Controllable carnage is the name of the game, but the Punishr can do warmth and subtlety too!
Due in no small part to his having developed the sought‑after Trident consoles in the ’60s and early ’70s, Malcolm Toft is rightly seen as a legendary figure in the pro audio industry, but he’s also been the man behind various other console and outboard brands over the years. Most recently he’s begun developing designs under his own name.
During the Covid lockdowns, Malcolm was approached by London‑based Engineer Nick Mitchell about an idea for an ‘analogue distortion box’, conceived as a high‑quality alternative to the many saturation and distortion plug‑ins out there. Enthused by the idea, Malcolm worked up the design and, after a period of experimentation and beta testing, the fruits of their collaboration were released in the form of the Punishr Analogue Harmonic Distortion Module.
It’s an all‑analogue affair that manages to pack not only three different types of distortion but also a fully fledged EQ section into the confines of a single‑width 500‑series module. I was sent a pair of these modules for review, to enable me to use them on busses and other stereo material, and was very keen to discover what analogue punishment they could dish out in my studio!
Dishing The Dirt
The Punishr’s distortion section offers three different stages for ‘attacking’ your audio, and each has both a bypass button and a knob to drive that stage harder. The first is described as Symmetrical distortion and introduces clipping to both sides of the waveform. This results in a fairly conventional (but not unappealing) sort of distortion effect, and I generally found this to be a great place to start experimenting with most material if I didn’t already have specific plans for it. Things get a bit more wild with the Asymmetrical stage, which introduces clipping to only one side of the waveform — this is definitely the unruly sibling of the trio! Lastly, we have Iron, which as the name suggests employs a small custom transformer. It was chosen for no operational reasons other than how it sounds when it distorts, and how nicely its effect combines with the other two distortion types.
By default, in what will be the normal mode of operation for this section, the audio signal passes through each of these three distortion sections in series, but in the EQ section below (of which more later) there’s also a Sum button. Press this and the input signal is fed in parallel to all three distortion sections, and the output is then summed before going on to feed the next stage in the module. It’s also worth mentioning that each distortion section has an automatic gain compensation facility to ensure the signal doesn’t increase in...
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