far, there is an ever-present ‘Quick Edit’ pane available to the left of the Punch interface. This gives you quick access to four common parameters; ‘Attack’, ‘Frequency End’, ‘Frequency Decay’ and ‘Amplitude Decay’, which is really useful for making… well… quick edits to a sound!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – DISTORTION AND EFFECTS
As well as the individual parameters that are available for each type of sound, Rob Papen Punch also lets you add distortion and effects to individual drums. Both of these tasks were achieved very easily, by selecting a pad, selecting a distortion or effect from a dedicated drop down menu and then cranking up a dial until the distortion or effect sat at the desired level.
Firstly, I have to say that the distortion algorithms were plentiful and of an excellent quality. They could be used in subtle amounts to change the feel of a drum, or they could be pushed to extreme settings to warp a sound into a monstrous ball of percussive mayhem! If you listen to any of the Gabba/Hardstyle-type presets, you will hear numerous distortion algorithms in full effect. A particular favourite of mine was the ‘Square’ algorithm. There wasn’t a kick drum I could find that this type of distortion didn’t sound insane on!
As for the effects, I also thought that these sounded brilliant. Punch gave me a selection of delays, reverbs, filters, chorus’, a flanger, a phaser, wah, more distortions, an amp simulator, a stereo widener, autopan, a gate, a ringmodulator, EQ, compression, ensemble and more! Plus, you get 4 effect slots to work with! All the effects that I have tested so far were very good and I found it refreshing to find a piece of percussive software that seems to have it all there in the box… there really is no need to use any additional plug-ins and effects to get that perfect drum sound.
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – SEQUENCER
As I’ve just said, this really is an all-in-one drum solution and the inclusion of a sequencer just helps back this statement up. Not only can you synthesise drums and sculpt samples, but you can also use Punch’s sequencer to create your own drum patterns…. And best of all, it’s really easy to do!
To the left of the sequencer you have 8 vertically stacked buttons, labelled ‘Groove’ 1-4 and ‘Break’ 1-4. Each of these buttons represent a pattern and each pattern can be triggered independently (via MIDI if you wish). You could therefore build up the main drum pattern in one slot, the intro drums in another, the break down drums in another and then add a few variations in the other slots to keep things interesting. You can then draw in MIDI events in your sequencer to trigger when each pattern will play and how long it will play for, allowing you to build up the drums for a whole song in manageable building blocks.
Next to these buttons is the sequencer screen. This shows information for the currently selected pattern and the currently selected drum pad. It is then a simple process to program in your own grooves. You can click in the ‘On’ row of the sequencer to add or remove a drum hit and then use the other rows to adjust its tuning, velocity, stereo pan position, envelope speed, timing offset, and you can also specify whether the hit will be affected by the lower ‘Flam Amount’ control. Drum programming really doesn’t get much easier than this. If you struggle with creating drum patterns, Punch gives you everything you need on one screen and so groove creation is extremely fast and efficient. You even get swing and humanise controls to adjust the feel of a drum pattern and to make it sound more natural! I will warn you though, that when the ‘Humanise’ dial is cranked up to a high value, the results that you get will probably not be too pleasing. When I tried it, the timing between pattern repetitions was so different that it just made Punch sound like it was broken! I’m not sure why anyone would want to humanise things so much so that it makes the pattern sound like someone playing drums with no sense of timing, but hey, whatever floats your boat!
There are plenty of other things that you can do within the sequencer as well, such as view drum hits across multiple tracks (for groove comparison purposes) and save and load patterns, but if you want to experiment further, I would suggest getting Punch for yourself!
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – EASY MODE, MIXER, MODULATION, ETC.
Right, I’m going to try and wrap up fairly quickly now. As with all products that I review, there is no way near enough time to fit in information about every single control and feature of Punch, but hopefully I’ve set the scene and you can discover the rest for yourself if you decide that Punch will make a worthy addition to your virtual studio, as it has done to mine.
So, for a final bit of info, I’m going to quickly whizz through what each of the main screens does. Firstly, Punch gives you the ‘Easy’ screen. This features a tab with a pleasing interface, full of vertical sliders. These controls, which include Pitch, Decay, Filter, LFO and FX sliders can be used to quickly manipulate all drum modules at once, apart from those with ‘easy bypass’ turned on.
This tab is followed by the ‘Pads’ view, which is where I spent most of my time. This screen displays all the synth/sample controls that are related to the currently selected drum pad.
Then comes the ‘Mixer’ tab. In this view you can easily adjust the volumes and panning positions of all pads and you can also turn the FX bypasses ‘on’ and ‘off’.
Next, we come to the ‘Modulation Controls’ page, where you can access 2 envelopes, 2 LFOs and an 8-slot modulation matrix and assign them to specific Punch parameters in order to create a more complex, or more natural drum sound. For example, use an LFO to control the pitch of a sample over time, or assign a specific parameter to your controller keyboards’ modulation wheel, etc. The possibilities are so great here, you really can be as subtle or as crazy as you want. This screen also displays FX controls, allowing you to load your choice of FX into the four slots, adjust the path routing and adjust the mix, plus more!
The final tab is the ‘Manager screen’, which allows you to view and alter all patterns, presets and banks at the same time. You can do things such as create new pattern folders, save patterns, copy patterns, rename presets, move presets, etc, etc.
ROB PAPEN PUNCH – SUMMARY
What a joy to work with! I absolutely love this product and would even go as far as to say that this is my favourite Rob Papen product to date! Why? Because it’s just so different from anything else that I currently have in my plug-in arsenal! Yes, all the Rob Papen synths sound great, but I have other similar(ish) synths that I use equally as much. However, I don’t have anything quite like Punch; a drum synth, sample player, effects unit and sequencer all in one! I usually find creating drum patterns is the most difficult, fiddly part of song creation and to have a plug-in that just has everything that I need on one screen is amazing! When I need to create a drum pattern quickly, Punch is what I’m going to use. When I need a quick loop for inspiration, I will also be making frequent use of Punches presets. This program can only help improve my beat creation by making everything so simple and for that I am extremely grateful.
If you are in a similar situation to me and want a dedicated all-in-one drum software instrument that is versatile enough to cover all genres of music, from electronic to rock, then look no further than this little gem. It’s also very reasonably priced and worth every penny! I also made a quick video of it (below) so you can get a little flavour of it for yourself. If you have any more questions about it then feel free to comment and ask!
For more information on Rob Papen Punch or to buy it for yourself, click the lin below: