The Punchbox kick drum synthesiser accommodates both options. It won't magically fix your kick drum woes but neither will any given sample pack or drum machine. Getting a good kick has far more to do with arrangement, instrumentation and levelling than the quality of the source. What it does offer is a one-stop-shop that could satisfy both right-brained tinkerers and those looking for instant gratification.
Punchbox is centred on a module, labelled Kick, from which Sample, 909, 808, 606 or Sine sources can be selected and shaped. These sounds make up the foundation for your kick drum. The Sample bank contains sounds ranging from slamming to round, airy to wooden and boomy to tight. Using the accompanying parameters for envelope, pitch, sample start and stereo width, these samples are good enough to stand alone without extra manipulation. The 909, 808 and 606 sources function as expected and stood up next to Wave Alchemy and Goldbaby samples of the same sounds. But after a while, I found myself using the Sine source almost exclusively. The module contains a quality level of control over the pitch envelope, with options for Start and End Frequency, Sweep Time and the ability to alter the shape of the envelope curve. This gives you the ability to dial a precise amount of dip or zap to your kick drum. The shape of the pitch envelope has a huge effect on the ultimate character and technical efficacy of your kick and I'd often find I was pretty happy with the results I'd achieve using just this initial Sine source.
However, the whole point of Punchbox is what you do next. The central source module is flanked by a set of layering tools and effects to further personalise and beef up the sound. On the far left, the Click section contains a bank of short samples for shaping the transient. These range from light touches that add subtle upper-frequency content, to more robotic sounds with extra stereo width. You can filter the Click sample, pan it, alter its width and tuning but I generally used it very lightly, using tight decays and narrow spread. Next up are the Tops and Tools modules. They have the same parameter set as the Click module but their samples are mid-range and impact based. Some of the samples are fairly audacious, perfect for use in HD grime or drum & bass, where others fit snugly atop your initial sound source. Again, I tended to use these tools in moderation, adding slivers of emphasis to different frequency bands as needed. While it's no secret that there are multiple ways to layer drums, I found having all the options nestled in one display to be less time consuming than setting up drum racks or stacking multiple drums into a sampler.
Five effects units sit to the right side of the central module. There's a bit crusher that can add ringing aliases in classic SP-1200 fashion or trash the sound into junkyard territory. Next is a distortion unit with six flavours of saturation that can be tuned with helpful Tone, Contour and Dynamics controls. In practice, I used these effects in conjunction with the accompanying FX Amount controls, which allow you to blend extreme settings into the sound without overly changing its overall character. I particularly enjoyed the bit crusher but I'd generally saturate with an external plug-in, like Soundtoys' Decapitator—however, the Decapitator costs about the same as the entire Punchbox synth and its distortion capabilities are advanced considering its place in the total package.
There's a filter and equaliser too but if you own half-decent plug-ins you'll probably apply them outside of Punchbox. Blending a self-resonating filter into the sound is another means of filling out your kick's frequency response, but after sample stacking, bit crushing and saturation, you probably won't need to. The final link in the chain is a limiter. It's worth pointing out that you'll smash into the threshold if you don't bring down the levels of the initial sample, the Clicks, Tops, Tools and so forth. It's easy to add sounds and be impressed with its size without realising that you're squishing the dynamics. Once you've set the gain structure appropriately, the limiter operates well enough, though yet again I found it worked best with minor levels of peak reduction.
Punchbox becomes exponentially more musical when you start automating the pitch, decays and effects settings—I could imagine someone like Peder Mannerfelt making an entire track of power electronics with this thing. What's more, you can also load your own samples into it. While a drum layering master probably has these techniques down, I found Punchbox to be an easy means to get to grips with it. Punchbox isn't a silver bullet, but you could do a lot worse for the price.
Ease of use: 4.2