Perkons is the Latvian name for the Baltic god of thunder, a fitting name for a thunderous drum machine.
Erica Synths are rapidly becoming one of the most prolific instrument manufacturers around. Just a year ago, I reviewed their excellent LXR‑02 drum machine, and even then, they had already announced the Perkons HD‑01, a chunky‑looking drum and drone synth. Production has been slow thanks to global chip shortages, but now the Perkons is finally available en masse.
There are four drum voices, each with a choice of three synthesis algorithms. The oscillators are digital, whilst the multi‑mode filters and overdrive circuits are analogue. The sequencer consists of four rows of 16 triggers, one for each voice, and many fun functions like probability, playback direction, modulation recording and trigger conditions. There is a global BBD‑style digital delay, with separate send per voice and a single LFO that can modulate most voice parameters.
From a glance, it’s easy to tell that the Perkons is designed for hands‑on control. It follows the same desktop build format as the Syntrx, their EMS VCS 3‑inspired semi‑modular synth. It’s a desktop unit, around 46 x 32 x 9cm. The wooden sides, aluminium powder‑blue case and substantial knobs give it an air of class, and the sequencer section is populated with satisfyingly chunky buttons. It’s an imposing‑looking instrument, but do the sounds match the look?
Each digital engine has three algorithms to choose from, and each algorithm has three modes. Broadly speaking, voices 1 and 2 are more tonal — good for kicks, toms and synth sounds. Voice 3 covers snares and percussion, and voice 4 focuses on noise, hats and cymbals.
With each voice having three algorithms and three modes, there are 36 variations of synthesis algorithm to choose from. In reality, some modes only change minor details like a transient volume. In others, they are more like different algorithms, drastically changing the sound.
The panel layout for each voice is identical. Each voice, algorithm and mode offers the same pitch control, decay, filter cutoff, overdrive, effects send, overall level and two ‘param’ controls specific to the currently selected algorithm mode. This generic layout makes things simple. A knob will generally do the same thing no matter where you are. But the lack of algorithm‑specific labelling means you are flying in the dark about what the ‘param’ controls are supposed to do. The algorithms and modes have numbers rather than useful names. Instead of memorising the algorithm and mode numbers or keeping the manual nearby, my preferred approach was to blindly switch modes until I found something I liked. Some extra information on the panel might have helped.
Voice 1 will likely be your kick‑drum sound, although the algorithms allow you to stray far from that brief. You can choose between wave folding, wavetable and FM algorithms, with the three modes performing tasks such as transient shaping, wavetable selection, or in the case of the third algorithm, a more drastic tonal shift caused by changing the FM waveforms.
Voice 2 contains three flexible ‘drum’ engines. Like voice 1, they use wave folding, wavetable and FM synthesis, but the algorithms are tuned differently. This voice is more suited to percussion, synth, toms and effects.
Voice 3 will focus on snare, clap and tom‑type sounds using noise, ratcheting, FM and Karplus‑Strong synthesis. It introduces noise and would also suit more experimental sounds.
Voice 4 concentrates on hi‑hat, metallic and noise‑based sounds utilising different noise types and some specific closed, open and ride synthesis models.
Overall, the synthesis feels simple, bold and flexible. Despite its digital sources, the Perkons sounds massively analogue. The result is a sharp sound with plenty of body and enough low‑end to knock a house down. That is assuming the neighbours don’t call the noise pollution police first!
The excellent analogue multi‑mode filters offer low‑, band‑ and high‑pass modes. No resonance control exists, but you will find a very usable analogue overdrive circuit. With no resonance, the filters are used more like an EQ to shape the oscillator sound. The only possible modulation is via the global LFO or by automating using the sequencer. It’s a shame there isn’t a way to use the amplitude envelope to vary the frequency, but that would have needed another control on the front panel.
One neat little bonus is the ability to turn the Perkons into...