A few years ago, Propellerhead was earnestly asserting
that Reason was not just another digital audio workstation and that it
belonged in a separate category. Since then, they’ve kept adding highly
desirable features that make it look more and more like a DAW, notably
multitrack audio recording in version 6 (reviewed Apr. ’12). That’s a
good thing, since they’re still doing things their own way. Version 7
ratchets up the functionality several more notches.
| Main arrange window - click to enlarge.
| Mixer with EQ - click to enlarge.
The 7.0 release of Reason has three big enhancements: a
MIDI out device for sequencing your hardware synths, better mixer
bussing, and some very slick audio track editing. These new capabilities
come on top of the marvelous Rack Extensions concept—essentially
third-party plug-ins done Reason style—unveiled in Reason 6.5. [Read Jim’s roundup of rack extensions at keyboardmag.com/reason-rack-extensions. –Ed.]
For Mac users, Reason 7 requires OS 10.7 or later, so I
had to buy the new OS. It also requires 4GB of RAM, so I had to upgrade
my elderly MacBook Pro. My Windows 7 desktop machine, which is my main
production environment, required no tweaking. If you need to install the
32-bit version of Reason in 64-bit Windows, which is necessary if you
want to use it as a ReWire client in a 32-bit host, you’ll find easy
instructions on Propellerhead’s website.
Reason is a complex program, with several dozen highly
patchable modules for synthesis and sound processing, presented as a
virtual studio rack that looks like hardware, right down to animated
cables bouncing when you toggle the rear panel view. We hardly have the
space here to recap Reason’s many amazing features—a good place to start
may be the numerous videos on the Propellerhead website. For Keyboard readers, the biggest deal is likely the new MIDI output, so let’s start there.
External MIDI Instrument
It’s always inspiring when a new device just works. That was my experience with Reason 7’s new External MIDI Instrument (EMI) module (see Figure 1). I never had to consult the manual.
| Fig. 1. Reason’s new External MIDI device can transmit MIDI to any
output port defined in your system. Configuration settings are on the
I don’t own nearly the amount of MIDI hardware that I did
20 years ago, but I still have my trusty Yamaha Motif XS. I hauled it
out and hooked up the audio and MIDI cables. Then I launched Reason,
created an EMI, and started playing my M-Audio Axiom master keyboard.
The Motif responded. Sequencing a Motif track was just as easy.
The EMI isn’t fancy but it gets the job done. The front
panel sports a drop-down menu that lists all of the MIDI outputs in your
computer. To the left are stubby mouse-controllable pitch and mod
wheels, whose activity can be recorded. To the right are three settings:
MIDI output channel, a program change number, and an assignable Control
Change number, which is associated with a knob for recording controller
The program change number can be automated, but the CC number and channel setting can’t be. However, the latter parameters can
be addressed from an external hardware controller configured as a
Reason Remote device. What’s cool is that the CC knob can be used to
record MIDI control data for up to 120 different CC messages. All of
these messages will be retained in the track. It isn’t actually a single
knob, in other words—it’s 120 different knobs.
On the EMI rear panel are inputs for the Matrix Pattern
Sequencer and “CV” inputs for mod wheel, pitch-bend, and the assignable
knob. If desired, several EMI modules can be set to the same output
channel, so you can use several Matrix sequencers to create polyphonic
patterns on your hardware synth (a cool possibility that Reason’s
internal instruments can’t manage).
There’s no dedicated panel control for Bank Select
messages, but these can be recorded into the track as CC 0 and CC 32
data. The manual for your MIDI hardware should contain cryptic
information on which combinations of these messages you’ll need.
After sequencing your external instruments, you’ll
probably want to record their output into Reason as audio tracks. The
manual gives clear instructions on how to do this, including some
suggestions about managing latency compensation.
What’s missing from the EMI? It won’t record or transmit
system-exclusive data, but that’s far less important than it was in the
good old days. It also doesn’t handle polyphonic aftertouch. The big
omission is that when Reason is running as a ReWire client, the EMI
won’t transmit MIDI to the host software. If this were possible, you
could use Reason’s sequencer and employ the host for running virtual
instruments that are neither native to Reason nor available as Rack
Extensions. Let’s hope Propellerhead adds this feature in the next
Next: Audio Editing