In a sea of software and hardware, a handful of releases every year stand out. On the software side, one of the most promising is Rob Papen’s Punch. It reflects a number of trends in soft synth design – given a choice between sampling and synthesis, it choose both; 64-bit support comes standard; pattern sequencing is built in. But it’s worth examining for two reasons: one, independent soft synth designer Rob Papen has done some of the best work in recent years, and two, it appears to offer a rich set of practical features in equal measure.

The video above is quite extensive – one watch-through will likely tell you whether or not this is for you. But here are the basic features:

  • The Drums, The Drums… 2 bass + 2 open hat + 2 closed hat + 3 tom + 2 clap + 3 user.
  • Each drum can choose one of several synthesis models or samples.
  • Presets, Custom Samples. Load one of any number of presets and preset samples, or load your own sample content into the drum machine.
  • Lots of Per-Drum Control. Per-drum distortion, individual output busing, choke groups. These route together into a prerequisite Mixer.
  • Modulation. 2 envelopes, 2 LFOs, 8 modulation slots, for one of four effects units.
  • Sequencer. 16-step internal patterns, each with four tracks. Sounds useful enough, though for more complex rhythms, of course, you’ll want to turn to your host or another MIDI source.
  • “Easy” Controls. Each drum has what are in effect Macro controls, all MIDI-latchable, and various MIDI assignment options, as illustrated in the video. When you go from programming to performance mode, in other words – even as you work – you can quickly add hands-on control.

Mac + Windows, 32-bit + 64-bit, VST, AU (Mac), RTAS

Punch is not without competition. Native Instruments’ Maschine is becoming a full-fledged host and sampling workstation. Propellerhead’s built-in Kong drum machine offers a very similar brew of sampling and synthesis, multiple models, hands-on control, and routing and mixing – indeed, part of the appeal to me of Punch is that it does more of what Kong does in a plug-in form. Arturia’s Spark melds sampling, synthesis, and physical modeling, loaded up with vintage samples and models as well as newer ones. FXpansions’s GEIST is sample-based, but also worth a look. Audio Damage’s Tattoo focuses on synthesis and sequencing, at the opposite pole. Both Spark and Maschine also have their own dedicated hardware controller. That’s just a start among recent entries – I’m sure I’m forgetting half a dozen others. (Round-up candidates?)

But Punch is now shipping, and it looks like a balanced, logical approach to this. It’s also one of the more inexpensive options here – EUR149 / GBP125 / US$179.

For all the lusting after hardware drum machines, it’s tough to beat software options for flexibility, range and quality of sound, speed of editing, and cost. 2011 seems an especially good year. I think CDM will have to do a drum machine roundup soon. Tips welcome.

  • rv

    aw and i just bought geist… (PS fxpansion – synthesis would be nice)

    I think software developers are catching on to this idea that limitations in sound worlds can help productivity. Hence the move towards these sorts of groovebox/mpc-esque workflows.

    I'm still waiting for a full on  VSTi analogue to an electribe EMX …

  • 7ONiii.C
    I am using Mini Spillage which I love. As soon as funds are loosend up I do intend on upgrading to Drum Spillage.

  • Punch looks pretty promising–will have to try it out in the near future. I like the idea of synthesis+sampling in the same unit, especially one with extensive modulation options.

    I'm using Image-Line's Drumaxx for my drum synthesis right now, and it might be a good one to include in your forthcoming roundup. It does a pretty good job of physically-modeled drum synthesis. You can actually dial in some superb sounding kits that come very close to the real thing. Or you can tickle it for some really wacky experimental sounds by doing physically impossible/extreme tunings.

    However, it has its limitations. It's not exactly an elaborate beat production "workstation"–there is a minimal and functional pattern sequencer, but no FX, no modulation, no sampling. Overall I think it prefers to operate as a clean, yet highly tunable drum module. If you're looking to make more dense beat constructions, you will probably have to supplement with a variety of external effects and sampling. Or it could work great as a design tool for creating those high quality one-shots you can't seem to find to then load into your favorite sampler later on.

    Thanks for the tip!

  • Peter Kirn

    Current count: one I didn't know about (Spillage), one I forgot to mention (Drumaxx). 

    @kinxd: Wouldn't you say some of those features you wind up getting from FL Studio, though, anyway? (Some of them even in another host.) But yes, I agree, this makes it less of a workstation / self-contained instrument. 

  • @Peter: I certainly agree, and perhaps its ideal application is within FL Studio's production environment. What drew me to it though is its level of ability to micro-tune individual drum pieces–something you don't find in most drum machines. I think it's a good tool to have on hand for drum design purposes.

    I'd like a more comprehensive solution to handle the entirety of my beat needs though, such as Punch. If it turns out I can't coax the perfect sounds out of its synthesis engine, then it would make sense to supplement with self-designed samples bounced from Drumaxx. The fewer instruments loaded into my sets the better, making versatility a highly desired trait.

  • cool dubbing can be done just like on my RZ-1. also reminds me of the slider control on the sp1200. lots of modulation options is an excellent feature. step envelopes are nice too.

  • fractured

    Let's not forget Linplug's RM V. Analog synthesis and sample playback in one package. Also, there's Microtonic. Talk about awesome analog-styled drum synthesis! And who can forget Attack? It may be long in the tooth, but it makes for great percussion and more!

  • +1 for MicroTonic

  • h

    +1 for microtonic !
    rob papen plugs all have the same problem…sound a bit…dull.

  • j0hnny

    Is it just me, or does RMV's synthesis sound a little flat? It seems to lack that extra clarity you hear in good qulaity plugins/synths like uTonic and DrumSpillage.
    @Peter – It would be great to see some more articles covering production techniques as you probably have done and did covering the Amon Tobin's ISAM release.
    It would be interesting to see how accomplished musicains are using the tools availble to program musical elements such as drums etc.
    I also found your track 'Train 69' an interesting listen. Despite using dry classic drum machine sounds, it sounds great. Did you use the random sequencing features in in Tattoo, or program the sequences manually?

  • h

    wow !…
    + 1000 to 7ONiii.C for the mention to Spillage…wicked…didn't know that.

    once again…free speech wins…and a comment brings more interesting informations than the article of the author of this pages…as usual too busy in marketing to discover the real stuff.

  • Looks nice. Rob papens stuff is often solid. Won;t be really needing it though .

    I'm really looking forward to IL's new synth Harmor. There's some Alpha vid's on the youtubes and it loooks pretty amazing!

  • drumspillage is awesome. the new minispillage pro adds sampling and sequencing to their free minispillage plug, and the dev says that that's good hint as to what's coming to drumspillage.

    i'm so excited to be layering samples and synthesis, it'll make my workflow a lot easier.

    also, the randomiser in drumspillage is extremely useful, and not just for getting dynamic HH patterns. hopefully some of that will end up in the sequencer, a la AD's tattoo.

    they really need to get the windows version out the door so it can blow up the way it should.

  • heinrichz

     i would have to agree with an earlier comment that Rob Papen stuff while ok..doesnt quite cut it sonically. So why bother? just because we get some genre specific ready to go presets?
    i recommend to stick with the serious stuff like Reaktor or Ni synths in general. While i could'nt sit thru the whole video i'd say, dont waste your time learning 2nd rate plug-ins..

  • Ivan

    There is Xfer Records Nerve too

  • I've only had a quick go with Punch but I'm quite impressed with it.

  • I loved Linplug's RMIV – actually purchased RMV but haven't been doing much music stuff, so never dug into it. But I really enjoyed their interface and the tools provided for messing with my own samples.

  • Just came back from a demo from Rob Papen showing off Punch. I own Microtonic as well as a bunch of other drum plugins but soundwise, Punch is right on the money. There is quite some flexibility wihtin the sequencer as well as the Fx section. Also, a very synoptic GUI and a lot of possibilities combining samples/synthesised sounds. I haven't used any of Rob's plugins yet, but will try this one out i think.

  • Kim

    No dis-respect, but.. The interface design he uses looks like early 90ties hardware technology. I was there, day dreaming about better interfaces in the future. And now we are here in 2011, with all these beautiful functional work-flow designs. But what do you know! Some dinosaurs re-appear in the DAW age. And while that might be cool for some, its clustered, un-necessary gui noise for others. The same goes with his other synths, and tons of other brands. So, hes far from alone, just to have said it. But these guys want get my money, sorry about that. I do respect all the work and passion put into these plugs. Ive been using computers for music production since late 80ties, and ive used and seen it all since then.

    It really is strange to me how some developers design their interfaces. To be fair, some of these look-a-like hardware themed interfaces does have some historical effect on students, especially with iPads. But for mouse and universal midi controllers, count me out.

    +1 more vote on Microtonic. Fantastic gui: spot on, easy to read, and signal flow understood in seconds. Oh, and it sounds great to!

  • Radiophobic

    <3 Microtonic. Outside of the SPS1 one of the best interface for drum synthesis. 

  • Samples ??? that´s so 80´s

    i prefer operator fro drums, even better than microtonic…

  • chris

    ultrabeat doesnt get enough credit

  • Finally I can 'Punch One Out' While I work!!!

  • this is cool. nice software. very techy.
    learn guitar easily

  • I just read a Dutch article (… ) about this software.

    It seems Rob Papen has released a new free RP-Distort plugin which can be downloaded by all registered owners of the software.
    Might be useful for everybody that already owns either Punch/Predator/RP-Verb etc.

  • Mixdsp

    Visit us at for your lowest price on Rob Papen’s Punch!

  • Mixdsp

    Visit us at for your lowest price on Rob Papen’s Punch!

  • Mixdsp

    Visit us at for your lowest price on Rob Papen’s Punch!