In a world overflowing with great music software, some key factors
set Reason apart. First, Propellerhead has always paid close attention to
user interface design. As complex as Reason is by now, it’s remarkably
easy to use. Second, the Propellerhead gurus have always had a clear vision
of what Reason is and what it’s not.
<-Two new modules beef up Reason 5.
Kong is a percussion designer with a
choice of synthesis types. Dr. Octo
Rex loads eight REX file beats at
once and lets you switch between
them on the fly.
Though the combination of Reason and Record is a complete audio
and sequencing-based multitrack production studio with its own great
instruments and effects, it’s not a do-everything digital audio workstation
in the mold of Logic, Cubase, Sonar, and Digital Performer. This leads to
certain limitations. Notably, Reason doesn’t host third-party plug-ins. Nor
is there a video window, so it’s not suitable for soundtrack work. One
advantage of this sort of closed system is that it’s extremely stable. While
working on this review, I encountered not a single glitch of any kind. Also,
the user interface is consistent no matter what module you’re using.
Discussing even the basic features of Reason would take many pages. It
has terrific synths (Thor, Malström, and Subtractor), a full-featured multisampler,
a ten-channel drum sampler, a monophonic step sequencer, detailed
control over the feel of rhythm tracks, a variety of great-sounding effects,
and a rear-panel patching system where dragging virtual cables between
virtual jacks turns the whole thing into one vast modular instrument.
Prior to Record 1.0 (reviewed Dec. ’09), you had to use ReWire to
pipe Reason’s audio output into a DAW if you wanted to record audio tracks. Record changed all that. Record is available separately, but if you
own Reason, the two become a unified program. All of Reason’s instruments
are available for adding MIDI tracks to Record, all your tracks
appear in one sequencer display, and Record’s powerhouse mixer is available
as an output for Reason instruments.
In this review, we’ll focus on two things. First, the new features in Reason
5: the Kong percussion designer, Dr. Octo Rex drum loop player, a
new sequencer mode, and integrated sampling. Then we’ll take a look at
Record 1.5, which adds the much-needed Neptune pitch corrector/voice
synth to the lineup.
More after these Web Extras:
Reason’s ReDrum module is very capable, but by now it’s looking a little
old-school. ReDrum is still part of Reason, but Kong kicks Reason’s percussion
into a whole new dimension. Kong lacks ReDrum’s pattern
sequencing, but this is not a problem. First, many people record ReDrum
parts directly into Reason’s sequencer, and seldom use the pattern editing
features. Second, if you prefer patterns you can easily set up a pair of
ReDrums and use their patterns to play Kong, by connecting ReDrum’s
rear-panel gate outputs to Kong’s gate inputs.
Kong has 16 pads and a vaguely MPC-like look. You can record from
the pads into the sequencer by clicking them, which is a nice extra, or
play them from a MIDI controller in the normal way. They even respond
to mouse position by varying the velocity, which many mouse-click pads
Kong is a bit like Thor in that you can choose different modules for
its sections. Each pad can produce sounds using sample playback, a triggered
REX file loop, physical modeling, or modeled analog synthesis. The
latter two are brand new to Reason, and they add a huge palette of sounds
Speaking of sounds, Kong comes with dozens of high-quality kits,
some of them designed by such luminaries as Printz Board and Bomb
Squad. And naturally, you can mix and match hits from different kits.
Each pad has two insert effects, and some of them are unusual: a noise
source, a tone source, a snare rattle generator, and a transient shaper.
Rounding out the list are compressor, filter, parametric EQ, reverb, tape
echo, ring modulator, and an overdrive/resonator. After the insert effects,
the drum sounds can then be routed to a dry output, or to either of two
more “global to Kong” effect modules. On the rear panel there are inserts
(stereo) between the two global effect modules, so you can patch any of
Reason’s devices into the signal path.
I would’ve liked to see rear-panel “CV” inputs to the individual
drum modules, but that would’ve made the rear panel a mess. Also,
some of Kong’s knobs can be automated and some can’t. On the physically
modeled bass drum, for instance, Pitch, Damp, Decay, and Level
can be automated, but Beater Level, Tone, Density, Tune 1, Tune 2, and
Bend Amount can’t. In the NN-Nano sampler, Pitch, Sample Start,
Level, and Decay can be automated, but not Amplitude Attack Time,
Pitch Envelope Amount or Time, or any of the five Velocity Response
knobs. Depending on what you want to automate, this may or may not
become a source of frustration.
Describing every feature of Kong would take pages. Briefly, the sample
playback module lets you stack and assign velocity zones to multiple
samples. There are three physical models (kick, snare, and tom) and four
analog models (the same three plus hi-hat). If you’re into designing drum
sounds, you’re gonna love Kong.
Dr. Octo Rex
The Dr. Rex loop player has been around since Reason 1.0. In Reason 5,
Dr. Octo Rex replaces it. According to Propellerhead, existing songs that
use Dr. Rex should work fine, as Dr. Octo Rex will load the old Dr. Rex
data into its first slot and play it back.
Dr. Octo Rex loads eight REX files at once. All eight share the same
basic set of voicing controls (filter, two ADSR envelopes, and so on), but
four new parameters have been added for each slice of each loop: filter
frequency, reverse, output, and alt group. There are four stereo output pairs in addition to the main output. This means that you could route a
snare, for example, out to a reverb.
You can trigger separate loops in Dr. Octo Rex using MIDI keys in
the octave below a 61-note keyboard’s five-octave range—shift your keyboard
down an octave to get there. In this performance mode, only one
loop will play at a time. The new loop that you’ve triggered can start on
the next bar, the next beat, or the next sixteenth-note—but the operative
word is “start.” Dr. Octo doesn’t keep track of where you are in relation
to bar lines, so it can’t switch to a different loop in the middle of the current
loop. If you trigger a loop on beat 3 of a bar, for example, it will be
offset by half a bar.
When you use the Copy Loop to Track button, each loop will have its
own lane within the sequencer track, and the selection of which Dr. Octo
slot the notes will be sent to is controlled by automation. This is quite
useful, as you can easily copy one loop to the track, then have its note
data play different REX file slices.
When two or more slices of a loop are all assigned to the same alt
group, Dr. Octo will choose among them randomly if it’s playing back a
loop using its internal sequencer. When you click the Copy Loop to Track
button, each iteration of the beat loop within the longer loop region in
the sequencer track will have its own randomized pattern of note events
for each alt group, but from then on the pattern will be repeatable, and
you can edit it as needed. One way you’d use this feature is for randomly
choosing which of four snare hits will fire on beats 2 and 4.
Although Reason has a couple of pattern-based devices (ReDrum and
Matrix), its main sequencer has always been linear, playing your song
from start to finish. Blocks change all that. The song still plays as it did
before, but you can now record up to 32 multitrack Blocks and insert
them wherever you like in the song. A Block could be a multi-instrument
drum groove, for instance, or an entire verse. Laying out verse/chorus
forms with Blocks is easy.
Thirty-two Blocks may not seem like a lot, but the clever thing is that
you can override the data in any Block at any spot. If you want a different
drum fill at the end of the second verse, for instance, just go into record
mode and overdub it. Your new recording will replace the data in the
Block—but only at that one spot. In addition, any track or lane can be muted
during the playback of any Block, so you can build an intro one layer at a time
using only a single block, by unmuting a new track every two or four bars.
New in Reason (Record is not required for this) is the ability to capture
new samples. These can be automatically assigned to sample playback
devices, such as a ReDrum or Kong channel. You can sample external
audio, or capture the sound coming from one or more Reason devices.
You can then export samples if desired—say, if you’ve designed a killer
drum sound in Kong and want to use it in another program.
<- After capturing a sample in Reason, you can edit it in the Edit Sample window. The tools here are basic: normalize, fade-in/out, reverse, crop, and loop point editing.
A maximum of 30 seconds of stereo sampling time (per sample) is
available. This will be plenty for sound design or for capturing loops, but
not enough to record a whole song.
In the basic Sample Edit window, you can normalize the
gain of an entire sample or any part of it, but user-definable gain change
is not implemented, so there’s no way to squash unwanted clicks or pops.
Likewise, you can program a fade-in or fade-out for the sample, but userdefinable
fade curves aren’t possible.
By itself, Reason is strictly for making music with its own suite of instruments.
You can import samples recorded elsewhere and play them using a Reason sampler module, but that’s hardly a convenient way to record audio for, say, adding a
<- The modules in Record include the ID8 synth and the audio track device, which can host inserts. Here, the Neptune Pitch Adjuster is inserted in an audio track.
Record is for audio multitracking. Even without Reason, Record has most of the Reason
effects, but only one basic MIDI instrument, called ID8. Record has a massive, feature-rich
mixer, and also a guitar amp modeler. You can record multiple takes in loop mode and comp
together a keeper track without trouble. ID8 gives you a simple but useful selection of keyboard,
bass, and drum sounds in case you don’t have Reason and want to support your guitar
or vocal tracks.
Since version 1.0, Record could time-stretch audio tracks—very convenient for changing the
tempo of a vocal for a dance remix. In 1.5, you can also adjust the pitch of audio, thanks to Neptune.
Unlike most DAWs, Record saves all of its audio data in the song file itself. This has advantages
and drawbacks. A plus is that it aids collaboration: Send someone your project, and
they won’t be asked to “please locate” audio files. On the other hand, if you save incremental
versions of a song as you’re developing it, Record will chew up hard drive space pretty
quickly. Also, if you want to open an audio track in another program, you’ll go through an
extra exporting step first.
Like other retuning systems, Neptune is designed mainly for monophonic tracks such as vocals.
Neptune has a number of features beyond simple pitch correction. I found that it worked well for
both subtle pitch correction and T-Pain-style vocal mangling.
Neptune processes audio while the music plays—it’s not an editor. Its most important controls
are the Correction Speed and Preserve Expression knobs. As you turn up the Correction
Speed, the vocal will “snap” to the correct pitches more quickly. The Preserve Expression knob
lets vibrato and pitch slides sneak through without being squashed.
In the center of the panel are controls for setting a scale whose pitches will be used in the correction
process, and a Catch Zone Size slider: When an incoming pitch is in the “catch zone,”
Neptune will correct it.
There are four programmable presets for the scale controls, and the preset select buttons can
be automated. This is nice if your song changes key in the middle, for instance. Correction Speed
and Preserve Expression settings aren’t stored with the presets, but these knobs can be automated
separately, which is even better.
If you send Neptune MIDI notes, it “corrects” the pitch of the vocal to whatever note you play.
This lets you superimpose an entirely new melody on a vocal. Instead of (or in addition to) correcting
the pitch, you can use Neptune as a transposer; its range is plus or minus 12 semitones,
and there’s a Cents parameter for fine-tuning. With the Formant Correction knob, you can move
the vocal formants up or down independent of the pitch, to help the transposition sound more
realistic, or intentionally less so for chipmunk or Darth Vader vocal effects.
Neptune also includes what appears at first glance to be a bare-bones vocoder. Reason has a
real vocoder, of course, but the Voice Synth in Neptune, while not actually a synthesizer, is easy
to use, and it’s in Record if you don’t have Reason. When you route MIDI notes to it, the Voice
Synth pitch-shifts the input up and/or down simultaneously to all of the MIDI notes it receives,
producing what sound like vocoded chords. The Voice Synth can be routed to a separate rearpanel
audio output, which I recommend. I added an ethereal choir behind my lead vocal by processing
the Voice Synth output through a filter, a chorus/flanger, and a reverb, then mixing it in
at a fairly low level.
Reason 5 and Record 1.5 are welcome upgrades—and Record 1.5 is free if you use Record 1.0
standalone. The new features are very welcome, especially the Kong percussion designer and the
Blocks mode in the sequencer. Neptune is not groundbreaking, but it fills a hole in the feature
set, making Record much more competitive. I doubt I’ll use the live sampling much, but for some
musicians it will be a great plus. For creating almost any kind of pop music on your computer,
the Reason/Record Duo is a terrific choice as a creative platform, especially considering that it
sells for less than the price of most DAWs and many single plug-ins.
PROS: Powerhouse percussion synthesis. Integrated sampling. Convenient song
arrangement tools. Great user interface. Extensive rear-panel patching.
2GB sound library. ReWire support.
CONS: Sample editing could be beefed up. Still doesn’t host thirdparty
plug-ins. No video window.
CONCEPT Reason: A do-everything rack of synths and effects with a very
capable sequencer. Record: Audio multitracking and modeled-analog mixing console.
Duo: Record and Reason devices integrated as a do-it-all virtual studio.
REASON INSTRUMENTS Subtractor modeled analog synth, Malström
granular synth, Thor modular synth, NN-19 and NN-XT samplers, ReDrum
and Kong percussion, Dr. Octo Rex loop player.
REASON EFFECTS Reverb, delay, chorus/flanger, phaser, Scream distortion,
vocoder, envelope filter, mastering (equalizer, stereo imager, compressor,
RECORD INSTRUMENTS AND EFFECTS ID8 sample player, Neptune
pitch correction, vintage-emulation EQ and dynamics on every mixer channel,
master bus compressor, plus most of the Reason effects.
PRICE: Record/Reason duo
List: $449.99 Approx. street: $400
List: $349.99 Approx. street: $300
List: $299.99 Approx. street: $250; $149 for Reason owners