Review: Rob Papen Punch-BD

We dare you to play a Rob Papen synth and not be inspired! Noah Pred puts Punch-BD virtual drum synth through its paces and finds it punches above its weight in our in-depth review.  

With the abundance of marketing hyperbole floating unchecked around the internet, you'd be excused for mistaking Rob Papen's tag line of “Inspiration Soundware” as more of the same exaggerated ad copy employed by countless lesser business operations across the board—but you'd be dead wrong.

Inspiration is the name of the game for Papen's instruments, and Punch-BD is no exception. Ostensibly a single module of his award-winning Punch virtual drum synth, it can do a whole lot more; so much more in fact that writing an entire track using only an instance or two of Punch-BD is not only plausible, but possibly even inspiring.

Punch-BD's main editing area.

Punch-BD's main editing area.

Layer Cake

With a depth of options bordering on overkill for a mere bass drum solution, Punch-BD goes above and beyond what anyone might reasonably expect. If you fancy yourself a kick drum connoisseur—as do I—you might be thinking, “Who cares? I just want a big juicy bass kick.” And of course that would be completely fair, but this is the type of instrument that's liable to redefine your fundamental concept of what constitutes a big juicy bass kick to begin with.

How so? First of all, there are six bass drum layers. Stacking kick drums isn't exactly brand new, but five layers seems like just about the limit for even the stompiest kicks out there—but what does good ol' Rob Papen do? That's right, he gives us six kick layers, of course.

These can be activated one by one, and played back in a few different modes. As a Stack, they're all layered at the central note regardless of incoming MIDI note value. As a Tuned Stack, they can be played melodically—perfect for basslines—while in 6 Note mode, each layer is assigned its own discrete MIDI note for polyrhythmic programming. Finally, there are two sequence modes that play each stack layer in sequence for intriguing experimental usage.

How Low Can We Go

So why all the layers? Well, there's a number of kick drum modes selectable for each pad, so in theory they could all have completely different characteristics. These are grouped into two main modes: Drum or Sample.

Drum mode gives access to 39 virtual drum types. The first four of these feature a variety of dedicated oscillator, amp, noise, and punch parameters for incredibly convincing full-range kick drum synthesis. The remaining four classic types and 31 punch types are based on sampling drum machines with tuning, filter, amp, sample, and stereo swap controls. Each of the drum pads can be individually exempted from tuned playback and global editing.

Sample mode allows you to choose from a wide selection of included samples—or your own, once configured. In addition to sample looping, offset, and reverse options, you can combine two samples together on a single pad and edit them together or separately.

Each sample has tuning and pitch envelopes, stereo swapping, amp controls, and of course a fully featured filter with envelope. In addition to standard low, high, and band pass filters, notch, comb, and vocal filters are on offer for specialized sound design requirements. Where it gets interesting is the included samples go far beyond your elementary kick drum fare, with all sorts of excellent sounding high hats, claps, snares, cymbals, congas and other more exotic percussion available for layering or polyrhythmic playback. 

Sample editing on Punch-BD with EQ and distortion engaged.

Sample editing on Punch-BD with EQ and distortion engaged.

Deeply Effective

In terms of sonic manipulation, we've still only scratched the surface. Each layer can have one of fourteen unique distortion units applied to it, along with its own three-band EQ. Then of course there's the effects section, visible on the Mod/FX panel, or when using Drum mode. 

Anyone familiar with Papen's other instruments will be aware of the high quality of his effects units, and here we have no less than 31 effects included, ranging from tape delay and compression, to waveshaping, ring modulation, analog phasing, and amp simulation. There are four of these FX units, which can be routed in basic serial, parallel, or three other combination signal paths.

The modulation possibilities are similarly impressive, with two freely assignable envelopes, two sync-able LFOs, and eight dedicated modulation routings to ensure no crucial parameter goes unmodulated. For performance purposes, each modulation source can be controlled by an external source such as mod wheel.

The modulation/FX page in action.

The modulation/FX page in action.

Tying the Room Together

A basic mixer panel gives easy control of volume and panning for each of the six BD layers and four effects. Where necessary, each drum layer can also be routed to six separate stereo outputs for external processing.

There's no need to get lost in all the intricacies of Punch-BD when you can go to the easy panel, effectively a set of global controls where you can easily adjust parameters such as pitch, decay, filter and effect mix for all six drum layers simultaneously for quick and drastic transformations.

The preset manager even gives you the option to store individual presets for drum layers and sample layers for quick recall and easy combination—along with the ability to store full patch presets and navigate them via the elegant Rob Papen quick browse menu.

Punching: Lights Out

Right away, I was achieving full-bodied kick drums with all the depth, girth and grit I could hope for—using just one of the synthetic drum model layers. Factor in all the layering, effects, and modulation possibilities, and the range of distinctive kick drum sounds is well beyond expansive. Using the tuned mode, I was able to generate killer subsonic basslines; stacking them together gave me kick drums that would easily dominate any club sound system or festival rig I could possibly imagine. It also happens to be blissfully CPU-efficient. The only thing more shocking than how great it sounds is the intricate feature set—and how affordable the price tag is.

Price: 49 € / $59 USD

Pros: Great sounding. Super flexible. CPU efficient. Excellent FX. Powerful routing and incredibly well laid out. Ridiculously cheap.

Cons: Difficulty sleeping because you won't stop thinking about it at night.

Web: http://www.robpapen.com/Punch-BD.html

Noah Pred is a Canadian techno and house producer, DJ and Certified Ableton Trainer living in Berlin, Germany - where he runs his label, Thoughtless Music. His Juno-nominated full-length album Third Culture, is out now: http://www.thoughtlessmusic.com/releases/tlm086-noah-pred-third-culture/ - and you can check out his new project with... Read More

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