Punch is a 64-bit plug-in (though there's also a 32-bit version) and its main GUI displays its pads, each of which represents a single sound, in its bottom left-hand corner. There are 24 of these, mapped from C1 to B2 on your keyboard, with specific drum elements such as kicks, snares and claps and additional ones into which you can load your own user sounds or choose from Punch's own internal library of samples.
Clicking on a pad displays its "engine," which can be tweaked in a variety of ways, depending on the sound content of the pad. The pure synthesized tones provide you with a corresponding synth engine, so you can tweak envelopes, pitch, filter settings and so on. For common settings, there's an Easy menu page at the top which allows quick editing via long-throw faders but if you prefer more microscopic editing, the array of options in the main page is impressive.
Some of these options go way beyond the parameters usually found within drum machines and one of my favourites is the sample retrigger option which slows down the rate at which a repeated sample plays back. As a result, it's possible to take a sampled snare, for instance, and create flams and rolls which can be tuned to match the tempo of your project. Slowed down even further, sounds warp and glitch, so I expect this option to become popular with IDM producers, particularly those who route a MIDI controller to the Sample Offset to vary the start point of the regeneration.
Punch also features four effect engines, which can be set up with one effect each from a long list of options (26 in total), including the new High-Quality Reverb which is certainly the best sounding spatial effect emanating from a Rob Papen plug-in to date. These effects slots are effectively busses, so each pad has access to one each, on top of the distortion options to each sound. There are 19 distortion effects from which to choose, ranging from subtle and warm to overdriven and world-ending, so it shouldn't prove too difficult to find something to match your mood.
The Groove sequencer within Punch is also a good deal more powerful than it initially seems. There are four main patterns and four Break patterns which are fully customizable. Each pattern features its own pad, and clicking each launches the relevant step sequencer with one instrument (of four) loaded at any time, the top row of which displays the active hits. You can program in new notes but more importantly you can also add tuning, velocity, pan, Flam and Envelope Speed offsets for each part. As a result, you can create pitched tom fills, glitchy flammed patterns, or load a pitched sample and create a musical sequence. The four grooves are triggered from C3, D3, E3 and F3, while the corresponding Break grooves, which can either be programmed as fills or simply function as supplementary main Grooves can be played back from C#3, D#3, F#3 and G3. This might sound a little curious but it actually works well; as each loop can be triggered simultaneously to build up an arrangement, it's neat to have these eight patterns available across the range of a fifth within one octave. As you'd expect, there's a bank of preset groove patterns to load to get you started but as this whole system is so customizable, I wouldn't expect you to dwell on these for too long.
All of which brings us back to the sonic potential of Punch, which is huge. The modeled synth engines from which Punch draws many of its sounds might be set up to produce drum and percussion noises but, of course, it can go much further. There are specific models for each drum type. But this is synthesis, so with the right tuning, enveloping and tone controls, you can produce pitched synth sounds too. The myriad filter types are capable of producing almost infinite tonal variations, while the capacity to load samples—either from the banks supplied (which I'm sure will grow substantially over time) or from other sounds on your hard drive—means that you can make Punch a real-time processor for your audio library.
Even better, each sample pad can actually trigger two samples—A and B. You can tell Punch's engine how to behave with these two layers in terms of whether they play together, alternate, or switch based on velocity assignments, for instance. These two sample layers can either share settings such as their filters and envelopes or be assigned unique settings each.
Plenty of drum machines, in soft or hardware form, build upon the legacy of classic grooveboxes such as the Roland TR range. Punch is different; while it covers those bases with great flexibility, you'll discover very quickly when flicking through the presets that this is a drum and percussion module tailor-made for all kinds of music. No features here seem superfluous, with quick editing of parameters within the Sequencer a great addition; the tricks that you can produce here in mere seconds would take hours of careful editing within a DAW. Punch comes thoroughly recommended.
Ease of use: 4/5