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Knobula Kickain Kick Drum + Sidechain Module Review

All the Ducking You Could Need in One Eurorack Module

Ryan Gaston · 07/29/22

To paraphrase a friend, sometimes you need a kick that punches. In the modular synthesizer ecosystem, there's no shortage of ways to craft the perfect kick drum sound—you can use samples, you can patch it up from scratch, or you can even use dedicated kick drum modules tailor-made for constructing hard-hitting thumps and decaying drones.

Despite the huge number of options out there, lately, our eyes and ears have turned more and more to the Knobula Kickain, a virtual analog kick drum module with a number of tricks up its sleeve...several of which are designed explicitly to make it easy to mix music and textures that heavily hinge on an underlying sense of subby pulse and rhythm.

In the video above, our patch pal Wes and his friend Mr. Duck go over some of the highlights of the Kickain—so scope that out for a solid sense of how it sounds, and read on for a description of some of its finer details.

A Kick to the Face...In a Good Way

Knobula's Kickain is a kick drum and sidechaining module for Eurorack modular synthesizers. It pairs a powerful, flexible kick drum voice with a built-in sidechain compressor for other modules—acknowledging the fact that kick-centric music often requires sidechaining of other elements to gain its distinctive pumping, swelling character. Previously, this style of sidechaining was a bit complex in Eurorack synthesizers: you either needed a dedicated compressor module (of which there aren't many!), or you needed some extra VCAs, envelope follower, voltage processors, possibly some comparators, and a heck of a lot of patience. Kickain makes things easy, though. Let's take a look first at the kick drum voice, and then discuss its sidechaining system.

Kickain's internal kick drum voice is a virtual analog model of the TR-909 kick drum, a famously punchy, forceful kick. However, it provides considerably greater opportunity for tonal manipulation than found on the 909 itself, letting you dial in everything from soft kicks with long decays all the way to in-your-face distorted blasts and dramatic pitch sweeps.

The Tune and Level controls affect the kick's pitch and loudness, respectively, while the Drive control offers variable distortion for more intense sonic coloring. The Click knob adds a beater-like clicky transient at the beginning of your notes at low levels with filtered, snappy noise at higher values; and the Punch and Bend parameters offer control over the contour of your pitch sweep (with "punch" controlling a dedicated short decay envelope for the pitch, and "bend" allowing the sound's amplitude envelope to affect its pitch as well). A dedicated Reverb knob adds some low-end reverberant rumble, which is gated by the decay of the kick drum itself until you reach higher "Reverb" values. The bass cut control offers a few frequency range options, great for taming the extreme low end. The attack and decay controls offer shaping of the kick's overall dynamic contour.

It's worth noting here that many of Kickain's controls aren't simply linear control over a single parameter; instead, several knobs actually behave differently in different ranges, such as the Click, Drive, and Reverb controls, each of which offer several different types of coloration and sonic manipulation across their range. It's a great way of getting a lot of sonic range out of a small number of controls.

While it does make a great kick drum, Kickain's sidechain options are one of the most compelling parts of the module. Kickain offers stereo input and output to the sidechain circuit, which uses an "inverted" copy of the kick drum's decay envelope in order to duck incoming audio when the kick is triggered. The kick's attack and decay controls, then, do affect the response of the sidechaining effect, allowing continuous shaping of your "pumping" sound. Moreover, there are three sidechain modes: one offers straightforward, amplitude-based sidechaining, while the others perform "spectral sidechaining." The spectral sidechaining options use variable EQing to ensure that there is no frequency clash between the kick sound and the incoming mix—using the actual shape of the kick envelope to guarantee that the sidechain EQ is adequately adjusted to keep your kicks clear and without sonic competition. Interestingly, the sidechain circuit also works when the kick "Level" is turned all the way down...making it possible to use the sidechaining functions without the kick itself.

Combining a sidechain module with a kick voice is a stroke of genius. Given that entire genres of music hinge directly on the dynamic relationship between a kick and the rest of your mix, Kickain will no doubt prove a tremendously useful tool for plenty of musicians. If you need music that thumps, swells, rocks the subwoofers, and tosses some ducks around, Kickain is likely a solid choice. If the video above is any indication, it'll leave you ducking in more ways than one.