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Review: Rob Papen Punch drum & percussion plugin

Related: , , , , , , Posted in reviews on Jul 06, 2011 - comment 2 comments
Rob Papen Punch

Back when I reviewed Rob Papen’s SubBoomBass bass synthesizer, I remember that with its sequencer and percussion waveforms this plugin could be a good starting point for some kind of dedicated drum instrument.

Perhaps Rob had the same train of thought, as the RP team recently kicked it up a notch with Punch, a full-fledged drum & percussion synth and sample player plug-in for Windows and Mac.

You can use synthesis and the build in samples to build your own unique sounding drum-kit, but also your own samples can be loaded into Punch to complete your kit. Your sounds can then be crafted using the stunning features, filters and huge synth power we all know from other RP synthesizers.

Punch has a unique sound but also built in sequencers, allowing you the user to have multiple patterns at your finger tips. These grooves can be triggered in a live environment to build a song, but are also great for just improvisation and jamming!

Just below the preset manager in the top left we find a black bar with 5 buttons, which toggle panels with various sets of controls.

Rob Papen Punch
Punch’s main interface, click for larger image.

Punch’s main control panels:

  • Easy – some general controls which let you modify parameters for all modules. Includes synth/sample pitch & decay, filter controls, pitch envelope, LFO controls, and 4 silders for mixing the fx.
  • Pads – this screen shows the selected drum synth/sample module, and controls for the effects.
  • Mixer – volume and panning for all 24 pads, as well as mix, pan & and bypass controls for each of the 4 fx units.
  • Mod/FX – 2 envelopes & 2 LFOs, and a panel with 8 modulation slots. The effects section is also shown in this screen.
  • Manager – manage patterns, drumkits, presets and banks.

The sound

Let me jump straight into the pads section for a bit. A total of 24 drum pads are available for triggering sounds.

Punch user synthesizer module
User synth module

For each drum sound you can pick the sound source from a number of synth models, built-in samples (over 250 classic, Punch, and percussion models included), or use external samples.

The synthesizer models include various parameters to shape the sound of the bass drum, snare, hi-hat, clap, tom, and user modules, depending on the module and model you choose. So for instance Tom module 1 uses a single oscillator to generate sound, module 2 add a frequency modulator & click/noise oscillator.

Punch built-in samples
Built-in sample module

The user module features no less than 6 models, based on filtered noise, frequency/ring modulated oscillator, frequency envelope, amp modulation, etc. The flexibility of these synth modules allows for a wide range of drum and percussion sounds, or more tonal sounds if you fancy.

With the built-in samples you get instant access to tons of high quality sounds, still with plenty of controls for tuning, filter, amplifier envelope, and sample parameters (offset/retrigger/reverse).

Punch sample module
User sample module

Already have a class drum sample library? No worries! Punch includes 8 sampler pads in which you can load your own samples, or use some from the nice selection of samples that comes with Punch.

The sampler module can hold 2 samples per pad and allows you to trigger them in various ways, like mixing the sounds, play either A or B with velocity split, or have them trigger alternatively. The sampler module also allows you to loop a sample (you can set loop points), reverse the sample, set offset and retrigger parameters, and apply a filter, amp envelope, and stereo controls for creating panning fx.

With version 1.01 Punch features sample drag and drop so you can load your samples directly into the sample pads by dragging them from your file manager. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem to work with my host of choice, FL Studio (Ableton works fine). Alternative is to load the sample via sample file screen but the path’s top level is currently limited to Punch’s sample folder. I really don’t want to create duplicates of my samples just to be able to use them in Punch, so I was happy to hear from developer Jon that a custom user sample path option is in the works for the next update.

So far so good! The sound design options of Punch are impressive.

The sequencer

While you may not necessarily want to do much sequencing outside your host software, this part of Punch has some interesting features.

You can create up to 8 patterns – 4 grooves and 4 breaks, though these are simply labels so you can program them any way you like. Each pattern has 4 tracks. This means you can assign up to 4 individual sounds per pattern. Various controls are available for the (up to 16) steps, including things like tune, flam, offset, and free modulation values.

Punch sequencer
Punch step sequencer

The patterns are triggered by MIDI notes. There’s a latch mode to keep the patterns going so you can easily combine various grooves and breaks. Interestingly enough you can not stop patterns except by switching off the latch, but this stops everything. I think a per track latch toggle may be in the works for an update.

Other options in the sequencer include things like swing, humanize, flam, etc. I usually program drum parts in my host but I must say playing with the patterns in the sequencer is an inspirational and fun way of building beats. So don’t limit the use of the sequencer to live performance use.

And more…

Punch comes with a large selection of effects (26) which can be assigned to 4 separate units. The effects can be routed in various ways (parallel, serial & combinations of feeding outputs to inputs), and you can modulate two effect parameters per unit with a selection of 60 mod sources. With the multi-output version of Punch you can set the effects output to separate channels, which is great since you probably want to do some additional processing outside Punch.

Punch FX units
Effects modules

I prefer to apply effects outside the sound source myself, but the option to modulate fx parameters within Punch is a good reason to use the built-in effects as well. If you don’t have all that many additional effect plug-ins, the ones in Punch will go a long way.

The dedicated modulation (mod/fx) screen shows 2 envelopes and 2 LFOs, plus another 8 modulation slots with modulation source, destination, and modulation mod source (as a source for modulation amount).

With so many options and panels you might feel a bit overwhelmed. I think Punch is the first plug-in by Rob that made me want to check the manual. And you probably should to make sure you don’t miss any useful features. That said, after clicking around for a bit it was clear to me that Punch has the same top notch usability and workflow I have come to expect from the Papen stable.

Some of the main screens are especially geared toward quick and easy manipulation of the sounds. The Easy panel will let you change general parameters like pitch, filter & fx for all modules – except for those which have “easy bypass” enabled. A Mixer panel is available with volume and pan controls for all modules and mix, pan and on/off for the fx units.

Punch presets/patterns manager
Preset/seq manager

The Presets section in the top of the GUI includes some handy functions like favorites, quick browse, and recently browsed.

As per usual Rob has made sure to include tons of quality presets with this plugin, and even more presets will be released for it over time. Use them straight from the box, or check them out to learn by example.

For more general management of presets/banks, drum sounds/kits & patterns there’s the Manager screen, featuring a variety of tools, such as copy/paste, swap, find, preview, etc.

So what do I think?

Product: Rob Papen Punch
Format: VST/AU/RTAS
Price: €149 EUR / $179 USD
Like: vast sonic range, easy of use, sequencer
Don’t like: lacklustre GUI
Verdict: 9/10

Punch is combination of many good things. It is incredibly deep, yet remains easy to use. I am not totally taken by the interface – particularly the teal colors I guess, but though I wouldn’t mind a more appealing interface, Punch does have a great layout, keeping things nice and organized.

Whether you want to draw on the excellent preset sounds for quick satisfaction or tweak synth and sample modules to your heart’s desire, Punch is a proper drum workhorse in any setup. You can simply use it as a high quality sound source for your productions, or get inspired with the extensive possibilities of the sequencer.

The Rob Papen stable delivers yet another top notch instrument that feels like home right away. I found it sits in the mix really well and besides the vast feature set, it’s just plain fun to work with.

You can check some audio demos on the Punch product page, but to get a good feel for this “drum beast” you should probably just download the 30-day trial version and take it for a spin yourself.

More information: Rob Papen / Punch

Review: Rob Papen RP-Delay, versatile delay effect plugin

If there is one type of effect I can never get enough of it is the delay. So I am always excited to see a new delay plug-in, especially when it is one that comes from the Rob Papen stable.

RP-Delay is not just some simple delay either. Papen’s developer Jon Ayres managed to code some refreshing ideas into this effect plug-in for Windows and Mac.

Let’s take a look at a screenshot of the RP-Delay and walk through some of its features.

Rob Papen RP-Delay
Rob Papen RP-Delay, more than a simple delay effect (click to enlarge)

The center of the screen houses lots of knobs for setting up the 6 delay lines which are grouped in two sets (a/b/c for both delay 1 & 2).

These delays can be routed in a number of ways to create various distinct delay models: mono, stereo, dual stereo, channel split, split multi, serial multi, parallel multi, full serial, and reverse. The desired model is selected from a list in the read-out screen. An illustration of the current signal flow also appears in this screen, a practical way of seeing how the delay lines are set up. The read-out screen also shows parameter values when hovering over or modifying controls.

Each set of delays has a tape mode, simulating the analog tape delay effect. In this mode you can change the delay length by setting the tape speed, resulting in a smooth transition between delay times (unlike digital delays, which may produce clicks/pops when changing delay length).

The delays each have a number of controls, including delay time/length, sync to host, multi-mode filter with 13 filter types, a distortion effect with various models, and more. If you feel overwhelmed or you just want the basic overview of the delay settings, there is the easy tab which switches to a panel with just the basic controls.

A rather interesting feature is the reverser module. Both delays have one of these, allowing you reverse the sound at any stage of the signal flow (after the input, a specific delay line, or the output). The signal that is fed into the reverser is reversed in chunks of the length you set it to. Reversers can run free or you can trigger them in various ways. Great for experimental effects.

Rob Papen RP-Delay

Moving to the bottom part of RP-Delay’s interface. Four button in the bottom left reveal controls for the following sections: trigger, envelopes/lfos, modulators, and sequencers.

  • Trigger, up to 4 triggers can have a MIDI CC control assigned for triggering events. This section also has controls for volume triggering (input volume triggers the event), and an audio follower for processing input volume as a modulation source.
  • Envelope/LFO, 4 of each of these can be used to modulate controls. Includes various triggering options, including free, MIDI CC, sequencers, (white) notes, when host starts, etc. The LFOs have a humanization parameter, which lets the LFO speed change randomly over time.
  • Modulator, 8 individual modulators can be used to modulate controls from various sources, including Mod Wheel, velocity, aftertouch (channel & poly), envelopes, LFOs, sequencers, etc.
  • Sequencer, 4 sequencers with a well organized 16-step interface. Again these can be triggered in various ways to modulate controls. Also includes copy/paste and file management options so you can easily reuse sequencer settings (in seq 1 to 4 or in other presets).

Right above the panel selection buttons there’s also a knob which will let you set the global modulation from -100% to 100%, and a bypass button to turn modulation off.

Is your head spinning from all these options? Let’s move back to the top of the interface.

RP-Delay comes with 5 banks of presets – both as insert and send, ranging from simple delay effects to some crazy wild stuff (I’m looking at you, John). The presets are really well done and useful, and browsing them is a great way of learning how to use RP-Delay.

I made some quick examples to demonstrate the plug-in’s versatile palette of effects.

RP-Delay includes some of the goodies also found in other Rob Papen plugins, like the Quick Browser, Recently Browsed and Favorites functions in the presets section. The edit and original buttons in previous plugins turned into one “edit/original” toggle button. It will light up once you start modifying a preset, and clicking it will let you return to the preset’s original state.

After setting up your external MIDI controller for use with RP-Delay you can save and load the setup from the EC menu (not sure why it’s not called ECS like in other Papen plugins). There’s a quick manual link in the interface, and you can bypass the delay or switch between insert and send (wet only) with the click of a button.

To the left of the controls for the delays there are some controls for setting the global volume, delay length and feedback (for all active delays) and the dry & wet signal can be mixed (only with insert mode). A three band equalizer is also included.

Lastly, it might also be good to know that most of Rob Papen’s products have moved from (soft)-eLicenser to serial protection. RP-Delay also uses this new system.

So what do I think?

Product: RP-Delay by Rob Papen
Format: audio effect plug-in for PC and Mac (VST/AU/RTAS)
Price: 49 EUR / $69 USD, also available with RP-Verb for 149 EUR / $179 USD
Like: versatile & creative, easy to understand (read-out), superb presets
Don’t like: –
Verdict: 9/10

RP-Delay is a proper Swiss Army Knife type delay. Not this one, but something like this.

It is extremely versatile, offers some great routing and modulation options, and yet it is still easy to use. The reverser module is a nice addition, a delightfully creative tool that sound designers will undoubtedly enjoy.

Rob made sure RP-Delay is loaded with a wide range of useful presets so if you feel a bit intimidated by the plug-in’s many controls and options you have a great guide to learn from.

It is also worth mentioning that RP-Delay is included with RP-Verb, a flexible algorithmic reverb effect plug-in which has been getting some positive reviews (have not had a chance to check it myself), so if you’re in the market for a new reverb you might want to check that one out as well.

Rob Papen’s website has more audio demos and you can request a free demo version of RP-Delay to give it a try yourself.

More information: Rob Papen / RP-Delay

Review: Rob Papen SubBoomBass

Rob Papen SubBoomBass

Rob Papen is back with another virtual synthesizer plug-in: SubBoomBass.

SubBoomBass is filled with excessive amounts of low end ammunition to detonate your tracks!

With presets designed by the legendary Rob Papen and other guest artists, this dedicated bass synth will supply you with huge cone-rattling sounds that will devastate any music track.

This software instrument is great for Hip Hop and RnB but can also be used for Dubstep, video game music, film scores and more…

SubBoomBass key features

  • 2 oscillator synth engine (based on Predator) with additional sampled percussion, drum, fantasy and bass sounds.
  • Oscillators also feature PWM, sub-oscillator, FM/Ring modulation and oscillator sync.
  • Pre-filter distortion.
  • Analog modelled filter: 6dB LowPass and HighPass, 12dB, 18dB and 24dB LowPass and HighPass, 12dB and 24dB BandPass, 12dB and 24dB Notch, Comb and Vocal Filter.
  • Additional filter 2 with cutoff control – 6dB, 12dB and 24dB LowPass or HighPass setting.
  • Filter routing with ‘serial’, ‘parallel’ and ‘split’ modes.
  • Step sequencer with 16 steps, swing function and slide function.
  • 2 FX sections with modulation matrix (can be modulated using MIDI from any of the synthesizer parts) and 24 effect types.
  • Easy Edit page and Quick Browser.

Bass, Percussion & Grooves

Although a bit more funky looking than I would prefer, the interface is quite clear: a presets section, oscillator 1 & 2, filter and amp panels in the top, and a play mode/pitch lfo section, a sequencer/modulation panel, and an FX panel in the bottom of the screen. The sequencer and modulation panel can be switched (or hidden altogether, just like the FX panel).

Some interesting things about SubBoomBass:

  • Besides some standard analog modeled waveforms (i.e. sine, saw, triangle, etc.), SubBoomBass also includes a number of sampled percussion and bass waveforms for its oscillators.
  • In sequencer mode you can get your groove on with bassline and percussion sequences.
  • If you don’t want to mess with all these advanced controls, there’s an easy mode which only includes some basic osc, filter, volume and effects parameters.

Let’s take a look at some of the presets to get an idea of what SubBoomBass sounds like.

I know the video is a tad long (almost 10 minutes) but besides trying the demo for yourself this is probably the quickest way to get a good feel for what SubBoomBass does.

So what do I think?

SubBoomBass has surprised me in a positive way. Since the sound engine is based on the one in Predator (which I already have) I wasn’t sure this new synth would have that much more to offer. But as a dedicated bass instrument, SubBoomBass includes a number of features that go beyond Predator.

With a strong focus on low end bass sounds, it features an improved sub-bass generator and sub-bass boost effects. The included presets showcase some amazing deep and phat bass sounds (the video doesn’t do them justice really), great for Hip Hop, R&B, Drum & Bass, or any electronic music genre.

The tuned percussion brings some versatility to the sound palette. The sampled waveforms sound lovely and when using them with the sequencer it’s easy to construct some sweet grooves. The option to use custom user samples is planned for a future update.

In short, SubBoomBass is a more specialized instrument than some of Rob’s other synths (Albino, Blue, Predator) and as such it probably appeals to a smaller audience. That said, as a bass and percussion synth it does a splendid job in providing sounds that pack a huge punch.

SubBoomBass is available as a digital download from Rob Papen, or as a boxed product from distributors like Time+Space (where I got my copy). The price is €99 EUR / $119 USD / £89 GBP (inc. VAT).

Review: Rob Papen Predator

Related: , , , , , Posted in reviews on Oct 14, 2008 - comment 12 comments
Rob Papen Predator

Rob Papen’s RG synth didn’t quite charm me as much as I had hoped for, mainly because of my expectations of it being something else than it turned out to be.

So how about Predator, a synthesizer more akin to Papen’s previous offerings, Albino and Blue.

Predator has been out for a while now, but it recently got a considerable update with version 1.5, improving the preset manager, arpeggiator, modulation options and much more.

Predator v1.5 key features

  • 3 Oscillators with 128 waves included Analogue, Additive and Spectral type of waveforms plus pink & white noise generators.
  • Tempo sync-able global Pitch LFO.
  • Analogue modelled stereo Multi-mode Filter with LFO and envelope.
  • Modulation Matrix with 8 free modulation routings, 40 modulation sources and 65 destinations, plus a secondary modulation source & control.
  • 16 step arpeggiator, which can be used as a step sequencer or as modulation source.
  • HQ effects blocks in serial mode, featuring a large collection of effects.
  • Comprehensive preset management, including preset variation controls and preset morphing.
  • Lots more…

Rob Papen’s idea for Predator was not only to create a powerful synth with plenty of options, but to make sure it would be fun and incredibly easy to use as well.

Easy of use starts with the interface. Taking a look at the GUI you’ll find pretty much everything on a single page: 3 oscillators, a filter section with a dedicated LFO, an amp section, various modulation options, an effect section and various preset options.

Rob Papen Predator
Predator’s GUI may look tough, but it’s a breeze to work with.

Easy to use doesn’t mean simple sounds
The oscillator sound sources have tons of waveforms to choose from (128 each, and you can even load your own) and include common parameters like PWM, sub and spread and the special symmetry (sym.) control, which allows you to shift a waveforms midpoint.

You might be familiar with this principle in square wave pulse-width modulation, but Predator can actually apply this symmetry to any waveform, allowing you to dramatically change harmonics and formants of waveforms.
Features like these make Predator an incredible versatile subtractive synth. It’s actually a 3 operator FM synthesizer as well.

The filter section is also feature-rich, sporting a multi-mode filter with envelope controls and a dedicated LFO, and a second filter provides for even greater control of the sound.

Need to further shape the sound? The modulation options of Predator will not let you down. There are 2 free envelopes and 2 free LFO’s, which each have its own destination. Furthermore there are 8 slots to set your own modulation connections in the modulation matrix (40 sources, 65 destinations). Behind the modulation panel is the arpeggiator, featuring an advanced pattern/sequencer. The arp doesn’t just work as a regular arpeggiator but can also be used as a modulation source to create advanced rhythmic patterns.

To round things up we have three effect slots available, with 24 effects to choose from for each slot. Delays, reverb, distortion, vocoder… it’s all there. The effect section also has a modulation matrix where you can set up two sources to modulate effect parameters.

As Predator also comes as an effect plug-in — PredatorFX — you can use its filter, modulation and effects to process other sounds as well.

I’ve skipped over a few things (pitch mod, amp section, play modes, etc.) but I think you should have a good idea of what Predator is all about.

Oh, one more thing!
Predator comes with a large collection of excellent presets, readily available to shine in your productions, which is great… but I’m often looking for that slightly different, “unique” sound. Something I haven’t heard before, that inspires me. Now perhaps I’m a bit lazy in this regard, but tweaking a patch for hours is not really my thing, so I’m always happy to find any kind of sane randomize functions in a synth.

Predator has 4 randomize buttons which each affect a different part of the patch (synth/effect) and can be set to change parameter values at a specified amount. It is very easy to generate (slightly less bread ‘n butter, but still very usable) new sounds. Love it! There’s also a morph function which lets you morph between two presets, instantly creating exciting new sounds. Yum!

Predator has a list price of 149 EUR (included VAT) / $179 USD and is available as a download from the Rob Papen online store. The boxed version is available from selected distributors.

So what do I think?

I love Predator’s “keep it simple” approach. It has great audio quality and tons of features, yet with a GUI that has everything in the right place, it’s not complicated to program at all.

For those who don’t want to program anything, Predator comes loaded with great preset sounds, and its preset variation and morphing features are excellent for creating new sounds. I would love to have these options on every synth I use.

While some of the preset banks seem to aim at (bread ‘n butter) trance/techno sounds, Predator is great for all styles of electronic music. It is capable of hard leads, warm pads, rhythmic soundscapes, phat basses… you name it!

So, two thumbs up for Predator, an easy to use & versatile synth with a great sound.

More information: Rob Papen / Predator

Review: Rob Papen RG

Related: , , , , , , , , Posted in reviews on Sep 24, 2008 - comment 3 comments
Rob Papen RG

Rob Papen’s latest product is RG, a groove plug-in that is far more than just a Virtual Rhythm Guitar player.

Originally unveiled at the Frankfurt Musikmesse earlier this year, RG is an innovative software instrument that allows the user to create not just classic rhythm guitar grooves, but also exciting new grooves and sounds which a real guitar could never produce.

Let’s see what RG has to offer.

RG key features

  • Rhythm Guitar models: Electric guitar type Fender Stratocaster®, Steel 8TH type for Streelstrings 8th note grooves, Steel 16TH type for Steelstrings 16th note grooves.
  • Sequencer (A/B) which controls the guitar strokes and RG synthesizer parts.
  • Overall Pitch modulation with tempo sync-able global Pitch LFO, amount control and pitch bend with separate settings for up and down pitch-bends.
  • Main filter is an analogue modelled stereo Multimode Filter, offering 6dB LowPass and HighPass, 12dB, 18dB and 24dB LowPass and HighPass, 12dB and 24dB BandPass, 12dB and 24dB Notch, Comb and Vowel Filter.
  • Built-in Amp/Volume Envelope with Attack, Decay and Release.
  • Modulation: 2 free modulation routings, 33 modulation sources & 22 destinations.
  • 3 HQ effects blocks in serial mode: Mono Delay, Stereo Delay, Comb Filter, Reverb, Chorus, Chorus/Delay, Flanger, Phaser, Ensemble, FX Filter, WahWah/Delay, AutoWah, Amp Simulator (5 models), Cabinet Simulator (5 models), Distortion, Low Fi, Waveshaper, Multi-distort (11 types), Stereo Widener, Autopan, Gator and Compressor.
  • Equalizer with 5 bands at 60Hz, 200Hz, 600Hz, 2000Hz and 8000Hz frequencies.
  • Preset handling with copy, paste, clear and compare function.
  • Banks with Electric RG grooves, Steelstring RG grooves, Electric and SteelString basic grooves.

How does it work?

RG is easy and fast to work with. The grooves are constructed in 2 independent sequencers which can be played by using different keyboard ranges. You control the guitar strokes and synth parts in 32 steps, with the following settings for each step: on/off, Tie, Stroke (Down, Up, Ghost or Glide/Extra), Velocity and Free row.

Rob Papen RG
RG’s sequencer — you can simply create grooves by clicking the settings for each step.

The “more” part of this Virtual Rhythm Guitar can be found in its synth options.

You’ll find a pitch modulation section with pitch LFO and bend parameters, an analogue modelled stereo multi-mode filter (with pre-defined cutoff modulation, envelope and LFO), plenty of modulation options and 3 high quality effects blocks in serial mode.

RG comes with some 500 presets, including 300 “RG” grooves and 200 “basic” grooves. Check the RG mp3 page for some audio demos.

So what do I think?

At first I was a little disappointed with RG to be honest. It is a bit of a one-trick pony, and it doesn’t sound much like “the real thing” (note: I’m a guitarist myself). If you’re expecting realistic guitar sounds, you should check out something like RealGuitar/RealStrat or Strum Acoustic GS1 instead.

So is it all bad? Not really, as long as you think of RG as a groove player synthesizer with a touch of rhythm guitar. Realizing RG is a specialized tool, it does do what it’s supposed to do really well:

Just hit a single note in the major or minor keyboard range and the groove plays!

I really like the feel of RG, it’s easy to construct nice grooves and the synth part has plenty of solid features. Some of the presets are pretty good at doing guitar rhythms but I actually like the more abstract synth type sounds best. Groovy!

RG is available for Windows and Mac for 149 EUR (included VAT) / $179 USD from Time+Space (boxed) and in the Rob Papen online webstore. A 30-day demo version is available for download so make sure you give it a spin to see how you like it.

More information: Rob Papen / RG