In many ways the $2,059 Pērkons seems like the drum machine sibling of Erica Synths’ SYNTRX. It’s not just that they share a chassis and knobs. But they’re both pricey, niche instruments that focus on having a unique character, rather than cramming in as many features as possible. But, while they’re both compelling yet impractical devices, that’s where the similarities end.
Talking about using Pērkons is going to get very complicated, very quickly. So let’s ease into things by talking straight specs. It’s a four-voice digital drum machine with multiple different sound engines and algorithms per track, paired with analog multimode filters and drive. There are four 16-step sequencer tracks with four different shuffle algorithms, ratchets and probability settings. In addition to a master output, headphone output and master send and return effect jacks, there are also individual outputs for each voice, along with separate sends and returns and trigger inputs for each, not to mention MIDI In and Out. Plus a delay, a compressor and an LFO.
In short, there’s a lot of sound shaping power here. Sure, it doesn’t have microtiming, and you have to chain multiple patterns together if you want to have more than 16 steps, but there’s still a decent number of features to take advantage of.
The four voices don’t have prescriptive uses, but some are better for certain sounds than others. And each has a unique set of engines with multiple modes. For instance, voice one has a wavefold drum, a wavetable drum and a simple drum algorithm. The mode switch then chooses between three different transients for the fold drum, three different wavetables or three different simple waveshapes depending on the algorithm chosen. And each algorithm has different controls assigned to the parameter one and two knobs.
This basic setup is spread across all four voices, just with different algorithm options. So while voice one and two work better for kicks and toms, voice three is your best bet for claps and snares, and voice four is ideal for high hats and cymbals.
I feel like it’s important to pause here and point out that, while I may say things like “best for snares,” these are not typical drum sounds. Don’t come to Pērkons expecting 808 kick — you’re not gonna get them. But, that’s part of its appeal. It doesn’t sound like other drum machines and it oozes character. That’s quite refreshing in an age of countless clones and rehashes that simply try to repackage beloved sounds of the past.
That character and unique timbre might put some people off, though. Even I initially was underwhelmed with what I was coaxing out of the Pērkons my first couple of days with it. But once I stopped trying to bend it to my will, and simply let it do what it was designed to, I came around pretty quickly. Those sounds are decidedly digital and err towards the aggressive end of things. Do you dig ‘90s industrial music? You’re gonna like Pērkons. Digital hardcore? Have I got the drum synth for you.